God’s covenant with men is his condescension with humankind, his kind purpose of establishing a special relationship with men, to become the God of the chosen people through his berith, through his peculiar agreement. Yahweh promises his people his peace (shalom), his mercy (hesed), his intimate love (rehem, denoting the mother’s womb, hence “bowels” and connoting deep emotions springing therefrom, cf. Ho 2:21;Is 54:8;Dn 1:9;Zc 7:9;Ps 51:3; 103:4). Yahweh’s love is deep and faithful (‘eman, Dt 7:9). This pure love is called “jealousy” (Dt 4:24; 5:9; Ex 20:5; 34:14;Jos 24:19), which is “the extravagance of his love” (cf.the note to Dt 4:24 by Henri Cazelles). God’s jealousy blazes against idolatry in Israel with a view not so much to punishing the adulterous “wife” as to bring her back to his unwavering love after due repentance. Through this covenant Yahweh becomes the God of Israel and Israel Yahweh’s people. Covenant is a relational concept. It is expressed in different categories. Its decisive element is not God’s teaching, but his warm, tender, personal relationship with men.


This is the unique treaty made by God with the people of Israel, a basic historical fact on which all-subsequent Israelite religion depends. It dominates the last four books of the Penta­teuch and recurs in the historical books. The basic account is found in Ex 19-24. It is not a scientifico-historic report of the Sinai events, but rather a theological interpretation of the vents as they were subsequently liturgically re-enacted for the people of Israel.

Sinaitic traditions are obscure and complex. It is difficult to analyse clearly the sources from which the narratives of the covenant have been compiled. George E.MENDENHALL has shown simi­larities between the Israelite covenant and the suzerainty trea­ties of the second millennium before the Christian era, particu­larly the Hittite treaties. Mendenhall adopted V.Korosec’s six-point scheme in the analysis of the suzerainty treaty: 1) preamble or self-introduction of the overlord with his identification, genealogy and titulary; 2) historical prologue or recital of the benefits bestowed upon the vassal by the overlord; 3) stipulations imposed upon the vassal: prohibition of other foreign relations, military assistance to be rendered to the overlord, no asylum to fugitives from the overlord, annual appearance before the overlord. 4) Provision for the deposit of the treaty in the temple and for periodic public reading.5) List of gods witnessing the treaty.6) Curses and blessings for violation or fulfillment of the treaty. Mendenhall added three points to the previous ones: 7) Vassal’s oath of obedience; 8)Solemn ceremony of oath; 9) Proce­dure against rebellious vassal. Mendenhall found a close parallel to the treaty form only in Jos 24:1-28 containing all the elements except the curses and blessings. The treaty formula is found in the covenantal narratives of the Pentateuch, particularly in the book of Deuteronomy as a whole: Yahweh’s titles (Ex 34:6), his saving deeds (Ex 19:4;Jos 24:2-13), the original stipulation, the Decalogue, exhortation to trust Yahweh, the appearance for the three great annual festivals consisting of a pilgrimage to a sanctuary of Yahweh, preservation of the stone tablets of the Decalogue in the Ark of the Covenant, the provision for the regular reading of the covenant (Dt 27:1-8),blessings and curses (Dt 27:15-28;Lv 26:1-34).

After examining the Aramaic texts from Sfir‚ in Syria, the Hittite vassal-treaties, found in Syria and Mesopotamia (dating from18-17 cent. BCE., Dennis J.McCarthy concluded that neither the historical prologue nor the curses and/or blessings were a part of the Sinaitic cultic tradition: it is not a series of historical events, but Yahweh’s awe-inspiring presence, what he is, his love founded and grounded the covenant at Sinai. Further, berith does not imply an obligation assumed under oath, as the vocabulary used in Assyria and Sumeria would do, but is linked up to animal rites (cf. Gn 15:9). The formula QARAT BERITH has therefore no parallel in a treaty between the sovereign and the vassal. Sinaitic coven­ant is unique of Yahweh with the Israelites.

In the Psalms the psalmist appeals to Yahweh’s covenant: “Look to your covenant! We can bear no more–every cave in the country is the scene of violence!” (Ps 74:20). He appeals also to God’s ovenantal, unbreakable love: “Return, Yahweh, rescue me; save me because of your love” (Ps 6:5), to his covenantal faith­ful: “In your righteousness rescue me, deliver me, turn your ear to me and save me!” (Ps 71:2). For Yahweh to fulfill the covenan­tal love (hesed) is a matter of his faithfulness to the promises (tsedaqa): “In your justice free from distress, And in your love destroy my enemies” (Ps 143:11b-12a). Yahweh binds himself to his own promises made out of generous, free love.

The people celebrate his covenantal love ceaselessly: “Know that Yahweh is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments for a thousand generations” (Dt 7:9). Their choice was the outcome of Yahweh’s love, the supreme covenantal love, implying benevo­lence and fidelity towards them. This is the unique covenant between Yahweh and Israel without any parallel in the suzerain-vassal treaties.


STOCKHAUSEN, Carol K., Moses’ Veil and the Glory of the New Covenant. The Exegetical Substructure of 2 Cor 3:1-4:6, 1989,Analecta Biblica, 116, pp. X-202, (L.40, 500).

BOZAK, Barbara, Life ‘Anew’. A Literary-Theological Study of Jer 30-31,AnalBib 122, 1990 (in preparation).

WONG FOON YEE, Emily, The Lord is the Spirit; a Study of 2 Cor 3:17a in conjunction with 2 Cor 3:16: diss. Lambrecht Jan, Louvain, 1984, xxxviii-376 p., 2.

The New Covenant of Jr 31:31-34
This is the classical text for the study of the theme of the New Covenant. It is the first and the only mention of the  “new covenant” in the Old Testament. What a turning point it should be to sound these words to the ears of a Jew! A  “new  covenant“! Yes, Jeremiah was the first prophet to pronounce this bold formula, although there had already been prophetic intuitions on a new era, an era of God’s activity among men.

The text runs as follows:

See, the days are coming–it is Yahweh who speaks–when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel (and the house
of Judah), (v.31)(A-positive).

but not covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on
the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of
Egypt.  They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was the master. It is Yahweh who speaks (v.32). (B-negative)

No, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel when those days arrive–it is Yahweh who speaks.   Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.
Then I will be their God and they shall be my people (v33)  (A’-

There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach
neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know Yahweh!’,
No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest–
it is Yahweh who speaks– (b-people), since I will forgive their
iniquity and never call their sin to mind”(
to the Septuagint, it is Jer 38:31-34).

This text is one of the most beautiful passages of the Scriptures.   Its literary genre (GATTUNG) is an eschatological oracle. It could be called Jeremiah’s ‘spiritual testament‘, the climax of his teaching, for it wonderfully condenses his experi­ence and revealed message. It looks so novel that some exegetes have considered it to be inauthentic (B.Stade, B.Duhm,  E.W.Nich­olson). But although it announces a turning point in the history of Israel, there are no convincing reasons to discard this Jeremian masterpiece. It may have come for the latest phase of his life when he had lost all hopes in the Deuteronomic reform of Josiah.

This prophecy is explicitly quoted in Hb 8:8-12 (at length) and 10:16f. (Only partly, vv.33ab and 34 c, which constitute the essentials of the “new covenant“). It is explicitly alluded to in 1 Cor 11:25 (cf. Lk 22:20; Mk 14:24; Mt 26:28) and developed in 2 Cor 3:1-18 in terms of the antithesis GRAMMA/PNEUMA.  It is also    alluded    to, less explicitly    though, in    Rm 2:29,3:27,7:6,14; 8:2; and 1 Th 4:9, as we shall see in its due time.

We shall study briefly its historical background, its structure and its characteristic elements.
a) The Historical Background

During Manasseh’s long reign (687-642 BCE.) Judah remained Assyria’s vassal; this political dependence gave rise to a new impetus of idolatry in the form of a syncretist fusion of the Mesopotamian astral gods and the Canaanite fertility deities. This political and religious situation persisted during Josiah’s long minority (640-609b.c.e.).

Jeremiah, under the influence of his predecessor Hoseah, recalls the covenant as basically a matter of love between Yahweh and Israel–a love symbolized by that which unites a man and a woman in marriage. At this early date, Jeremiah announced a disastrous invasion from the north as Yahweh’s revenge against the adulterous attitude of the chosen people, and then hoped for the restoration of the northern Kingdom.

When in 621 BCE. The “Book of the Law” containing Dt 12-26 was discovered in the Temple; Josiah led a thorough reform in Judah, which he extended even to the ancient northern Israel, an Assyrian province since 721 BCE. In a solemn ceremony, which was the national celebration of the Passover at Jerusalem, the Sinaitic covenant was renewed; there followed the   total destruction of the local shrines, like Bethel, where idolatrous practices were performed, leaving Jerusalem as the unique centre for worship. In 609 BCE. this glorious reign came to its tragic end with Josiah’s death at Megiddo.   With Jehoiakim’s accession to the throne, the reformation was swiftly eclipsed by a return to idolatry. Politically, the Egyptian party took power and Jeremiah renewed his fight against idolatry and the covenantal unfaithfulness.   But as this disorderly situation would not change, Jeremiah became more and more aware that true conversion to Yahweh was humanly speaking impossible. Yahweh himself had to change the heart itself of man with a new act comparable to that of creation (Jer 31:22) and only then could the New Covenant bind forever and in a new, unheard-of way the people to their God (Jr 31:31-34). This new order of things would unite again Judah and Israel, but only after the Exile (587-539   BCE.)  had purified their stubbornness in   sin, precisely as Jeremiah had prophesied.

Twenty years later, after the return from the Exile, Ezekiel was the prophet of hope for the oppressed, depressed and suppressed people. But while Jeremiah announced the renewal in terms of the interiorization of the Law into human hearts, Ezekiel will describe it as an outpouring of the Spirit of Yahweh  (Ez 36:25-28;cf.37: 14).

b) Its Structure

There have been several studies on Jer 31:31-34. Among the New Testament exegetes, there are studies, which tried to detect the covenantal formulary (preamble, historical prologue, stipula­tions, public reading of the treaty, list of the gods as witness­es and a formula of curses and blessings) in Pauline letters, as well as attempts to find the common elements to the Sinaitic covenant and the New Covenant in Pauline writings

But these studies do not do justice to the passage which is in question in our Dissertation, namely 2 Cor 3:1-18 where we find the expression  “new covenant” (cf.1 Cor 11:25) and the antithesis GRAMMA/PNEUMA.   What is extremely important is to detect the “newness” of the New Covenant in the New Testament. I intend to prove that Jer 31 inspires this Pauline antithesis: 32f.   We have therefore, to study the antithetic structure already found in Jer 31:31-34.

i) The prophet announces the “new covenant” for the messianic times.    In   this metric piece, the expression   “Yahweh speaks” (NEHUM YAHWEH) recurs four times: at the middle of the oracle in v.31, which announces the “new covenant“; at the very end of v.32, when immediately in v.33a the description of the “new covenant” is begun, “This is the new covenant I will make with the house of Israel when those days arrive…” at the end of v.33a, before the description of the essentials of the promised  “new covenant“: “Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts”; and finally, at the end  of  v.34c, before  the  promise  of the forgiveness of sin” (v.34d).   This reminder of the divine origin of the oracle, “So says Yahweh“, marks off the structure of this literary unit: it comes in the fundamental verses of this oracle, namely v.31 (announcement of the  “new covenant“, that is, the exteriorization of the Law in the human hearts, v.33b), and v.34c (before the promise of the forgiveness of sin, v.34d).

ii) In the same way, the particle KI recurs twice, namely in vv.32a and 33a, and it comes in the important moments of the movement of our passage: for the first time, when the  “new covenant” is described by comparison with the Sinaitic covenant; and for the second time, when it is defined in terms of its own contents, that is, in terms of the interiorization of the Law in the human hearts to be worked out by Yahweh himself, what constitutes a turning-point in the history of the promises made by Yahweh  to  his people. But in each of the two verses the particle KI has two different functions: it is an adversative particle in v.32a, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…but not  (LO-KI) a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt“.   It introduces here therefore a contrast between the Sinaitic covenant which took place after the Exodus-event, and the New Covenant which Yahweh will conclude in the future with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. On the contrary, in v.33a its usage is climactic:  it introduces the   positive description of this  “new covenant“: the announcement of the intervention of Yahweh who “will implant deep within them his Law, writing it on their hearts“.

iii) We have to see now in what precisely consists the contrast between the Sinaitic covenant and the New Covenant so as to understand the “newness” of Yahweh’s promises.

Jeremiah expresses through a negative formula the first positive feature of the “new covenant“: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…not like the covenant I made with their forefathers“.   It implies the superiority of the New Covenant over the Sinaitic dispensation. The prophet formulates this antithesis (since it was congenial to the Semitic mind) in order to bring out the novelty of the “new covenant” which he was about to announce courageously to the people who were suffering in the Exile.

First of all, the “new covenant” is also a covenant between Yahweh and Israel. It binds them together, but the initiative belongs to Yahweh. As the “first covenant” had called together people, a people loving and serving Yahweh (Ex 19:8; Dt 5:27), so too in the new era the people will know Yahweh and obey his Law.   But this time the covenant extends both to Israel and Judah,  “from the least tot he greatest“(v.34c), to all nations, it really creates a new people.

Secondly, as in the Sinaitic theophany Yahweh had given his Law, the Decalogue, to his people (Ex 20:2-17; Dt 5:6-21), sot too now Yahweh promises to give his Law to Israel and Judah; there is only one Law, the Law of Yahweh is the Decalogue written by Yahweh himself   with   his   finger   on stone tablets (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:16; Dt  4:13; 5:22). But the difference begins soon to disappear clearly: the people of the ancient dispensation were repeatedly breaking God’s Law (Jer 31:32a). On the contrary, the people of the new covenant will remain faithful to Yahweh (Jer 31:34c). And the reason is obvious: for Jeremiah at Sinai, Yahweh wrote his Law with his own finger on two stone tablets; but now Yahweh himself will “write” his Law, no longer on stone tablets, but on the hearts of men. This point will be clearly brought out by Paul in 2 Cor 3:3 with the opposition, “(you are a letter of Christ), written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God“,  “not on stone tablets, but on the tablets of your living hearts“, and 2 Cor 3:6 with the antithesis RAMMA/PNEUMA, “(ministers of the new covenant), not a covenant of GRAMMA, but of the PNEUMA“, the GRAMMA brings death, but the PNEUMA gives life“.

Thirdly, the people will obey God’s law and commandments, no longer in virtue of the external law, written on hard stone tablets, but in virtue of the law written on fleshy human hearts (v.34).

c) Its Characteristic Elements:

It is extremely important for our later discussion to bear clearly in mind the characteristic features of the Jeremian notion of the “new covenant“.

We shall distinguish three main elements in the  “new covenant” announced by our prophet (Jer 31:31):

i) The Law engraved deep down in the human hearts: The New Covenant will be definitive precisely because now the Law itself will be written on human hearts (v.33a). This interior Law will be called    the    Spirit of   Yahweh    himself    by    Ezekiel (36:26f.; cf.37:14).   It is the internal Law, the source of the forgiveness of sin and the principle of human ethical activity.

ii) The knowledge of Yahweh: it is to be understood not only at a theoretical, speculative level but at a practical level, as necessarily entailing the fulfillment of the external Law. It is the communion with Yahweh (v.34c) and is correlative with the forgiveness of sin. This is the internal theologico-ontological effect of the “Law, interiorized in human hearts“, of the Spirit of Yahweh outpoured into human hearts.

iii) The obedience to the Law: This is the external, ethical consequence of the “new covenant“, of the “Law written on human hearts“,  “of the Spirit of Yahweh outpoured into human hearts“. From now onwards, the people will obey the Law of Yahweh not in virtue of the external Decalogue, written at Sinai on the stone tablets  (Ex 24:12; Dt 5:22), but in virtue of the internal Law, written on the tablets, which are human hearts (v.33b; Ez  36:26; cf.2 Cor 3:3.6). Further, since the “internal Law” or the Spirit of Yahweh will become the dynamic principle of the ethical life, man in the messianic times will be freed from the constraint of the external Law. This is the second consequence of the  “new covenant“, connected with the internalization of the Law within human hearts:  freedom from the external Law.   Since man will fulfill the Law under the motion of the “internal Law“, written on his heart and not under the coercion of the external Law engraved on stone tablets or book, it follows that man will be freed from the exterior pressure of the binding ordinances and statutes to obey the inner impulsions.

At this stage, it is clear that Jeremiah describes the New Covenant in terms of an antithesis between the Sinaitic Covenant and the Messianic Covenant. Further, the New Covenant is defined in   opposition to the Sinaitic Covenant in terms of   the “interiorization” of the Law: the Law will be engraved on human hearts.   It implies, therefore, an allusion to the external Law given at Sinai on stone tablets.

What is characteristic of the New Covenant is the Law written on human hearts. This was a vague aspiration of the prophet before the failure of the Deuteronomy reform attempted by Josiah.   But the solution has been an insight revealed by Yahweh himself to the prophet: Only Yahweh will be able to effect this radical renewal of hearts. This was already announced in Jr 31:22 as being exclusively a divine act with the unique verb BARA’, and this same idea comes in Jr 31:34d with the verb SALAH which denotes the divine act of forgiving the sins of the people. This “interiorization” of the Law announced in Jer 31:33b is not a mere return to a better observance of the whole Torah. Neither is this prophecy a proclamation of the slogan of libertinism and anarchy: the freedom from the external Law does not mean inconformism to the laws and to the teaching authority of the Jewish synagogue or of the Church. Rather, it means a better-rooted obedience to the Law and to the authority.   From now onwards, the people will be faithful to Yahweh’s law, which is written not only on hard, cold stone tablets, preserved in the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:22), but also on their soft, fleshy, warm human hearts. This point will be brought out by Ez 36:25-28 and by Paul in 2 Cor 3:1-18. Against James Swetnam, we have to establish that the “newness” of the New Covenant does not consist in the fact that “copies of the Mosaic Law are officially to be made available wherever Israelites are to be found” and that “these copies are to figure in a liturgy in which knowledge of the Law is directly communicated to them“. Thus, according to Swetnam the novelty lies “in a direct contact between Torah and Israelite“.   But if the Sinaitic covenant was repeatedly broken by the covenanted people it was not for the lack of knowledge of the Law, but because humanly speaking the constant and through fulfillment of the Law was not feasible, as the history of Israel proves.

Therefore, the solution divinely suggested to Jeremiah is that henceforth the Law will be engraved neither on stone tablets nor on the books of Scriptures, but on their hearts. For Jeremiah, although he has not used the word RUAH this Law will be the Spirit of Yaweh himself, as the later prophets will explain.

The “newness” of the New Covenant, which has been a headache for several modern exegetes, has been well explained   by St.Thomas   in   his commentary to Heb 8:8-10.   He   clearly distinguishes  between the “first covenant” characterized by  the external Law, written on stone tablets, of which a man like Moses could  be  the  mediator, and the “new  covenant”  which  consists (according to Ez 36:27) primarily in the gift of the Holy Spirit, working in the centre of human hearts and beings.

He  reasons out that there are two ways of communicating  an order  to  a man. The first consists in acting externally on a man, for example by conveying from outside to a person a mandate or a wish; this way is possible for a man, it is in this way that the Law of the Sinaitic covenant was communicated to the people at Sinai. The second way consists in acting in the very depth of the human heart and being; this is possible only for God. It is in this way that the New Covenant was inaugurated: it consists in the gift of the Law, the Holy Spirit, who instructs interiorly and inclines the will to act according to the will of God, by filling the hearts with love.

Also   commenting   on 2Cor 3:6, St.Thomas   of   Aquinas writes: “…the old law is a covenant of the letter. But the New Covenant is the covenant of the Holy Spirit by whom love of God is diffused into our hearts, as it is written in Rm 5:5. And thus since the Holy Spirit produces in us love, the fullness of the law, is the new covenant, written not by letter, by but by the Spirit who gives life (Rm 8:2, “the law of the life-giving   Spirit”).

This event has been proclaimed in a universalistic key: it is to be extended to all, both Israel and Judah (Jar 31:31,cf.33). Originally, this prophecy was uttered in respect to the northern Israel, which had been punished by Yahweh at the time of Josiah. Only later on it was extended to Judah by Jeremiah himself (after its first deportation, Jr 24:7) and then by Ezekiel  (after the destruction of Jerusalem, Ez 36:26f.).

3.A Philological Analysis of KAINE DIATHEKE

After we have seen the main elements involved in the Jeremian prophecy of the “new covenant“, we shall briefly analyse the meaning of the expression KAINE DIATHEKE, the translation given by the Septuagint for the BERITH HADASHA of the Masoretic text.   This will help us to synthesize the riches of the new covenant theology provided by the Jeremian oracle under the heading KAINE DIATHEKE in Jer 31:31.

There have been several specific studies as well as short articles in the dictionaries and encyclopediae on the term DIATHEKE.   But our attention will be focused on the KAINE DIATHEKE of Jer 31:31.

In the classical and Hellenistic Greek usage, DIATHEKE was the technical term for “last will and testament“. This was exclusive meaning in Hellenistic times, as it can be seen from Greek inscriptions, papyri and ostraca of the first century.   In the translation of the Hebrew biblical BERITH in the Septuagint, DIATHEKE loses it sense of “last will” and is reduced to its fundamental meaning of a “disposition” (as is suggested by its verb DIATITHEMAI, “to dispose”, “distribute“), “promise”, “declaration of will and purpose”,  “decree”,  “an agreement or pact” between unequal partners.

The Hebrew BERITH (corresponding to Aramaic QEYAM) means “covenant“,  “alliance“, “league“, “agreement” or  “pledge“.  The central meaning of the term is certainly  “covenant“.    It expresses the essential content of BERITH: on the one hand, there is the primary aspect of the sovereign initiative of Yahweh who out of HESED, unselfish love, proposes to start his relations with a man or a people; on the other hand, and as a consequence, there comes the secondary aspect of the reciprocal commitment
between the two partners. The initiative comes entirely from Yahweh; it is his HESED that founds the covenantal relationship. Thus, BERITH is the expression of a will, which is being imposed by the superior (Yahweh) on the other contracting party (Israel).

The translation of BERITH with DIATHEKE was rather a providential interpretation on the part of the Alexandrian Judaism of the primary aspect of BERITH, which is the initiative of Yahweh, his supreme, unconditional disposition. This aspect was left in shadow by the post-exilic Palestinian community that reduced the notion of BERITH to a pure legal contract, a contract that became unfeasible without the life-given power of Yahweh.

Already the prophets were announcing a new or eternal BERITH, an economy that could be defined as a better “control of the situation by God“. The “new covenant” of Jer 31:31 is a divine promise to establish a new divine economy of salvation. It is out of love that Yahweh will bring his people back to him and inaugurate a new type of relationship of father-children: “I will be their God and they will be my people“(Jer 31:33c; cf. Ex 4:22).

The translation with diatheke gave rise to reflections on divine BERITH as “last will“. Originally, DIATHEKE meant precisely an act of adoption by which a person designates the other as his son and therefore as his heir. This was its meaning until the 3rd.century BCE. But its fundamental meaning is that of a “disposition“, “declaration of will“, interior to man, and in this sense it appears in the oracles of the new dispensation.
This is also its meaning in Pauline writings, particularly in 1 Cor 11:25 and 2 Cor 3:6.

Heb 9:16f. Has been a vexed problem in the scholarly debate for the author shifts from one sense to the other, as it cane well be seen from the context:  in v.15 he speaks of the  “new covenant“, opposed to the “first covenant” and in vv.16f.  he connects it with the idea of the death of the testator so that a “disposition” rendered definitive by the irreversible event of death becomes a “testamentary disposition“, a “last will“.   In Heb 9:15-18, parallel to 8:6-13, the author shows that the death of Jesus was essential for him to act as “mediator of the new covenant“, of whom Moses was only a type and figure. Now the double meaning of diatheke allows him to shift from the general sense of “disposition” to the more specific acceptance of the “last will“.

In Jer 31:31 the emphasis is laid on the newness of the KAINE DIATHEKE.   If we argue on the basis of a distinction between NEOS and KAINOS used in the classical Greek, we could establish that while NEOS designates a recent thing, KAINOS denotes a thing not only unused, but superior in kind to the old one.   To give an example: in Mt 9:17 Jesus warns that the new wine is to be put into old vessels, and there the expression OINON NEON EIS ASKOUS PALAIOUS is used for it is the question of the recently fermented wine. But in Mt 26:29 Jesus at the last supper announces that he will not drink again the fruit of the vine until that day when he drinks it new  (KAINON) with his disciples in his Father’s Kingdom. In this difficult text, the word KAINON indicates that the wine is of a new kind, not an earthly wine, but the heavenly joy. Similarly, KAINE DIATHEKE of 2 Cor 3:6 and KAINE KTISIS of 2 Cor 5:17 imply that it is not the question of the same repaired or renewed covenant or creation, but of a different kind of dispensation or existence.
But, as R.A.Harrisville has well shown, this argument is not decisive in the field of the KOINE usage.   Rather, the term KAINOS underlines the dynamic continuity and finality of the KAINE DIATHEKE (Jer 31:31; 2 Cor 3:6) as growing out of the PALAIA DIATHEKE, the hapax legomenon, found only in 2 Cor 3:14;cf. Jer 31:32a;Heb 8:13).   Instead of an opposition, the emphasis is placed on the organic growth of the “new covenant”, which replaces the seed.

4.A Comparison between Jeer 31 and Ex 34

There are several texts about the restoration of the Sinaitic covenant (Ex 24:12; 34:1;Dt 10:2;Jos 24:26). We have so far analysed the newness of the “new covenant” at the level of the text, vocabulary and the context of Jr 31. We shall now see whether a text on the renewal of the Sinaitic covenant sheds any light on the “newness” of the New Covenant.

Ex  34:1-28, parallel to ex 19:1-20:21, is from  ‘Yahwistic’ origin and relates the restoration of the stone tablets of the Law broken by Moses (Ex 32:19).

Let us compare the texts. On the one hand, we have Yahweh’s promise to restore the broken stone tablets of the Law: “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will inscribe on them the words that were on the first tablets which you broke“(Ex 34:1b,cf.vv.27f.). There is nothing radically new here:  similar tablets, the same words, engraved in the same way. On the other hand, Jer 31:33b runs as follows: “Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts”. From the very outset the difference between the two texts is obvious: while in Ex  34:1b Yahweh would write his Law (the Ten Words) with his own finger on stone tablets  (cf. Ex  24:12; 31:18; 32:16; Dt   4:13; 5:22; 10:2), according to the promise of Jer 31:33b Yahweh will write his Law (evidently the Decalogue, for there is no other law) deep within human hearts.

At the first sight, it might look to be a metaphorical language   for us, modern readers,  –in fact, the   Qumran covenanters thought it as a better observance of the Mosaic Law, as well as several modern authors did  –a language used to encourage people to take to heart the Law, to engrave it on their heart, on their memory. If we look for literary parallels of this enigmatic phrase, we do find many having this meaning.
Already in Jer 17:1, where it is said, that “the sin of Judah  is written with an iron pen…on the tablet of their heart“, we find this expression in its metaphorical, figurative sense. It comes also in the same acceptance in Dt 6:6;cf.11: 18;Pr 3:3; 7:3.   It is a common expression of the times and quite characteristic of the Eastern people. In all these texts it is an invitation to inculcate the virtue, the law or love in the hearts, to engrave it in the memory.

On the contrary, if we remark carefully, Jer 31:33b  (with equivalent texts, Dt 30:6; 30:14) (as we shall see) is an absolute promise on the part of Yahweh to imprint his Law on the human hearts so that the result will immediately and infallibly follow that the people will know and serve Yahweh.   As Ernst Vogt sharply and judiciously remarks, the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and his people is expressed in Jer 31:33b by the consecutive perfect wehayiti, “I will be their God and they shall be my people“, because now in the New Dispensation it follows “from the action of the Lord, who implants the Law in heart and renders easy and agreeable the observance of the Law“. Thus, the Law of Yahweh will be “the law of the human heart itself” and its fulfillment will be “spontaneous and innate to men“.

As the “first covenant” was characterized buy the gift of the Law at, also the “new covenant ” will consist in the gift of the Law. But the essential difference between the Sinaitic Law and the Law of the New Covenant, will be that whereas the Sinaitic Law was written on stone tablets and preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, the Law of the New Covenant will directly implanted   by   Yahweh   himself   into   human hearts.    The interpretation given within the Old Testament itself will be that this MATTAN TORAH now will be the Spirit promised by Yahweh through Ez 36:26f. and called by the Targum the Spirit himself of Yahweh.   This Spirit of Yahweh will be internal to men, the source and the dynamic principle of their ethical activity, and no longer external to them.

Thus, the Law of the New Covenant will be not only a way and a light, but also the very divine life. Originally, TORAH was meant to be an “instruction”, a “guide”. Now, the Law of the Old Covenant would show the way but it could not move the will to fulfill it. The New Covenant is a covenant of a life-giving law, who will not only tea way from outside, as traffic light or a street code, but will also move them from inside to fulfill what the external Law proposes, as an engine.   Therefore, as a consequence, there will be no need of teaching the people of the New Covenant the “knowledge” of Yahweh, which according to the Semitic mind was to love and serve God. Since the Law of God will be interiorized, it will be the principle of our life; our
activity will necessarily be according to the Will of God.   The Will of God will be the law of the life and love of the children of the new covenant.

5.Jer 31:31-34 and Its Literary Genre

Jeremiah gave a bold expression to the prophecies on the new era of his predecessors, particularly Hoseah (2:21) and Isaiah (11:1; 32:15; Dt-Is 42:1; 44:3), and created a new type of the literary genre of the “new covenant” or  “eternal” covenant. There have been attempts to detect the covenantal formulary in Jr 31. But to our mind our unique oracle resists to any such attempt. However, we shall try to see whether we can describe the essentials of the prophecy in terms of the treaty of the alliance.   For Buis, there are five themes in Jr 31, namely, gathering of the people and return, definition of the covenant, inner renewal of the people, announcement of the definitive covenant and blessings. Henri Cazelles speaks of four points, that to say, stipulations, undertakings, blessings and curses.

We shall single out the main sentences of Jr 31 and analyse their contents.

Jr 31:1–“I will be the God of all the clans of Israel; they shall be my people” (the formula of the covenant (cf.vv.31.33a);

31:3–“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (historical prologue, cf.v.32a);

31:20–“I am deeply moved for my child, Ephraim (a change of Yahweh’s attitude, cf. v.28a);

31:21–“Come home, Israel, to these towns of yours”(return to the land);

31:22bc–“Yahweh is creating something new on earth:  the Woman is in search of her Husband again (announcement of the new relationship of Yahweh with Israel, cf. v34b);

31:28–Once Yahweh watched Israel and Judah to destroy them; now he will plant and build them up  (general announcement of future blessings);

31:29–Before  “the fathers would eat unripe grapes; the children’s teeth would be set on edge” (collective retribution); but now  “each is to die for his own sin. Every man who eats unripe grapes is to have his own teeth set on edge“(individual responsibility).    It   is a new emphasis   of   the   future dispensation.

31:31– “a new covenant” (Yahweh’s absolute, unconditional, unexpected promise);

31:32–the Sinaitic covenant was broken, by the chosen people, the “new covenant” will be definitive. The exodus-event is mentioned (historical prologue);

31:33a–“I shall engrave my Law  (the Decalogue or Ten Words), no longer on stone tablets given at Sinai, but on the heart of each and every man (the basic blessing of the New Covenant, source of all other blessings.

31:33b–“I will be their God and they shall be my people” (the covenantal formula, cf.v.9, father-child relationship);

31:34a–No constraint of the external law (the freedom of the new covenant, in the sense already explained above);

31:34bc– everyone will serve God (universalism);

31:34d– forgiveness of sin (a blessing correlative with the gift of the ‘interiorized Law’);

31:35-37–like the cosmic covenant with Noah and with the earth (cf. Ps 89:37f. covenant with David).

The v.33a mentions the main blessing of the new covenant, which is the interiorized law or the Spirit of Yaweh. It recalls the formulation of the Decalogue, the original stipulation of the Sinaitic covenant, the terms of the alliance between Yahweh and Israel.   “I will set my Law in the centre of their being” is in synonymic   parallelism with ” I will write it on their heart”. Jeremiah calls elsewhere the Law also  “my words”(devarim) (Jr 6:19),  “the way of Yahweh“(Jr 5:4; 32:39),  “the ruling   of God” (5:4; 8:7).   It is now not a new rule, but the selfsame “ancient law, that contains the fundamental precepts which Jeremiah inculcates and which prescribe the right way of living before God and before men“.

This blessing is the source of all other blessings.   Since the Law is implanted into human hearts and beings, the Law written on stone tablets is fulfilled, the knowledge of God, which includes his love and service, becomes a reality, the power of sin is reduced to nothing. Further, in Jr 31:31 the promise is absolute, whereas in Ex 19:5, “if you obey my voice and hold fast to my covenant, you of all the nations shall be my very own for all the earth is mine”, the blessing was conditional and therefore its fulfillment was in some way or other conditioned by the obedience of the people. Therefore, although we find few elements of the covenantal formulary in the passage in question, the blessings are reduced to the fundamental one, namely to the interiorized law, the blessing par excellence of the   new dispensation.

This same insight of the New Covenant is found in Jr 32:37b-41, which is an expansion of Jeremiah’s oracles by a later anonymous redactor, one of his disciples. The oracles found in chs.32-33 date back from 587 BCE. In ch. 32 we have Jeremiah’s 
prayer (32:16-25) and Yahweh’s answer (32:26-44), with editorial 
expansions. Yahweh confirms the future liberation of Judah. The addition, vv.29b-41 is a free composition inspired mainly by a number of Jeremiah’s prophecies.

Let us examine Jr 32:37b-41.

32:37b–“I will bring them back to his place and make them 
live in safety” (return from the Exile, gathering of the people n 

32:38–“They shall be my people, and I will be their God” (covenantal formula);

32:39–“I will give them a different heart and a different way so that they will always fear me…” (Renewal of the people to be operated by Yahweh himself;

38:40a–“I will make an everlasting covenant with them” 
(new, definitive covenant);

32:40b–“I will engrave the fear for me within their hearts so that they turn from me no more” (again, inner renewal of hearts and fidelity to the law);

32:41–“I will plant them firmly in this land” (blessings).

32:42-44– restoration of the material welfare of the people.

In this passage we find the five elements, which constitute the literary genre of the “new covenant“, as proposed by Pierre Buis.   It goes in the same sense as Jr 31:31-34, yet it betrays few differences both in the structure and the vocabulary. First, there is a clear emphasis on the element of the return to the land (Jr 32:37; cf.41-44). This element appears only slightly in Jr  31:21; instead, in Jr 31:31-34 the emphasis is on the inner renewal (or “conversion”) of the people. Secondly, instead of the formula  “new covenant” we have “everlasting covenant” to indicate the stability of the new order. Thirdly, instead of the “law written in the human hearts” the author speaks of a “different heart” (cf. Jr 24:7), of a “different way” (cf. Jr 5:4). Fourthly, instead of the “knowledge of the Lord” he mentions the “fear of the Lord“, that is the same as the filial respect, not servile fear, is the love and service of the Lord.   And finally, we have the negative formula, “that may not turn from me no more” (cf. Jr 31:34c;Ez 36:27), that is, they may fulfill the law.

Again, as we have remarked concerning Jr  31:31, we can reduce all the elements found therein to the fundamental one,  “a different heart“”, that is, “a heart to acknowledge that I am Yahweh”  (Jr  24:7), a “new heart, new spirit“(Ez  36:26), the Spirit himself of Yahweh. The result of this interiorization of a  “different heart” will be the “fear of Yahweh“(Jr 32:40), the inner renewal of the human hearts, a life according to the Will of Yahweh.

6.Jr 31:31-34 and Its Origins

A word on the origins of this highly theological insight is in order.   Does it come directly from the prophet Jeremiah or from other prophets?   A lot has been written on this point. E.Vogt defends Jeremian originality of this oracle.   Other attributes it to a deuteronomistic hand. Pierre Buis maintains that this insight is found both in Jr 31:31-34 and Dt  30:6, cf.vv.11-14, where the “circumcision of heart” is resented as a gift of God and an action of God and is therefore the same as the “interiorization of the Law“, operated by God himself.   Rather than speaking of the dependence of Dt on Jr or inversely, we prefer to see with Buis these prophecies as the parallel expressions of the exilic movement of the renewal of Israel.

This prophecy comes from the prophet of Anathot who received it as Yahweh’s revelation and deeply embedded it into his own life experience. There were also prophetic precedents in Isaian oracles of the Spirit (cf. Is 11:1-9; 32:15-20).

7.Jr 31:31-34 and Its Influence

This messianic oracle has been alive in later tradition, not only in the Old Testament period but also the New Testament epoch as well as in the Christian tradition.

It has influenced the prophets, particularly Ezekiel, Joel and Deutero-Isaiah, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Song of Songs, the Gospels, Pauline writings, the letter of James, the letter to the Hebrews.

It has always been near and dear to the Christian tradition, particularly to St.Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

8.Jr 31:31-34 and Its Fulfillment

The immediate context of this Jeremian prophecy was the time of the return from Exile.   Jeremiah exhorted the people of the northern Kingdom from conversion: “If you convert yourself, Israel, you may return to me“(Jr 4:1). As we know from the history of Palestine, Israel was never converted for it refused Yahweh’s invitation.   The chronological indication  “in those days“(Jr  31:31) may refer to the post-exilic restoration or to the messianic era. This “new covenant” was still associated with
material-national promises (cf. Jr 30:18; 31:; 32:37.41, where the theme of return to God replaces almost that of forgiveness of sin. Probably Jeremiah thought that the prophecy would be fulfilled at the return from Exile. Yet, the prophecy had a double object: the post-exilic restoration of the chosen people would be a preparation and an anticipation of the messianic fulfillment.

This prophecy has been perfectly fulfilled in the Christian dispensation.   It is an oracle of Christianity. Jesus clearly alluded to it at the last Supper in the Cenacle and intended to fulfill it in his words pronounced on the  “cup of the new covenant“(1 Cor 11:25;Lk 22:20). No wonder if Paul and other New Testament writers claimed its fulfillment (cf.particularly 2 Cor 3:6;Heb 8:8-13; 10:16f.).

Jeremiah’s vision was not limited to that short span of time, but embraced all times and the whole humankind, as Bruce Vawter comments:

Luckily the Old Testament does not say the final word on itself. We have been taught by one Greater than the prophets to see its fulfillment in an Israel that is truly new, an Israel that is not of the flesh but of the spirit“.

Vatican II teaches that the Church constitutes the reality of the Old Testament oracles on the new era, the era of the Spirit.

Christ instituted this new covenant (Jr 31:31-34), that is to say, the new testament, in His blood (1 Cor 11:25), by calling together a people made up of Jew and Gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God”(…).

Art.II: The Everlasting Covenant of the Spirit in Ez  36:25-28

We shall briefly analyse the context, the historical situation, the structure and the elements of Ez 36:23-28.

1.The Text and the Context.

The text reads as follows:

I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it.   Thus, the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.

2) The Significance of Ez 36:25-28:

The prophet Ezekiel announces the restoration to the exiles in order to encourage and prepare this “little remnant” to become the new people of the New Covenant: He resumed the Jeremian oracle of the  “new covenant” almost twenty years later and delivered his prophecy of the “new spirit” certainly after the destruction of Jerusalem (around August of 587 BCE.).   The promised renewal is described in terms of a communication of the “new heart”  (Ez  36:26;cf. Jr 24:7), of the  “new spirit”  (Ez 
36:26f.11: 19), of the Spirit himself of Yahweh. The Spirit of Yahweh is the gift of the messianic renewal.

The main elements of the Ezekielian prophecy are: return to the land, forgiveness of sin, inner renewal, outpouring of the Spirit of Yahweh, fulfillment of the Law, the covenantal formula.

This prophecy has been a source of inspiration for other prophets. One of his disciples has shortened Ezekiel’s words in Ez 11:17-21. Joel extended this gift of the Spirit to all people in a clearer way (Jl 3:1-5). The theologian of Deutero-Isaiah has also been strongly influenced by Ezekiel (Dt-Is 59:21, where there is a perfect coincidence between the  “word” and the “spirit” of Yahweh).

This prophecy has been fulfilled on the Pentecost day. Simon   Peter referred to it in his speech  (Ac   2:17-21). Subsequently, other apostles of Jesus claimed the fulfillment of this prophecy in the person of the Risen Christ.   Paul has alluded to it several times, as we shall see later.

The passage on the “new spirit” (Ez 36:23-32) is followed by the prophet’s vision of the “dry bones”  (Ez  37:1-14).   The episode takes place in Babylon, where the prophet is led in a vision to the plain where the bones of those fallen in war remained. This mystical experience is a symbol of his mission to the exiles. The concluding v.14 sums up the threefold activity of the Spirit of Yahweh: it gives life (37:5.6.14), it leads the people back to their homeland (36:24; 37:12.14) and it renews in them the knowledge of the Lord (vv.6.14).

There is also another metaphor for the  “new covenant“, namely “circumcision of heart“, found in the book of Deuteronomy (Dt 30:6), as well as in the book of Jubilees and at Qumran.   Dt 30:4-10 is a deuteronomistic text and therefore it belongs to the time of Exile. It announces the activity of Yahweh within human hearts.  Its elements are: the return to the land  (v.5); the “circumcision of heart” worked out by Yahweh himself (v.6a); love of Yahweh (v.6b); the result is “life” (v.6c) and fulfillment of the Law (v.8); blessings (v.9) under the condition of Israel’s conversion to Yahweh  (v.10) Yet, the main blessing is the “circumcision of heart“, operated by God himself, a unique, unheard-of event which results in communion with God and fidelity to is Law.

Originally, circumcision was an initiation to marriage and to the life of the clan (Gn 34:14-17; Ex 12:47f). Then it became also a symbol of the covenant made by Yahweh with Abraham  (Gn 17:10), it was meant to remind Yahweh of his covenant and man of the obligations derived from his belonging to the chosen people (cf.1 Mc 1:63; 2 Mc 6:10). Now, in the “new covenant” there is also a place for circumcision, not the physical circumcision, but “circumcision of heart“, internal to the human being, operated by God himself. In the old dispensation, love of Yahweh was given as a commandment, in the new era it is presented as Yahweh’s gift, as his activity. It corresponds to the Law written in human hearts of Jr 31:33, to the Spirit communicated to human beings of Ez 36:27. The Spirit will be the characteristic sign of the people of the new covenant, the trademark of the Chris­tians. The prophecy of Dt 30:6 is claimed to have been fulfilled by Paul in Rm 2:29 (cf. Rm 7:6; Phil 3:3), where he wonderfully blends these messianic prophecies (Dt 30:6; Jr 31:32f; Ez  36:27; 37:14).


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j~ir ~j~jjwIu iI~’~~rniI

~uUdli: ‘i~


‘tutu t~EWlUDUI~r



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