The New Covenant: An Exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Part 1)

Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, The Lord's Supper, Theology, Uncategorized

A Most Talked About Topic

I’ve been preaching through Hebrews, and this past week did a sermon on the new covenant. Hebrews 8:8-12 cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 (mostly using the LXX). In this series of blogs, I thought I would take us through a tour of the very important new covenant, for this is the covenant we are under as Christians.

In the Reformed world between Baptists and Paedobaptists (Yeah, I know, many paedos don’t think we can really be “Reformed,” but a few of them do), I can think of fewer topics that are discussed more often than the new covenant. This is because the new covenant has become the bulls eye for arguments and debates about baptism and covenant membership. Sadly, though Jeremiah might legitimately be used to touch on this question in an after-the-fact way, it should be admitted by all that this passage has nothing to do with baptism. This is why, when I argue for credobaptism, I refuse to use Jeremiah’s new covenant.[1] This series of posts is therefore not going to be about baptism, though it might touch a little upon it.

In this blog, I do not want to answer modern questions, but ancient questions. Only then can we understand what Jeremiah is talking about. Those questions would include, who is the new covenant given to, and what kind of people does it say that they will be? While baptism in our own context may be a related question that shoots off of these answers, in the original context of Jeremiah and Hebrews, better questions would be how do these people get this way and what does it mean for their lives?

The Days are Coming

Let’s start with the first question that arises in the passage. When is Jeremiah’s new covenant? The text is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and again in Hebrews 8:8-12. The passage is a prophecy. “Behold, the days are coming…” (Jer 31:31). “The days” is an eschatological time frame. So when are these days? In the six hundred or so years between Jeremiah and Hebrews, the passage is only used one time that we know of as far as the time frame is concerned. The Jews at Qumran by the Dead Sea believed that they were living in the new covenant 100-200 years prior to Jesus (CD-A VI, 18–19; 1QS I, 16, 18, 20, 24; II, 10).

But according to Hebrews and the NT, this was impossible. If we remember the way Hebrews began it said, “In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2). This is talking about Jesus in the flesh, and that didn’t happen in the days of Qumran. Because of Jesus’ coming, the main thing you have to know about the “when” of the new covenant is that what was future for Jeremiah is now past for us. The days are no longer coming when God will make a new covenant. The days are past. If this is true, then it means that this covenant is for Christians in a way that no other covenant in the Bible is. For we are under this covenant. Therefore, to understand it is of paramount importance for our lives, for this establishes our relationship with God.

[1] For my views of baptism, I’ve written a whole book on the subject from a credobaptist, covenant theology perspective that never once refers to Jeremiah 31. It is called Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

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