Why is the same Greek word for Covenant sometimes translated Testament?

The Bible is a complex book that has been translated into many different languages. In some cases, the same word in the original language can be translated into multiple words in English, depending on the context. This can lead to confusion, particularly when it comes to understanding the meaning of certain passages. In this blog post, we will explore some examples of words that are translated differently in the English Bible according to context.

Testament or Covenant?

In the Greek language, the word “diathēkē” can be translated as either “testament” or “covenant.” The context determines which translation is more appropriate. Hebrews 9:16 shows this by using the word “testament” to indicate that because the death of the testator has occurred, a will is in effect. This means that someone is giving an inheritance without any conditions or contractual obligations to the recipient. In contrast, when two parties are involved with obligations on both sides, the word “covenant” is used.

In Hebrews 9:15-17 we see both a correct and an incorrect choice by the translators.

Heb 9:15-17 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicatedwithout blood.

Here, the writer is defining a testament as a will being in effect because there has been the death of a testator. This makes Christ not only the mediator of the new covenant but also the New Testament, which is a will that designates an inheritance. However, when speaking of the “first testament”, even though the word is the same diathēkē, in reality, the word “covenant” should most likely be used. Moses was enjoining the people to a covenant between Israel, the nation and God Himself with terms and obligations imposed on both of them, specified in Deuteronomy 28 (KJV). This spelled out blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience. This is the nature of the law. It promises blessings for the obedient, but curses for the disobedient. This is why the first covenant, the law is said to be an administration of condemnation and death (2 Cor 3:6-7, Gal 3:10), because no man can keep it. And by the law, no flesh can be justified, and those who are under the law are under its curse (Gal 3:11-14).

In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul describes himself as a minister of the “New Testament” (2 Cor 3:6). Although most modern translations say “New Covenant,” it should be “testament” (Heb 9:15-17). The Apostles are stewards of the mysteries of God for His household (1 Cor 4:1). They distribute the riches of Christ as an inheritance to the saints (Eph 3:8-9). In contrast, under the New Covenant, none shall teach anyone to know God because they shall know Him, from the least to the greatest (Heb 8:11). This is different from the New Testament ministry where the stewards of the mysteries become gifts to the body for the purpose of teaching the doctrine of Christ. The goal is to bring everyone into the knowledge of The Son of God (Eph 4:12-13).

Under the New Covenant, all shall know Him, and none shall teach another to know Him (Heb 8:11). In the New Testament ministry, the stewards of the mysteries who are fellow heirs do in fact become gifts to the body for the purpose of teaching the doctrine of Christ, that we would all come into the knowledge of The Son of God (Eph 4:12-13). Babes won’t be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine” under the New Covenant because all from the least to the greatest will know God and be taught by Him directly. However, in the New Testament, there is a need for the ministry to instruct the heirs concerning what is theirs in Christ as an inheritance and to warn and admonish as a safeguard for those who would otherwise be tossed by winds of doctrine due to a lack of knowledge (Eph 4:14; Col 1:28).



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