Seely, David Rolph, “The Restoration as Covenant Renewal” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 311–336.
David Rolph Seely is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
The Lord, in His preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, says that because the world has “broken mine everlasting covenant” the Restoration was necessary, “that mine everlasting covenant might be established” (1:15, 22). Thus, the concept of covenant is central to understanding the restored gospel. Covenant is a central and unifying theme of the scriptures beginning in the Hebrew Bible and reflected in the very title of the book in Christendom—the Old Testament. The English word “testament” ultimately derives from the Hebrew word for “covenant,” whereas the term “old” is used to designate the Mosaic covenant—in effect until the time of Christ—and contrasted with the terminology of Jeremiah, who prophesied the future establishment of a “new” covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). The Apostle Paul confirmed that Jesus Christ fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy and was the “mediator of the new testament [covenant]” (Hebrews 9:15). Therefore, the record of the ministry of Jesus and the early covenant community became known as the New Testament, and the titles of both parts of the Christian Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, refer to the two significant stages of biblical covenant. The covenant document of the new and everlasting covenant is called the Doctrine and Covenants.
Covenant is an eternal principle that defines the relationship between God and His children. It is a process by which God administers the plan of happiness. The Lord for His part promises His children redemption from their fallen state, and the direction and the sacred ordinances necessary for salvation and exaltation while preserving the conditions in which agency can be exercised. The covenant children, in turn, voluntarily commit themselves to remember and obey their Father and to accept and apply the power of the Atonement in their lives in order to fulfill the measure of their creation—to find joy in mortality and eternal life in the world to come. Covenant thus provides purpose, meaning, and direction to mortality, as a time of probation, and defines the various degrees of glory in the hereafter as the promised rewards of the covenant relationship.
From modern revelation we learn that the Lord has administered His covenant to His children from the very beginning and that Adam was the first to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and enter into the covenant through the ordinance of baptism (see Moses 6:62–67). The scriptures record the restoration, or renewal, of this same covenant at pivotal times in history, through Noah, Abraham, Moses, and in the meridian of time through Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Mosaic covenant and established the “new covenant” (see Hebrews 8–9). In this, the last dispensation, the Lord has once again restored the fullness of the gospel and renewed the new and everlasting covenant (D&C 1:17). Since the basic principles of the covenant are eternal, every time the covenant is revealed to an individual or a community it is in a real sense a “restoration” or “renewal” of this special relationship between God and man. The renewal aspect of covenant may be referred to in the phrase “new and everlasting covenant.” The covenant is “everlasting” in that it is the same “from the beginning” (D&C 22:1), and yet it is “new,” both in the sense that it is a fulfillment of the “old covenant” or law of Moses, and it is always “new” to each dispensation in which it is restored and to each individual who enters into it.
The Old Testament provides crucial information for those who have entered into the new and everlasting covenant by helping us to understand the significance of the covenant, its promised blessings and curses, and how God has dealt with His children in the past. Furthermore, it recounts the historical consequences of obedience or disobedience to the conditions of the covenant. A careful reading of the well-known scriptural accounts of the actual giving of the covenant to Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and its fulfillment through Jesus Christ, is essential for a study of this important concept. In addition to these texts, however, there is a series of often overlooked passages that further illuminate our understanding of covenant. These are the accounts of the periodic covenant-renewal assemblies and ceremonies, when the covenant children—typically following periods of apostasy, or at times of crisis or transition—are assembled by their leader to publicly rededicate themselves to the conditions of the covenant. Among these accounts are the assemblies recorded in Joshua 8:30–35 and chapter 24 when Joshua called the people together at Shechem; 2 Kings 22–23 when King Josiah, after the discovery of the book of the law, gathered the people to the temple; and Ezra 9–10 and Nehemiah 9–10 when Ezra recommitted the postexilic community at Jerusalem to the laws of the Mosaic covenant. In addition to the Old Testament, a detailed account of a similar covenant renewal assembly is found in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah l–6 when the people are gathered together by King Benjamin to renew their commitment to the Mosaic covenant.
The “restoration of all things” is covenant renewal on a grand scale and bears with it an obligation to study the scriptural history of the covenant and covenant-renewal. This study will attempt to demonstrate the importance of the scriptural accounts for an understanding and appreciation of the Restoration in two steps. First, a review and summary will be made of the biblical evidence in order to arrive at a definition of covenant and covenant renewal. This will be done by first examining in some detail the account of the establishment of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 19–24 and then two examples of covenant renewal found in Joshua 24 and 2 Kings 22–23, as well as the account of the fulfillment and establishment of the new covenant by Jesus Christ. In the course of this discussion we will identify the seven elements of biblical covenant. Second, the events and teachings of the Restoration will be presented as covenant renewal, and the same seven elements corresponding to the biblical covenant pattern will be identified and discussed in light of the restored gospel. In this discussion we will demonstrate the value of the study of ancient covenants for an understanding of the Restoration and, at the same time, the value of the more fully documented account of covenant renewal through the Restoration for a comprehension of covenant in antiquity.
Scholars have long recognized the importance of covenant in the Bible, and it has been the focus of much research through the years. The scholarly discussion in the past has basically been centered on: (1) a description of the historical setting and the content of the covenant—particularly the Mosaic covenant—as described in the biblical text; and (2) an examination of the function of covenant in the religious institutions of the Israelite community.
For the most part, the attempts to describe the setting and content of covenant have been based on the texts of the Pentateuch and other relevant legal, historical, and prophetic passages that describe the establishment and conditions of the covenant. Most recently can be cited the work in this regard of Albrecht Alt, Walther Eichrodt, and Gerhard von Rad. The most extensive of these studies on covenant is Eichrodt’s two-volume Theology of the Old Testament, in which he proposed that the “covenant-idea” is the central theme of the Old Testament (as well as the New Testament), and attempted to interpret all of biblical history and thought as it relates to this important concept.
The study of covenant in the religious institutions of Israel has its origins in Sigmund Mowinckel’s The Psalms in Israel’s Worship and has been carried on by others with varying conclusions, such as Claus Westermann and H. J. Kraus. Mowinckel argued, for example, from the evidence in the various enthronement psalms, that a covenant-renewal ceremony was an integral part of an annual New Year’s festival associated with what we know today as the Feast of Tabernacles.
In 1955, George E. Mendenhall published his seminal study Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East, which had a major impact on the study of biblical covenant. Comparing the structure of a relatively large and detailed corpus of Hittite international suzerainty treaties/
These elements can be summarized as follows: (1) Preamble: An introductory statement which identifies the author of the covenant, in the case of the Hittite treaties the suzerain (the ruler), and his titles, attributes, and authority; (2) Historical Prologue: This section describes the past relations between the two covenanting parties with special emphasis on the benevolent acts of the suzerain toward the vassal, implying reciprocal obligation; (3) Stipulations: This part sets forth the conditions of the covenant; (4) Provisions for Deposit and Public Reading: A clause providing for a safe deposit (often in the sanctuary of the vassal) and a requirement that it be regularly read to the public; (5) List of Witnesses: Usually the local deities, but often natural phenomena as well (mountains, rivers, springs, heavens, earth, etc.), are cited as witnesses to the covenant; (6) Blessings and Curses: This section contains the blessings predicated on obedience to the covenant and the curses threatened in the case of disobedience.
In addition to these six elements, Mendenhall recognizes that there must have been a formal oath by which the vassal pledged his obedience, and a solemn ceremony that accompanied such an oath with “symbolic actions” to dramatize various aspects of the agreement and sometimes acting out or otherwise indicating the punishment promised for disobedience. Thus the seventh element is (7) the Covenant Oath Ceremony. The actual ceremony is lacking in the Hittite documents but is represented in the biblical texts by accounts of the assembly of the people to formally accept the law contained in the conditions of the covenant. However, Mendenhall notes that even in the accounts of these ceremonies we lack the exact language of the oath itself and the accompanying symbolic act.
Focusing on a similar covenant assembly found in Mosiah 1–6, several Latter–day Saint scholars—Hugh Nibley, John Tvedtnes, John Welch, and Stephen Ricks—have compared the account of the covenant-renewal ceremony in the Book of Mormon to the biblical accounts. Arguing both from the structure of the covenant and the covenant assembly, and from the similarities that the Book of Mormon account shares with the Feast of Tabernacles, they have persuasively demonstrated that King Benjamin’s address, and the accompanying assembly, fit the biblical pattern remarkably well. Ricks has adopted the general pattern of seven elements suggested by Mendenhall with some slight variations, and has provided an excellent discussion of the covenant ceremony in Mosiah as well as a useful chart of these specific elements in the treaty-covenant pattern in Exodus 19:3–8; Exodus 20–24; the book of Deuteronomy as a whole; Joshua 24; and Mosiah 1–6.
The present study will survey these seven basic elements as a way of describing and defining the structure, and hence the content, of biblical covenant. While the historical setting and some of the specific details of each covenant and covenant ceremony are different, these seven elements are almost always present in the scriptural accounts. Identifying the common elements can help us to understand the structure and dynamics of covenant and recognize the meaning of important covenantal passages that otherwise may appear difficult and randomly organized.
The Old Testament account of the revelation of the Mosaic covenant is recorded in Exodus 19–24. The words of the formal Preamble of the covenant identify God as the initiator and suzerain of the covenant: “And God spake all these words” (Exodus 20:1). Biblical covenants must identify not only the title of God but also the authority of the mortal agent that God has appointed to deliver the covenant to the future covenant people. Although Moses’ authority had been well established by that time among the children of Israel, the Preamble contains the ratifying statement, “And Moses went up to God, and the Lord [said], Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob” (Exodus 19:3).
The Historical Prologue is a concise reference to God’s mighty act of delivering Israel from Egypt: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee . . . out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). Accounts of God’s relationship with His children, which document His love and divine intervention in history to preserve and deliver them (and at the same time His divine wrath and punishments for disobedience) are an essential part of the scriptures. These accounts provide a sacred history that serves as an everlasting witness of the indebtedness of God’s children to their maker, and in a sense, all of the historical accounts found in the Bible function as a Historical Prologue to covenant. An understanding of the mutual relationship of history and covenant helps us to better understand and appreciate why the scriptures are composed of a constant interweaving of law and historical narrative. The Stipulations (the Law) are referred to in the well-known Decalogue (the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20; compare 19:5–6) and establish for the children of Israel regulations for the proper relationship of humans to God and each to his neighbor.
The account of the Mosaic covenant is accompanied by a formal assembly of the people and a covenant ceremony in which they publicly acknowledge their acceptance of the conditions of the covenant and their commitment to abide by them. The remaining elements of the covenant are intertwined with this ceremony. The Deposit and Public Reading occurs when Moses “wrote all the words . . . and . . . took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people” (Exodus 24:4–7). The covenant itself is recorded on the tablets of stone (see Exodus 31:18) and eventually deposited in the ark of the covenant (see Exodus 40:20). Although no Witnesses are specifically indicated, it is possible that the altar and the twelve stone pillars erected earlier by Moses (see Exodus 24:4) were invoked to stand as witnesses much as the stone later erected by Joshua (see Joshua 24:27). Furthermore, it is likely that the people themselves were accounted as witnesses to the covenant (also in Joshua 24:22) as they publicly declare, before God and their peers, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).
The Blessings and Curses contingent on the obedience or disobedience to the stipulations are outlined in Exodus 23:20–33. The Covenant Oath Ceremony is also described. Moses gathered the people together, built an altar and offered sacrifice and read to the people the words out of the book of the law in which he had written the words of the Lord he received on Mount Sinai. The people in turn agreed to the conditions of the covenant as read by Moses, saying together, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Moses then sprinkled the people with the blood of the sacrifices, proclaiming, “Behold the blood of the covenant” (see Exodus 24:3–8).
Just before being taken to God, Moses commanded the children of Israel to renew their commitment to the covenant—as soon as they passed over the Jordan to take possession of the promised land—in a formal covenant-renewal ceremony that was to take place at Shechem and on the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim that rise on either side of this town. Moses describes the particulars of this ceremony in great detail with special emphasis on the accompanying blessings and curses of the covenant (see Deuteronomy 27–28). This is one of the first references to a covenant-renewal ceremony in the Bible, typically recorded at a time of crisis or transition, in which the people publicly recommitted themselves to the covenant in a ceremony similar to that of the initial establishment of the covenant. This passage, as well as the short account of its fulfillment in Joshua 8:30–35, can be profitably studied in regard to covenant.
Two direct results of covenant and covenant renewal are: (1) the formation of a covenant community, including all those who have accepted the covenant; and (2) the collection of the “words of the book of the law” that are binding on the covenant community and thus function in the community as scripture. The children of Israel, since they had publicly committed themselves to the covenant, became responsible both as individuals as well as a community to obey its stipulations. This corporate responsibility is the foundation for the enforcement of the Mosaic law, since the entire community would bear the consequences of the sin of an individual that went unresolved (see, for example, the story of Achan in Joshua 7). At the same time, the community shared the common objective of becoming “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) and could look forward to the promised blessings of obedience to the law. The words of the covenant that had been publicly read, agreed to, and deposited became legally binding on the community and thus constituted canonized scripture.
Joshua, just before his death, called for an assembly of the people at Shechem as prescribed by Moses, between the twin mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, in order to renew the covenant. The Preamble “thus saith the Lord God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2) is followed by the Historical Prologue (see Joshua 24:2–18) in which Joshua recounted God’s mighty acts in behalf of the children of Israel from the calling of Abraham to the miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan. The Stipulations (see Joshua 24:14, 18, 23) call for the people to repent and put away their strange gods and renew their exclusive allegiance to the Lord God. The Blessings and Curses are alluded to in Joshua 24:19–29, and the List of Witnesses includes the people themselves (see Joshua 24:22) and the great stone that Joshua erected there (see Joshua 24:26–27). The Deposit and Public Reading is referred to when “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God” (Joshua 24:26). After Joshua introduced the stipulations of the covenant, he dramatically challenged the people, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15), and a few verses later we read the rest of the Covenant Oath Ceremony when the people responded to Joshua’s challenge, “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey” (Joshua 24:24).
Another instructive example of a covenant-renewal ceremony can be found in the account of the reforms of Josiah in 622 B.C. (see 2 Kings 22–23). During the course of renovation of the temple, Hilkiah, the high priest, found “the book of the law” in the house of the Lord (2 Kings 22:8), which had apparently been lost or forgotten. King Josiah, upon hearing the contents of the book, was distressed and sent for a representative of the Lord—the prophetess Huldah—to ascertain the validity of the covenant contained in the law. In a sense, Huldah provides the Preamble to the covenant ceremony when she declared that in fact the Lord was the author of the Stipulations contained therein (see 2 Kings 22:16). Furthermore, Huldah prophesied the destruction of Israel, declaring that the Blessings and Curses associated with the stipulations “even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read” would stand as a Witness against Israel’s disobedience and would all be fulfilled (2 Kings 22:16–17). Josiah immediately gathered the people “both small and great” to Jerusalem, where he Publicly Read “the words of the book of the covenant” (2 Kings 23:1–2) to the people. Then the king led the people in covenanting before the Lord to “perform the words of the covenant that were written in the book” (2 Kings 23:3). Israel’s apostasy and the need for covenant renewal are graphically illustrated in the almost incredible description of the abominable objects that were brought out of the temple of the Lord and the idolatrous and immoral practices that were once again outlawed (see 2 Kings 23:4–20).
As a sign of the people’s recommitment to the covenant, Josiah commanded them to observe the Feast of the Passover (see 2 Kings 23:21–22), which recounts God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt and provides a sort of Historical Prologue to the covenant-renewal process. At the end of the event King Josiah conducted the Covenant Oath Ceremony when he “stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3).
Unfortunately, Israel’s commitment did not outlive the nationalistic fervor brought about by Josiah’s reforms. Within a few short years Israel reverted to a state of apostasy, eloquently documented by the writings of Jeremiah and the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 1), which led to their destruction and exile in 598 and 586 B.C.
Many other passages could be cited showing that the basic elements of covenant and covenant renewal continued to serve as the framework for Israelite religion in the Old Testament. Baltzer has further demonstrated that these same elements are present in the intertestamental and early Christian literature with some notable examples from Qumran. The prominence of covenant language in the Book of Mormon (especially Mosiah 1–6) affirms that this tradition continued in the New World as well as the Old World.
The focal point of all covenant making from the beginning was the coming, in the meridian of time, of the promised Messiah who would fulfill the law of Moses by the actual shedding of His own blood. Through His suffering, death, and Resurrection, He would atone for the sins of the world and would break the chains of death. It was Jesus Christ who would fulfill the “old” and establish the “new” covenant.
In the search for the elements of the actual covenant in the New Testament it becomes apparent that indeed “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14) and that the covenant was embodied in the personage of its author, Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospels present a powerful Preamble to the covenant by reciting the prophecies of His coming and the miraculous events surrounding His birth into the world—all testifying of His divine origin. The narratives of His ministry attest that He “taught with authority” and performed miraculous acts of compassion and carefully provide adequate Lists of Witnesses of the events of His ministry, death, and Resurrection.
The Stipulations of the new covenant are presented throughout the teachings of Jesus but were perhaps best summarized when He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34), and when, at the end of His discourse on love in the Sermon on the Mount, He commanded the children of the covenant, as He had commanded Abraham two thousand years before, “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48; compare Genesis 17:1). At the same time, evidence of the promised Blessings and Curses can be found throughout His teachings. The blessings are notably apparent in the Beatitudes, where covenantal language “blessed are those” is found, and the curses are frequent in the “woe unto you” passages pronounced by Jesus on those who were breaking the covenant (compare Matthew 23:13–39). The Covenant Oath Ceremony of the new covenant, like the old covenant (see D&C 84:27) consisted of repentance and the ordinance of baptism. This ordinance was required of all—including the Savior (John 3:5).
Besides the baptism of Jesus and an enigmatic account of the events of the Transfiguration, there is little detail about early Christian covenant ordinances in the New Testament. Some, noting the scarcity of direct references to the covenant and its attendant ordinances in the New Testament, have suggested that perhaps the authors of the New Testament realized that the covenantal language would have been threatening to the Romans; others have suggested that, due to the sacredness of such things, they were either omitted or through time deleted from the record.
The actual covenant-renewal ceremony, however, is preserved in the simple yet profound accounts of the Last Supper (see Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19–20). The Historical Prologue to the new covenant is presented to the disciples in the symbolically rich setting of the Passover feast that commemorated the mighty act of God in the past when He delivered His people from bondage and death in Egypt. Then “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it” (Matthew 26:26–27). With these words Jesus dramatically pointed ahead to the mightiest of the mighty acts of God, the greatest event in all of sacred history, which would deliver His children from the bondage of sin and death for all eternity. “For this is my blood of the new covenant [KJV, “testament”], which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (see Matthew 26:26–29). In this simple declaration Jesus alludes to the passage in Exodus when Moses initiated the old covenant while sprinkling the people with the blood of the sacrifices and declaring, “Behold the blood of the covenant” (Exodus 24:8), as well as to Jeremiah’s prophecy of the future establishment of the “new covenant” found in Jeremiah 31:31. Partaking of the bread and wine, the disciples symbolically became Witnesses to the new covenant, and in the ensuing weeks they were to become literal witnesses to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, as they beheld the Resurrection of the Word. In addition the publication and distribution of the Gospels (see John 20:31) and the institution of the sacrament as an ordinance in the Church served the function of the Deposit and Public Reading of the covenant known from the Old Testament tradition of reading the law at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10–11).
The reality of the blood atonement that Jesus Christ accomplished is represented in the sacrament by the symbols of flesh and blood just as they were in the blood sacrifices of the law of Moses. Paul, in his teachings of how the old covenant was fulfilled and done away with by the new, carefully points out this symbolism and repeatedly makes reference to the sacred ordinance of the sacrament as one of the most significant signs of the covenant in the early Church (see 1 Corinthians 11:25–32; Ephesians 2:12–13; and Hebrews 7–9).
Probably the most complete and comprehensive description of the covenant as established by Jesus Christ can be found in the account in the Book of Mormon when He appeared to His covenant people in the New World and, through a covenant-making assembly, established the new covenant among the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 9–28). Although an adequate study of this passage as covenant renewal is beyond the scope of the present study, a brief outline will show the basic elements. The dramatic Preamble can be seen both in the words “Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God” (3 Nephi 9:15) uttered by the heavenly voice at the end of the first message from heaven after the destruction, and in the Father’s formal introduction, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him” (3 Nephi 11:7). The Historical Prologue is given several times as Jesus’ act of redemption (3 Nephi 9:15–22; 11:10–11), and it is clearly explained how the old covenant is done away with in the new (3 Nephi 9:19–21; 15). The Stipulations of faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost, as well as the basic law of the kingdom (much as it had been presented in the Sermon on the Mount in the Old World), are presented along with their respective Blessings and Curses and are accepted by the people in the Covenant Oath Ceremony through the covenantal ordinances of baptism and sacrament (see 3 Nephi 11–26). Jesus chose twelve disciples to serve as His authoritative agents and to stand as Witnesses of the covenant (see 3 Nephi 12:1–2), and the covenant community was formally organized into the Church (see 3 Nephi 26–27). The sacred history and doctrines from the Nephite scriptures were added to and presumably accepted by the people as scripture (see 3 Nephi 23:7–26:11) which filled the function of Deposit and Public Reading. Thus, the Book of Mormon account of the visit of Jesus Christ to the New World provides another witness to “the covenants of the Lord” and to Jesus as the Christ, and is a record that was sealed up to come forth to the covenant people of the last dispensation.
The same seven elements well known from biblical covenants can be clearly seen, both in the events of the Restoration of the fullness of the gospel, and in the document that contains the covenant itself, not surprisingly entitled the Doctrine and Covenants. This study of covenant renewal in the Restoration will limit itself to events of 1820–44 and will focus on the Doctrine and Covenants as the primary document of the new and everlasting covenant.
The Preamble to the new and everlasting covenant can be seen in the event of the First Vision, with the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith, and in the events of the following decade up to the formal organization of the Church. The pronouncement that pierced the silence of the centuries, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17), can be seen as the initiation of covenant renewal in the last dispensation. In response to Joseph’s inquiry as to which sect to join, the Lord revealed that he should join none of them. The words of the Lord to young Joseph, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19), revealed that it was indeed a time of crisis—of total apostasy from the covenant—and implied that it was time for restoration, by covenant renewal, of the new and everlasting covenant. Just as was noted in the biblical covenants, the work of restoration was entrusted to a mortal agent of God, and the Preamble therefore contains numerous references to the sources of divine authority received by this modern-day prophet, justifying his claim to represent the author of the covenant in the covenant-renewal ceremony. Passages in Joseph Smith—History and numerous references in the Doctrine and Covenants attest to the restoration of the necessary instruction and priesthood authority by divine messengers: Moroni (see Joseph Smith—History 1:27–54); John the Baptist (see Joseph Smith—History 1:68–73; D&C 13); Peter, James, and John (see D&C 27:12); and later Moses, Elias, and Elijah (see D&C 110:11–16).
Along with the restoration of the necessary priesthood authority (both Aaronic and Melchizedek) and baptism—the first covenant ordinance—Joseph Smith’s first great task was to record and “recite” for the children of the covenant in the latter days the Historical Prologue of the new covenant. By 1830, when the Church was formally organized, Joseph Smith had restored to the covenant community the lengthy sacred history recorded in the Book of Mormon containing a record of God’s relationship with His covenant peoples of old from the Tower of Babel to AD 421. The importance of the Book of Mormon as a part of the Historical Prologue to the covenant-renewal process is explicitly stated on its ancient title page where it declares that its purpose is “to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord,” as well as serving “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST.” In addition, the Book of Mormon preserves a prophecy of the latter-day covenant renewal made by Joseph of old, that a latter-day Joseph would come from his seed and would “do a great work . . . for his brethren that would bring them to a knowledge of the covenants” the Lord had made with his father (2 Nephi 3:7). In 1830–31, Joseph restored the book of Moses, a sacred record that recounts the history of the covenant people from Adam to Noah. By the end of his life, including his inspired additions and revisions to the Bible, the book of Abraham, and the account of his own relationship with God (Joseph Smith History), Joseph Smith had presented to the latter-day covenant community an extensive account of sacred history from the beginning of time, much of which had been lost from the scriptures of his own day. Just like the covenant accounts found in the Old Testament, the scriptural legacy restored by Joseph Smith is characterized by an interweaving of sacred history and law.
In the year 1831, the year after the organization of the Church, Joseph Smith was in the process of preparing the major document of the latter-day covenant itself—the Book of Commandments (later to be called, more precisely, Doctrine and Covenants). In this collection of revelations, Joseph Smith would complete the restoration of the covenants with provisions for the Deposit and Public Reading of the covenants, the List of Witnesses, and the Stipulations of the covenants with their attendant Blessings and Curses. The Doctrine and Covenants also provides specific instructions for the actual Covenant Oath Ceremonies, by which individuals are to be admitted to the new and everlasting covenant (baptism, the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and celestial marriage), as well as instructions for its periodic renewal through the sacrament.
Like Exodus 19, which precedes the giving of the Decalogue, Section 1 serves both as a formal Preamble to the covenant contained in the Doctrine and Covenants as well as a complete summary—with all of the characteristic elements—of the covenant itself. The Preamble of this summary can be seen in D&C 1:1–5, where the participants of the covenant are identified—the Lord as the sovereign, and the entire world as the potential members of the covenant. The entire world is exhorted to hearken to “the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men” (D&C 1:1). Besides identifying Himself as the author and initiator of the new and everlasting covenant, the Lord, as in the other covenants discussed above, clearly identifies His chosen agents to carry His voice of warning to all people as His “disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days” (v. 4). The Lord declares that this voice of warning can be heard in the words of the Book of Commandments that was shortly to be published (v. 6). The Lord specifically identifies Joseph Smith as the chief agent of the covenant-renewal process (v. 17) and refers to his role in bringing forth the sacred history found in the Book of Mormon (v. 29) (the Historical Prologue of the covenant) in order to establish the new and everlasting covenant (v. 22). The history of God with His people is briefly reviewed in the past, present, and future, and it is clear that the people have strayed and will continue to stray from the ordinances of the everlasting covenant and “seek not the Lord” but rather walk after the way of the world (vv. 15–16), and that this will cause great calamity on the earth in the future. To stem this calamity, the Lord has once again called a prophet to hear and proclaim the voice of the Lord so that the everlasting covenant might be established, the fullness of the gospel proclaimed (vv. 17–23), and the Church restored (v. 30). The Stipulations are to be found by hearkening to the voice of the Lord, found in the Book of Commandments (v. 6, 37), Book of Mormon (v. 29), and the voice of His servants—prophets and apostles (v. 14). The Blessings and Curses of obedience and disobedience are found in verses 14, 32, and 33. Provisions for Deposit and Public Reading of the covenant are made by the command to publish the book of the covenant (v. 6). The commandments, contained in the book, function as Witnesses to the covenant in that “the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled” (v. 37).
The elements of the covenant are found on a much larger scale throughout the Doctrine and Covenants. The publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, the Book of Commandments in 1833, and the initial publication of the expanded Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 (see D&C 1; 42:56–60; 104:58) seem to fit the element of the Deposit of the covenant in a public place. The accompanying provision for the Public Reading of the covenant is an ongoing duty given to the leaders of the Church as well as to each individual (see D&C 24:5, 9; 42:12–15, 56–60; 71:1).
In the Revelation on Church Organization and Government (see D&C 20), the Lord revealed that the great Witness to the renewal of the covenant is the Book of Mormon, “which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels” (D&C 20:10). In addition to the book itself, the Lord made provisions for three specific witnesses to the reality and divinity of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated (see D&C 17), and later, for eight more men to actually see and handle the plates. The Doctrine and Covenants also indicates that the Holy Ghost functions as a witness (see D&C 14:8) in a general sense to all truth, and that the Twelve Apostles are designated as special witnesses for “the name of Christ” (D&C 27:12; 107:23). Section 135:1–7 of the Doctrine and Covenants eloquently states that the blood of Joseph and Hyrum serves as a witness of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon as well.
The Doctrine and Covenants consists (as its title suggests) of the Stipulations (commandments) of the new and everlasting covenant and of doctrine revealed to individuals and the Church that explains the significance of the stipulations. Some of the basic Stipulations of the covenant are baptism, priesthood, sacrament, church organization, Sabbath observance, the law of consecration, the Word of Wisdom, tithing, and temple ordinances (see the chart at the end for scriptural references).
The Stipulations of the covenant in the Doctrine and Covenants were revealed over a period of time that from 1823 to 1978 (for the purposes of this study, 1844) and reflect the dynamic growth and change in the covenant community as the Lord revealed the tenets of the covenant. The necessity of baptism, for instance, by one holding proper authority, for the remission of sins, was revealed as early as 1829 (see JS—H 1:72–73; D&C 18:21–24) and confirmed in April 1830 as it related to the formal organization of the Church (see D&C 20:37–38; 22:1–4). Thus, baptism, preceded by faith and repentance, and followed with the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, becomes the first ordinance and the gate by which one enters into the new and everlasting covenant and into the covenant community of the Church. The law of consecration was also given as early as 1831 (see D&C 38:32; 42) as an essential part of the new and everlasting covenant, but because many were unable to abide by it the Lord revealed to the Church in 1838 the law of tithing (see D&C 119).
The Stipulations of the covenant are most often accompanied by their respective Blessings and Curses, contingent on acceptance and obedience or rejection and disobedience. (See the chart at the end of this article for specific references.) The covenant mechanism of blessings and curses is also clearly set forth as an eternal principle: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21).
The Prophet Joseph Smith, in addition to the covenant itself, restored the formal covenant ceremonies and oaths: baptism, sacrament, priesthood, celestial marriage, and other temple ordinances. While instructions for the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament and, to a limited degree, the covenant of the priesthood are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants—the covenantal ceremonies of priesthood, the endowment, celestial marriage, and other temple ordinances are only to be had by the individual in sacred places. The Doctrine and Covenants, like the books of the covenant of old, teaches that these ordinances are part of the covenant, but the actual account of the covenant ceremony and the oaths themselves are considered sacred and are only learned in the holy places. It can, however, be noted that the scriptural accounts of covenant and covenant renewal enhance and elucidate the structure and content of these ceremonies as well.
Two important results of covenant renewal, just as in the biblical passages, are the establishment of the covenant community—the Church—and the canonization of the ancient and modern scripture—the standard works. An understanding of these concepts as direct results of the covenant process helps us to understand their function and importance in the life of an individual who enters into the new and everlasting covenant. Thus, baptism for the remission of sins, and as a formal entrance into the covenant, also functions as an initiation rite into the Church—the covenant community. The individual submitting to this ordinance becomes like the children of Israel in ancient times declaring before God and their peers “all that the Lord has spoken I will do.” The standard works serve as the binding record containing both the sacred history of the mighty acts of God in delivering His children from sin and death, and the laws of the covenant. The constant study of these books causes the individual in the covenant community, like King Josiah of old, to “rend his garments” and to cleanse his “temple” of the abominations found therein, and to cry out to God like the Nephites in the time of King Benjamin, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified” (Mosiah 4:2). Covenant renewal has occurred throughout history as disobedience and disbelief have caused the covenant community to abandon the covenant, and the Lord has called forth His servants to restore and renew the covenant. But the principle also applies to each individual member of the Church who must liken the scriptures unto himself and institute periodic covenant renewal into his or her own life.
One of the poignant and perplexing questions posed by Jeremiah as he watched the approaching Babylonians and the destruction of the disobedient and hard-hearted covenant people, and by Ezekiel as he, already exiled to Babylon, watched in vision the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the people from their “promised land” (a great symbol of the covenant), was how any future people would ever be able to maintain the conditions of the covenant. Based on the past history of Israel, it must have seemed impossible. The answer to this question, however, was eloquently expressed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel as they prophetically foresaw the future gathering and restoration of the covenant people. Jeremiah records: “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31–33). And Ezekiel, in much the same language, says: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19–20).
May we as latter-day children of the covenant benefit from an understanding of the Restoration of the fullness of the gospel—the new and everlasting covenant. May we remember the divine origins as the preamble of the covenant and recognize God as its initiator. May we read, study, and appreciate the sacred history contained in the scriptures—both ancient and modern—that have been preserved and published in our day as a historical prologue to the covenant, containing a record of God’s continuing relationship with His children. May we acknowledge the list of witnesses that accompany the restoration of the covenant. May we seek to fulfill the stipulations of the covenant and commit ourselves to continuously repent, and may we gain, through our obedience to the commandments, faith in their attendant blessings and curses. May we participate often in the covenantal oath ceremonies—the sacrament for periodic covenant renewal for ourselves, and temple work for our dead, and may we find joy in our membership in the Church—the covenant community.
But most of all, may we always remember that salvation and exaltation are only to be had through “the redemption of him who created us” (Alma 5:15) and that the ability to respond to and faithfully abide by all of the conditions of the covenant are not within our mortal capacity, but, as prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are attained through being spiritually born of Him and receiving His image in our countenances (see Alma 5:14). May we be “willing to take upon [us] the name of [the] Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us]; that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77).
- Preamble: Introduces God as the author and initiator of the covenant.
- Historical Prologue: Describes the past relations between the covenanting parties, especially God’s mighty acts in preserving His people.
- Stipulations: The formal conditions of the covenants.
- Provisions for Deposit and Public Reading: A clause providing for a safe place of deposit and a requirement for a regular public reading.
- List of Witnesses: Provisions for witnesses to the covenant.
- Blessings and Curses: The consequences of obedience or disobedience.
- Covenant Oath Ceremony: Formal public acceptance of the conditions of the covenant. (Source: George E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East [Pittsburgh: Biblical Colloquium, 1955]).
- Preamble: “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God” (Exodus 20:1–2). Identification of Moses as the Lord’s agent, “And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob” (19:3).
- Historical Prologue: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself” (19:4). “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee . . . out of the house of bondage” (20:2).
- Stipulations: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (19:6). The Ten Commandments and Covenant Code are set forth (20:3–26; 20:22–23; 33).
- Deposit and Public Reading: Moses “wrote all the words . . . and . . . took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people” (24:4, 7). The covenant was recorded on tablets of stone (31:18) and eventually deposited in the ark of the covenant (40:20).
- List of Witnesses: No specific witnesses, but it is likely that the people themselves serve as witnesses when they publicly declare “all that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient” (24:7).
- Blessings and Curses: The blessings and curses are represented in statements such as: “And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water, and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee” and “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, . . . provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions” (23:20–33).
- Covenant Oath Ceremony: Moses took the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkled it on the altar and on the people, he read the covenant to the people and they answered, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient” (24:7–8). The oath itself is not mentioned. For examples of other biblical oaths, see 1 Samuel 3:17 and 25:34.
- Preamble: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2).
- Historical Prologue: Joshua recounts God’s mighty acts in behalf of the children of Israel from the calling of Abraham to the miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan (24:2–18).
- Stipulations: Calls for the people to repent and put away their strange gods and renew their allegiance to the Lord God of Israel.
- Deposit and Public Reading: “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God” (24:26).
- List of Witnesses: “Ye [the people] are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses” (24:22). Also the stone which Joshua erected was accounted as a witness (24:2–27).
- Blessings and Curses: “If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good” (24:19–20).
- Covenant Oath Ceremony: In response to Joshua’s challenge, “Choose you this day,” the people respond, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods. . . . Therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God” (24:15–16, 18). Joshua records the covenant and sets up a stone under the oak near the sanctuary of the Lord in commemoration (24:25–27).
- Preamble: First Vision (1820); D&C 1; Book of Mormon Title Page. Authority: Aaronic Priesthood (1829), D&C 13; Melchizedek Priesthood (1829), D&C 27:1–13; 110; etc.
- Historical Prologue: Book of Mormon (1830); Book of Moses (Adam, Enoch, Noah) (1831); Book of Abraham (1842); Joseph Smith Translation (1830–44).
- Deposit and Public Reading: Publication of the Book of Commandments (1833); Doctrine and Covenants (1835), D&C 1; 42:56–60; 104:58.
- List of Witnesses: Three Witnesses (1829), D&C 5, 6, 17; Apostles (1835), D&C 27:12; Book of Mormon as witness of the new covenant (1830), D&C 20:8–16.
Baptism (1829), D&C 22; 18:22–25; 84:74.
Priesthood (1829), D&C 20, 84, 107, 110, 121, etc.; 84:33–40; 84:41–42.
Sacrament (1830), D&C 20, 27—see also Baptism.
Church Organization (1830), D&C 20, 21, 42, 46, 90, 102, 115—see also Baptism.
Sabbath (1831), D&C 59:9–19, 68:29; 59:9–19.
Consecration (1831), D&C 38:32, 42, 104; 42; 104:1–10.
Word of Wisdom (1833), D&C 89:18–21.
Tithing (1838), D&C 119; 64:23–25; 119:6–7.
Temple (1830–1844), D&C 45; 57; 58; 84; 93; 95; 109; 127; 128; 131; 132.
Endowment (1836–42), D&C 38:32, 38; 95:8–9; 105:11–12; 110:9; 124:39.
Work for the Dead (1842), D&C 127; 128.
Celestial Marriage (1831–43), D&C 131:1–3; 132:19–25; 132:4, 26–27, 41–44.
- Covenant Oath Ceremony:
Baptism, D&C 20:43, 72–74.
Sacrament, D&C 20:75–77.
Priesthood Oath and Covenant, D&C 84; 107—no ceremony described, probably related to those in the temple.
Endowment, celestial marriage, and other sacred oath ceremonies are administered in the temples—explicit discussion of these sacred ordinances is confined to the temple.
- Covenant Community = The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (April 1830).
- Canonization = Standard Works:
Book of Mormon (April 1830).
Doctrine and Covenants (April 17, 1835).
Pearl of Great Price (October 10, 1880).
 The Hebrew word for “covenant” (berit) was translated by the LXX as diatheke, a Greek word usually referring to a “will” or “testament,” but which can also mean “covenant.” It was thus rendered testamentum in Latin and then as testament in English (see G. E. Mendenhall, “Testament,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4:575).
 Jesus Himself alluded to this throughout His ministry as recorded in the New Testament. The clearest explanation of the “new” and the “old” covenant, however, is found in 3 Nephi 15.
 See A. Alt, “The Origins of Israelite Law,” in Essays on Old Testament History and Religions, trans. R. A. Wilson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966); W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2 vols., trans. J.A. Baker (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961); and G. von Rad, “The Problem of the Hexateuch,” in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966).
 S. Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas (Nashville: Abingdon, 1967); C. Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms, trans. K. R. Grim (Richmond, 1966); and H. J. Krause Worship in Israel, trans. G. Ruswell (Richmond: 1961).
 Mowinckel, The Psalms 1:129–92.
 G. E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (Pittsburgh: Biblical Colloquium, 1955). He originally published this work in Biblical Archaeologist 17 (1954): 26–46, 49–76. See also his article entitled “Covenant,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1:714–23. Mendenhall based his study on the previous work on the Hittite treaties of Viktor Korosec, Hethitische Staatsvertrage: Ein Beitrag zu ihrer juristischen Wertung (Leipzig: Verlag von Theodor Weicher, 1931).
 The major works on the subject at the present are D. J. McCarthy, S. J., Treaty and Covenant (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978), a comprehensive study of treaties and covenants throughout the ancient Near East, including the biblical covenants; and Klaus Baltzer, The Covenant Formulary, trans. David Green (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971) which traces the covenant pattern from the Old Testament through the intertestamental and early Christian literature.
 Mendenhall, Law and Covenant, 34–35.
 Mendenhall, “Covenant,” 720. Mendenhall points out that the Old Testament preserves many such oaths in other contexts, including the purely verbal forms like “God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me” in 1 Samuel 3:17, 25:34; and the symbolic actions of Genesis 15 and Jeremiah 34, where one taking an oath would pass through the parts of an animal that was cut in two—presumably symbolizing the punishment for breaking the oath.
 Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1964), 243–56; John A. Tvedtnes, “The Nephite Feast of Tabernacles,” in Tinkling Cymbals: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley, ed. John W. Welch (n.p.: 1978), 145–77; John W. Welch, compiler, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1985); and Stephen D. Ricks, “The Treaty/
 Ricks, “King Benjamin’s Speech,” 161.
 The Joseph Smith Translation indicates that in fact the first time the law was given it was the higher law and that the passage in Exodus 34 is the actual giving of the lower law, or law of Moses, without “the words of the everlasting covenant of the holy priesthood” (JST, Exodus 34:1–2, Deuteronomy 10:2). For the sake of discussion we will refer to this passage throughout the study as the giving of the law of Moses, with the understanding that the first time it was the higher law. Also we should note why we are beginning this study with the Mosaic rather than the Abrahamic covenant. The accounts of the covenant given to Abraham, although demonstrating the basic elements of the later biblical covenants, have unique features that deserve a more complete treatment than is possible in the present study. Many scholars believe that this covenant doesn’t fit the suzerain-vassal treaty structure because it is a series of unconditional promises/
 It is possible that the sacrifice in Exodus 24:5 and the ensuing ritual of sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the altar and on the people (see Exodus 24:6–8) was part of the oath-swearing ceremony and had symbolic meaning specifically related to the taking of the oath, but the oath itself is not specifically stated.
 Baltzer, The Covenant Formulary, 39–62, further lists as possible covenant-renewal ceremonies Exodus 34; 2 Chronicles 29:5–11; Ezra 9–10; Nehemiah 9–10; and Jeremiah 34:8–22.
 Baltzer, The Covenant Formulary, 99–112, discusses the Qumran Manual of Discipline, which contains the initiation ceremony for the Qumran community and shows remarkable similarity to the biblical covenant process (see also Mendenhall, “Covenant” 721–22).
 Mendenhall notes that there is “a surprising infrequency to covenant in the New Testament” and suggests that specific references were purposely avoided because it may have been threatening to the Romans. For a succinct discussion of the New Testament references, see Mendenhall, “Covenant,” 722–23.
 Nibley suggests that Jesus presented many of His important teachings after His Resurrection that were originally preserved in the “forty-day” literature (see Nibley, “The Forty-day Mission of Christ—The Forgotten Heritage,” originally in Vigiliae Christianae 20 (1966):1–24; reprinted in When the Lights Went Out [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], 32–54).
 It is interesting that the Gospel of John does not contain an account of the Last Supper. The teachings about the sacrament in John appear in the passage of the feeding of the five thousand, in which Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48, 51). In other words, where the emphasis in the Last Supper accounts culminates in the blood, in John there is a powerful image of the bread as well as the flesh which Jesus gave for the life of the world (see John 6:51–58).
 For a more detailed discussion of the sacrament as the establishment of the new covenant, see David R. Seely, “The Last Supper According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” in From the Last Supper through the Resurrection: The Savior’s Final Hours, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 99–103.
 A similar discussion of this pattern can be found in David J. Whittaker, “A Covenant People: Old Testament Light on Modern Covenants,” Ensign, August 1980, 36–40.