The Covenant among Covenants

The Abrahamic Covenant and Biblical Covenant Making

Shon D. Hopkin

Shon D. Hopkin, "The Covenant among Covenants: The Abrahamic Covenant and Biblical Covenant Making," Religious Educator 23, no. 2 (2022): 156–179.

Shon D. Hopkin is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

As stated by one biblical scholar, “It is recognized by all serious students of the Bible that the covenant with Abraham is one of the important and determinative revelations of Scripture. It furnishes the key to the entire Old Testament.”[1] Many Christians believe that the Old Testament covenant was superseded with the coming of Christ. Joseph Smith, however, taught that God is always the same, that his plan of salvation does not change, and that his promises in ancient times remain in effect.[2] Thus, for Latter-day Saints, the Restoration of the gospel hinges on “the new and everlasting covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:6), a relationship with God made “new” and alive in modern times, but existing “everlastingly” and introduced in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament). Understanding the way that the theme of covenant runs through the Hebrew Bible not only unlocks an understanding of God’s relationship with humankind in ancient times but also provides the key for understanding that relationship through the New Testament and into the last days. This essay will focus on covenants and covenant making as found in the Old Testament, with additional attention given to the Joseph Smith Translation, but will not discuss all aspects of Latter-day Saint understandings of covenant as found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the teachings of latter-day prophets.

painting of the sacrifice of isaac by jan lievensThe story of Abraham's near sacrifice of his son serves as a supreme example of the type of obedience required of those with whom God will maintain his covenant relationship. The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Jan Lievens.

Covenant in the Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible, the word for covenant—bĕrit—describes various types of agreements made between two parties in which one or both commit to fulfill stipulations of the agreement. The term emphasizes relationship, connection, and obligation between the two parties.[3] The Greek word used to translate bĕrit in the Septuagint is diathe̅ke̅, creating a foundation for the way the word is used in the Greek of the New Testament. In its New Testament expressions, covenant is often translated as “testament,” at times conveying the nuance of a formal will agreement or legal bequest, which is something promised by one party to another. Readers of both the Old and New Testaments (or the Old and New “Covenants”) need to remain aware of the Hebrew context that provides meaning for the New Testament understanding and should also understand that the New Testament expression is at times nuanced toward the concept of a legal will or “testament” provided by God.[4] For Latter-day Saints, both Old Testament covenants and New Testament testaments are centered in Christ and are bequeathed by God to his children. Moreover, Latter-day Saints teach that the “new testament” or covenant discussed by the New Testament writers was a renewal of the ancient covenants that existed throughout the history of the Old Testament.

Elements of Covenant Making in the Bible

Before discussing specific covenants in the Hebrew Bible, it may be helpful to Latter-day Saint readers to recognize elements of covenant making that have been identified by scholars in the Hebrew Bible.[5] Each biblical instance of covenant making does not include all the elements listed below, but these elements do form a basic backbone, both in the Bible and in ancient documents from the time of the Bible.[6]

1. Identification of God as the establisher of the covenant and identification of the recipient of the covenant. This often includes, especially in ancient Near Eastern treaties, a prologue that presents the historical relationship of the two parties and that describes the deeds that the establisher of the covenant has performed in the past on behalf of the recipient.[7] In many covenant settings, it is also preceded by a preamble that introduces the covenant with words such as those found in Genesis 9:8: “And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying . . .” In the Noachian covenant, God’s role as the initiator receives a repeated emphasis, and the recipients of the covenant are clearly stated: “And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, . . . every beast of the earth” (Genesis 9:8–10). From this view, the Creation and Fall accounts in Genesis serve to prepare the reader for the covenants that follow, because these accounts introduce God and his creations, demonstrating the human need for God (due to the Fall) that can be resolved through covenants. In the Creation account, God is showing the Israelites who he is and what he has done for them; he is introducing himself. He is showing their relationship with him and their need to make covenants with him because of the Fall. He is presenting himself as their Creator-God who has power to create order and life out of the chaos and death of the fallen world, if they will enter into covenants with him.

2a. Ritual or ceremonial enactment: Covenant oaths or pledges. Although this element of covenant making is not found in all biblical covenants, one or both parties often made pledges or oaths that served as a physical confirmation or ratification of the covenant. Jonathan gave David his armor, weaponry, and pieces of clothing to cement their covenant relationship (see 1 Samuel 18:4). In Ezekiel 17:18, Zedekiah gave his hand to the Lord, thus pledging allegiance to him. Oaths or solemn promises were often given as pledges to be faithful to the covenant, such as in 2 Kings 11:4, thereby providing a vocal act that could be heard and witnessed by others. Sometimes, as in the previous example, these oaths were required of the recipient of the covenant, and other times the initiator of the covenant gave these oaths. In both God’s reiteration of the Mosaic covenant in Deuteronomy 29:12 and 14 and in God’s covenant with David (see Psalm 89:3, 34–37, 49), God cemented his commitment to the covenant by swearing an oath to the recipient. Latter-day Saints are familiar with the “oath and covenant of the priesthood,” which is found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:33–45. In the stating of his covenantal promises, God provides an oath that they will be fulfilled.

2b. Ritual or ceremonial enactment: Signs. This element of biblical covenant making is similar to the element of oaths and pledges and demonstrates that the understanding of a covenant relationship between two parties must always be acted out or performed in some type of physically witnessed behavior.[8] The main difference between oaths and signs is that signs are physical acts that continue to be repeated in subsequent generations to confirm the existence of the covenant. One example of a sign of a covenant is the rainbow provided by God in Genesis 9:12–16, translated as a “token” (אות/‘ot) in the King James Version (KJV). The sign that God enjoined Abraham and his descendants to make is that of circumcision (see Genesis 17:9–10, 13–14), while the sign of the Mosaic covenant was the keeping of the Sabbath day (see Exodus 31:31; Ezekiel 20:12, 20). The biblical text often shows God or individuals repeating similar pledges when God reestablishes the covenant with them. For example, although Isaac and Jacob apparently do not replicate Abraham’s passing “among the pieces,” they do offer sacrifice or provide some type of unique witness that they will obey God’s command when God reinitiates the Abrahamic covenant with them. As with pledges and oaths, signs again testify to the voluntary, conditional aspect of the covenant. For Latter-day Saints, the ordinance of the sacrament has come to be understood as a sign demonstrating renewed acceptance of baptismal covenants and commitment to Christ.[9] Anciently, sacred meals, including the Passover meal, peace offerings, and meals in other settings, were often a part of the covenant-making or covenant-renewal process.[10]

3. Stipulations. The Noachian covenant in Genesis 9 demonstrates that even when certain parts of the covenant should be considered unconditional, as in the case of God’s promise to never destroy the earth by flood again, other aspects of the covenant remain conditional (see Genesis 9:4–7). The very act of stating requirements of a covenant indicates the ability of the recipient to choose whether to obey those requirements or not. In this sense, when signs are required of the recipient of a covenant, they could also be included under the category of stipulations. Genesis 9:4–7 indicates that God’s requirements in connection with the Noachian covenant were to (a) be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, (b) not eat the flesh of animals with the blood still in it, and (c) not shed the blood of humankind. The Mosaic covenant provided numerous stipulations as a sign of the covenant, such as honoring the Sabbath day, following the rest of the Ten Commandments, and following the Holiness Code provided in Leviticus 18–25. For Latter-day Saints, the baptismal covenant brings the recipient into a relationship with God and God’s community that obligates the recipient to support that community, to stand as a witness of Christ, and to remember Christ always (see Mosiah 18:8–10; Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79).

4. Consequences: Blessings and punishments. Another evidence of the conditional, bilateral nature of covenants is that specific blessings or negative consequences are typically provided for faithfulness to or betrayal of the covenant. Such is the case in the Noachian covenant, in which the above stipulations carry a penalty if they are ignored: “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man. . . . Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:5–6). The consequences associated with covenants are even more clearly stated regarding the Mosaic law, with entire chapters dedicated to showing the blessings or cursings connected to obedience or disobedience to the covenant (see, for example, Deuteronomy 27–30). Under Joshua the Israelites were to ritually restate those consequences: half of the community would stand on Mount Ebal at one side of a valley to recount the cursings, and the other half would stand on Mount Gerizim to recount the blessings; this ritual created powerful imagery of the Israelites’ ability to choose (see Deuteronomy 27–29). Leviticus 26 also contains a lengthy list of blessings and cursings that will come upon God’s people if they obey or reject the covenant, respectively, including both the future scattering and gathering of Israel. Modern readers are often less comfortable with the idea of punishments proceeding from the hand of God than with the concept of the blessings that flow from God in connection with covenant faithfulness. It is important to recognize the reality that any loss of blessings due to a lack of covenant faithfulness is, in one sense, indistinguishable from a punishment.

5. Witnesses. One of the reasons why covenant making included physical acts, signs, or verbal oaths was so that it could be witnessed by others and so that those witnesses could be called to testify of the reality of the promises made on both sides.[11] The Mosaic covenant provides excellent examples of the importance of witnesses to verify obedience to or betrayal of the covenant. Deuteronomy 4:26, for example, states that if the Israelites do evil in the sight of God, then “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish.” Deuteronomy 30:19 offers similar imagery: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing.” These examples also indicate that heavenly beings and the earth itself, as seen in Genesis 9, are commonly called upon as witnesses in biblical covenants. Latter-day Saints are familiar with the importance of witnesses during the ordinances of sacrament and baptism and during ordinances performed in the temple. Interestingly, ancient Near Eastern treaties almost always provided long lists of witnesses to the treaty, and these witnesses were often divine beings or elements of the natural world that represented the beliefs of both sides in the treaty relationship.[12]

6. Provisions for the maintenance of the covenant terms. Provisions made so that the terms of the covenant would be written down or transmitted orally over the course of generations are very clear in ancient Near Eastern treaties and can also be seen in other biblical examples.[13] Jeremiah 32:6–13 demonstrates an ancient tradition of maintaining two copies of the terms of an agreement, one sealed and stored away so that its text cannot be altered, the other left open and publicly available so that it can be reviewed. Deuteronomy 32:9–13 indicates that Moses wrote the law down and then required the Israelites to listen as the priests read the law aloud every seven years during the Feast of Tabernacles, while Joshua 8:32 describes Joshua writing the law down on the stones of an altar. One of the primary purposes of scripture recording and scripture study is to remind the reader of the covenants made and the provisions of those covenants. That awareness is demonstrated on the title page of the Book of Mormon: “Which 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, that they are not cast off forever.” This brief statement includes God’s statement of who he is, who Israel is, and what relationship he has had with them. The reading of that relationship as expressed in the Book of Mormon prepares the reader to enter into sacred covenants with him, indicating the importance of a record to demonstrate God’s covenant promises.

Biblical Covenants

Numerous covenant relationships designated by God are expressed throughout the Old Testament. Whether these relationships should be seen as threads of one overarching relationship, or whether they are separate covenants that should carefully be distinguished from each other, continues to be disputed today. Biblical scholars typically identify a number of important biblical covenants: the Noachian, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, the priestly (closely connected to the Mosaic), and the new covenant (mentioned by Jeremiah but mostly emphasized by Christian scholars).[14] While differences between these covenants certainly exist, they also form a unified witness of God’s willingness to make covenants with his people, and they build upon and connect to each other.[15] Although this essay will begin by analyzing the Noachian covenant, since it represents the first time that the word covenant is explicitly used in the Old Testament, the Joseph Smith Translation confirms that the Noachian covenant was a renewal of earlier covenants, as will be demonstrated.

1. The Noachian covenant. As the first of the covenants explicitly discussed in the Bible (see Genesis 6:18 for the first instance of the Hebrew word bĕrit, “covenant”), the Noachian covenant of Genesis 6:18 and 8:20–9:18 serves as a foundation for understanding all other covenants and further covenant making in the Old Testament. The covenant is described as “everlasting” (9:16), designed to last as long as “the earth remaineth” (8:22). As will be discussed later in this section, and as clearly indicated in the Joseph Smith Translation, the Noachian covenant as found in the Bible was a renewal of a covenantal relationship with Adam and Eve and, later, with others, such as Enoch. Thus, this covenant could be understood as “new,” meaning renewed. Furthermore, using terminology from the Doctrine and Covenants, the covenant of Noah could appropriately be called a “new and everlasting covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:6).

This Noachian covenant was universal, meaning that it reflected a new relationship between God and every living thing upon the earth. Indeed, Genesis 9:13 states that the covenant is between God “and the earth.” The wording of the covenant appears to reaffirm God’s creational intent for the earth in a way that was disrupted by the flood, promising that the ability of humankind and the earth to regenerate and create will never again be stopped (see Genesis 8:22; 9:15).[16] Noah and his family are given obligations to be fruitful, to multiply, and to replenish the earth (see 9:1, 3); to have dominion over the creations of the earth (see 9:2); and to give proper respect to living things (see 9:4–6). These obligations both repeat commandments given to Adam, Eve, and the living creatures at the time of the Creation (see 1:22, 28), as well as show Noah that the destruction of the earth he had just witnessed should not be misinterpreted as meaning that life is not precious. Although God is placing obligations upon Noah and his seed, their faithfulness is not tied to God’s promise to never flood the earth again. God offers this promise unilaterally, without any conditions placed upon it, in part to teach Noah and his seed the kind of being that God is. The Noachian covenant, then, had both a unilateral and a bilateral nature, leading some scholars to describe it as a “grant” or a “charter.” In the ancient Near East, these types of agreements often existed between a deity, powerful emperor, or king on one side and, on the other side, a subservient leader (such as Noah, Abraham, or David in the biblical accounts) appointed to have rule or dominion. Grants or charters included the expectation of loyalty from the one appointed and thus had an implied bilateral nature but primarily emphasized the rights of the appointed leader, binding the powerful party who granted the appointment to follow certain stipulations (such as never flooding the earth again). They thus highlighted the benevolence of the powerful party, rather than detailing the many obligations that will be expected of one appointed (as would be the case in a suzerainty or vassal treaty).[17]

Elements of the covenant-making process can be seen in this first of the explicit biblical covenants. The elements are as follows: a ceremony or ritual that includes a sacrificial offering, promises from God, expectations or commandments placed upon Noah, and a sign between God and humankind (the rainbow provided by God). Joseph Smith provided a lengthy expansion or restoration of the Noachian covenant in JST Genesis 9:21–25. This passage adds additional meaning to the sign of the rainbow, indicating that it is also set to remind Noah’s posterity that Enoch’s city of Zion will return in the last days, thereby demonstrating that the covenant with Noah was a renewal of an earlier covenant relationship with Enoch, as demonstrated in Joseph Smith’s Enochic expansion found in Moses 6–7.

Although not typically listed with the main biblical covenants, some biblical scholars (even without the benefit of the Joseph Smith Translation) have understood the Noachian covenant as the renewal of a covenant relationship first instituted with Adam and Eve.[18] They suggest that the way the covenant is introduced in Genesis 6:18—“But with thee will I establish my covenant”—reads as if a previously established covenant (“my [God’s] covenant”) is already understood and is being renewed. This reading is strengthened by the repetition of the expectation first given to Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28) to multiply and replenish the earth in its covenantal context: “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1). These scholars have typically read Genesis 1–3 as representing a general covenantal framework, even though the word covenant is not explicitly used.

Jeremiah 33:20, 25 is also used by some biblical scholars to support a covenantal reading of Genesis 1–3. These verses refer to a “covenant with day and night” and have been used to postulate a “covenant of [or with] creation” in the Creation account. These scholars expand the view of the Adamic covenant to include all of creation, with Adam standing at the head, much as the whole earth appears to be included in the Noachian covenant. This view has special interest for Latter-day Saints in light of statements in the Book of Abraham that portray God as commanding his creations and waiting for them to obey (for example, see Abraham 4:18), a description that could imply some type of covenantal relationship between God and his creations. Thus, not only is God making a covenant with Adam, but the entire earth and all other creations are participating in that covenant relationship, supporting and fulfilling God’s purposes each in their own designated way.

For Latter-day Saints, the covenantal nature of God’s relationship with Adam and Eve, and God’s subsequent covenantal relationship with their descendants prior to Noah (particularly with Enoch), is clearly taught in the Joseph Smith Translation as found in the Pearl of Great Price (Moses 5–7) and in JST Genesis 8:23–24 and 9:10–25. JST Genesis 9:23 explicitly states, “And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.” Due to these Restoration scriptures, Latter-day Saints understand that God has been working through covenants from the beginning of the earth (and before). That God made a covenant with Adam is made fully clear in the Pearl of Great Price at the time of Adam’s baptism (see Moses 6:64–65).

The additions provided by the Joseph Smith Translation do not only serve to confirm that the Noachian covenant was a renewal of earlier covenants, but they also provide insight into the nature of the covenant, particularly with regard to the preservation of Noah’s descendants. God had made promises to Enoch, which were renewed with Noah, that Noah’s seed would not perish—an important concern considering the Flood—and that God would continue to “call upon” them (Moses 7:51). According to the Joseph Smith Translation for Genesis 6:18 (the first instance of the word covenant in the Old Testament), God states that “with thee will I establish my covenant, even as I have sworn unto thy father, Enoch, that of thy posterity shall come all nations” (JST Genesis 8:23–24). The obligations of these descendants who will be preserved is to bless all nations of the earth by preaching the truth of God’s word. This obligation is made clear in Moses 6:23, which discusses the role of the descendants of Adam: “And they were preachers of righteousness, and spake and prophesied, and called upon all men, everywhere, to repent; and faith was taught unto the children of men.” The connections made in the Joseph Smith Translation between the covenants made with Adam, Enoch, and Noah prepare Latter-day Saint biblical readers to understand the Abrahamic covenant more fully and accurately. No matter the reader’s understanding of the existence of an Adamic and Enochic covenant, however, the clarity of language in the Noachian covenant of Genesis 8–9 paves the way for a discussion of the biblical covenant par excellence, the covenant made with Abraham.

2. The Abrahamic covenant. The next covenant relationship in the Bible is the Abrahamic covenant, found primarily in Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22. Some biblical scholars believe that the separate records of the Abrahamic covenant in these chapters point to different traditions of the same event that were later compiled into one account (a concept generally known as the Documentary Hypothesis).[19] Others read the repetitive accounts as God’s efforts to reinforce, renew, and progress his covenant relationship with Abraham following important testing events in Abraham’s life. In Genesis 12:1–3, God promises a covenantal relationship with Abraham after he leaves Ur and travels to the land of Canaan. He formally initiates that relationship in Genesis 15, promising Abraham that he will become a great nation in the land of Canaan that God gives him. In Genesis 17 he expands on a second promise provided in Genesis 12, a promise that Abraham’s royal seed would bless all nations of the earth. That promise is formally confirmed in Genesis 22.

Latter-day Saints find all of these promises—a divinely designated land and the continuation of the covenant relationship in and through Abraham’s numerous descendants, who would bless all nations of the earth—expanded upon in the Joseph Smith Translation additions to the biblical passages listed above and also find the promises interwoven in one text in the Pearl of Great Price: Abraham 2:6–12. Additionally, Latter-day Saint scripture (building upon New Testament statements) affirms that the promises of the Abrahamic covenant are still available today, both to the scattered descendants of Abraham—many of whom have lost the memory of their genealogical identity—who are willing to enter into covenants with God and to nondescendants who can be adopted as children of Abraham through the making of covenants (see John 8:37–39; Romans 8:14–15; Galatians 3:7–9; Book of Mormon title page; Doctrine and Covenants 84:33–34). For Paul and for Latter-day Saints, covenants—particularly the Abrahamic covenant—have always received their power and vitality through faith in God or Christ in Old Testament times (see Genesis 15:7; Moses 6:52), New Testament times (see Galatians 3:7), and modern times (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:25). God’s plan has always been formally accepted by his children through covenant making that allows them to enter into an explicitly stated relationship with him. As Joseph Smith stated, “Being born again comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances [or in other words, through covenants that are formalized by the ritual act known as ordinances].”[20] God’s children are thus brought into the relationship of firstborn with the Father (see Romans 8:14–15) through covenant making (and covenant keeping) with God and are transformed by that relationship, which is made possible and given power by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.[21] Paul connected this process with the Abrahamic covenant, and Latter-day Saints recognize that the Abrahamic covenant itself reflects earlier, cosmic, premortal covenants. As discussed in the section about the Adamic, Enochic, and Noachian covenants, accepting this covenant includes an obligation to bless all nations of the earth by calling on all humankind to repent (see Moses 6:23).

Common elements of biblical covenant making are again found and expanded upon in the various biblical and Restoration texts that provide the Abrahamic covenant. In Genesis 15, God formally introduces himself to Abraham and promises him specific blessings, offering the stars in the heavens as a visual demonstration or sign of the promise of progeny (see Genesis 15:5; Abraham 2:8). God then requires Abraham to participate in a sacrificial ceremony or ritual known as “the covenant between the parts,” a covenant of obligation with an implied punishment—that Abraham and his family would be torn asunder if they betrayed the covenant (see Genesis 15:8–17)—an interpretation strengthened by similar connotations in Jeremiah 34 and in the ancient Near Eastern Sefire Treaties.[22] Interestingly, God himself participated in the ceremony by passing between the pieces of the sacrifice, indicating his own commitment to the covenant (from a Christian viewpoint, God is possibly implying that he himself would be willing to be “torn asunder,” suffering the effects of the broken covenant). This process introduces the phrase “to cut a covenant” that elsewhere became common in the biblical texts. The phrase was used to designate the covenant-making process that, in this case, included cutting an animal into pieces (see Genesis 15:8–17).[23] In Genesis 17 circumcision was also part of the covenant-making process in addition to animal sacrifice and was likely included in the concept of “cutting a covenant.”[24] “To cut a covenant” is therefore to engage in physical actions designated by God that formalize the covenantal relationship.

Genesis 17 and 22 contain other common biblical elements of covenant making. God places clear expectations or commandments upon Abraham. He also gives Abraham, the “father of a great people” (up until this point, he was “Abram,” meaning “exalted father”),[25] a new name, signifying his new life and identity under the covenant. Circumcision is introduced as part of the covenant-making process,[26] apparently connected to the idea of marriage and progeny. Abraham was told he would have numerous descendants and was then enjoined to mark that part of his body that allowed physical intimacy, placing the act of sexual intimacy in the realm of the sacred, thus marking sexual intimacy as not just a physical experience but an experience that is part of the covenantal relationship with God, including God’s promises of descendants to the married couple. Interestingly, not until Abraham was circumcised was Sarah able to become pregnant.[27] That Abraham was required to provide the sign or act of circumcision as a demonstration of his loyalty to the covenant also indicates that this is a covenant of obligations, in which Abraham will need to faithfully participate, rather than a covenant of entitlement in which Abraham simply receives blessings from God without needing to respond.

The ritual behavior of sacrifice, offering one’s own possessions up to the Lord as a sign or symbol of loyalty (and especially the sacrificial animal offering of a living being to represent the making of covenant), was already demonstrated in connection with Noah’s covenant (see Genesis 8:20) as well as with Abraham’s (in 15:17). The purpose of animal sacrifices has been debated among biblical scholars without definite conclusions. Some have seen the death of animals as a warning of consequences for violation of the covenant. Some have understood the act as turning over something to God (a gift offering) that cannot be returned (due to the death of the animal) and that thereby forges a connection between the person and God. Others have believed that it represents the submission of one’s own will—the animal represents the individual’s willingness to give her- or himself over to God’s will.[28]

Whichever of these purposes (or all of them) may be intended, Genesis 22 again connects covenant making with a sacrificial offering—but with a shocking twist. The story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son serves as a supreme example of the type of obedience required of those with whom God will maintain his covenant relationship. Even with the supreme sacrifice of Abraham’s desires for offspring and with God’s request for the life of Abraham’s son, God, in the end, does not require Abraham to offer an animal sacrifice from his own herds at all. In this case, the offering God himself provided was that of a ram in the place of Isaac. There is some similarity in this account with the “covenant between the pieces” of Genesis 15, in which the stronger party, God, performs the role often required of the weaker party. In the New Testament, this moment provides a supreme example that Paul used to demonstrate Abraham’s faith (see Romans 4:1–16).

John Taylor, in explaining that he overheard a statement from Joseph Smith, attaches a modern-day application to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son: “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other [people] of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”[29] At another time, relying on the biblical importance of sacrifice in the making of covenants, Joseph Smith and his associates stated, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”[30] Although Latter-day Saint ordinances require little in the way of monetary sacrifice in the enacting of the rituals, a willingness to sacrifice is expected as a necessary component of the covenant relationship (see Doctrine and Covenants 97:8) and highlights the nature of the purpose of sacrifice.

As with the Noachian covenant, scholars debate whether or not the Abrahamic covenant should be seen as truly bilateral or not.[31] In other words, is the covenant provided by the sovereign, immutable will of God irrespective of the actions of the human participant, or is the faithfulness of the human participant a crucial part of the covenant relationship? The importance of Abraham’s participation in the covenant relationship is clear throughout Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22, but the promises that accrue to his offspring appear to be granted unilaterally and unconditionally by God: the promises will remain whether or not Abraham’s offspring are faithful to the covenant. For Latter-day Saints, the Book of Abraham confirms that the promises will remain with Abraham’s seed but also indicates that the promised blessings must be accepted by those who follow Abraham’s example of faith and commitment to God (see Abraham 2:11). In other words, God grants Abraham’s posterity agency (or free will) to accept or reject their covenantal status that has been offered through the will of God and accepted by faith in Christ, actions that move them to “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (Articles of Faith 1:3). The Abrahamic covenant thus is both unilateral and bilateral, serving as another example of the ancient “grant” or “charter,” as mentioned above with the Noachian covenant.[32]

Before we proceed to a discussion of the Mosaic covenant, it is important to reiterate just how strongly Latter-day Saints rely on and identify with the Abrahamic covenant. Although most modern Jews would prioritize the Mosaic covenant over the Abrahamic covenant in their self-understanding, Latter-day Saints believe that the Abrahamic covenant provided the demarcating outlines for later biblical covenants and that other covenants (such as the Mosaic covenant) are subsumed within it, as will be described in the next section.

3a. The Mosaic covenant. If the Noachian covenant (itself a reiteration of the Adamic and Enochic covenants, as made clear in the Joseph Smith Translation) served as a foundation for biblical covenant making in the Old Testament, and if the Abrahamic covenant was the covenant that would continue and provide the identity for the patriarchs, matriarchs, and the house of Israel (including in New Testament times and in Restoration scriptures), then the Mosaic covenant was the covenant relationship that spanned the vast majority of the Hebrew Bible, from Exodus 20 to the end of Malachi (and continuing into the New Testament). The Noachian and Abrahamic covenants set up expectations for biblical covenant making that are found fully described in the Mosaic covenant, including sacrificial offerings in ceremonies or rituals, bilateral obligations between God and his people, and the “sign” of the Sabbath day (Exodus 31:16–17). According to Paul R. Williamson, “The fact that the stipulated covenant sign [of the Sabbath] is identified as such only after the instructions concerning the tabernacle and the priesthood are given (Exodus 25:1–31:11) may suggest that the latter elements [of the tabernacle and the priesthood] were also intrinsically related to the Mosaic covenant (cf. 24:12; 31:18).”[33] Under this covenant, the nation of Israel was guaranteed prosperity, land, and protection by God as a confirmation of the Abrahamic covenant, and the obligation was placed upon the Israelites, as a continuation of earlier covenants, to be a light and blessing to all nations.

These guarantees and blessings, however, were conditioned on the Israelites’ continued obedience to the terms of the covenant. Because this covenant is bilateral in nature, including the reality that it can be canceled or abrogated by the offerer of the covenant (unlike certain aspects of the Abrahamic and Noachian covenants, such as the promise to never flood the earth again or that the covenant will remain with Abraham’s seed), biblical scholars, at times, describe it as more similar to a suzerainty treaty.[34] Anciently, vassal or suzerainty treaties, which set forth detailed stipulations of obedience upon a people or nation that would pay tribute, were often more conditional in nature than grants or charters provided by a monarch to the people (which typically emphasized the rights and blessings that the monarch would bestow rather than the obligations of the people). In suzerainty treaties, the attention was focused on the faithfulness of the recipient and provided very detailed conditions for the treaty relationship to continue.[35] This potential distinction highlights one reason why Paul, Christians, and Latter-day Saints view the Mosaic covenant differently than they do the Abrahamic covenant.

Latter-day Saints have a relatively unique approach to the Mosaic covenant that has been influenced by Restoration scriptures such as Doctrine and Covenants 84:23–27. Here and elsewhere, Joseph Smith taught that the Mosaic law was a renewal of the covenant status that had existed between God and his people from the beginning. As taught by Paul and reinforced by Joseph Smith, the Mosaic law differed from earlier covenants because of the refusal of Moses’s people—known as the “provocation” (Hebrews 3:8, 15; Jacob 1:7; Alma 12:36)—to fully participate in the covenant-making experience that was designed to bring them into the presence of God on Mount Sinai (see JST Exodus 34:1–2). As stated by Joseph, further describing events in Exodus 19 and 32–34, “Moses sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the Priesthood, but he could not.”[36] Due to that transgression (see Galatians 3:19), God instituted a more complex system of laws, offerings, and sacrifices. God did not intend this more complex system to be permanent but rather intended a return to the type of law that existed under the Abrahamic covenant. Although it might seem a minor point to some, this approach encourages Latter-day Saints to read the Bible differently than do some other Christians, who often view the entirety of the Old Testament and its laws (from Adam to John the Baptist) as a lesser preparation for the gospel of Christ that was instituted when Jesus was resurrected.[37]

Instead, Latter-day Saints believe that the gospel existed and was taught as part of God’s covenant relationship from the beginning of the Old Testament (see Moses 6:48–68). Although the Mosaic law was a modified approach to those gospel teachings and expectations, Old Testament peoples and covenants are seen as fitting perfectly into God’s covenantal plan for his people in all times, rather than simply as a preparation for that which would come. Covenants had their power through Christ from the beginning of the world. The Mosaic law was fulfilled with the resurrection of Christ (in the form of the paschal Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth), but Jesus’s teachings had existed on the earth in some form from the beginning.[38] The Mosaic covenant was designed to help the house of Israel to be a light and a blessing to all nations of the earth.

3b. The priestly covenant. The priestly covenant was closely related to the Mosaic covenant. It was a covenant relationship established between God and the Levites, who were dedicated for priesthood service and priesthood responsibility in place of the firstborn male from each family in each tribe. Numbers 25:10–13 designates it a “covenant of peace” and a “covenant of perpetual priesthood.” At the end of the Old Testament, Malachi 2:8 refers to the priestly covenant, indicating that the people had “corrupted the covenant of Levi” (the tribe designated to hold priestly authority under the Mosaic covenant). As with other covenant relationships, this relationship was signified by sacrificial ceremonies and bilateral commitments between God and the priests. Under the Mosaic covenant, the levitical priests wore special ceremonial clothing to officiate in the temple and were consecrated or ordained through special ceremonies that included washing, anointing, and “the filling of the hand.”[39]

According to a Latter-day Saint approach, the Mosaic priestly covenant found in the Old Testament can be understood as confirming God’s desire to give his priesthood authority to humankind. Priesthood authority was and is given to help prepare God’s people to enter into his presence (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:20–23). Latter-day Saint scripture confirms that “the sons of Levi [will] offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (13:1). Thus, God’s promise to give priesthood authority to the descendants of Levi is not abrogated or superseded in the last days but is confirmed. Additionally, those granted the Aaronic Priesthood in the restored church today are designated as “sons of Aaron” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:31; because Aaron was the descendant of Levi who was given the highest level of Levitical priestly authority), whether or not they are physically descended from Aaron and Levi. All who receive the priesthood in modern times accept the “oath and covenant” of the priesthood as presented in Doctrine and Covenants 84:33–45. In these verses, God promises those who accept his priesthood that they will be renewed and sanctified and that accepting the priesthood is equivalent to accepting him. God swears with an oath that all who accept the covenant of the priesthood will receive “all that [the] Father hath” (v. 38).

Moreover, building on Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 7 reasons that if Abraham was greater than Aaron or Levi, and if Abraham himself paid tithes to Melchizedek, then there must be a higher priesthood authority than that exercised by the Levites under the priestly covenant of the Mosaic law (see vv. 1–11). That reasoning points to Christ but also points to Abraham and the other patriarchs before the priestly covenant as priests after the order of Melchizedek. Thus, most Latter-day Saints would view the priestly covenant as an additional witness that God works with his covenant people through priesthood authority throughout history, even as they view the priesthood authority provided in this covenant, along with the Mosaic covenant, as being subsumed within the broader priesthood authority of the Abrahamic covenant.

4. The new covenant. A new covenant is described in Jeremiah 31:31–34:

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 [in other words, the Mosaic covenant]; 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.

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Since the “new covenant” supersedes the Mosaic covenant and describes a future covenant focused more on the heart, many Christian scholars have connected it with the gospel covenant found in Christ.[40] These scholars claim that the gospel covenant of the New Testament supersedes all other covenants and that the others, including the Abrahamic covenant, should be seen through the light of this covenant. Latter-day Saints instead see it as the promise of a restoration of the Abrahamic covenant that is made new and alive again through Christ in New Testament times and again through Christ among his Latter-day Saints. Latter-day Saints know this new covenant as “the new and everlasting covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:6). For Latter-day Saints, then, Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant is viewed as anticipating all that Jesus Christ would bring.

The Preeminence of the Abrahamic Covenant

If the Noachian (the first explicit covenant), Mosaic (the covenant spanning the majority of the Hebrew Bible), and new (the covenant viewed by some as superseding all other covenants) covenants all have at least some claim as the central or preeminent biblical covenant, why do most biblical scholars emphasize the Abrahamic covenant? Simply put, the Israelites were brought out of Egypt and toward Sinai on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant, not on the basis of the Mosaic covenant that would be instituted there.[41] The promises of the Abrahamic covenant—not necessarily the Mosaic covenant that would be broken by the Israelites over and over again—seem to lie beneath the Lord’s oft-repeated statements in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and elsewhere that explain that the Lord would gather the descendants of Israel in the last days. In other words, it is because of the Abrahamic covenant that the Lord chose to initiate the Mosaic covenant with the Israelites, and it is the Abrahamic covenant that defines the boundaries of the Mosaic covenant. The Noachian covenant with its promises to all flesh does not provide the specific, limited people with whom God would make his Mosaic covenant, and the Noachian covenant is rarely referred to by name again throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible.[42] Finally, while the new covenant certainly could be seen as the preeminent covenant under Christianity—and many Christian theologians do therefore interpret all other covenants through the lens of that covenant rather than through the lens of the Abrahamic covenant—even the authors of the New Testament chose to discuss the gospel covenant in terms of the Abrahamic covenant, and they gave effort to explain the connection between faith in Christ and the Abrahamic covenant (see Galatians 3; Romans 4; Hebrews 7). In Galatians 3, for example, Paul points to the Mosaic covenant as a lesser covenant “added because of transgressions” and as a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (vv. 19, 24). In the same passages, Paul reinforces the importance of the Abrahamic covenant: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made” (v. 16), “God gave [the land] to Abraham by promise” (v. 18), and “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (v. 29). Thus, the Latter-day Saint emphasis on the Abrahamic covenant follows a New Testament emphasis. Following biblical antecedents, Latter-day Saints view the Abrahamic covenant as God’s promise to which they point and as a promise that is still in effect for God’s people.


The primary purpose of this essay is to demonstrate the interconnected nature of biblical covenants. Although the Noachian, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and other covenants do demonstrate unique features, based on God’s purposes and the needs of the time, they also interconnect with and build upon each other. That interconnectedness continues through the New Testament texts and into the modern day in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A secondary purpose, flowing from the primary purpose, is to show the features of covenant making that are observable in the Old Testament in order to help modern readers recognize similar elements in their own covenant making. A final purpose has been to emphasize the preeminent nature of the Abrahamic covenant in Old Testament, New Testament, and Restoration thought and scripture. The Abrahamic covenant is designed to bless all people who are willing to exercise faith in Christ and to bring all who are willing to come into a covenantal relationship with God. It is God’s gracious love, wisdom, and power—received by humankind through faith in Christ—that give covenants (particularly the Abrahamic covenant) their force and power. In Joseph Smith’s view, the blessings that we gain through the gospel are gained through faith in Christ and through the restoration of the covenants of old (which are contained in the “new and everlasting” covenant of the restored gospel of Christ). God’s plan is designed for all the inhabitants of the earth. It is a plan designed to provide his power—through the atoning love of Jesus Christ—to his children, particularly as they choose to enter into and maintain their covenant relationship with him through faith.


This article is reprinted from Shon D. Hopkin, “The Covenant among Covenants: The Abrahamic Covenant and Biblical Covenant Making,” in From Creation to Sinai: The Old Testament through the Lens of the Restoration, ed. Daniel L. Belnap and Aaron P. Schade (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2021), 223–49.

[1] Keith H. Essex, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (1999): 191. Paul House stated it this way: “Simply stated, then, it is hard to overstate its importance in biblical literature and thus biblical theology.” Paul R. House, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 76.

[2] See “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842],” The Joseph Smith Papers,

[3] Numerous etymologies have been proposed for bĕrit, including “bond/fetters,” “between,” or a connection with food or eating, as in a covenantal meal between two parties. See Wolfram von Soden, ed., Akkadisches Handworterbuch (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1959), 129–30; J. J. Mitchell, “Abram’s Understanding of the Lord’s Covenant,” Westminster Theological Journal 32 (1970): 45; M. Noth, The Laws in the Pentateuch (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967), 112–17; Elmer B. Smick, “ברית,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1980), 1:128; Moshe Weinfeld, “בְּרִית,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 2:253 (hereafter TDOT).

[4] See P. R. Williamson, “Covenant,” in Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 420.

[5] See P. R. Williamson, “Covenant,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012), 146–47; George E. Mendenhall and Gary A. Herion, “Covenant,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:1190–98.

[6] These elements, first found in Hittite treaties from the Late Bronze Age, were described in Viktor Korosec, Hethitische Staatsvertrage (Leipzig, Germany: Theodor Weicher, 1931). Although these elements are most frequently used to describe the Mosaic covenant, the close connection between the form of these Hittite treaties and that of biblical covenants was first detailed in George E. Mendenhall, “Covenant Forms in Ancient Israelite Tradition,” Biblical Archaeologist 17 (1954): 50–76. See also Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” 1:1190–98. For a Latter-day Saint treatment of the topic, see Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 400–406.

[7] See McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant, 1–5; F. Charles Fensham, “Treaty,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Fully Revised, ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 4:900–901.

[8] See description of the oath process in the preceding section, as demonstrated in Deuteronomy 29:12, 14 and in Psalm 89:3, 34–37, 49. See also Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” 1:1183.

[9] See Ugo A. Perego, “The Changing Forms of the Latter-day Saint Sacrament,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 1–16.

[10] See Dennis E. Smith, “Meal Customs,” in Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:653–55; see also Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” 1:1195.

[11] See Stephen D. Renn, “Witness,” in Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 743.

[12] See Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” 1:1182.

[13] See Bruce K. Waltke with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 176.

[14] See, for one example, Stephen B. Cowan, “Covenant,” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand and Charles Draper (Nashville: Holman Bible, 2003), 143–45.

[15] See, for example, William J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013), 1–3; Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” 1:1189–90.

[16] See David VanDrunen, Divine Covenants and Moral Order: A Biblical Theology of Natural Law (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 39–41, 95–100; Steven D. Mason, “Eternal Covenant” in the Pentateuch: The Contours of an Elusive Phrase (New York: T&T Clark, 2008), 47–50; William J. Dumbrell, Creation and Covenant: An Old Testament Covenantal Theology (Flemington Markets, Australia: Paternoster and Lancer Books, 1984), 4–6; John Goldingay, “Covenant, OT and NT,” in New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Katherine Doob Sakenfield and Samuel E. Balentine (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006), 1:767–78; J. B. Payne, “Covenant (OT),” in Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 1:1054.

[17] Moshe Weinfeld, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 90 (1970): 185; Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in The Old Testament (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1978), 1–24.

[18] See Mason, “Eternal Covenant, 48–56; Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23–27, Anchor Bible Commentary 3B (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 2243–46; Dumbrell, Creation and Covenant, 25–33; Payne, “Covenant (OT),” 1:1059.

[19] The Documentary Hypothesis continues to dominate many fields of biblical scholarship, although it has received decreasing scholarly support from some in the past few decades. Put in simple terms, it posits the Bible (and particularly the first five books, or the Pentateuch) as a collection of numerous sources created at different points in history to fit certain needs that were then combined by later editors to create a composite whole. Repeated stories, conflicting viewpoints, and varying grammar and language are some of the arguments used to support this theory. One significant challenge to the theory is its risk of circularity: the existence of differing sources is taken as assumed, and then support for the scholar’s assumptions is found, even though other valid arguments could also explain many of the differences. See Joel S. Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 13–44; Pauline A. Viviano, “Documentary Hypothesis,” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 2:131. With regard to the Abrahamic covenant, some biblical scholars posit that the different moments in which God institutes his covenant with Abraham all represent the same real or mythical event as conceived by different authors in different times. As the most prominent example of this type of thinking, see George E. Mendenhall, “The Nature and Purpose of the Abrahamic Tradition,” in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, ed. P. D. Miller, P. D. Hanson, and S. D. McBride (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 337–56.

[20] “Report of Instructions, between 26 June and 4 August 1839–A, as Reported by Willard Richards,” p. 72, The Joseph Smith Papers, See also Doctrine and Covenants 84.

[21] For a clear demonstration of this Latter-day Saint understanding as found in the Book of Mormon, see Mosiah 5:5–8.

[22] Jeremiah 34:18–20 appears to make a similar connection: “And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof. . . . I will even give them into the hands of their enemies.” See Mitchell, “Abram’s Understanding of the Lord’s Covenant,” 28, 39. See also Moshe Weinfield, “berith,” in TDOT, 2:277. For a discussion of implications connected to the Sefire Treaties, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefı̂re, Biblica et Orientalia 19 (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1967); see also Michael L. Barré, “Treaties,” in Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6:656.

[23] Although many today are uncomfortable with the concept of punishments from God, in antiquity covenant relationships were connected to both blessings and punishments depending on the receiving party’s faithfulness in fulfilling them; a covenant relationship that allows either party to betray the covenant with impunity would create an unhealthy imbalance in the relationship and would signify that one party is obligated to respect the covenant while the other is not.

[24] E. Isaac, “Circumcision as Covenant Rite,” Anthropos 59 (1965): 444–56; Eugene Carpenter, “כרת,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Exegesis: Second Edition, ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 2:723 (hereafter NIDOTTE).

[25] See P. A. Verhoef, “אברהם,” in NIDOTTE, 4:351.

[26] See Robert G. Hall, “Circumcision,” in Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:1025.

[27] As Hall states simply, “Circumcision was a marriage or fertility rite.” Hall, “Circumcision,” 1:1026. In a connected suggestion, others have indicated that it marks the participant as part of God’s community. See P. D. Woodbridge, “Circumcision,” in Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 411.

[28] For a good overview of various proposals, see Gary Anderson, “Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings,” in Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:870–73. For recent proposals, see Daniel Ullucci, “Contesting the Meaning of Animal Sacrifice,” in Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice, ed. Jennifer Wright Knust and Zsuzsanna Varhelyi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 57–75; William K. Gilders, “Jewish Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function (According to Philo),” in Knust and Varhelyi, Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice, 94–105.

[29] John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1884), 24:264.

[30] “Doctrine and Covenants, 1835,” p. 60, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[31] See VanDrunen, Divine Covenants and Moral Order, 39–41, 95–100; Mason, “Eternal Covenant” in the Pentateuch, 47–50; Dumbrell, Creation and Covenant, 62–70; Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” 1:1189–90.

[32] See Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 386–87; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., A History of Israel from the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 119–20; Weinfield, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,” 185.

[33] Paul R. Williamson, “Covenant,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament, 420.

[34] See Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” 1:1184.

[35] See Waltke, Old Testament Theology, 386–87; Kaiser, History of Israel from the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars, 119–20; Weinfield, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,” 185.

[36] “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842] [addenda],” p. 12 [addenda], The Joseph Smith Papers,

[37] This is known as replacement theology or, from a critical viewpoint, as supercessionism. See Calvin L. Smith, The Jews, Modern Israel, and the New Supercessionism (Lampeter, UK: King’s Divinity, 2009), 5–8.

[38] According to Joseph Smith, “Some say the kingdom of God was not set up on the earth until the day of Pentecost. . . . ; but I say, in the name of the Lord, that the kingdom of God was set up on the earth from the days of Adam to the present time. . . . Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives His oracles, there is the kingdom of God.” “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843] [addenda],” p. 5 [addenda], The Joseph Smith Papers,

[39] When the Old Testament states that a priest was ordained or consecrated to office in Exodus 28:41; 29:9, 22–25; 32:29 and elsewhere, the Hebrew literally states that the hand of the priest was filled. (In other words, his hand was filled as a sign or symbol of his ordination.) According to E. W. Bulliger, “This means to fill the hand, especially with that which is the sign and symbol of office, i.e. to fill the hand with a scepter was to consecrate to the office of king. To fill the hand with certain parts of sacrifices was to set apart for the office of priest, and to confirm their right to offer both gifts and sacrifices to God. A ram of ‘consecration’ (or of filling) was a ram with parts of which the hands of the priests were filled when they were set apart to their office. Whenever the word refers to official appointment, or separation to a work or dignity, it is the sovereign act of God, and the accompanying symbolic act was the filling of the hand of the person so appointed with the sign which marked his office.” E. W. Bulliger, Number in Scripture (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2003), 145. Latter-day Saints, who are “set apart” for callings or responsibilities in the Church through the formal ordinance of the laying on of hands, might appropriately see that moment as God “filling” their upturned hand with blessings and authority. The hand would then be turned over in the fulfilling of the ordained duty to pour out those blessings upon others.

[40] See Waltke, Old Testament Theology, 43–44; Larry D. Pettegrew, “The New Covenant,” The Master Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (1999): 251–70; Andrew Murray, The Believer’s New Covenant (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1984), 61–62; O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), 271–300. As an example, John Davis stated that “all Christians must begin their reading of the Bible with the New Testament, without which there is no Christianity. Consequently, as they read the New Testament Christians become aware that the coming of Jesus introduces a fundamental change in regard to how the Old Testament is understood. This is especially true in regard to the Abrahamic covenant.” John P. Davis, “Who Are the Heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant?,” Evangelical Review of Theology 29, no. 2 (2005): 149.

[41] The reasoning that the Abrahamic covenant provides the meaning and structure for the Mosaic covenant, not the other way around, is provided in Hebrews 7, Romans 4, and Galatians 3.

[42] See Aaron P. Schade, “The Rainbow as a Token in Genesis: Covenants and Promises in the Flood Story,” in From Creation to Sinai: The Old Testament through the Lens of the Restoration, ed. Daniel L. Belnap and Aaron P. Schade (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2021), 115–61.