Authorised Version – Excellent but imperfect

In the Authorized Version, unfortunately, diatheke is often translated ‘testament’ in the New Testament, but this has the effect of obscuring its real force. For example,in Heb. 9:20 the Authorized Version says that when Moses had delivered the original summary of the law to Israel he sacrificed various animals and sprinkled their blood and said: ‘this is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you’. But of course, Moses said something rather different, as we can see even in the Authorized Version by turning up the passage quoted, Exod. 24:8, where we are told that Moses said: ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words’. The fault does not lie with the writer to the Hebrews, who used the Greek word diatheke quite properly in its sense of ‘covenant’ (as he found it used in the Greek Septuagint version of Exod. 24:8); the mistake lies with the English translation ‘testament’, following the Latin translation testamentum.[1] In the earlier days of Latin speaking Christianity, indeed, another word than testamentum was frequently used to represent Greek diatheke; This was the Latin word instrumentum, which in this connection was much more suitable. If the use of instrumentum had prevailed, and its English derivative ‘instrument’ had been employed in the titles of the two parts of the Bible, it would bave been more satisfactory, for ‘instrument’ can be used in the sense of ‘agreement’. So far as English is concerned, however, ‘covenant’ is an even better word than ‘instrument’, for ‘covenant’ is a perfectly well-known word meaning a particularly solemn and binding form of agreement. Indeed, the special Bible sense of ‘covenant’ goes still farther: it conveys the idea of mutual ‘belonging’, of incorporation into the family, of a marriage-bond,[2] solemnly ratiiied by the shedding of blood (whence the Hebrew term for making a covenant literally means ‘cutting a covenant’).

We may, therefore, replace the word ‘Testament’ by the word ‘Covenant’ in the titles of the two parts of the Bible, and call them respectively, ‘The Books of the Old Covenant,’ and ‘The Books of the New Covenant’. If we think of the Bible as comprising these two collections, we shall be well on our way to understanding what the Bible is and what it contains.

F.F.Bruce, The Books and the Parchment, Pickering and Inglis, 1950, p.74


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