The UPS driver arrived the other day with another great book, the long awaited (at least for me) ‘Kinship by Covenant’ by Scott Hahn. This is essentially the distillation of his Ph.D. thesis which is that life lived under Biblical covenant cannot be separated from life lived in relationships dictated by familial terms and ties. It is the family which is central to the Bible’s view of life for the simple reason that the family is central to life itself.
I’m so excited by this book, that I have put off the other 11 I am supposed to be reading (cough cough) to focus on this one. From time to time I will post some quotes and ideas from the book as they come up.
First off, what is meant by Covenant? The root word is latin meaning “to come together” or “to agree”. An english definition is that it involves a formal, solemn and binding pact between two or more parties. Sounds like a contract, right? But in biblical terms covenants involve a lot more than contracts.
A contract is made with a promise giving your word, signing one’s name to the line. A covenant is made by giving an oath. An oath transforms the promise by invoking God’s name for assistance or blessing. In court, we don’t promise to tell the truth, we take an oath to tell the truth, putting our hands on the bible, not by signing our name to a paper (“So help me God”). When you take an oath you put yourself under divine judgement and is thus much stronger than a promise (“I’ll be damned”). Breaking an oath involves than just breaking a promise — it draws down curses upon you for profaning the name of God which you have invoked. Doctors, policemen, soldiers, all take Oaths whereby they swear to fulfill their duties to the community.
Another difference between a contract and a covenant is that it is not an exchange of property or services — but it is an exchange and gift of persons. When a man and woman marry they declare their union until only death shall they part. A prostitute sells her body to the highest bidder and then moves on. A contract makes the relationship between people one of customer, employee, or client; where a covenant makes the relationship between them one of spouse, parent, children, or sibling. Covenants are made to create sacred familial bonds where none existed before. This is what is meant throughout scripture when describing the covenants “I will be their God and they shall be my people….I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters” (2 Cor 6:16-18)
The underlying principle of family solidarity is that One is born of a covenant and into a covenant, and wherever one moves in life, one makes a covenant or acts on the basis of an already existing covenant. The covenant is the presupposition of all life… the creator of rights and duties.
As an exploratory aside until the next post, think about the ideas of divorce, premarital sex, and homosexual ‘marriage’ in terms of how they can or cannot constitute a covenant, and the consequences thereof.