Troublesome Topic: Additions to the Original Covenant

Lesson 6 of 7

When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, He added more details to the covenant which He had established earlier. This is described in Genesis chapter 17. There we read nothing of blood being shed or either one passing between the animals. Everything spoken here is an addendum to the relationship established in Genesis chapter 15. We must remember that a covenant is a relationship, not just an agreement. If it were an agreement it would be easy for two people to establish more than one. But a covenant relationship is just that, a relationship, and there was no reason for God to establish another relationship with Abram. This is one and the same covenant relationship, now being confirmed and added to.

He spared Noah from destruction in the flood, and in His dealings with Abram He added more details to His plan.

The main things God added or changed were some details about the coming Savior and the addition of circumcision as a sign of the covenant.

In fact, this was the same covenant God had established with Adam, and then with Noah. God had not changed, but the people in the relationship changed because people don’t live as long as God does. God first promised to reconcile man to Himself in Genesis 3:15;

He spared Noah from destruction in the flood, and in His dealings with Abram He added more details to His plan.

In reality, the covenant with Adam was an overarching covenant that affected all people who came along later. It established the foundational truth that everyone needs to follow God’s ways or suffer negative consequences. Also, the Covenant of God with Israel at Sinai held sway over all other covenant relationships God established with individuals recorded in the Old Testament.

However, I dare not ignore the words of Paul in Galatians 3:15 where he says:

Galatians 3:15


Brothers, I am speaking according to man, even though a covenant is of a man, once it has been ratified, no one nullifies it or adds properly arranged orders to it.


Dear spiritual Brothers, the following example is from human experience, but it is still helpful. Even a covenant that is made by men is such that once it has been ratified by the proper traditions, no one dares to nullify it or add any detailed and well-organized conditions to the arrangement.

However, a few verses later, in Gal 3:19, Paul says that the law was “added.” A different Greek word is used which means “to join” rather than the word “to add new binding provisions,” used in 3:15.

In Genesis 17 it looks like God added something to a previously established covenant. Yet Paul says that such a thing cannot be done with a human covenant.

There are three viable explanations:

  1. Paul specifically says in Gal 3:15 that he is speaking about human covenants. He may have said this to clarify that God can do something different if He wants to. He used the familiar system of covenants, but we cannot force Him to follow our rules for covenants.
  2. This may be another situation where the truth is a healthy tension between two things that seem to be opposed. Paul says no one can add to a covenant, but then he says that God added the law. Both are true even though they appear to pull in different directions. God used things that were familiar to them, like covenants, but He handled some aspects of covenants differently than man did. We will see some examples as we go along.
  3. It could be both of the above at the same time. It may be more than just the first answer of it referring to only human covenants because Paul is applying it to God’s covenant. The first answer does not totally do away with the difficulty. It may also be one of those times when we simply need to hold on to two things at the same time and not let either one of them go.

Paul’s purpose in Galatians 3 was to show the continuity of God’s dealings with mankind. He was not separating the promise given to Abram and the covenant given through Moses; he was uniting them. It is as if each addition was a covenant within a covenant. In the Old Testament, when God added something, He did not nullify what had previously been established. When the New Covenant was established, it did away with some aspects of the Former Covenant, but it kept the principles on which the Former Covenant was built.

There is evidence that supports seeing the various covenants mentioned in the Old Testament as separate covenants, and there is evidence that supports unifying them under one big umbrella (covenants within a covenant). I favor unifying them. I will return to this verse again, when we talk about David.

The next lesson in the short version of this series is called God Led Them Through Suffering and Death

The next lesson in the medium and full length versions of this series is: It’s Not about Blood Lines