Seek Her Like Silver

New vs. Renewed Covenant - Part 2

October 5, 2020

After having examined Jeremiah and its Old Testament context, one final argument to address is that of the supposed Greek support of the renewed covenant reading; the claim being that one form of new in the Greek (kainos) is more appropriately translated as renewedbecause it means “new in quality/nature/substance,” which would contrast the alternative Greek word of neos which is “new in time” and more of what we’d consider as “brand new.” With that being the case and seeing as how the majority of instances referring to a “new covenant” (or “new testament,” which is the same thing) are translated from kainos, the logical conclusion is that the NT affirms the idea of a renewed covenant.

Kainos vs Neos

The foundation of this whole argument lies in the truth behind this “new in quality” vs “new in time” idea. In researching this, one resource had a few notes on the subject (emphasis mine):

The author holds to a middle position, defined as follows: The evolution of the Greek language from classical usage to Koine usage appears to have attenuated the difference between kainos and neos. Furthermore, the New Testament seems to illustrate the synonymity of the two words (compare, for example, Mt 9.17 and Mt 26.29; Eph 4.24 and Col 3.10; and Heb 9.15 and Heb 12.24). These evidences argue against defining the two words with rigid distinction. Nevertheless, there is a marked preference on the part of the biblical writers for kainos vis-à-vis neos, particularly in theological writing, suggesting that the former is more useful for eschatological application. In addition, the lexical model proposed by various scholars (viewing neos as newness in time and kainos as newness in character) makes much sense of the biblical usage of the two terms. These considerations lead the author to distinguish between kainos and neos while recognizing that there is a significant amount of commonality between them

In this case, the author makes it clear that you have scholars all over the spectrum on the matter. There are some that do find a stricter difference between the two words, but there are others that find them synonymous, and this author in particular takes a stance somewhere in the middle.

However, it is key to note that although some scholars do find a distinction between the 2 Greek words, what they do not claim is that kainos means “renewed.” In fact, the Torah observers that want to use this argument to confirm their “renewed covenant” idea are likely unaware that the very sources they are partially citing, will come to different conclusions than what they (the Torah observers) had intended.

  1. Theological Data. kainós denotes the new and miraculous thing that the age of salvation brings. It is thus a key teleological term in eschatological promise: the new heaven and earth in Rev. 21:1; 2 Pet. 3:13, the new Jerusalem in Rev. 3:12; 21:2, the new wine in Mk. 14:25, the new name in Rev. 2:17; 3:12, the new song in Rev. 5:9, the new creation in Rev. 21:5. This new creation, which is the goal of hope, finds expression already in Christian life (2 Cor. 5:17). The new aeon has come with Christ. In him Jews and Gentiles are one new man (Eph. 2:15). Believers are to put on the new nature that they are given (Eph. 4:24). God‘s saving will is worked out in the promised new covenant that Jesus has now set up (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:8ff.; 9:15). This is a better covenant (Heb. 7:22), infallible (8:7), everlasting (13:20), grounded on higher promises (8:6). The fact that the old and the new cannot be mixed (Mk. 2:21-22) stresses the element of distinctiveness. The new commandment of love has its basis in Christ‘s own love (Jn. 13:34); it is new without being novel (1 Jn. 2:7-8). The immediate post-NT writings retain the qualitative sense of kainós but with a legalistic tendency, especially in the idea of Christianity as a new law (cf. Barn. 2.6: Justin Dialogue 11.4; 12.3).

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume, pg. 343

Note here how this dictionary entry for the word kainos puts forward the distinction from neos. However, it quite clearly does not blur the definition of the word to mean renewed. In fact, after this data entry, they list a few derivatives of the word, which I elaborate more in a later point. Similarly, one of the other scholars that holds to the distinction position says:

A quote
Synonyms of the New Testament, Trench, R.C. 1894, pg. 225

Here the author points out the distinction: that compared to the Mosaic covenant, the covenant can be neos in that it came 2000 years later, and kainos in that it is new and powerful, unlike the old. That being said, at no point are these dictionaries making the claim that kainos means renewed.

In summary, although there may be some truth to the distinction argument, it is equally as important to point out the following: the fact the Bible does not use the differentiation 100% of the time, nor do the scholars actually making the distinction claim a renewed definition to begin with. Therefore, the argument is of no value, if not completely erroneous, from the get-go. Here are some verses to consider:

And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

Matthew 27:60 (KJV)

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

Colossians 3:10 (KJV)

And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.

Mark 1:27 (KJV)

In the Matthew verse, we’re talking about a new tomb that Joseph (of Arimathaea, a disciple) had prepared for Christ. Guess which Greek word is used here? It’s kainos, yet this was not a “renewed” tomb.

Colossians talks about the new man that is renewed in knowledge. This one can honestly go either way. On one hand, it doesn’t necessarily refer to a brand new man (person), but perhaps a newly-generated man cleansed by God (which I think generally fits the salvation process). Then again, the old man is still a thing that lingers in all of us, and this new nature that God has bestowed upon us is what we try to hold to in our daily walk to help us avoid sin and walk in righteousness, as a replacement. I honestly lean more toward a “substance” type of new versus one of time (at least in this context), but either way, the word here for new is actually neos! Interestingly, we also have a separate renewed in the same verse, but I’ll revisit this in the next section.

Lastly, in Mark we see this new doctrine, at least to the listeners, being taught. The listeners are amazed, as they had never experienced anything quite like it. Their amazement would not make sense if it were simply a “renewed” doctrine they had heard before but slightly different or with adjustments. This new doctrine, is also a kainos doctrine.

Just with those examples, I think making the claim that neos is new and kainos is renewed, as a simple fact, would be incredibly disingenuous to do, since it is objectively not the case. In addition to that is another glaring issue, which as mentioned earlier, one of the dictionaries makes mention of after elaborating on the definition of kainos

Greek Prefix

You may recall in the previous post that one of the particularities of the word new in the Hebrew is that it had the exact same spelling (sans the later addition of vowel points) as its root verb renew. This is not the case in the Greek. The Greek, like English, actually has a proper prefix! In the English, we have re- which would be the equivalent of ana- in the Greek. Remember that Colossians verse?

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge…

Here we have the neos used in conjunction with anakainoo, a prefixed version of kainos. This specific word, although only used twice in the NT, is specifically and solely used as “renewed” and never as just simply “new.” There are actually a number of variations including anakainizo and ananeoo, all of which we can see used and translated exclusively as (verbal forms of) renew.

In other words, I find the whole debate of neos vs kainos, in this specific context of “one means renewed, the other actually means new,” is a false dichotomy. The Greek is not like the Hebrew, and we do not even need to analyze the words with such precision (as the Greek scholars looking at the distinction do) because of the simple fact that the Greek has a proper, wholly unique set of words that actually mean renewed. There is no root word confusion to be had here, it’s as simple to understand as the English. Trying to muddy the definitions only seems to exemplify the extent to which some warp Scripture (or dictionaries) into confirming their own biases.

Here is the simplest way I can explain what I’m trying to get at: if I said I was going to the library to get a new book, it could mean many things. It could be newly released (i.e. related to time) book, and therefore be a neos book. It could be a book I hadn’t read before, so it would be new in substance to me, and therefore a kainos book, even if it wasn’t recently made. Regardless of what kind of new I meant, what is absolutely clear and not the case, is that I am getting a renewed book.

Amusingly and as a sidenote, that phrasing seems to have the same weirdness as it does in the Hebrew/Greek, in that you’d be more likely to expect the verb form to renew a book or getting a book renewed instead of the adjective form. Even then, you would assume that my “new book” is not a book I had already checked out and am going back to checkout again. Nor would you be likely to assume that what I meant was going to get a book that had been “restored” or “repaired.” It’s a new book, plain and simple. Time or quality, it doesn’t matter, it’s obviously different in understanding from a renewed book. This is how I understand the neos vs kainos “argument,” and why I consider it anything but supportive of a renewed reading.

All that being said, instead of trying to compare different words across different books and figuring out the particularities of Greek adjectives and verbs—something that again, not even the Greek scholars promoting a distinction have made a ”kainos = renewed” claim—why don’t we instead take a different approach: narrow down the scope of our study to a single author, and how he uses the words, by examining the relevant portions of Hebrews where the actual context of the text is on the topic of the new covenant?

Hebrews Context

Starting in Hebrews 8, and all the way through chapter 12, we find an elaboration on the new covenant that Jeremiah had mentioned so long ago. Although the best approach would be to thoroughly examine all of the book of Hebrews and get a proper context of it as the whole letter that it is, for this post and brevity’s sake, I will be focusing on the relevant bits at a tighter scale.

For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this priest also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests that offer gifts according to the law. They serve in a sanctuary that is an example and shadow of the heavenly one, as Moses was instructed by God when he was about to make the tabernacle, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, because He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no occasion would have been sought for a second.

Hebrews 8:3-7

In speaking of a new covenant He has made the first one old. Now that which is decaying and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 8:13

For starters, both of the instances of the new covenant are translated as kainos in the Greek. Note, it’s notanakainoo or anakainizo, which means that before there were any vowel points, this (divinely inspired) author did not take the opportunity to “correctly” quote Jeremiah in some renewed covenant translation or understanding. He wrote it exactly as we’d expect from the standard new covenant perspective.

As a small aside, some may want to point out that verse 13 doesn’t actually have the word covenant in the original Greek. If you read the chapter, it is quite clear though, it refers to the new covenant mentioned in verse 8. Nothing else in the chapter was referred to as “new,” thus it’s an easy clarification for most translations to add.

Note in particular verses 6-7:

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, because He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no occasion would have been sought for a second.

If someone were describing to you how they got a better bike, and that they wouldn’t have needed a second bike if the first was faultless, then wouldn’t it be absurd to assume that the second bike is actually just a “restored” or “renewed” version of the original bike?

To top it all off, in verses 8-12, you find Jeremiah 31:31 being directly quoted. This would be like adding (in our metaphor) how the new bike was unlike the first, then receiving a list of differences, with the finale of verse 13 saying how in speaking of a new bike, they have made the first one old (and that it is decaying and vanishing away). A renewed covenant simply doesn’t make any sense in these contexts.

For this reason He is the Mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the sins that were committed under the first covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:15

Chapter 9 continues drawing comparisons between the old covenant and the new covenant, again, something you don’t really do with a “renewed” thing where there is nothing to compare (as it is effectively the same thing, and the opposite of what kainos attempts to describe). In verse 15 (and 16) we continue to see the “old” covenant referenced as the “first”. If this was truly a renewed covenant, all this language of “first” and “old” would only be confusing, especially when you can phrase it in so many other ways like “the first being made new” or “the old being restored.” This comparative language is very common throughout Paul’s writings as well and helps draw distinctions between 2 very different things.

and to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant; and to the sprinkled blood that speaks better than that of Abel.

Hebrews 12:24


So considering the way Hebrews talks about this covenant in chapters 8 and 9, when we finally get our last entry of the term in chapter 12, which actually uses neos this time, you ultimately have to conclude that this “new covenant” that is spoken so clearly about across the whole NT, is new in every sense of the word, time and substance. I find no room for a renewed reading here, nor in Jeremiah (which Hebrews quotes, so these books are clearly tied together on the matter). Each book, in their own contexts, seems coherent on its own and what it means, and they both seem coherent with each other in the same way.

There are plenty of other details I have purposely not dealt with in this matter. For example, there is a whole separate argument that could be made in how Jeremiah talks about this covenant being for Israel and Judah. You could make the argument that although the covenant is new there is still the matter that “God’s commandments” are written on our hearts, therefore it is still Torah that defines the rules of the covenant. I can even understand why the kainos argument is made, since it’s not like God created a “brand new, from scratch” covenant that is totally different from the previous. I find kainos to be very apt as the main descriptor in that it is a better (new and improved) covenant, of which we must always recall the old covenant was a shadow (and therefore inevitably similar and forming some basis).

I can only address so much at a time, but I hope I have made it clear that a renewed covenant is simply not an option, exegetically speaking. If other questions, such as those I just stated, arise because of that, what we need to do is use our strongest understandings (i.e. that of an actually new covenant) and see how these new questions or concerns (e.g. Israel/Judah or the commandments of God) fit into that understanding, instead of twisting what is understood with a simple reading into meaning something it objectively does not say. May the Lord guide our eyes and hearts as we read his Words, free of our own human lenses, and instead through the eyes of the Spirit of Truth.