God made a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, specifically Verse 18

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: [...]

This covenant is usually said to be bound to no condition on Abram's part, meaning, that God will bring the descendants of Abram into the promised land no matter their performance.

In chapter 17, there's again a covenant between God and Abram (soon to be called Abraham)

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.”
(Gen 17:1)

I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
(Gen 17:8)

Since it's about Abraham's descendants and their inhabiting a promised land, it seems as though God is referring to the same covenant of chapter 15.

Yet, later, there is a condition:

God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.
(Gen 17:9-10)

This leaves me with two possibilities. 1) There are in fact two covenants or 2) This is the same covenant but chapter 17 explains the details of the covenant in chapter 15.

Both explanations are somewhat dissatisfying, at least for me.

So, are there in fact two covenants or is it just one?

  • When a man gets married to a woman (or man to man, or woman to woman) - 1st they make a verbal commitment, then they get a marriage licence, then they have a ceremony in Jerusalem honeymoon in Israel, and then they have a ceremony in LA, and then another ceremony in small town Kansas. Did the couple get married a few times? Why do we need to have a discrete quantum, rather than a continuum view of the covenant? Mar 6 '16 at 22:00
  • Your family must have more money than mine! Perhaps quantum works better because a relationship with God involves so much spooky action at a distance!
    – Ruminator
    Aug 1 '18 at 11:17

If you recall, Exodus 6:3 portrays God telling Moses that God had only previously been known as God Almighty (El Shaddai), specifically not as 'the LORD' (Yahweh). However, a cursory glance through Genesis shows that the patriarchs most certainly DID know God by his name, Yahweh (Gen 4:26 and Gen 15:6-8 are just two examples). This discrepancy is merely one of many that led scholars to consider that these stories are a combination of different traditions. In one tradition, the patriarchs did not know the name Yahweh before Exodus 6:3. In another tradition, God was always known by the name Yahweh.

It is interesting to note in your example that God is exclusively known and referred to as Yahweh in Genesis 15, whereas God is referred to as Elohim in all of Genesis 17 after verse 1.

My proposed answer to your question is that there was only one covenant between God and Abram/Abraham. However, Gen 15 and Gen 17 are merely two different tellings of this one story -- two tellings from two different traditions that disagreed over the name by which God was known.

http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/bad368008.shtml http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidbokovoy/2014/01/the-death-of-the-documentary-hypothesis/

PS: Today, source-critical Pentateuchal scholarship does not rest solely, or even heavily, on the different uses of God's name. It is merely a simple point of reference in this example as it serves both to introduce source criticism and a potential answer to this question. It's certainly easier to reference God's name than to parse through differences in Hebrew vocabulary, syntax, worldview, and theology.


Paul was aware of the difference between Genesis 15 and Genesis 17 and shows that this was a very important anomaly that allowed Abraham to not only be the father of his physical, circumcised descendants but to also be the father of his uncircumcised seed:

Rom 4:8  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.  Rom 4:9  Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.  Rom 4:10  How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.  Rom 4:11  And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:  Rom 4:12  And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

By being justified by faith while uncircumcised he did not pass on the obligation of circumcision to his faith-children.

Abraham believes -> Is justified by faith -> Receives the sign of circumcision as the seal of approval for his faith (circumcision)


(1) This is the covenant in between the pieces. The Jews call it Brit Bein HaBetarim.

Genesis 15:18 NKJV

On the same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:

“To your descendants, I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

There is the promise of a Son to carry the inheritance.

Genesis 17:19 NKJV

Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him."

(2) This is the covenant of circumcision or the covenant of the Sign.

Genesis 17:9-14 NKJV

And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

(3) This is the covenant of the Oath

God's covenant is cemented in the verse below:

Genesis 22:15-18 NKJV

Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

The inheritance, circumcision, and the Son of promise go together.


I agree that there was only one covenant described in both Genesis 15 and again in 17 and that it was conditional to both belief (Genesis 15:6) and obedience (Genesis 17:1). Some say that it was unconditional but that defies the very nature of what a covenant is - a covenant is a conditional agreement.

  • And what 'conditions' would apply to an Everlasting Covenant - do you think ?
    – Nigel J
    May 18 '18 at 11:46
  • 1
    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Some tips for the future. This is an academic site interested in evidence based answers. So, this site is looking for longer answers that provides rationale to support your opinion. The evidence can be grammatical or contextual, biblical or extra biblical; just provide references to your sources. Thanks.
    – alb
    May 22 '18 at 13:00
  • Who defines a covenant as inherently conditional? Please edit this to add some supporting references for what you say.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 4 '18 at 2:20

aside from the point of the different sources the story in its current version want to represent the first covenant as merely a covenant of assurance for the possession of the land of Canaan as a response for the concern of Abraham ( it pertains only the land ) . this covenant has nothing to do with the covenant of ch 17

8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it? (NRSV)

the covenant of ch 17 had been made according to the initiative of God to begin to fulfill his own plan regarding becoming a god of a particular people and his plan and covenant now is simply to make Abraham into a multitude of nations and give him and his descendants the land of Canaan (which incidentally had been assured by an earlier covenant ) and to be a god for him and for his descendants after him and he gave him the token of this covenant which is circumcision

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham;[c] for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring[d] after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you (NRSV)

  • 1
    Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. We are glad you are here! Please take a moment to take the site tour and review some of our guidelines for participants.. Where you can, please use the > character before paragraphs to blockquote scriptural references. You will also note from these links that we would like to see participants who show their work. For controversial points, we encourage you to cite and reference scholars supporting this view. Mar 24 '17 at 3:30
  • That being said, nearly all scholars agree that the Abrahamic Covenant are part of the same covenant - and I can provide numerous scholars such as Wenham, Cassuto and many others supporting this view (though perhaps not in the comments which limit responses to 500 characters) Mar 24 '17 at 3:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.