In Romans 9:4, Paul writes (NIV):

Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

It seems that some of the manuscripts have "covenant" while others have "covenants". Longnecker states, "The textual evidence seems almost equally divided." However, I notice that almost no English version uses the singular. Longnecker notes that the copyist tendency is to drop the plural rather than add it and that Metzger also suggests the singular "may have appeared to involve theological difficulties, and therefore the expression was converted to the singular number."

I'm not sold on what "theological difficulties" there would be to the plural. Which basically then leaves the argument about copyist tendency — not a thin reed perhaps, but not the strongest one either, especially given the manuscript evidence.

Can anything else be said in favor of one reading or the other here?

  • When the textual evidence is equally divided, all you have to go on is which reading the copyist is most likely to have changed.
    – Perry Webb
    Mar 28, 2018 at 7:53
  • Elzevir, Stephens, Beza, Byzantine 3, Byzantine Majority and Scrivener all have διαθηκαι , the plural. TR.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 28, 2018 at 20:02

4 Answers 4


Here is what Metzger has in his commentary (which you hinted at in the question) on the Greek text for Romans 9:4, which is his work on textual criticism:

Although the reading ἡ διαθήκη is strongly supported (𝔓46 B Dgr it61vid? copsa, bo mss eth al), the plural αἱ διαθῆκαι (א C K Ψ 33 81 614 1739 Byz Lect itd, g vg syrp, h, hgr copbo goth arm al) was preferred on the grounds that (a) copyists would have been likely to assimilate the plural to the pattern of instances of the singular number in the series, and (b) plural covenants may have appeared to involve theological difficulties, and therefore the expression was converted to the singular number. Certainly there is no good reason why the singular, if original, should have been altered to the plural.

Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 459.

In Alford's apparatus he includes extra-biblical sources and one of the ones that has the singular is the Latin Vulgate and therefore it is singular in Catholic Bible versions like the Douay-Rheims. In light of the fact that there are a whole series of Biblical covenants (or testaments) it seems unlikely that Paul did not intend this to be plural. I suspect but cannot confirm that Catholic theologians may have had a theological reason for turning this into a singular to emphasize two testaments (same idea as covenant), i.e. the Old Testament and the New Testament.

One might be tempted to think of Covenant theology as a reason for the singular and that may be what Metzger was referring to as a theological difficulty. Covenant theologians emphasize the single covenant of grace (not this writer). Many writers trace the systematic presentation of Covenant theology to the writings of Cocceius in the early 17th century. Long after this particular singular reading would have entered into the picture through the few places where this reading exists.

Of course the context of Romans 9:4 suggests these are covenants made with Israel; namely the Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. The Abrahamic covenant was intended to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth (Gen. 12:3, 18:8, and others), but it was given through Abraham and then re-affirmed with Isaac and Jacob. The earlier covenants are reasonable (A covenant made with Adam after the fall and with Noah after the flood) but there are issues with both of them.


It is likely that the original manuscript contained the plural αἱ διαθῆκαι, but a later scribe, mistaking αἱ διαθῆκαι as a reference to the Old Covenant and New Covenant, which as Meyer says, “would be entirely unsuitable in respect of the N. T.,”1 altered the plural to the singular ἡ διαθήκη.

The apostle Paul was “minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles”2 and would not have suggested that the New Covenant solely belonged to the Israelites, for he even earlier said to the Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you, but seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”3

The plural “covenants” is a reference to the manifold covenants Yahveh cut with the Israelites, including but not limited to:4

  • the Sabbath 5
  • covenant of the priesthood6
  • covenant between David and Yahveh7
  • covenant at Moab8
  • covenant at Horeb/Sinai9

It does not include the covenants with Noah or Abraham since they were not Israelites.


1 Meyer, p. 359
2 Rom. 15:16
3 Acts 13:46 cf. Acts 28:28
4 cf. Wisd. 18:22; Sirach 44:11; 2 Macc. 8:15; Eph. 2:12
5 Exo. 31:16
6 Num. 25:13
7 2 Chr. 13:5 cf. 2 Chr. 21:7; Psa. 89:3
8 Deu. 29:1
9 Deu. 5:2


Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Romans. Trans. Moore, John C.; Johnson, Edwin. Ed. Dickson, William P. New York: Funk, 1884.



Romans 9:3-4
Here is what I get from the Greek:

Indeed, I have wished I, myself, were accursed before Christ for the sake of my brothers (my kinsmen according to flesh), which very ones are Israelites, of whom is the adoption and the glory and the covenants, and the written law and the service and the promises ...

Details: enter image description here

To determine that it is "covenants" and not "covenant", all that is necessary is to identify a point in the narrative from which one might begin looking, and then find two covenants that are Israel's. However many more there might be is immaterial, since two or more justifies the plural.

Because Paul lists "adoption" as the first of the things that belong to Israel (him and his brothers/kinsemen in the flesh), then that would be a sensible point at which to start.

The Adoption

Firstly, a definition:

To take and rear (the child of other parents) as one's own child, specifically by a formal legal act.
-- Adopt (Dictionary.com)

Israel was adopted when the LORD took Jacob, the second-born of Isaac, and declared him to be His firstborn:

And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
-- Exodus 4:22 (KJV)

The Coventants

  • The first:

    6Wherefore say unto the children of Israel,
    I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage,
    • and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments:
    • 7And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
    • 8And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am the LORD.
    -- Exodus 6:6-8 (KJV)

    This is a legally binding statement, in the absence of contest by any other, that declares the LORD's desire to redeem a child (Israel) for Himself, to be his father and to identify the land covenanted to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as henceforth the exclusive inheritance of that child.

  • The Second:

    13Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying,
    Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. 14Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
    -- Exodus 31:11-17 (KJV)

    God instituted circumcision as the sign of His covenant with Abraham (each male child, the eighth day), and now adds Sabbath keeping in the covenant with His newly adopted son, as a further means of distinguishing him from all the other peoples of the land.


Given these two covenants of the LORD with Israel, manuscripts that have the singular noun in the Greek of Romans 9:4, are in error.

  • 1
    Can you edit this to deal with the textual criticism question? Simply asserting the singular is an error isn't convincing.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 3, 2018 at 0:44
  • 1
    @curiousdannii Can anything else be said in favor of one reading or the other here? The question is clearly open to ANY perspective on the text. I have not simply "asserted", but have provided clear and logical support for the assertion.
    – enegue
    Dec 3, 2018 at 2:30
  • 2
    I expect all textual criticism questions to have answers that explore which manuscripts have which variants.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 3, 2018 at 2:55
  • 2
    I'm not asserting anything on behalf of the OP. They can think and do whatever they like. Neither do you have to edit your answer because I asked you to. But as it stands now, I don't think you've made much of a case.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 3, 2018 at 3:11
  • 1
    @curiousdannii I have made a convincing case for two covenants from the Biblical narrative, which adds weight to the argument in favour of the plural in regard to the variants that appear in various manuscripts.
    – enegue
    Dec 3, 2018 at 3:16

The textual evidence already supplied is rather compelling but it isn't the last word. "Context is king". However, in this case the context agrees that both covenants were ended. It must be plural because Israel, as a nation no longer has any covenant with God anymore since 70AD.

That the Sinai covenant was ended at 70ad is explained in scripture:

[Heb 8:6-13 CSB] 6 But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been established on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. 8 But finding fault with his people, he says: See, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -- 9 not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. I showed no concern for them, says the Lord, because they did not continue in my covenant. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, and each his brother or sister, saying, "Know the Lord," because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them. 12 For I will forgive their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins. 13 By saying a new covenant, he has declared that the first is obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is about to pass away [IE: in 70ad].

But less commonly accepted is the idea that the new covenant ended then as well. However, when the purpose of the covenant is understood the timing becomes clear.

First of all, the new covenant, like the Sinai covenant was made exclusively with the Israel:

KJV Hebrews 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, and each his brother or sister, saying, "Know the Lord," because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them. 12 For I will forgive their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins.

What most people seem to miss is that like the first covenant, this is a national covenant, not one made with individuals. It was made with the "houses of Israel and Judah". So what are the implication of that?

Well first of all, the purpose. The purpose of the new covenant was to raise Israel from the dead. For millennia God had railed against Israel through the prophets threatening that the day of their visitation was coming and that they would be destroyed if they didn't repent. Did they repent? Well, no, but God gave them one last chance:

[Zec 13:1 KJV] 1 In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.

This was a prediction of John's ministry, calling Israel to repentance before the day of the Lord:

[Mat 3:1-6 KJV] 1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

But the leadership was blinded and only went through the motions of repentance:

[Mat 3:7-10 KJV] 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

This raises the point that "not all Israel is Israel". God actually personally selected 144,000 elect Jews to escape the blinding of Israel (Rom 9-11). Forty days after his death ratified the new covenant these elect received the holy spirit on Pentecost, fulfilling the spiritual meaning of that holiday:

[Col 2:16-17 KJV] 16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ.

We know that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were obliterated by destruction from the Lord. So too Babylon was obliterated, never to be restored. These cities are types of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70ad,.

The judgment on the Jews was so severe that if God had not spared the elect there would have been no Jews left:

[Isa 1:9 KJV] 9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, [and] we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

[Rom 9:27 KJV] 27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:

So Israel was dead in trespasses and sins and had to be resurrected and divinely forged into the glorious and holy Israel that God had always intended and had long promised:

[Isa 62:7 KJV] 7 And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

The outpouring of Pentecost had been predicted as the "last days" of Israel's covenant:

[Act 2:17 KJV] 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

Israel was resurrected:

[Eze 37:9-14 KJV] 9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. 11 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. 12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And ye shall know that I [am] the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken [it], and performed [it], saith the LORD.

This chosen host were the beneficiaries of the new covenant; they were the "Israel of God". The new covenant provided for them the forgiveness of sins and new heart. They knew Torah without anyone teaching them:

[Act 2:36-41 KJV] 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37 Now when they heard [this], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men [and] brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, [even] as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls.

Now, had the new covenant continued then it would still be effective today. However, the Jews have no such army of miracle working army because Israel's unique relationship with God ended in 70ad.

What a fearful, dark and terrible was the day of their visitation:

  • the temple was destroyed
  • a third or more of the Jews were killed by the Romans
  • the city was burned

But the elect fulfilled Israel's destiny and then ended as a distinct covenant entity and was merged with the gentile in the body of Christ, which is based on faith without works.

  • My copy of the CSB reads a bit differently. You've taken the liberty of presuming your conclusion and editing it into your proof text. Brackets or no brackets that's a pretty dodgy practice.
    – Caleb
    Dec 5, 2018 at 10:13
  • @Caleb I have more clearly indicated that the brackets indicate my added comments by putting "IE: " in front of it, for your viewing pleasure.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 5, 2018 at 12:20

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