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Ephesians 2:12

"remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world". ESV. My emphasis.

There are many covenants in the Bible e.g. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New. Also possibly less prominent examples: "covenant of peace" Ezekiel 34:25; "covenant of Levi" Malachi 2:8; "covenant of salt" Numbers 18:19.

Which of the many Bible covenants are included or excluded in the "covenants of promise"? On what basis might they be included or excluded?

Are "covenants of promise" a particular sort of covenant?

What is the significance of "covenants of promise" in Ephesians 2:12?

2 Answers 2

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These "promises", in this context, is almost always the promises associated with the New covenant. See appendix below

The promises associated with the new covenant included the following:

  • Promise of the Holy Spirit, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, 2:33, Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13
  • Promise of Jesus (a righteous Messiah and King) would reign and fulfill the Davidic/royal covenant and OT prophecies, Acts 2:29, 13:32, 34, 26:6, Rom 15:8, 1 Cor 1:20, Eph 3:6
  • Salvation by grace with the forgiveness of sins (often as exemplified by Abraham), Acts 2:39, 13:23, Rom 4:13, 14, 16, 20, 9:8, 9, Gal 3:14-29, Heb 6:12-17
  • God promises to be the personal God and the saved and be with them, 2 Cor 6:18 & 7:1, Eph 2:12
  • Promise of eternal life with Jesus Christ, 2 Tim 1:1
  • Promise of rest in Christ by the benefits of salvation, Heb 4:1

Thus, Eph 2:12 contains all of these divine promises and benefits to be obtained in Christ.

  • Jesus was the promised Messiah of salvation
  • Jesus was the promised king of heaven
  • Jesus was the One who would grant the righteous the promised land with eternal life
  • Jesus was the promised fulfilment of all the OT prophecies

Little wonder that we have Paul saying on several occasions things like:

  • Gal 3:29 - And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.
  • Rom 9:8 - So it is not the children of the flesh who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as offspring.
  • Rom 4:16 - Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may rest on grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

APPENDIX - Covenant Promises

All divine covenant involved promised benefits for those abiding by the terms of the covenant. That is, God promises to deliver great benefits. Here are some examples:

Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17.

The Noahide Covenant is an eternal covenant (Gen 9:16), and is actually a covenant with all living creatures and all mankind. It consisted of:

  • This covenant was initiated in order to ensure continuity of seasons without interruption, Gen 8:21, 22.
  • God promises never to curse the ground again, Gen 8:21.
  • God promises never to destroy humans and animals by flood again, Gen 8:21, 9:11.
  • God promises that seasons would never be stopped again, Gen 8:22.

Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 13:14-17, 15:1-17, 17:1-27, 18:9-15, 22:15-18

The Abrahamic Covenant is stated in three places, Gen 15 & 17, 13 years apart (and repeated in Gen 12:1-3, 13:14-17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18 without using the word “covenant” nor formal sacrifices) and was an eternal covenant, Gen 13:15, 17:9, 13, 19. The covenant consisted of the following: Gen 15

  • God promises Abram a biological son
  • God promises Abram uncountable descendants
  • God promises Abram’s descendants the land of Canaan, “from the wadi of Egypt to the great river Euphrates”.
  • God promises to return Abram’s descendants to Canaan after Egyptian slavery of 400 years
  • God promises to punish the Egyptians
  • God promises great possessions to Abram’s descendants when they leave Egypt

Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – often called, “The Old Covenant”, or, “Moral Covenant”, or, sometimes incorrectly called, “The Mosaic Covenant”.

  • God promises to “save” Israel from Egyptian slavery and deliver them to the Promised Land as stated in the preamble to the 10 commandments, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6. This was to fulfil God’s earlier promise to Abraham and others to give the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants, Ex 2:24, 6:4, 5, forever, 1 Chron 16:15, Ps 105:8, 111:9.
  • God promises to protect His people by sending a protecting angel, Ex 23:19, 20, and establish their borders, Ex 23:31.
  • The benefits/promises of the covenant are also clearly set out in Lev 26:1-13, Deut 28:1-14 (blessings for obedience), and, Lev 26:14-39, Deut 28:15-68 (curses for disobedience). [Note that the curses for disobedience are specifically listed in Lev 26 as plague (V14-17), famine (V18-20), wild animals (V21, 22), sword/war (V23-26). Subsequently, these curses for disobedience are simply listed as “sword, famine and plague” in many places such as 1 Chron 21:12, 2 Chron 20:9, Jer 21:9, 24:10, 27:13, 29:18, 42:22, Eze 5:12, 17, 7:15, 12:16, etc, etc.]

Davidic (or Regal, or Royal) Covenant: 2 Sam 7, 23:5, 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:14-16, 7:17, 18, 13:5, Ps 89:4, 29, 34, 39, 132:11, 12, Jer 33:17, 21, Eze 37:15-28. This is an eternal covenant; 2 Sam 23:5, 1 Kings 9:5, 2 Chron 13:5, Eze 37:25, 26, Jer 33:17, 21 or salt, 2 Chron 13:5. The provisions of the Davidic Covenant were as follows.

  • God promised to make David, a shepherd king over Israel. 2 Sam 7:9, 1 Kings 8:25, 2 Chron 21:7.
  • God promised to defeat all David’s enemies and give him peace on all sides, 2 Sam 7:9
  • David’s name would be great, 2 Sam 7:9-11
  • God promised there would always be a blood descendant of David on his throne, by an eternal “covenant of salt” (ie very solemn), 2 Chron 13:5, forever, 2 Sam 7:13, 15, 16, Eze 37:26, (2 Sam 23:5).
  • God promised that the descendant of David would have God as his Father and he would be His son, 2 Sam 7:14.
  • David’s son, Solomon, was the person to build the temple, 2 Sam 7:12, 13.
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  • "These "promises", in this context, is almost always the promises associated with the New covenant." While "promises" may be generally Gospel-focused in the NT, in this verse it must be referring to the OT Israelite covenants. It wouldn't make sense for it to be referring to the New Covenant when the New Covenant has always been there for Gentiles and Israelites alike.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 12, 2023 at 23:46
  • @curiousdannii - strongly agreed. That does no change anything I have said.
    – Dottard
    Apr 13, 2023 at 6:18
  • @Dottard I apologise that I initially incorrectly copied Eph 2:12. You say in your opening sentence "almost always". The uncertainty of "almost always", i.e. sometimes yes and sometimes no, is the crux of this question. On what basis do differences occur so that "always" is not simply "always" but is "almost always"?
    – C. Stroud
    Apr 13, 2023 at 13:46
  • @C.Stroud - thanks - I should have made that clearer - when the promise is of divine origin, then it always refers one of the divine covenants in the OT. However, when a promise is of human origin, then it does not refer to a covenant.
    – Dottard
    Apr 13, 2023 at 20:44
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Op asked;

Are "covenants of promise" a particular sort of covenant?

A covenant, a promise is an agreement where one person in the covenant makes an unconditional promise to the other, with the other person not having to do anything in return. God alone makes these, and brings His promise to fulfillment .

"Sometimes they are referred to as Royal Grant. Royal Grant: Unlike the Suzerian-Vassal agreements, a Royal Grant requires no action on the part of the beneficiary. It is an unconditional promise given from one party to another."

Here is one that qualifies for a promised covenant.

"After the people disobeyed the commands made in the previous covenant, God made the Davidic covenant as a means to bring them back into relationship with Himself. The key passage for this unconditional promise is 2 Samuel 7:12-17: When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

Here God makes a Royal Grant covenant to David and his descendants that his house will rule over Israel forever. The promise of an eternal kingdom is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, who is of David’s kingly lineage. In the New Testament, Luke 1:30-33 tells us: Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’

Behold, 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— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34 In this passage God makes several distinct promises:

  1. He would give them the ability and the desire to follow Him. He would change their hearts and give them a zeal for obedience (vs 34).
  2. He will be their God, and they will be His people
  3. He will forgive the sins of His people (vs 34b). This promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:7-13; 9; 10:11-24) https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/covenants-in-the-bible-and-what-they-mean.html"

From the descendants of this man, God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised. Act13:23

I am saying that Christ has become the servant of the circumcision, for the sake of the truth of God, to confirm the patriarchal promises. Romans15:8

OP's question;

"Which of the many Bible covenants are included or excluded in the "covenants of promise?"

Here's another one that would fit a covenant of promise.

Jeremiah 31:31–33

"Behold, 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—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the …

Romans 9:8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

"The two main covenants of the Tanakh (the Old Testament) affecting the nation of Israel were the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant. Additionally, Jeremiah prophetically speaks of a New (Renewed) Covenant that YHVH would make with the two houses of Israel (Jer 31:31–33); that is, a refreshed version of a former (marital) covenantal agreement which Israel broke with YHVH (verse 32). These are the three principal covenants that the Scriptures reveals affect YHVH’s people. Clearly, Paul is referencing these three covenants in Ephesians 2:12" https://hoshanarabbah.org/blog/2014/07/30/covenants-of-promise/

OP's question;

"What is the significance of "covenants of promise" in Ephesians 2:12?"

The nations were guests of the promise, but they had all this subordinate to the Jews. They were not joint allottees, or a joint body or joint shares in these promises. That's all changed now since they now have their heavenly allotment on equal terms, they are members of a body in which no member can claim precedence on account of physical descent, the promises in Christ Jesus are equally theirs with Paul and his Jewish companions. Concordant commentary.

God had chosen a family, a people, a nation that God promised will all know Him and will be a light to the nations.

He says: “It is not enough for You to be My Servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the protected ones of Israel. I will also make You a light for the nations, to bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49

The nations were without hope, without God, had no allotment, and all that has now changed as it is revealed throughout Ephesians:

Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

Together, the nation of Israel and the body of Christ with a celestial destiny are joined together, and will be a blessing for the entire universe.

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