by Jerry Shugart

"Testament" in the Book of Hebrews

Although there are many mentions of the word diatheke in the book of Hebrews there is only one passage which speaks of a diatheke in detail and being in force now. In that passage we can know that the word diatheke is in regard to the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament:

"For where a testament (diatheke) is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament (diatheke) is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth" (Heb.9:16-17).

Dean Alford wrote that "It is quite vain to deny the testamentary sense of 'diatheke' in this verse....I believe it will be found that we must at all hazards accept the meaning of 'testament,' as being the only one which will in any way meet the plain requirement of the verse" [emphasis added] (Alford, The Greek Testament, IV:173, 174; cf. the renderings of ASV, RSV).

Zane C. Hodges writes that the author of Hebrews "treated the Greek word for 'covenant' (diatheke) in the sense of a will. While 'covenants' and 'wills' are not in all respects identical, the author meant that in the last analysis the New Covenant is really a testamentary disposition. Like human wills, all the arrangements are secured by the testator and its beneficiaries need only accept its terms" [emphasis added] (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament, ed. Walvoord & Zuck [Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing 1983], 802).

Elliott E. Johnson writes that "when the writer then begins to talk about the inauguration of the 'diatheke' (vv. 16,17), he describes it is functioning as a last will and testament. This is indicated because the arrangement begins to function at the death of the 'testator' (v. 16). His explanation means that a will and testament is in force when the author of the will dies. The inauguration of a will and covenant occurs on different bases. A covenant is inaugurated during the lifetime of both partners. Only a last will is inaugurated at the death of the author of the will" [emphasis added](Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant,, 172).

Next, let us look at the verse which immediately precedes Hebrews 9:16-17.

The Promise of Eternal Inheritance

"Therefore, He is the mediator of a new testament (diatheke), so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (diatheke)" (Heb.9:15; KJV).

At Hebrews 9:15 the promise which is in regard to the "New Diatheke" is about an "inheritance," and under a Last Will and Testament it is the "heirs" who receive this inheritance. That is in accordance with the Scriptures which declares that one becomes a heir by the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament, the gospel:

"That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph.3:6).

Also, Hebrews 9:15 refers to "those who are called" and it is the unsaved who are called by the gospel:

"Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor.2:14).

For information concerning the Lord Jesus' role as Mediator please go to Appendix #2 on page 13.

The Gospel is the Last Will and Testament of the Lord Jesus Christ

In his commentary on Hebrews 9:15-22 Matthew Henry wrote that "In these verses the apostle considers the gospel under the notion of a will or testament, the new or last will and testament of Christ..." (Matthew Henry, Commentary on Hebrews 9:15-22)


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