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(kŭv`ənənt), agreement entered into voluntarily by two or more parties to do or refrain from doing certain acts. In the Bible and in theology the covenant is the agreement or engagement of God with man as revealed in the Scriptures. In law a covenant is a contract under seal or an agreement by deed. In Scottish history the various pacts among the religious opponents of episcopacy were called covenants; those who agreed to the pacts were the CovenantersCovenanters
, in Scottish history, groups of Presbyterians bound by oath to sustain each other in the defense of their religion. The first formal Covenant was signed in 1557, signaling the beginning of the Protestant effort to seize power in Scotland.
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. The idea of the covenant between God of Israel and His people is fundamental to the religion of the Old Testament. God promised man specific good if man gave God the obedience and love due Him. In the covenant of God and Noah, He agreed never again to destroy man by a flood and set the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant. Gen. 9. The covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob established Israel as God's chosen people and promised Canaan to them. Gen. 17; 26.1–5; 28.10–15; 32.24–32. The culmination of God's covenants with Israel comes in His promises and delivery of the Law of Moses. This provides the theme of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The great covenant with Israel is called in Christian theology the Old Covenant, because Jesus is believed to have come to fulfill it and set up a new and better covenant. Mat. 5.17, 18; Gal. 4; Heb. 8–10. This theology is behind the conventional names of the two parts of the Bible; for testament in the expressions "Old Testament" and "New Testament" is derived from a Latin mistranslation of a Greek word used in the Septuagint for covenant. In Protestant theology the covenant is especially prominent in the teaching of Johannes CocceiusCocceius, Johannes
, 1603–69, German theologian, whose surname was originally Koch or Koken. Born in Bremen, he went to Holland, where he was professor at Francken and Leiden.
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. In English common law, covenants are agreements entered into by deed. One of the parties promises to perform or not to perform certain acts, or states that something has or will be done, or has not or will not be done. Covenants are bound by the same rules as other contracts and are variously classified. There are affirmative, alternative, auxiliary, collateral, concurrent, declarative, dependent, executory, express, and independent covenants, and covenants in law are covenants for title, covenants of seizin, covenants of warranty, and others. The express promise contained in a covenant is its most characteristic feature and distinguishes it from a bond, which is a simple record of indebtedness. The sealing and delivery of a covenant is an essential element of its validity. The covenantor is the party bound to perform the stipulation of a covenant; the covenantee is the party in whose favor the covenant is made.
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

"Covenant" means "contract" or "promise."

In Judeo-Christian tradition, a covenant usually takes the form of God agreeing to do something provided the people play by the rules. The Hebrew patriarchs of the Old Testament, just like the inhabitants of Canaan with whom they lived, had pragmatic theologies. To them, "God" was not an abstract philosophical idea. Their approach was simple: their religions had to work, or they shopped elsewhere.

By way of illustration, Yahweh of the Hebrews was the warrior God who led them out of captivity by conquering the Egyptians. As long as they needed his help defeating the Canaanites they agreed to put him first, to "have no other gods before [him]." But when they settled in the Promised Land and needed fertile ground and good crops, they had no qualms about worshiping Baal and Astarte, the agricultural specialists.

With the advent of Christianity, theologians needed to explain why the God of the New Testament was so different from the God of the Old Testament, even though he was supposedly the same God, "who changest not." Soon after the Protestant Reformation, "covenant theology" was employed to formulate a systematic way to describe history as a series of developing, evolving covenants between God and the human race. The sixteenth-century reformers recognized two great covenants. The Old Covenant (Testament) is called the Covenant of Works. The New Covenant (Testament) has been named the Covenant of Grace. Under the first covenant, the provisions called for obeying the law to earn favor with God. Sabbath was celebrated on the seventh day, a well-earned rest after the labors of the long week of labor, following the commands of the law. But under the new covenant, God's grace comes first, an undeserved gift. Hence, worship was done on the first day of the week, after which the rest of the week was spent laboring to say "thank you" to God for the gift of grace already given, unearned but gratefully accepted. In this view, God's eternal covenant with Jesus Christ is fulfilled before the creation of the world, while all of human history is simply playing out the drama to its predestined conclusion.

But since the Reformation, some theologians have further refined the system by identifying in scripture a progressive, cumulative series of promises. Each was given when the human race was ready for it. Numerous covenants can be found in the Bible; below are several of the most significant. The Covenant with Adam, part 1 (Genesis 2:17): The terms were simple. God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat a certain fruit, or they would die. (Adam ate the fruit, and "in Adam's fall, we sinned all," as the saying goes.) The Covenant with Adam, part 2 (Genesis 3:15): Children of Adam and Eve were going to be constantly "at enmity" with Satan. (In many religious traditions, such enmity is continually emphasized.) The Covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1-17): This promise came with the sign of the rainbow. God said it was a reminder that "I will never again destroy the earth with a flood. Be fruitful and multiply." (God didn't destroy Earth again, and humans were fruitful and multiplied.) The Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3): God said to Abraham, the father of three world religions, "Leave here and go to Canaan. I will bless your descendants and curse your enemies." (Abraham kept his part of the bargain. Some would argue that both descendants and enemies received both blessing and curses.) The Covenant with Moses (Exodus 19:5): "Obey the Commandments and you will be a `holy people.' (The Israelites fudged on this one from time to time but are still known as "God's chosen people.") The Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:3): The covenant is here quoted exactly because it is causing tremendous political, personal, and national problems in our day.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you this day, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he has scattered you.

(This one is rather uncanny. Because many Jews believe it has come to pass exactly as promised over the last two thousand years, it provides justification for them to claim Israel as the fulfillment of God's promise. It also gives American conservative Christians and Jews justification for a government policy endorsing Israel over the Palestinians and converts a political land battle into a holy war. Meanwhile, the Palestinians, who live there too, wonder why they should be bound by the promise of someone else's God.

The Covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:12-16): God tells David, "I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed." (Well, the first provision was certainly fulfilled, as David's songs are widely read. And, although it took a long time, Israel has certainly been "planted." But the part about not being disturbed? Well, the Palestinians claim some promises, too.) The "New Covenant" (Jeremiah 31:31-37): God says, "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.... I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts," instead of on tablets of stone. (The Christian Church claims to be the recipient of this promise, calling itself "the new Israel.")

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the name of the agreements or unions of supporters of the Reformation in Scotland, concluded in the 16th to 17th century for the protection of the Calvinist church and the independence of the country.

The first covenant was in 1557; the covenant of 1581 confirmed the Calvinist church as the state church in Scotland. The signing in 1638 of the National Covenant by the Scotch Presbyterians (in response to the attempts of Charles I to unify the churches of England and Scotland on the English model) signified the beginning of the Scots’ struggle against the absolutism of the Stuarts.

In 1643, during the English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century, the English Parliament and the Scotch Presbyterians concluded a treaty of alliance, the Solemn League and Covenant, providing for the introduction of Presbyterianism into England and a joint struggle against the Royalists. At the end of 1647 the alliance of English and Scotch Presbyterians changed into a counterrevolutionary force and became an obstacle to the further development of the revolution.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

restrictive covenant

An agreement between two or more individuals, incorporated within a deed which stipulates how land may be used. The constraints may include: the specific use to which a property can be put, the location and dimensions of fences, the setback of buildings from the street, the size of yards, the type of architecture, the cost of the house, etc. Racial and religious restrictions on inhabitants are legally unenforceable.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Law
a. an agreement in writing under seal, as to pay a stated annual sum to a charity
b. a particular clause in such an agreement, esp in a lease
2. (in early English law) an action in which damages were sought for breach of a sealed agreement
3. Bible God's promise to the Israelites and their commitment to worship him alone
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005