Hebrews 9:16–17 — “Covenant” or “Will”?

Adapted from a seminary assignment.

David Allen calls the issue of Hebrews 9:16–17 “one of the thorniest interpretative issues in the epistle,” as “[c]onsiderable debate exists over whether the translation of diathēkē in 9:16–17 should be rendered as “will/testament” or “covenant.”[1] Consensus exists for the nineteen instances of the term outside of vv. 16–17, as they clearly refer to “covenant” in the Old Testament sense. The four instances inside of these verses are an issue requiring validation.

Surprisingly, English translations mostly state consensus on the issue. Among all “committee” translations consulted, ASV[2], ESV, NKJV, WEB, CSB, HCSB, NET, NIV2011, NRSV, NLT, and KJV all translate into forms of “will” or “testament,” whereas NASB95 and NASB77 appears to stand alone by continuing to translate “covenant” throughout, though it still includes a footnote, “or testament.”

It’s important to note that the author of Hebrews immediately draws from the illustration of vv. 16–17 to draw a conclusion in verse 18 so closely related to the διαθήκη of vv. 16–17 that the author doesn’t bother to repeat the word. Thus, it would be entirely improper to hold vv. 16–17’s use of διαθήκη in isolation from its other uses in Hebrews.

Westcott argues for solely the “covenant” sense in that concerning the author’s use of φέρω (v. 16), “It is not said that he who makes the covenant ‘must die,’ but that his death must be ‘brought forward,’ ‘presented,’ ‘introduced upon the scene,’ ‘set in evidence,’ so to speak.’”[3] This, however, doesn’t fit all Old Testament covenants (see below) and doesn’t seem to account for the context of blood in the remainder of the chapter and the occurrence of death in v. 15.

Ιn support of “will” / “testament,” Bruce observes that διαθήκη has “the comprehensive sense of ‘settlement,’” but that “we are almost bound to use two different English words to represent two different aspects of the meaning of one Greek word, whereas our author’s argument depends on his use of the same Greek word throughout.”[4] Moreover, covenants in the Old Testament (διαθήκη in LXX) did not always involve the shedding of blood, e.g. David and Jonathan, Noahic Covenant.[5] Finally, the concept of will or testament fits in well with the theme of inheritance presented in 1:2, 4, 14; 6:12, 17; 9:15; 11:7-8; 12:17. Hodges notes well that “the author meant that in the last analysis the New Covenant is really a testamentary disposition.”[6]

A “third” position holds that διαθήκη should be taken as “will” or “testament” throughout, but Bruce quickly debunks this; it would negate the LXX connection with ברית (berit).[7]

I opine that “will” or “testament” best conveys the meaning of διαθήκη in vv. 16–17, not in the sense of a drastic shift of meaning but rather in that the covenant of which the author speaks is one which, like a will or testament, requires death.

[1] David L. Allen, Hebrews, Logos ed. The New American Commentary 35 (Nashville, Tenn: B & H Publ. Group, 2010), 477.

[2] ASV includes a footnote stating, “The Greek word here used signifies both covenant and testament.”

[3] Note on Hebrews 9:16–17 in Brooke Foss Westcott, Westcott Commentary on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John, Accordance ed., v. 1.5. (Altamonte Springs, Flor.: OakTree Software, n.d.).

[4] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament 14 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1981), 210.

[5] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Mich: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1977), 369.

[6] Zane C. Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Logos ed. (Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, 1985), 802.

[7] Bruce, The Epistle of the Hebrews, 211.


Dark Humor and Incivility

“Too soon”? Perhaps. Did “we” have it coming? Also yes.

By “we,” I mean the Navy, as I am a Navy Surface Warfare veteran.

By now, you probably know of the recent respective collision incidents involving USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, and you almost certainly know of the damage in south Texas from Hurricane Harvey. The two ship collisions cost the lives of 17 U.S. Sailors. The overall death toll from the hurricane is yet to be known until flood waters recede.

Now add satire news. Notwithstanding the far too common problem of people believing satirical news articles to be true, this came in the other day from Duffel Blog, a military-themed satire news site.

Navy destroyer collides with building in downtown Houston
Duffel Blog

As with any joke making light of recent death (or not-so-recent death), opinions on social media differ as to whether this was acceptable. You have the right to find this offensive or inoffensive.

Allow me as a Surface Warfare veteran and former destroyer navigator who even spent time as a liaison to Fitzgerald to admit something: I actually laughed at the article, perhaps with some guilty conscience. Sometimes, dark humor helps to get us through things like this. I’ll hold my fire.

But I am going to fire some rocks. Elsewhere on the Internet, useless speculations ruled the day. Various commentators suddenly became maritime navigation experts and declared with absolute (false) certainty which ships had erred. Others ran up speculations of terrorism and/or cyber attack. This was simply a matter of people pretending to be experts after two minutes of Internet research. But it got worse.

As we proceed with screenshots here, you’ll notice that I’ve limited the mentions to verified accounts, not just common Twitter fray. These are the “established people.”

Various leftists used the tragedies as a convenient means of attacking the President.


Brandon Friedman, who helps run a public relations firm focused on military affairs, could let facts get in the way of a good jab. The President had already nominated an Ambassador to Japan, and there was an acting Secretary of the Navy. These words were repeated countless times on Twitter.


Newsweek editor Matthew Cooper, among others, couldn’t be bothered to research for whom USS John S. McCain is named. (Hint: They’re not living.)


This failed attempt at political satire came in way too soon from Weekly Standard editor John Podhoretz.


Duffel Blog overall has a clear intention of poking fun at military life, all the while often having cogent points, and there was even a point to the aforementioned article. Even without a point, however, it’s satire that helps service members and veterans get through things. The Babylon Bee may be defended in the same way on occasion.

These collisions hurt this veteran deeply. And there are far worse things than news satire, even news satire that might be too soon.

What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in Dallas?

I found myself once in the middle of something like this at a Sunday morning service at a relative’s church. I had left the Navy about five weeks prior, and they wanted veterans to stand up for their particular service anthems. I remained seated for “Anchors Aweigh.”

Moreover, they managed to “churchify” the song. You see, there’s a line in the song that goes “Through our last night on shore, drink to the foam,” and they’re not talking about drinking ocean water. But the church had purchased music along with accompanying lyric video from some company, and they changed the offending lyric to “hail to the foam.” The church leadership itself was probably completely unaware of this.

“Hail” to the foam? Really?

the way of improvement leads home

Jeffress 1

Yesterday was “Freedom Sunday” at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  The pastor of First Baptist is Robert Jeffress.  He is a Trump supporter, Christian nationalist, and prominent court evangelical. As the pictures attached to this tweet indicate, it was a day of patriotic celebration in the church sanctuary.

People waived American flags during the service.

The last time I checked, the waiving of the American flag was a sign of support or loyalty to the nation.  Jeffress had no problem allowing such an act to take place in a church sanctuary–the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty.  Patriotism is fine. Flag-waiving is fine.  But I wonder if any…

View original post 190 more words