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.” 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, 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.’” 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.” Moreover, covenants in the Old Testament (διαθήκη in LXX) did not always involve the shedding of blood, e.g. David and Jonathan, Noahic Covenant. 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.”
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).
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.
 David L. Allen, Hebrews, Logos ed. The New American Commentary 35 (Nashville, Tenn: B & H Publ. Group, 2010), 477.
 ASV includes a footnote stating, “The Greek word here used signifies both covenant and testament.”
 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.).
 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament 14 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1981), 210.
 Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Mich: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1977), 369.
 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.
 Bruce, The Epistle of the Hebrews, 211.