Covenant Love, Lesson 1.1

Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview

Lesson One: The Master Key that Unlocks the Bible

Lesson Objectives

  1. To learn the "big-picture" overview of the Bible - the story that the Bible tells.
  2. To understand the concept of "covenant" and its importance for reading and interpreting the Bible.
  3. To learn in general detail the six major covenants in the Bible.

I. Course Introduction and Overview

A. How to Read the Bible Cover-to-Cover

How many of you have started out trying to read the Bible from cover to cover, only to find yourselves foundering by the later chapters of Exodus before sinking altogether somewhere in the middle of Leviticus?

You're not alone. Many a well-intentioned Bible reader has quickly run aground on the rocks of Old Testament details - verse after verse of building specs for the ark and the sacred dwelling, the dress codes for priests, the elaborately detailed rules for offering sacrifices and the like. If you make it through all that, you still have all the judges and kings and the side characters and battles to contend with.

Lots of people figure it's easier to cut their losses and skip ahead to Proverbs and Psalms, detouring around the Prophets (who are hard to understand, anyway) and picking the story up again in the New Testament.

In this class, we're going to give you the compass you need to navigate the Bible from start to finish.

That compass is one word - covenant.

Covenant is the answer to the question: What's the Bible all about? Covenant explains why God does and says the things He says and does in Scripture.

If you understand covenant then everything else falls into place. The details that once seemed so obscure start making sense.

B. The Covenant Principle: Testimony from Scripture and Tradition

A one-word answer to the complex question of how to read the Bible? It may sound crazy or dramatically over-simplified. But it's not a novel idea, or an idea that we are "imposing" on Scripture.

At the Last Supper, Jesus identified Himself as the New Covenant, in words we recall during every celebration of Mass - "This cup is the cup of My blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant" (see Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20).

In fact, as the great scholar of the Bible and liturgy, Cardinal Jean Danielou, S.J., has noted, "We should not forget the fact that 'the Covenant' was one of our Lord's names in primitive Christianity, following the text of Isaiah: 'I have made you: Covenant of the peoples' (Isaiah 42:6)" (see Danielou's "Sacraments and the History of Salvation").

The Fathers of the Church - the bishops and Church leaders in the first generations after the Apostles - understood biblical history as proceeding by means of a series of covenants made by God with His chosen people, a series that climaxes in the New Covenant of Jesus.

St. Irenaeus, who was the bishop of Lyon in late second-century France, said that to understand "the divine program and economy for the salvation of humanity" we have to understand God's "several covenants with humanity" and also "the special character of each covenant." (Against the Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10, no. 3).

This ancient understanding of biblical salvation history is reflected in what we today pray asEucharistic Prayer IV:

Father....You formed man in your own likeness
and set him over the whole world...
Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship
you did not abandon him to the power of death. . .
Again and again you offered a covenant to man and...
in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior.

That's about as succinct a summary as you'll find of what the Bible's all about.

As Father Yves Congar, O.P. writes in his monumental Tradition and Traditions, for the Apostles, Scripture is all about "the vital covenant relationship that God wants to establish with men." He added: "The content and meaning of Scripture was God's covenant plan, finally realized in Jesus Christ...and in the Church."

Finally, we can cite The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which calls God, "the God of the Covenant" (no. 401) and describes him as the God who "comes to meet man by His covenants" (no. 309).

God's covenant love is revealed in the very creation of the world (no. 288), the Catechismsays, and each one of us is "called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead" (no. 357).

That personal covenant is offered to us in the sacraments of the Church. As the Second Vatican Council says: "The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ's insistent love" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, scroll down to no. 10).

Continue to Section 2

Other Lessons

  • Lesson Two: From Sabbath to Flood
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 1-12 with understanding.
    2. To learn the meaning of the first two covenants of salvation history - the Sabbath, and the covenant made with Noah.
    3. To begin to understand the "patterns" of biblical history.

    Begin Lesson Two

  • Lesson Three: Our Father, Abraham
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 12-50 with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Abraham and to see how that covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate key figures and elements in the Abraham story - Melchizedek, circumcision, the sacrifice of Isaac - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Three

  • Lesson Four: The First-Born Son of God
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai and to see how this covenant looks forward to and is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures and events - Moses, the Passover, and the vocation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests” - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Four

  • Lesson Five: A Throne For All Generations
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To finish reading the Old Testament (from Joshua to Malachi) and to read with understanding.
    2. To understand the broad outlines of the history of Israel in light of God’s covenant with Abraham.
    3. To appreciate the crucial importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David.

    Begin Lesson Five

  • Lesson Six: The New and Everlasting Covenant
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the New Testament with understanding.
    2. To understand how the New Testament depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenants of the Old Testament.
    3. To appreciate, especially, the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David for understanding the mission of Jesus and the Church as it is presented in the New Testament.

    Begin Lesson Six