Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises

Written by Scott W. Hahn Reviewed By Joshua W. Jipp

Scott Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant is a rewritten version of his dissertation and through an interpretation of the OT covenants seeks to provide a “covenantal interpretation of the Christ event as it is presented in Luke 22, Galatians 3–4, and Hebrews 1–9, the three loci of the New Testament that correlate the terminology of kinship with that of covenant” (p. 22). It is the hope that this covenantal framework will throw into relief many of the exegetical moves of the NT authors. Hahn argues that biblical covenants function to extend the bonds of kinship. In particular, covenants extend kinship by placing the chosen people into a father-child relationship with God. Hahn’s work is at home with traditional historical criticism, though he instead chooses to employ narrative analysis and canonical criticism. That is, Hahn looks to the narrative itself to understand the differences between covenants and interprets each text in light of the entire canon.

In chapters 2–4, Hahn examines the three covenant forms found in the OT: the kinship, the treaty-type, and the grant-type. A kinship covenant binds two parties together in a mutual relationship with divine sanction. This type of covenant may be used to reinforce prior familial bonds or to draw hostile parties into a familial relationship. This covenant has the features of an oath, a shared meal, sacrifice, and concepts denoting mutual affiliation. The Sinai covenant is kinship in form due to the presence of most of these features. The treaty-type covenant is imposed by a suzerain on a vassal. Often this covenant is marked by the vassal’s swearing an oath that consists in the promise of loyalty under threat of divine judgment (cf. Deut 29). The most prominent example is Deuteronomy’s reconfiguration of the Sinai covenant, which is the result of God’s punitive discipline of Israel. There is a stronger sense of distance between the parties and a threat of curse should Israel break the covenant, though Israel remains God’s son. With the third covenant, the grant-type, the vassal is rewarded for its loyalty by the suzerain with a grant. A good example is the grant made to Noah. The covenant is the result of Noah’s loyalty and is based on God’s promise of unconditional blessings.

In chapter 5, Hahn argues that while there is only one covenant with Abraham, this covenantal relationship between God and Abraham undergoes expansion and reconfiguration in Gen 15, 17, and 22. Each chapter expands on one of the promises made to Abraham from Gen 12:1–4: nationhood (Gen 15), a great name (Gen 17), and blessing for all nations (Gen 22). Hahn shows that these three covenant-making episodes correspond to the three essential covenants in Israel’s history: Sinai, the Deuteronomic covenant, and the Davidic covenant. To take just one example, there are strong similarities between Gen 22 and the Davidic covenant. Both events occur at the same place: Zion. The promises made to Abraham during the Aqedah are fulfilled through David’s dynasty (Gen 22:15–18; 1 Kgs 4:20–34). Hahn argues that the climax of the Abrahamic covenant is the Aqedah, where God awards Abraham a grant by making an oath to bless the nations through his offspring.

In chapter 6, Hahn demonstrates that a pre-Levitical form of priestly activity was invested in the firstborn son. Thus, it is Israel’s collective priestly status that is emphasized when it is referred to as God’s firstborn son (Exod 4:22), and it is the Sinai covenant which marks Israel out as God’s “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6). At Sinai Israel is given the priestly task of mediating God’s blessings to the nations. Exodus 19–24 is clear, however, that this covenant is conditional upon Israel’s obedience. Thus, when Israel commits apostasy with the golden calf, the covenant must be reconfigured. Israel’s idolatry results in the forfeiture of her priestly firstborn prerogatives to the Levitical priests. Hahn shows how sin disrupts the order of the family and how, therefore, Israel’s covenants are often in need of renewal. The Levitical code is, thus, added as a result of sins, as the cultic legislation reflects penitential and restorative purposes for Israel.

In chapter 7, Hahn notes that the Davidic covenant contains the main features of a grant-type covenant: a divine oath, the promise of blessings for the dynasty, the extension of the blessings to future generations, and an emphasis on David’s loyalty. The content of God’s blessings to David is threefold: an everlasting dynasty (2 Sam 7:12), a temple in Zion (7:13), and familial privileges between God and the Davidic dynasty (7:14). This last blessing is unique in that divine sonship is applied to a single individual (e.g., Ps 2:7; 89:26). Critical for the NT is the description of the Davidic covenant as the renewal of God’s promise to Abraham to bless not only Israel but the entire world (2 Sam 7:18–29).

In chapters 8–10, Hahn turns to explore how the NT reconfigures and develops Israel’s covenants. Luke, for example, identifies the restoration and fulfillment of the Davidic covenant with Christ (e.g., Luke 1:32–35), who bestows the covenant upon his apostles. Hahn argues that the institution narrative presents the apostles as the Messiah’s co-regents of the Davidic kingdom (Luke 22:14–30). The language of kingdom, royal echoes in the context (e.g., Luke 19:11–40), the sharing of a meal, the reference to a new covenant, and the father-son language indicate that Jesus is renewing the Davidic covenant and conferring it to his disciples. Hahn shows how the beginning of Acts demonstrates that the apostles are the heirs of this covenant.

In chapter 9, Hahn turns to Galatians and argues that the covenant Paul refers to in Gal 3:15–17 is the covenant God made with Abraham at the Aqedah, as this is the only covenant God made with Abraham to bless the nations. Paul’s claim that those who place themselves under the law are under a curse should be understood covenantally, for the specific reference is to the broken and self-retiring covenant of Deuteronomy (Gal 3:10–14). Thus, when Paul quotes Lev 18:5 in Gal 3:12, he presupposes that Israel has already failed to keep the covenant and has inherited its curses. This covenant was penitential and temporary from the beginning and was intended to be in place only until the coming of “the seed” that God promised Abraham in Gen 22:18. Paul’s argumentative strategy throughout Gal 3:6–4:31 is to prove that the coming of the “seed” promised to Abraham takes priority in every instance over the Mosaic law.

Finally, in chapter 10, Hahn examines covenant in Heb 1–9. He argues that the emphasis on Christ as God’s firstborn son, king, and high priest represents the restoration of the pre-Levitical form of priesthood that was lost due to Israel’s apostasy. Second, Hebrews has a complex understanding of the covenants in that figures from Israel’s history participate proleptically in the new covenant, and persons under the new age can, through apostasy, return to the old covenant curses. Third, Christ enters into solidarity with Israel and, through his sacrifice, releases humanity from the covenant curses and establishes a new covenant.

Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant is meticulously researched, comprehensive in scope, clear in its prose, and one of the best works I have encountered on the theme of covenant. He establishes his thesis throughout both testaments, namely, that covenant is derivative of kinship. His canonical approach to covenants demonstrates how the concept of covenant unifies the biblical witness without denying the diversity of the texts. Hahn is successful in demonstrating how an examination of the OT covenants lends clarity to much of what one finds in the NT. Particularly fruitful and worthy of attention by Pauline scholars is his treatment of Gal 3:6–18. My only disappointment is with Hahn’s treatment of Hebrews; it feels a little rushed and lacks some of the depth that characterizes the rest of the book. Nevertheless, this book will be the first work I turn to when studying the covenants.

Joshua W. Jipp

Joshua W. Jipp
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, Illinois, USA

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