The Noachian Covenant: A Temple Document

The first time the word “covenant” occurs is Genesis 6:18. The usual terminology is to “cut a covenant,” since animals were cut in half to solemnize the event (Hebrew kārat barît). Here, however, we have the Hebrew verb qûm which in this context can well be translated “re-establish” or “perpetuate” an existing covenant (cf. 9:11 with the same verb). Though there is no formal covenantal ceremony in Genesis 2, we see that there is indeed an agreement or at least conditions by which Adam and Eve must live which contain promise or punishment. Every covenant has symbols, and the symbol of the Edenic covenant is the tree of life and the garden in general, which we have identified as the Holy of Holies. With the loss of the garden, and the subsequent crescendo of evil in the antediluvian world, one wonders whether the promise of Eden, the tree of life, is cut off forever to humanity. With Noah we find that God indeed perpetuates His original covenant promise with humanity. The Noachian grows organically out of the Edenic.

The symbols of the Noachian covenant are two-fold. The rainbow was intended for God to see lest, when beholding evil with pure eyes, He should render justice and destroy the world again. It acts as a divine restraint so that mercy prevails. The ark functions as the other symbol. As we have seen in the former post, the ark is, in fact, a miniature Eden containing another “first man” and animals. As an Eden, it is understood as a temple before which we see Noah building an altar to God where he sacrificed. God promises not to curse the earth again, nor destroy it as He just did with the flood, “while the earth remains …” (8:21-22). This last phrase is loaded eschatologically, for the assumption is that this earth will not exist forever in an endless cycle of seasons like the pagan animistic religions understood, but that there is a climax and an end to history as we know it.

Before the ark Noah is blessed to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Therefore, Adam’s original purpose, that of guarding and keeping the temple, as well as expanding it to the whole earth, is perpetuated in this covenant. Moreover, the animals disperse, but now under different conditions. That God would place blood restrictions on the eating of animals assume that with the degradation of humanity before the flood humanity gorged on animal meat as animal devours animal with pulsating blood, or at least with blood not drained. To preserve the imago dei in humanity, God allowed for the eating of animal flesh, but with the restriction of draining the meat properly. Obviously, animals are less inclined to buddy-up to men who desire to eat them. It is contrary to original design for animals to fear humanity, or vice versa. This covenant accepts this reality of the new order, but again, with restrictions so as to keep order in the cosmic temple as man and beast spread forth.

Then there is capital punishment. Before with Cain, murder was dealt with mercifully, and man responded to God’s patience with presumption, killing indiscriminately. Now the killer must be put to death for the specific reason that man was made in the image of God. To kill a man is to strike at God, and God bestows the right and responsibility on the human community to execute the offender. Again, order must be maintained in the cosmic temple as humanity expands. That these blood restrictions are placed on the human race with regard to beast and fellow men underlines the fact that humanity has become blood thirsty; this new covenant is designed to place boundaries on the shedding of blood.

Apart from the confines of the altar, the shedding of blood defiles the temple in ancient Hebrew thinking. As God mandates Noah to start anew in the original purpose of filling the earth and making it the temple of God, tight blood restrictions were necessary. In this way we see that the Noachian covenant, with its symbols, mandate, and blood restrictions is, in fact, a temple document.

6 Responses to “The Noachian Covenant: A Temple Document”

  1. Good points about the blood. Do you think this passage supports present day capital punishment? Or are we to dispense mercy and forgiveness even to the unrepentant?

    • Anthony, your question is a hard one, but I lean towards saying yes, that this covenant, which was made with all humanity, supports capital punishment even today. The fundamental condition remains the same; humans are made in the image of God and to kill the image is to strike out against God. There is no other reason for capital punishment in the text, whether it be deterrent or even justice; it is purely theological. One can argue that in today’s society with our prison system that a killer like Lamech would not be a menace to society because he would be incarcerated, and that perhaps at some point he might repent. Others can say that the death penalty is not imposed fairly, for the rich rarely get executed. And there is always the possibility that an innocent person might be executed. There have always been problems implementing capital punishment. Think of Rome at the time of the NT, and yet there is a sense in St. Paul (Rom. 13) that government, even pagan government, is an instrument of God. Again, this is a theological point. If society disregards capital punishment for reasons of mercy, then will this not be a contributing factor for an increase of violence and disregard for the the imago dei in humanity as it was in the antediluvian world when God protected Cain with the mark? Again, we all see the glaring problems with capital punishment in this broken world, and the easiest thing is to drop capital punishment completely. As our culture no longer has theological categories to think this through, we are left to our own reason and feelings about this. It is hard to argue the point that why should culture respond in violence to the violent on purely logical grounds apart from the theological point of the text.

  2. Father John,

    It is easy to accept that society uses capital punishment as a deterrent to the crime of murder, however, logically if we agree that all men are made in the image of God, are we not striking at God when we use capital punishment on anyone even murderers? This is a question that I have even though I am in favor of the detrimental aspects of capital punishment. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

    In Faith and Friendship,

    • Joe, technically no human being or society has any right in and of itself to kill anyone for any reason. The text here is saying, I believe, that it is God who is taking the life through the government. This alleviates the guilt of the society that must carry out the justice of God.

  3. When I came across this site I goggled anti noachian temple! I find your article a good beginning to the answer . I’m sure that we do not know the extent of their system of worship except as you state , Blood sacrifice was required . I am reminded that it took blood to cover the first man and women , a type of covering for conscience of sin, and that in the new testament there is no forgiveness without the sheding of blood Heb 9,22. and then when jesus blood was shed it was once and for all the animal blood no longer qualified or needed and that anyone changed by this powerfull regeneration no longer is required to give blood for blood eye for eye tooth for tooth as Paul was so clear in expressing that he was a cohort and perpetrator of the murder of steven and yet our lord had a use for him. As for the garden of eden being a temple i have to refresh my memory uther than God says that heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool! Any references supplied as to the garden being the temple are appreciated and will be diligently researched ! thanks! nohomehere

    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your reflections. This whole idea of the Garden of Eden as Temple is something that sort of developed slowly in my mind over the years, but came to clarity in reading The Lost World of Genesis One by J.H. Walton and The Temple and the Churches Mission by G.K. Beale. I think you will find all sorts of material here on the subject.

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