In Reformed theology, there are summary theological constructs termed the covenant of works, the covenant of grace, and the covenant of redemption. In short, the covenant of works encompasses the path to salvation through perfectly obeying God. The covenant of grace is the path to salvation whereby believers are covered by the blood of Christ, who keeps the covenant of works on our behalf. And the covenant of redemption is between Christ and the Father, where Christ agrees to pay for the sins of his people.

Is there any similar or different version of covenant theology in the RCC? What does the RCC teach about the explicitly mentioned covenants in the Bible, e.g. the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and the New Covenant and Old Covenant that the NT and Jeremiah talk about?

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Outline from some RCIA material on the Six Covenants

This outline is backed up by various Cathechism articles and the Catholic Encyclopedia. I have included some of the scriptural references that I have in the notes.

The Catholic Church teaches that there are six covenants. But first ...

What is a Covenant?

God’s Covenants are ways that he reveals Himself, and his Gifts, to His people.

CCC 204 God revealed himself progressively and under different names to his people, but the revelation that proved to be the fundamental one for both the Old and the New Covenants was the revelation of the divine name to Moses in the theophany of the burning bush, on the threshold of the Exodus and of the covenant on Sinai.

It took a bit of explaining from our deacon to get my head around these points. You see the Old and New Covenants referred to often, to include here in the Catechism:

The celebrants of the heavenly liturgy
1138 "Recapitulated in Christ," these are the ones who take part in the service of the praise of God and the fulfillment of his plan: the heavenly powers, all creation (the four living beings), the servants of the Old and New Covenants (the twenty-four elders), the new People of God (the one hundred and forty-four thousand), especially the martyrs "slain for the word of God," and the all-holy Mother of God (the Woman), the Bride of the Lamb, and finally "a great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and tongues."

  1. A Covenant (used in this older sense) can be both a Gift and a commitment
  2. A key difference between a covenant and a simple contract is that a covenant in this older sense can be a one-way transaction; it does not hinge upon "offer and acceptance" in the way that a contract does, but for practical purposes the recipient will at least acknowledge it.
  3. The terms Covenant and Testament in English are linked in meaning to the original Hebrew and Greek terms

(Strong's 1242 diathḗkē (from 1223 /diá, "thoroughly," intensifying 5087 /títhēmi, "place, set") – properly, a set-agreement having complete terms determined by the initiating party, which also are fully affirmed by the one entering the agreement).

It's meaning takes a little bit of digging to get a handle on.

However, at an early date, the Alexandrian translators of the Scripture, known as the Septuagint, employed the word as the equivalent of the Hebrew berith, which means a pact, an alliance, more especially the alliance of Yahweh with Israel. In St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:25) Jesus Christ uses the words "new testament" as meaning the alliance established by Himself between God and the world, and this is called "new" as opposed to that of which Moses was the > mediator. (Catholic Encyclopedia, Testament)

There is the added nuance that ancient Mid-Eastern covenants could be of either a promissory or obligatory character.

The Five OT Covenants

One of the themes we had to emphasize as Catechists was that the History of The Church is The Record of the Covenants between God and Mankind.

  1. Adam and Eve
    God revealed the beginning of humanity and gave Man and Woman to each other (Gifts from God, they were to each other, in the beginning) (Genesis, numerous passages in books 1, 2, 3)

  2. Noah / The Flood;
    The covenant/gift/Promise was to never again to wipe clean the world with a Flood (Genesis 6-9) (CCC 56-58)

  3. Abraham
    God revealed that all families on Earth would be blessed through Abraham him & his seed.
    “I will multiply your descendants as the stars in the heavens.” (Exodus 32:13)

  4. Moses
    God freed His people from slavery (Exodus 5: 1). The great gifts of the Law (Ten Commandments) and The Promised Land were granted.

  5. A Kingdom with an everlasting throne. This covenant is associated with King David. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

In each of the above cases, the people eventually fell into sin, which is by Catholic definition "a turning away" from God. The call would come through the prophets to repent, which means to "turn toward God" in that sense, although in Noah's case he heard a call to simply listen to and obey God, and in Abraham's his heart's call was to completely trust God.

The Prophecy that foretold the new Testament, the final Covenant, was that “The Kingdom will be re-established by The Messiah” (The anointed one). That's linked to the fifth OT covenant.

The New Testament (also The Final Covenant)

God’s 6th (final) covenant is that God reveals Himself in “The Word, Incarnate” and in so doing gives the Gift of his only begotten Son. (Matthew 16:15-17) This promise, this gift, is meant for all of mankind. (See Peter Turner's answer on the "scaling up" as the covenants progress). The fruits of that gift are eternal life. It is worth noting that Jesus identifies "the new covenant" in Luke 22:19-20 during the Last Supper.

19 Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you."


I had pages and pages of material on this, but that's a summary of what we taught.

  • Are the covenants understood to be tied to salvation in any way? And are the previous covenants considered to have ceased? Or simply expanded on?
    – Birdie
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 20:54
  • @Birdie Without God's covenants nobody can be God's people. Previous covenants ceased? Not addressed, I am of the understanding that Jesus did a lot of fulfilling. Not only that, but once God establishes a covenant, I don't see any way that it could cease. scratches head God isn't limited like we humans are. Part of the issue with previous covenants was that Mankind kept turning away form God; God never turned away from Man. Thats' in the CCC in more than one place, and our deacon harped on that point in particular. Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 21:58
  • Does the Catholic Church give any attention to Phinehas' (the priests') covenant?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 1:46
  • @curiousdannii That is not on topic for this question and answer. suggest you ask that as a separate question Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 3:26
  • @KorvinStarmast How would it not be on-topic? It's one of the Biblical covenants (Num 25), and part of covenant theology generally.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 3:28

FWIW, this is not "Official from the Vatican" teaching, but it is something that I've participated in as part of Catechist training.

Mark Hart, (the VP of Life Teen, a Catholic youth outreach program) has a great series of programs on reading the Bible as a story composed as a series of covenants Called T3 Teen Timeline. I believe it's a pared down Teen-oriented version of Jeff Cavin's Bible Time Line, which is much more in depth.

IIRC, The covenants that are mentioned are between

  • God and Adam and Eve, a promise of a future redeemer.

  • God and Noah, The rainbow as a covenant to never.

  • God and Abraham, A promise that he would be a leader of a great people

  • God and Moses, A promise for freedom in exchange for following His commands

  • God and David, A promise of an everlasting kingship

But, as each covenant was forged, it was noted that the covenant was formed with a new larger people so

  • God + Adam and Eve (Individuals)

  • God + Noah (A family)

  • God + Abraham (A Tribe)

  • God + Moses (A Nation)

  • God + David (A Kingdom)

Then the new covenant of Jesus is supposed to 1up the Kingdom covenant of David and be with the Universal Church.

As for how the people in the OT were saved, I think we all believe what St. Peter wrote, and incidentally was read this weekend

Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark,


Jesus freed the souls of the righteous from Hell (but not the real bad Hell) after he died on the cross.

  • The covenant with David is a kingdom that will reign forever ... I'll find the exact phrase in my notes ... just a few moments. FWIW, your second list is nearly identical to what we taught in adult RCIA. For David (5th) "God revealed a kingdom with an everlasting throne" Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 15:45
  • I love the upscaling illustration in the second list. I wish we'd have used that in our RCIA class. It's a great illustration. Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 21:52
  • I don't think the upscaling is accurate. Noah's covenant is explicitly with all people and even all animals. David's covenant on the other hand is explicitly only with the royal family, though all Israel will benefit. I'd say the covenants get smaller!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 1:48
  • @curious the reason might have been since at Noah's time there was only one family and at David's time there was already a kingdom going.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 14:00

Correct. Dr. Scott Hahn mentions 6 Covenants as outlined by St. Irenaeus of Lyon in the 2nd Century: 1: Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-2:3) 2: Noah and his family (Genesis 9:8-17) 3: Abraham and descendants (Gen 12,17, and 22) 4: Moses and Israelites (Exodus 19, 3, and 6) 5: David and the Kingdom (2 Samuel 7) 6: Jesus and His Church (Matthew 26:28 and 16:17-19)

A Covenant is NOT a Contract, but forms a family bond. One takes on the blesses and curses of each Covenant, upon swearing the Oath. Latin for Oath=Sacramentum. To swear an Oath in Hebrew= To "Seven" oneself, thus the Seven Sacraments.

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