Review of Scott Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant (Yale, 2009)

Oct 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Dr. Scott Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant is a revised and updated version of his 1995 doctoral dissertation Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of the Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments published for the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library.

The great biblical scholar, David Noel Freedman (d. 2008), recognized that Scott Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant “adapts Dual Covenant Hypothesis: namely, the apparent contradiction between God’s covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Moses on Sinai” (book’s preface). Hahn reassesses how the New Covenant authors contrast the various covenants established at Moriah (Abraham and Isaac), Sinai (Law), Moab (Deuteronomy), and Zion/Moriah (New Covenant). Accordingly, the New Covenant does not “supercede” the Mosaic Law–rather the New Covenant, in a sense, “precedes” the Mosaic Covenant by a return to and expansion of the covenant made with Abraham.

Hahn shows appreciation for E.P. Sanders’ scholarship regarding covenantal nomism, but he also supplies a subtle criticism of Sanders for not maintaining the “tensions and discontinuity” between Scripture’s covenantal relationships (pp. 239-41). Kinship by Covenant also complements the work of N.T. Wright by showing how the Deuteronomic curses relate to the magnanimous conditions of the New Covenant (p. 252 ff).

Hahn expands the work of covenantal scholars Meredith Kline (Reformed) and D.J. McCarthy (Catholic), by demonstrating that the divine economy often begins with a Kinship Covenant (divine promises), moves to a Treaty Covenant (divine law), and then ends in a Grant Covenant (divine oath). This pattern can be mapped as “Adam as created” > “Adam being tested (and failing)” > “Adam receiving promise of redemption” (Gen 3:15). With regard to Abraham, the pattern is Gen 15 (kinship) > Gen 17 (probation) > Gen 22 (grant oath). If we apply it to salvation history: Abraham > Moses > Christ. This pattern follows the natural unfolding of human life that begins with childhood (kinship), moves into adolescence (probation-law), and finally the reception of the father’s promise (inheritance-oath-grant).

In sum, Hahn demonstrates that covenantal realism leads to a soteriology based on the divine Sonship of Christ, hence the book’s emphasis on Luke 22, Galatians 3-4, and Hebrews. By emphasizing the familial dimension of law and covenant, Hahn establishes the Catholic conviction that a strictly forensic depiction of justification falls short of the language of Scripture. Moreover, the social/familial aspect of salvation highlights the role of the Church as a soteriological category–something that recent Protestant scholarship is beginning to realize.

Kinship by Covenant brings together so many biblical concepts that one finishes the book with two new conclusions: First, Sacred Scripture is much more inner-connected than we previously assumed. Secondly, many of our biblical “gut intuitions” have been confirmed by Hahn’s insightful account of covenantal realism.

Reading Kinship by Covenant was very much like reading N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God. Each is thick and takes time to consume–but that is also true of a fine steak. Kinship by Covenant leaves you wanting more: “Oh no! There are only 50 pages left!”

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  1. Exactly! I kept longing for the Adamic Covenant prequel…perhaps another volume? :-)

  2. Or…while we are waiting on the prequel we could be reading “The Crucified Rabbi” that is coming out

    Dr. Hahn is a gift to our Catholic faith and to all who want unity and not division. May Our Lord continue to bless him and Kimberly and their family!

    Blessings and peace be with you,

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