AskDefine | Define covenant

Dictionary Definition



1 a signed written agreement between two or more parties (nations) to perform some action [syn: compact, concordat]
2 (Bible) an agreement between God and his people in which God makes certain promises and requires certain behavior from them in return


1 enter into a covenenant
2 enter into a covenant or formal agreement; "They covenanted with Judas for 30 pieces of silver"; "The nations covenanted to fight terrorism around the world"

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. An agreement to do or not do a particular thing.
  2. A promise, incidental to a deed or contract, either express or implied.
  3. A pact or binding agreement between two or more parties.
  4. An incidental clause in an agreement.
  5. God's promise to humanity after the Flood, symbolised by the rainbow.
  6. God's promise to Israel in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that He would redeem the nation of Israel, give Israel the land of Zion, and "appear in his glory" and "come out of Zion" when "all Israel shall be saved" (compare Psalm 201:15-18, Romans 11:25-27).
  7. God's general promise of salvation to the faithful as taught in the Bible.


binding agreement
incidental clause
God's promise to mankind after the Flood
God's promise to Israel
God's promise of salvation to the faithful


  1. to enter into, or promise something by, a covenant
  2. To enter a formal agreement.
  3. To bind oneself in contract.
  4. To make a stipulation.


to enter into a covenant
  • Finnish: sitoutua
  • Swedish: avtala
to enter a formal agreement
  • Finnish: sitoutua
  • Swedish: avtala

Extensive Definition

A covenant, in its most general sense, is a solemn promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action.
More specifically, a covenant, in contrast to a contract, is a one-way agreement whereby the covenanter is the only party bound by the promise. A covenant may have conditions and prerequisites that qualify the undertaking, including the actions of second or third parties, but there is no inherent agreement by such other parties to fulfill those requirements. Consequentially, the only party that can break a covenant is the covenanter.

In a religious context

A religious covenant is a belief shared by members of a religious community that God has made a formal alliance or agreement with them or with humanity in general. This sort of covenant is an important concept in Judaism and Christianity, derived in the first instance from the biblical covenant tradition. An example of a covenant relationship in Judaism and Christianity is that between Abraham and God, in which God made a covenant with Abraham that He would bless Abraham's descendants making them more numerous than the stars. God made an additional covenant with Jesus Christ, called the "new covenant", in which Christ's sacrifice on the cross would atone for the sins of all mankind. Also in Islam God reminds all humanity of their covenants with him.
A covenant may also refer to an agreement between members of a congregation to work together according to the precepts of their religion. In Islam, God enters into a covenant with Muhammad, impressing into his shoulder the seal of prophecy. In Indo-Iranian religious tradition, Mithra-Mitra is the hypostasis of covenant, and hence keeper and protector of moral, social and interpersonal relationships, including love and friendship. In living Zoroastrianism, which is one of the two primary developments of Indo-Iranian religious tradition, Mithra is by extension a judge, protecting agreements by ensuring that individuals who break one do not enter Heaven.

In a legal context

Under the common law a covenant was distinguished from an ordinary contract by the presence of a seal. Because the presence of a seal indicated an unusual solemnity in the promises made in a covenant, the common law would enforce a covenant even in the absence of consideration.

Covenants in planned communities

In contemporary practice in the United States, a covenant typically refers to restrictions set on contracts like deeds of sale. "Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions," commonly abbreviated "CC&Rs" or "CCR's", are a complicated system of covenants, known generically as "deed restrictions," built into the deeds of all the lots in a common interest development, particularly in the tens of millions of American homes governed by a homeowner association (HOA) or condominium association. There are some office or industrial parks subject to CCR's as well.
These CCR's might, for example, dictate building materials (including roofing materials), prohibit certain varieties of trees, or place restrictions on the number of dwellings that may be built on the property. The purpose of this is to maintain a neighborhood character or prevent improper use of the land. Many covenants of this nature were imposed in the 1920s through the 1940s, before zoning became widespread. However, many modern developments are also restricted by covenants on property titles; this is often justified as a means of preserving the values of the houses in the developments. Covenant restrictions can be removed through court action, although this process is lengthy and often very expensive. In some cases it even involves local plebiscites of the nearby property owners. Although control of such planning issues is often governed by local planning schemes or other regulatory frameworks rather than through the use of covenants, there are still many covenants inmposed, particularly in states that limit the level of control over real property use that may be exercised by local governments.

Exclusionary restrictive covenants

In the 1920s and 1930s, covenants that restricted the sale or occupation of real property on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion were common in the United States, particularly in the South where the primary intent was to keep "white" neighborhoods "white". Such a covenant might prohibit a buyer of property from reselling, leasing or transferring the property "to any colored person or persons or any person or persons of Ethiopean [sic] or Semitic race or the any descendant [of such a race]." These restrictions were invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Hansberry v. Lee in 1940. Title insurance policies now often contain exclusions preventing coverage of such restrictions.

Title covenants

Title covenants serve as guarantees to the recipient of property, ensuring that the recipient receives what he or she bargained for. The English covenants of title, sometimes included in deeds to real property, are (1) that the grantor is lawfully seised (in fee simple) of the property, (2) that the grantor has the right to convey the property to the grantee, (3) that the property is conveyed without encumbrances (this covenant is frequently modified to allow for certain enncumbrances), (4) that the grantor has done no act to encumber the property, (5) that the grantee shall have quiet possession of the property, and (6) that the grantor will execute such further assurances of the land as may be requisite. The English covenants may be described individually, or they may be incorporated by reference, as in a deed granting property "with general warranty and English covenants of title..."

In a historical context

In a historical context, a covenant applies to formal promises that were made under oath, or in less remote history, agreements in which the name actually uses the term 'covenant', implying that they were binding for all time.
One of the earliest attested covenants between parties is the so-called Mitanni treaty, dating to the 14th or 15th century BC, between the Hittites and the Mitanni.
Historically, certain treaties and compacts have been given the name of covenant, most notably the Solemn League and Covenant that marked the Covenanters, a Protestant political organization important in the history of Scotland. The term 'covenant' appears throughout Scottish, English, and Irish history.
The term covenant could be used in English to refer to either the Bundesbrief of 1291, or the Pfaffenbrief of 1370, documents which led to the formation of the Swiss state or "Eidgenossenschaft". In this usage the German "Eid" is being translated as covenant rather than oath in order to reflect its written status.


covenant in Hebrew: אמות מידה פיננסיות
covenant in Russian: Завет (Бахаи)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

accord, agree, agree on, agree to, agree with, agreement, arrangement, bargain, bargain for, binding agreement, bond, cartel, collective agreement, come around to, come to terms, compact, concur, consortium, contract, convention, covenant of salt, deal, dicker, do a deal, employment contract, engage, formal agreement, get together, ironclad agreement, legal agreement, legal contract, make a deal, mutual agreement, pact, paction, pledge, plight, promise, protocol, shake hands on, shake on it, stipulate, stipulation, strike a bargain, swear, transaction, understanding, undertake, union contract, valid contract, vow, wage contract
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