Promising a binding relationship sanctioned by an oath and accompanied by appeal to a deity to watch over the behaviour of the one who has sworn, and to punish any violation of the covenant.
Covenanting probably originated in remote prehistoric times, perhaps out of marriage contracts between tribes or bands, and had to do with the creation of new familial and political relationships. Covenants between social groups were used to regularize in advance the relationships between two societies after one had been subjugated by a superior coercive force. The Sinai Covenant (The Ten Commandments) of the 13th century BC marked the beginnings of a systematic recognition that the well-being of a community cannot be based merely upon socially organized force or an identification of the political power structure as a manifestation of the divine. These commandments are ethical obligations of which violations are difficult for society to detect, much less enforce or punish. The "new covenant" of the New Testament modified this understanding by presuming that anyone who is capable of recognizing the rule of God in his experience in society will also be capable of understanding what the nature of his obligation will be in specific circumstances, and that the curses and blessings alike are then postponed until the final judgement. Covenant must be distinguished from contract or legal procedure which may be entirely secular and whose sanctions are carried out by appropriate agencies of the society itself, not by transcendent powers.
Covenanting implies the agreement of both parties to the conditions laid out by the covenant. It can be a process of entering into a socially or legally agreed form (such as marriage) or it can involve the mutual creation of a covenant to meet a specific situation which both parties then bind themselves to follow. It can have legal and/or moral sanctions, and derives its power from the determination of both parties to fulfil the conditions of the covenant.
The Family Covenant Association (UK), a project of the Institute for Social Inventions, encourages the formal expression of commitments to new-born babies as an alternative to religious baptism.
Covenant historically has been a means by which new communities are formed, particularly in times of rapid change, social dislocation, or political breakdown.
Covenants can be used to subject a person or a group to another, if not reviewed and modified to meet the conditions warranted by social situation.