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Covenant Theology

In the O.T. the Hebrew word for covenant is always b’rith. In the N.T. it is always diatheke. A covenant is a pact or agreement between two or more parties. God has initiated many agreements, or covenants, with different people throughout biblical history, i.e., Adam, Noah, and Abraham, etc. Covenant is an important part of biblical history and, therefore, theology.

There is a flow to the covenants found in the Bible. Basically, it is as follows. First, God the Father made a covenant with the Son with regard to the elect. This covenant was made before the universe was created and it consisted of the Father promising to bring to the Son all whom the Father had given Him (John 6:39; 17:9,24). The manifestation of that covenant occurs in our world in a sequence of additional covenants that God makes with individuals: Adam (Gen. 2:15-17), Noah (Gen. 9:12-16), Abraham (Gen. 17), the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:28), David (Sam. 7:12-16), believers in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-37), etc. These additional covenants with people fall under the Covenant of Grace where God makes a covenant with the elect and promises them salvation through faith in Jesus.

A major question regarding the covenants is how many are there? Some theologians say there is only one covenant, the covenant of redemption and that within this covenant are all the other covenants. Others say that there are two covenants: the Eternal Covenant and the Covenant of Grace. Others say there are still more.

The Eternal Covenant, also known as The Covenant of Redemption, may be defined as the agreement between the Father and the Son giving the Son as head and Redeemer of the elect. The Son voluntarily took the place of those whom the Father had given Him: "The position of Christ in the covenant of redemption is twofold: First, He is "guarantee" (NIV, NASB) a "surety" (KJV). This word appears only in Heb. 7:22 and means one who becomes responsible for the legal obligations of another; namely, fulfilling the legal requirements of the Law of God. In the Covenant of Redemption Christ undertook to atone of the sins of His people. And by taking the place of sinners He became the last Adam and is the Head of the covenant. He, then, is both surety and head." See also Heb. 13:20.

The Covenant of Grace is the promise of God to redeem the sinner. This redemption is based upon faith in Jesus.

Requirements and Promises in the Covenant of Redemption

"The Father required of the Son, that He should make amends for the sin of Adam and of those whom the Father had given Him, and should do what Adam failed to do by keeping the law."


This requirement included the following:

  • That he should assume human nature.
  • That He should place Himself under the law.
  • That He, after accomplishing forgiveness of sins and eternal life, should apply them to the elect.

The Relation of the Covenants of Redemption and of Grace

"The counsel of redemption is the eternal prototype of the historical covenant of grace. This accounts for the fact that many combine the two into a single covenant. The former is eternal, that is, from eternity, and the latter temporal in the sense that it is realized in time. The former is a compact between the Father and the Son as a surety and head of the elect, while the latter is a compact between the triune God and the elect sinner in the surety."

If there had been no eternal counsel of peace between the Father and the Son, there could have been no agreement between the triune God and sinful man.

The Holy Spirit, which produces faith in the sinner, was promised to Christ by the Father, and the acceptance of the way of life through faith was guaranteed by Christ.

Covenant with Adam

Everlasting life based upon obedience to God. "And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’" (Gen. 2:16-17).
God entered into a covenant with Adam. The promise annexed to that covenant was life. The condition was perfect obedience. Its penalty was death.

Covenant with Noah

To never again destroy the world with a flood. God gave the rainbow as a sign.

"I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you - the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you - every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth" (Gen. 9:9-17).

Covenant with Abraham

God promised a land and descendants to Abraham, who was commanded to "keep" the covenant (Gen. 17:9f., 14) and was given circumcision as the sign (Gen 15:8-18; 17:1-14).
"On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates'" (Gen. 15:18).

Covenant with Moses

"In the giving of the Law, the nation of Israel was constituted a holy nation and given stipulations to follow to ensure fellowship with God. The covenant was ratified by a covenant sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood" (Ex. 24:4-8).

Covenant with David

God gave a promise to David that his descendants should have an everlasting kingdom and be known as his sons. david,
"You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations’" (Psalm 89:3).

The New Covenant

This is the new covenant of the Messianic age where the Law of God would be written upon the hearts of men. "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah...This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people" (Jer. 31:31,33).


It was Promised in Eden: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Gen. 3:15).
It was Proclaimed to Abraham: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you," (Gen. 12:3).
It was Fulfilled in Christ: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us - to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace," (Luke 1:68-79).

The Covenant of Grace
This may be defined as that gracious agreement between the offended God and the offending but elect sinner, in which God promises salvation through faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this believingly, promising a life of faith and obedience.

The Covenant of Works
The agreement between God and Adam, whereby eternal life is conditioned upon obedience.


Comparison of the Covenant of Works (the Adamic Covenant) and the Covenant of Grace  
Covenant of Works Covenant of Grace
God is the Creator and Lord. Established because of His love and benevolence. God is the Redeemer and father. Established because of His Mercy and Grace.
Man appears simply as God's creature, rightly related to his God. Man appears as a sinner who has perverted his ways, and can only appear in union with Christ.
No Mediator Jesus is the Mediator
Righteousness is based upon the obedience of a changeable man which is uncertain. Based on the obedience of Christ as Mediator which is absolute and certain.
The way of life is by keeping the Law. The way of life is by faith in Jesus Christ.
The covenant is partly known in nature, since the law of God is written in the heart of Man. The covenant is known exclusively through special revelation: the Bible.

Just as in the covenant of works, so also in the covenant of grace God is the first of the contracting parties; He takes the initiative and determines the relation in which the second party will stand to Him.

It is not easily determined who the second party is. In general, it may be said that God naturally established the covenant of grace with fallen man.

The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:21-34; Heb. 8:8-12. It is also entirely in line with the relation in which the covenant of grace stands to the covenant of redemption.

 


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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 2012
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