Stephen Myers has produced the best recent exegetical and theological argument for covenant theology, and this paper, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Theology & Worldview critiques his argument for an overarching covenant of grace, of which the post-Fall biblical covenants are administrations.
Summary Charts from Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views
The conclusion to Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views includes several helpful tables which compare and contrast the four views on specific issues. I’ve added a column reflecting my own views on those topics. When possible I’ve used the wording from one or more of the preceding columns to indicate agreement. (Note: to see my column, you’ll probably need to scroll the chart; see the scroll bar at the bottom of each chart.)
Table C.1. Systems of Theology on Hermeneutics and the Structure of the Bible
|Covenant Theology (Horton)||Progressive Covenantalism (Wellum)||Progressive Dispensationalism (Bock)||Traditional Dispensationalism (Snoeberger)||Collins|
|Hermeneutical Framework and/or Principles||Law/gospel contrast (wrath, curse, condemnation versus grace, blessing, promise); covenant of works and covenant of grace as the outworking of the covenant of redemption.||God’s one plan is developed through the plurality of covenants (creation, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, new) across the storyline of Scripture; three horizons of Scripture are key: textual, epochal, and canonical.||Emphasis on three key covenants of promise (Abrahamic, Davidic, and new); complementary hermeneutic (both/and reading) as the original meaning can be expanded as it is developed in the NT, but the original sense is not lost.||Dispensations and arrangements with emphasis on the covenants to and for Israel (including the new covenant); originalist hermeneutic—strict intentionality with binding authority to the author’s intention, meaning and referents are fixed.||God’s one plan is developed through the plurality of covenants (creation [law], Noahic [promise], Abrahamic [promise], Mosaic [law], Davidic [promise], new [promise]) across the storyline of Scripture; three horizons of Scripture are key: textual, epochal, and canonical. complementary hermeneutic (both/and reading) as the original meaning can be expanded as it is developed in the NT, but the original sense is not lost.|
|Hermeneutical Priority||NT, for it is the divinely inspired interpretation of the OT.||NT, later texts in progressive revelation bring more clarity and understanding; yet, grammatical-historical-canonical method focuses on covenants in terms of what precedes and follows each one.||Neither, a complementary hermeneutic allows each text in each testament to say what they say without nullifying what was originally communicated.||OT, Christ and NT authors honor the OT and bring NT faith, practice, and mission in conformity to it.||Neither, a complementary hermeneutic allows each text in each testament to say what they say without nullifying what was originally communicated. Later texts in progressive revelation bring more clarity and understanding; yet, grammatical-historical-canonical method focuses on covenants in terms of what precedes and follows each one.|
Brent E. Parker and Richard J. Lucas, “Conclusion,” in Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture, Spectrum Multiview Books (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2022), 252, with Collins column added to reflect my own views.
Table C.2. Systems of Theology on the Covenants
|Covenant Theology (Horton)||Progressive Covenantalism (Wellum)||Progressive Dispensationalism (Bock)||Traditional Dispensationalism (Snoeberger)||Collins|
|Is there a Covenant in Gen 1‑3?||Yes, the covenant of works with a commandment of life based on law (“Do this and you shall live; disobey and you will surely die”), made with Adam as the covenant head in a state of nature prior to grace.||Covenant of creation—Adam is federal head, image, son, and in a Lord/vassal relationship; foundational for all future covenants as Adam’s role as priest-king and image-son is unpacked and the typological structures are tied to the creation covenant.||No covenant but a mandate. Covenants are about restoration and the delivering work of God. The idea of creation covenant has no role in progressive dispensationalism.||Not a formal covenant, but an Edenic “arrangement” with Adam and Eve involving civil and redemptive spheres.||Yes, the covenant of creation, a covenant or works (“Do this and you shall live; Disobey and you will surely die”), made with Adam as the covenant head, image, son, and in a Lord/vassal relationship; Foundational for all future covenants.|
|Categorization of the Covenants||Conditional (suzerain vassal or bilateral) and unconditional (promissory) covenants.||All covenants have both unilateral and bilateral aspects (conditional and unconditional elements) even as an accent may be on the bilateral or unilateral aspects (e.g. the Mosaic covenant is predominantly bilateral, but God unilaterally keeps his promises).||There are covenants of promise (Abrahamic, Davidic, new covenants), and covenants that are other: Mosaic covenant is promise and law; Noahic covenant is not promissory but features God’s commitment to preserve the creation.||Covenants are unilateral or promissory or royal grant (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic) or bilateral, suzerain vassal (Mosaic and new covenants). Note: God’s expectations are communicated through “arrangements” that may or may not be governed by covenants.||Conditional/bilateral (Adamic, Mosaic) and unconditional, unilateral, promissory (Noahic, Abraham, Davidic, New); all post-fall covenants are graciously established, and even the unconditional covenants come with expectations for obedience.|
|Covenants Already Fulfilled in Christ||All||All covenants (even as creation and Noahic structures continue in this age) are fulfilled in Christ and the new covenant.||Covenants of promise (Abrahamic, Davidic, new) have initial realization in Christ. The Mosaic covenant has been completely fulfilled through the work of Christ and the indwelling Spirit.||Abrahamic covenant could be considered “partially” fulfilled but generally is not. Mosaic covenant is fully fulfilled in Christ. The church has no legal relationship to the new covenant and it will be fulfilled to national Israel in the future.||The Mosaic covenant has been completely fulfilled through the work of Christ. The covenants of promise (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and new) have initial realization in Christ and the new covenant.|
|Covenants to Be Fulfilled||None||None||The covenant promises to Israel remain (especially the Abrahamic covenant) and will be realized in the future.||The Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and new covenants are distinctly Israelite and the terms must be fulfilled by ethnic Israel. Fulfillment (except the Mosaic covenant) will occur in the future along with the eternal benefits to national Israel.||All covenants are fulfilled or have begun to be fulfilled, but the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and new covenants all have promises that await the second advent for their ultimate fulfillment.|
Brent E. Parker and Richard J. Lucas, “Conclusion,” in Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture, Spectrum Multiview Books (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2022), 253–254, with Collins column added to reflect my own views.
Table C.3. Systems of Theology on Various Ecclesiological/Eschatological Issues
|Covenant Theology (Horton)||Progressive Covenantalism (Wellum)||Progressive Dispensationalism (Bock)||Traditional Dispensationalism (Snoeberger)||Collins|
|Israel/Church Relationship||The church is the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), the descendants of Abraham are those who believe and so the true Israel are the people of Christ. Israel is not superseded as Rom 9–11 holds out hope of a future salvation of Jews. It is the nation of Israel that is a parenthesis; the church from Eden onward are those in the body whose head is Christ.||The church is part of the one people of God and yet is covenantally new. The church is God’s new creation and remains forever, consisting of Jews and Gentiles together. The church receives all of God’s promises through Jesus Christ. Rom 9–11 could speak of a mass gathering of Jews into the church at the return of Christ.||There is unity as Jews and Gentiles are made one and are saved in Christ, but the expansion of the Abrahamic promises does not lose what was originally promised for the people of Israel. Israel is not transformed into another entity even if nations are added to the people of God. There is one people of God, unity in salvation, but diversity in reconciliation as Israel will be among the nations.||The church is an intercalation parenthetical to God’s covenants with Israel. Israel and the church remain distinct forever.||Israel is a nation, and (along with the Gentile nations) will persist for all eternity. The church is a multinational institution comprised of people from every nation. There is one people of God, unity in salvation, but diversity in reconciliation as Israel will be among the nations.|
|Future Restoration for National Israel?||No, for example James’s citation of Amos 9:15 in Acts 15:13–21 shows that the promise of restoration is fulfilled in Christ. The people of God are redefined around Jesus. The Mosaic/Sinai covenant is made obsolete and there is no revival or renewal of it. Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple and the sacrificial system and nothing is then left for Israel as a nation now or in the future.||No, Christ fulfills the OT covenants as all the promises, instruction, and typological patterns culminate in him. Further, Israel’s restoration begins at Pentecost, and the OT restoration promises for Israel are applied to the church through Christ||Yes, the national hope of Israel remains and will occur in the future and through the new heavens and earth. The role of national, territorial Israel is promised and is complementary to the blessing extended to all who believe in Christ. National Israel will live in shalom with the nations in the new creation.||Yes, after the church age (when all the Gentiles enter), God returns his attention to Israel with Christ returning after the tribulation and thus fulfilling the Abrahamic and new covenants with the mass conversion of every Israelite. Israel will remain distinct from the nations in the eternal state.||Yes, the national hope of Israel remains and will occur in the future and through the new heavens and earth. The role of national, territorial Israel is promised and is complementary to the blessing extended to all who believe in Christ. National Israel will live in shalom with the nations in the new creation.|
|Israel and the Promised Land||No, the promise was fulfilled when God brought Israel in the land. The Mosaic/Sinai covenant took over for the nation of Israel to remain in the land. Israel and the land point and lead to God’s worldwide family inheriting the whole earth through Christ.||No, in the context of Genesis, the land points back to creation and an expansion beyond the Promised Land to include the whole earth. The land is typological and is fulfilled in Christ already in his inauguration of the new creation and finally in the consummated new heavens and earth.||Yes, even if the NT adds or augments the original promise of land, the language of the original OT text stands.||Yes, the Abrahamic covenant is left unfulfilled unless Abraham’s physical descendants (national Israel) occupy the Promised Land forever.||Yes, for even though the Promised Land conquered by Israel under the Mosaic covenant was typological of the new creation, and even though the land promise is extended to the Gentiles and finally consummated in the new earth, Israel will receive the land God promised her.|
|Circumcision and Baptism||Paedobaptism—the Abrahamic covenant continues with respect to the promises of worldwide family and inheritance in Christ. Circumcision was a sign and seal of Abraham’s faith and baptism welcomes recipients into the covenant of grace. The covenant promises are to believers and their children as the household texts in the NT indicate. The warning passages of Hebrews show that members of the visible church can turn away.||Credobaptism—the arrival of Christ and the new covenant brings changes to the structure and nature of the people of God such that all in the new covenant community receive the Spirit and forgiveness of sin, and all know God savingly unlike OT Israel. The church by nature consists of those circumcised in heart and in faith union with Christ.||Baptism is distinct from the practice of circumcision and represents Spirit baptism, evidencing a new era and new dispensation. Baptism depicts union with Christ and the new life of the Spirit indwelling believers, pointing to circumcision of the heart.||Baptism is restricted in the NT to the regenerate (believers only).||Credobaptism—the arrival of Christ and the new covenant brings changes to the structure and nature of the people of God such that all in the new covenant community receive the Spirit and forgiveness of sin, and all know God savingly unlike OT Israel. The church by nature consists of those circumcised in heart and in faith union with Christ.|
Brent E. Parker and Richard J. Lucas, “Conclusion,” in Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture, Spectrum Multiview Books (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2022), 255–256, with Collins column added to reflect my own views.
Stephen Wellum, “Progressive Covenantalism,” in Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views—Agreements and Disagreements
Stephen Wellum’s essay is perhaps the best written in the book. Wellum’s essay is well-organized and generally clear in its argumentation. On many points I have long held the positions Wellum is arguing for, on some points I have learned from him, and on other points I think he needs to make some refinements, which is to be expected in a relatively new theological system.
I agree with Wellum on a number of points.
1. I agree that the divine origin of Scripture results in “an overall unity and coherence,” and that this coherence includes an unfolding plan of God through a series of covenants (77) rather than making the individual covenants administrations of a covenant of grace (204-5).
2. I agree that since God used humans to write his Word, grammatical historical exegesis within the context of the entire canon is the proper way to read Scripture. (77).
3. I agree that “the NT’s interpretation of the OT is definitive, since later texts bring greater clarity and understanding” and I further agree that “later texts do not contravene the meaning of the earlier texts” (77-78).
4. I agree with the affirmation of progressive revelation, and I agree with the centrality of Christ in the fulfillment of that revelation (78).
5. I agree with the three horizons of interpretation that Wellum lays out: textual, epochal, and canonical (79).
6. I agree that “God’s one eternal plan is unveiled through a plurality of covenants,” that covenant theology flattens this diversity of covenants by making them administrations of the covenant of grace (81).
7. I agree that the creational covenant is foundational to God’s covenant plan, that the Noahic covenant is a commitment to God’s original intentions of creation and looks ahead to the new creation. I agree that the Abrahamic covenant is “the means by which God will fulfill his promises for humanity, especially in light of Genesis 3:15″ and that it unfolds first through Israel and then the promises are expanded to include all the redeemed and the whole world. I agree that the Mosaic covenant was “temporary in God’s plan, and thus when Christ comes, it is fulfilled as an entire covenant package, and Christians are no longer under it as a covenant (Gal 3:15–4:7).” I agree that the Davidic covenant draws together all the previous covenants and indicates that they will be fulfilled by a Davidic king. And I agree that the new covenant is new because is made with individual believers and that every member of the new covenant is regenerate (91-98).
8. I agree that Jesus as “David’s greater Son, who inaugurates God’s kingdom” is “now seated as the Davidic king” fulfilling all the covenants and “leading history to its consummation at his return.” I agree that Jesus is “the true Israel,” “Abraham’s true seed,” “the last Adam, “the promised Messiah who receives the Spirit in full measure … and who pours out the Spirit on his people.” In other words, I agree that Jesus is the one who fulfills the preceding covenants (99-100).
9. I agree that “in Christ and the church, all of God’s promises are now being fulfilled” (109). (Redeemed Israel is now part of the church.)
10. I agree that “there is only one elect people of God throughout time who are saved by grace through faith in God’s promises grounded in Christ alone,” that the church is God’s new covenant people, that the church is “God’s new temple,” that the church is “God’s new creation/humanity that remains forever, comprising believing Jews and Gentiles, who equally and fully receive all of God’s promises in Christ” (106-8).
11. I agree that covenant theology “does not sufficiently account for the relationship of Christ—the head of the new covenant—to his people,” and I agree that “now that Christ has come, one is either in the new covenant or not, and to be in the new covenant entails that one now knows God, is forgiven of his sins, and is circumcised in heart” (104-5).
12. I agree with Wellum that Horton wrongly identifies the field with the church rather than the world in his interpretation of the wheat and the tares. I further agree that with Wellum that Tom Schreiner’s approach to the warning passages in Hebrews is superior to Horton’s. Thus I agree with Wellum that the new covenant is not a mixed covenant containing regenerate and unregenerate people (209).
13. I agree with Wellum (contra Snoeberger) that the Noahic covenant is part of God’s plan of redemption (211).
14. I agree with Wellum (contra Snoeberger) that the church has been brought into the covenant promises made with Israel (211-12).
15. I agree with Wellum that it is a weakness of many dispensationalists to begin the “covenantal storyline” with the Abrahamic covenant rather than with the creation covenant (213).
I largely agree with Wellum on a number of points, but I also think these points need further refinement.
1. I agree that typology is rooted in history and text. I agree that types are intended by God and are thus a kind of prophecy. I agree that types may not be discerned without the later unfolding of revelation. I agree that types are discerned through repletion that creates a pattern. I agree that types often reach their fulfillment first in Christ and then in his people (83). But I don’t think that this is always the case. For instance, the conquest of Canaan is part of a series of day of the Lord judgments that begin in Genesis 3:8 and reoccur in history (including in AD 70, shortly after the earthly ministry of Jesus) and reached final fulfillment in the Parousia of Christ. Christ is clearly involved in that he is bringing about the judgment, but the type is more focused on the judgment that unbelievers will receive.
2. I agree that Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David all prefigure Christ. However, I don’t think it is wise to identify them as “Adams” (83-84). Adam and Christ are unique heads of humanity. As covenant head of the creation covenant, all who are in Adam fell when he fell. As covenant head of the new covenant, all who are in Christ died and rose with Christ. But Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David do not play the same role in the covenants made with them. It is for this reason that Adam is termed “the first man” and Jesus “the second man” (1 Cor. 15:47).
3. I agree that there is a son of God typology that runs from Adam through Israel to Christ and from him into the church. I agree that Jews and Gentiles in the church are (in Christ) Abraham’s seed (84). But I disagree that this means that Israel as God’s firstborn son “takes on Adam’s role” since Israel is not a federal head for all mankind.
4. I agree that Christ can be called the true Israel in the sense that he, as the Davidic king, is the representative Israelite. I further agree that in Christ, the seed of Abraham, Gentile Christians can be identified as the seed of Abraham. I disagree with the claim that Galatians 6:16 identifies the church as the Israel of God (84). This position contradicts the main thrust of Paul’s argument in Galatians, and thus cannot be correct (the Judaizers were the ones who held that Gentiles needed to become Israelites and Paul argued that Jews and Gentiles distinctly were one in Christ). Grammatically the best translation is “May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy [also] to the Israel of God!” (CSB, alt.), and contextually and intertextually, the best understanding is that “all those who follow this standard” are Jews and Gentiles in Christ and that the “Israel of God” refers to elect Jews who will come to salvation due to God’s mercy.
5. I agree that Israel has a typological function in relation to the church (84), but Wellum’s typology is too abstract in that it doesn’t properly take time into account. It is not Israel per se that is a type of the church; it is Israel under the Mosaic covenant that is the type of the church. This distinction is necessary since Jews with Gentiles are part of the one new man that makes up the church. Thus, the new covenant promise is not applied to the church because the church is now identified as “the house of Israel/Judah” (84) but because promises originally given to Israel in the covenants of promise have now been extended to Gentiles as well as Jews since Christ has formed Jew and Gentile together into one new man (Eph. 2:11-16).
6. I agree that types often move in a lesser to greater pattern and that escalation typically occurs with Christ at his first coming (84), but I’m not sure that these features are universal. For instance, Mitchell notes with regard to marriage typology, “However, the NT fulfillment of the OT nuptial theme may be more preliminary and provisional than the NT fulfillment of many other OT themes because of the eschatological shift: the OT pictures God’s people as his wedded wife, while the NT portrays the church as the betrothed bride, awaiting the future consummation” (The Song of Songs, CC, 71). Similarly, while AD 70 was a day of the Lord connected with Christ’s first coming, the real escalation of the day of the Lord typology occurs with the second coming.
7. I agree that typology often “develops through covenantal progression” (85). However, I’m not sure this is always the case. The day of the Lord comes to mind as a counter example.
8. I agree that “the new covenant is the fulfillment and telos of the biblical covenants,” and I agree, with one caveat, with the statement, “Yet now that Christ has come, Christians are no longer under the previous covenants as covenants (other than the creation and Noahic until the consummation)” (86-87). The one correction that I’d make is that we are no longer under the creation covenant. Adam broke the creation covenant. It is for this reason that several of its provisions are restated as part of the Noahic covenant, adjusted to the context of the Fall.
9. I agree that “Scripture begins with the declaration that God, as Creator and triune Lord, is the king of the universe (Gen 1–2; Ps 103:19; Dan 4:34–35; Acts 17:24–25),” that “sin is essentially rebellion against the king,” and that God’s kingdom is restored through the covenants (88). However, Wellum leaves out the important fact that the kingdom theme in Genesis 1 is rooted not only in the Lord’s role as king of the universe but also in the role humans have as vice-regents under God. Redemption involves not merely subduing the rebellion of humans against God, the King but also involves the restoration of humans to the role of obedient vice regents over all creation.
10. I agree with Wellum that a creation covenant exists in Genesis 1-2 despite the absence of the word, that Hosea 6:7 refers back to the creation covenant, that all the covenantal elements are present in Genesis 1-2, and that Romans 5:12-21 requires a creation covenant since Adam is there portrayed as a covenant head” (89-90). However, I do not think that the use of qum in Genesis 6:18; 9:9, 11, 17 “implies a pre-existing covenant.” While the language of cutting a covenant only refers to the initial establishment of a covenant, qum in connection with covenants is used in various ways, including the initial establishment of covenants. In any event the Noahic covenant cannot be the continuation of the creation covenant because the creation covenant is a works covenant and the Noahic covenant is a grace covenant. The two covenants are a different nature and thus the one cannot be the continuation of the other (see disagreement 1 below).
11. I agree that the creational covenant is foundational with subsequent covenants. I further agree that the temple and priest typology has roots in Eden (90). However, I do not think that Eden was a temple or that Adam was a priest in Eden. There is no need for a temple when God is present or a priest when access to God is unmediated.
12. Wellum objects to certain dispensationalists who claim that the spiritual blessings of the new covenant are being fulfilled already while the physical blessings remain to be fulfilled in the future is attractive on one level. Who would not want to affirm that “all new covenant realities are now here in Christ and applied to the church in principle” (104). I agree that in Christ’s resurrection we see an initial realization of the new creation and that Christians themselves are identified in Scripture as new creations. And yet, Christians are new creations in their inner man and are still awaiting the resurrection body. The renovation of the earth is something creation still groans for. I think that dispensationalists do affirm what Wellum wants affirmed: that in Christ’s resurrection and in regenerated Christians the new creation is inaugurated; I’m sure Wellum himself believes that the resurrection of the body and the renovation of creation awaits the Parousia.
13. With Wellum, I “agree that the Scripture’s central plot is ‘not the nation of Israel, but the seed of Abraham together with his spiritual family from Israel and all nations,'” and, with Wellum, I “deny that the church is a parentheses in God’s plan.” With Wellum, I “deny that the NT changes the meaning of the OT.” I further agree that “in Christ, God’s revelation is now complete; we now know what the OT was predicting” (202). However, I favor a complementary hermeneutic because I think a complementary hermeneutic best allows for the text in both testaments to be understood according to authorial intent of both the human authors and the divine Author.
14. Contrary to Wellum’s understanding, not all progressive dispensationalists believe in a restoration of the sacrificial system (and it was not clear to me from Bock’s article that he believed in it). Most or all do believe that Antichrist will set himself up in a future temple, but that does not impact the development of the temple in the storyline of Scripture. I agree with Wellum’s development of the sacrifice and temple themes in Scripture.
I disagree with Wellum on a few points:
1. Wellum distinguishes between “creation realities such as male-female that do continue forever” and “nation-states that are more tied to the fall and Babel but now reversed at Pentecost and in the church” (219).
1.a. This is a significant error on Wellum’s part that colors his whole analysis. In fact, nations are creational realities just as the male-female distinction is a creational reality. For an understanding of creation as encompassing structures such as marriage, government, nations, and more, see Wolters, Creation Regained.
1.b. Nation-states are not tied to the fall and Babel in contrast to creation realities such as male-female distinctions. Nations are part of the created order. Psalm 86:9 and Acts 17:26 identify nations as created by God. Christopher J. H. Wright observes, “The nations of humanity preoccupy the biblical narrative from beginning to end. . . . The obvious reason for this is that the Bible is, of course, preoccupied with the relationship between God and humanity, and humanity exists in nations” (The Mission of God, 454). Daniel Strange argues the structure of Genesis 10-11 supports the claim that the diversity of nations is part of the creation order: by placing the Babel event after the Table of Nations, Genesis avoids the idea that the division into nations is itself a curse and confirms that the “scattering” was not merely a judgment but an enforced fulfillment of God’s command to fill the earth (Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock, 124).
1.c. As part of the created order, nations will exist for all eternity (Rev. 21:24-26).
1.d. Nationhood is not reversed at Pentecost or done away with by the church. Rather Pentecost reveals that the church is a multiethnic body.
1.e. Since nationhood is a significant theological theme within the storyline of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, Progressive Covenantalism will remain a defective system until it incorporates this theme into its system.
2. I disagree with Wellum’s claim that covenants cannot be categorized as unconditional/unilateral or conditional/bilateral. Wellum argues that all covenants are unilateral in that God always keeps his promises and that all covenants are bilateral in that God demands obedience from his covenant partners. Thus, God provides Christ as “an obedient covenant partner” so that the promises can be fulfilled (85-86; 207).
2.a. I agree that all the covenants are initiated by God and are in that sense gracious. I further agree that all the covenants have expectations for obedience.
2.b. The terms conditional and unconditional relate not to the selection of the covenant partner or to the presence of stipulations. Rather, conditional and unconditional identify whether the fulfillment of the covenant depends upon the promises of God alone or upon the obedience to the covenant stipulations.
2.c. There are obligations in the Noahic covenant: to live out the creation blessing, to exercise capital punishment when necessary. But humans have regularly violated these obligations since the time of Noah. Nonetheless, God has not sent worldwide floods because the fulfillment of the covenant depends not on obedience to the obligations but to God’s unilateral promise.
2.d. By contrast, the nation of Israel came under the curses of the Mosaic covenant because that covenant promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Wellum has made all the covenants conditional covenants and then claims that Christ will fulfill the conditions. But this reading does not survive a close study of the covenants themselves.
2.e. Wellum points out that Genesis 15 indicates “God’s unilateral commitment to keep his own promises” but that Genesis 17:9-14; 22:16-18 present “bilateral emphasis of the covenant” (207). But Genesis 15 is the cutting of a unilateral covenant. Genesis 17 presents us with expectations which are the means for bringing the covenant to fruition, and Genesis 22 is a test of Abraham’s faith. These covenant expectations cannot change a unilateral covenant into a bilateral covenant. This is fundamental to Paul’s argument in Romans 4:9-12.
2.f. I agree with Horton against Wellum that Galatians 4:21-26 “distinguish covenants of promise (e.g., Abrahamic) from covenants of law (e.g., Sinai).” Wellum objects, “it is questionable whether Paul is using this distinction as the means to distinguish all the covenants” (208). But this objection is beside the point. Though Paul does not have all covenants in view, he does clearly communicate that the Abrahamic covenant is unilateral in nature and the Mosaic covenant bilateral.
3. I disagree that Genesis 3:15 is part of the creation covenant (90-91). The creation covenant was broken by Adam’s Fall, and Genesis 3:16-19 recounts the cursing of the blessings of the creation covenant. Genesis 3:15 is a judgment on the serpent that involves a promise of redemption. It is not itself a covenant or part of a covenant. The following covenants are the means for fulfilling this promise.
4. I agree with Wellum’s overall hermeneutical approach (see points 1-5 under agreement above). However despite his professed intention to not change the meaning of the OT, I think there are reasons that Bock and Snoeberger argue that Wellum is changing the meaning of the OT.
4.a. I’ll use the land promise as an illustration of how I think Wellum’s hermeneutic works: In Genesis 15, 17, and 22 God makes promises to Abraham’s seed. Wellum understands that seed as not being fully defined in the OT, and he understands the NT to define the seed of Abraham as Christ and the church in Christ. Thus, when Wellum reads Genesis 15, 17, and 22 he reads Abraham’s seed as referring to Christ and the church in him. Wellum does not think he is changing the meaning of the Genesis 15, 17, and 22 in doing this any more than reading the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 as Christ changes the meaning of that OT text.
4.b. But the seed of Abraham is not undefined in the way that the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 was. Genesis 22, for instance, distinguishes between the physical seed of Abraham (plural), the seed of Abraham (singular), and the Gentiles (whom Paul will later identify with the seed of Abraham in Christ). All three seeds of Abraham sit adjacent to one another in passages like Genesis 22, and it does change the meaning of the OT texts in a way that the NT does not require to read the seed of Abraham language in the OT as referring only to Christ and the church.
4.c. Thus, despite his intent to the contrary, Wellum does at times change the meaning of OT passages.
5. I disagree with the claim that the church is “the true, eschatological Israel who receives all of the promises, including the inheritance of the land fulfilled in the new creation (103).
5.a. I affirm that the church is the antitype (through Christ) of Old Testament Israel. I deny that this means that the church is eschatological Israel because the NT continues to speak of redeemed ethnic Israel as a part of the church in both Ephesians 2 and Romans 11.
5.b. I affirm that all the covenant promises made to Israel in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are expanded to encompass the entire church. (I agree with Wellum that the Mosaic covenant was a temporary covenant that is no longer in force; in addition, Ephesians 2 specifies the covenants of promise as the ones that the church is brought into.) I deny that the expansion of the covenant promises to the entire church means that specific promises to redeemed ethnic Israel are not fulfilled in the specificity with which they were given (e.g., land promises with specific boundaries).
5.c. Wellum objects that granting Israel the specific land promised to it gives Israel promises “distinct” from Gentiles in the church. This objection misunderstands the nature of land promises; it abstracts the land promises so that they only speak of the entire new creation. But in the nature of the case the land Israel receives will be distinct from the land other ethnic groups receive just as the land that Michael, Stephen, Darrell, and Mark receive in the new creation will be distinct from one another. A certain kind of distinctness is necessary if the land promise is not to become a mere abstraction. On the other hand, what Israel receives is not distinct from what Gentiles in the new creation receive: land in the new creation.
5.d. While I agree with the concern to uphold the unity of the people of God, I’m not sure that “nations receiving slightly different … privileges” is necessarily a problem since I think it is possible that individuals will receive slightly different privileges in eternity (e.g., the parable of the servant who received ten cities). At the very least it seems difficult to avoid the fact that Christ is an Israelite and that he rules over the world as a Davidic king. I wouldn’t want to minimize Jesus’s ethnicity any more than I would want to minimize his humanity.
6. I disagree with Wellum’s reading of Acts 1:6, in which he says that the kingdom is being restored to Israel (understood as the church) through the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. Wellum is here concerned that all the promises of God be expanded to include Jew and Gentile in the church (108). But Wellum is here reading the promises too narrowly. Jew and Gentile in the church alike receive the land promise. But only Israel can receive the land promise as a restoration. A restoration of the kingdom does not make sense for Gentiles since in the OT era they were strangers to God’s kingdom. The better way to understand the disciples’ question is to recognize that the OT connected the giving of the Spirit with restoration to the land and the reestablishment of the Davidic monarch (cf. Eze 36-37). So their question is based in the text of the OT. Jesus’s answer does not give the timing but instead points out what must happen before the kingdom is restored to Israel. Romans 11:25 (“I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”).
7. I disagree with the idea that the restoration of Israel to the land is only a dispensational idea (110). This view was held by many Puritans, by Jonathan Edwards, and by David Brown of “Jamieson, Fausset & Brown” fame. I fear that the eschatological restoration of Israel to the land is often rejected today in reaction to dispensationalism without the realization that this has been a historic position on non-dispensationalists as well.
Michael Horton, “Covenant Theology” in Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views—Agreements and Disagreements
I have read all of Michael Horton’s significant writings on covenant theology, and, other than 1689 Reformed Baptist covenant theology, Horton’s version of covenant theology is my preferred version. That said, this essay was not Horton’s best contribution. It was too tradition-focused and more attuned to intra-covenant theology debates when this book called for more Scripture-based argumentation designed to persuade those holding alternative positions. Further, the structure of the essay led to some repetition. A more persuasive essay would have sought to make a clear exegetical case for the three covenants of covenant theology.
I agree with Horton on a number of points.
1. I agree with his claim of a pretemporal covenant of redemption that is worked out in the historical, biblical covenants (41, 52).
2. I agree that the biblical covenants can be classified as law covenants and promise or grace covenants (40). I further agree that that this distinction is not denying that all the post-Fall covenants are established by God’s grace (44). I further agree that both law and grace covenants are contributing to God’s gracious plan of redemption (52). I would add that this distinction is also not denying the existence of promises in law or works covenants or the existence of commands in promise covenants (57). Finally, I agree that the difference between a law/works covenant and a promise covenant whether the “basis” for the realization of the covenant’s blessings is unilateral on God’s part or requires obedience on the human participant’s part (57).
3. I agree that the creation covenant is a covenant of works (43, 46).
4. I agree that the Sinai covenant is a works covenant, but I think its promises pertain not only to temporal blessings (Horton’s view) but also to eternal life (53-54, 68).
5. I agree that the Abrahamic covenant is a promise covenant and that God has unilaterally promised to uphold its provisions (55). The requirements of the Abrahamic covenant will be fulfilled as the fruit of faith and not as conditions for the promises being fulfilled (57).
6. I agree that the new covenant is a grace covenant distinct in type from the Sinai covenant, which is a law covenant (58).
7. I agree with his critique of the traditional dispensational tendency to operate with such a rigid hermeneutic that they engage in question-begging exegesis of the NT, I agree with his critique of the traditional dispensationalist interpretation of Acts 15, and I agree with his critique that the resort to analogy and implication fails to interpret the NT use of the OT accurately (184, 185). (One might say that traditionalist dispensationalists fail to interpret the NT literally.) On the other hand, Horton does not seem to appreciate that Amos 9 also has elements that were not fulfilled in the first century.
8. I agree, against those traditional dispensationalists who deny the church membership in the new covenant, that Ephesians 2 teaches that the Gentiles now partake of the covenants of promise since Christ created one new man through his blood (188).
9. I agree, against Bock, that there is a covenant of creation. Horton rightly points out that Bock misunderstands what elements need to be present for there to be a covenant (189).
10. I agree, against Wellum, that the creation covenant is a works covenant. Horton is correct to note that “the question is not whether covenants contain both promises and obligations” but whether the covenant is a “do this and live kind of covenant” or a covenant in which God unilaterally promises certain benefits. I further agree with Horton that the protoevangelium and the Noahic covenant are not continuations of the creation covenant (196-97).
11. I agree with Horton, against Wellum, that there are only two Adams: Adam and Christ (197).
I also disagree with Horton on a number of points:
1. I disagree that the post-fall biblical covenants are administrations of an over-arching covenant of grace. The fact that Sinai was made post-Fall, serves to advance God’s plan of redemption, and contains promises of a new covenant and coming redemption (45) does not make it a covenant of grace. A covenant may be graciously given, as the Sinai covenant was, but if its principle is “do this and live,” it is not a covenant of grace even though it furthers the plan of redemption. The designations works covenant or grace covenant refer to whether or not the fulfillment of the promises rest entirely on God’s oath or whether they rest on human performance. In Sinai, they rest on human performance—even as the Sinai covenant points Israel ahead to the new covenant as their only hope for salvation both through the imagery of the sacrificial system and through the explicit teaching of Deuteronomy 30.
2. I disagree that the land promises were fulfilled with the conquest of Canaan (60, 190-91). This is to not read carefully the promises themselves as stated in Genesis, the book of Joshua’s acknowledgment of more land to be conquered, the prophets’ predictions of restoration to the land on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant, and Jesus’s statement that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob need to be resurrected so they can experience the promised covenant blessings.
3. I disagree that that the Abrahamic covenant is still in force and that circumcision, transposed to baptism, is thus required of all covenant children (61).
4. I disagree that the new covenant is a mixed covenant, including those who are internally part of the covenant and those who are externally part of the covenant (64). This is the very point of contrast between the old and new covenants that Jeremiah identifies as distinguishing them. I further disagree that the church ought to include both wheat and tares until the eschaton (65). The field is the world, not the church. I further disagree that the warning passages in Hebrews demonstrate a mixed covenant (198-99). Hebrews 6 is certainly speaking of professing Christians who denied the faith. But this does not demonstrate that the apostates were members of the covenant of grace. Saying so proves too much. If Horton’s view is correct, a covenant child who rejected the faith could never be restored to repentance again.
5. Horton sometimes speaks as though an inaugurated fulfillment in the first century is the complete fulfillment of prophecies. Horton also seems to think that the establishment of an earthly kingdom requires the revival of the Sinai covenant (68-69). But this is not the case. The prophecies of new covenant include the earthly, political reign of the Messiah and the return of Israel to the land.
6. Horton seems to think that sacrifices, temple, and the national of Israel are all types that have been fulfilled in Christ (69). Horton is confusing two distinct things here. The temple and the sacrifices (as Hebrews plainly indicates) are types that are superseded by Christ. But Israel is not a type as such. Israel in the time of the Old Covenant is a type of the church just as David, as king, was a type of Christ. But David will be resurrected and will live in eternity, and Israel will be resurrected (Eze. 37) and be restored as a nation in all eternity.
7. I disagree that Charles Hill demonstrated amillennialism to be the dominant eschatological position in the early church (189). (See further here.)
Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom—1. Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology in Covenant Theology
This book is designed to be an accessible introduction the covenant theology that stands in the heritage of seventeenth-century Baptist covenant theologians. Renihan introduces the book by laying four foundations for Baptist covenant theology. First, he claims that covenant theology covers all of Scripture and yet must avoid “facile reductions or generalizations” (13). Instead, it “must be built on supporting premises, and the supporting premises must be studied as completely and thoroughly as possible” (13).
Second, Renihan distinguishes between creation and covenant and between natural law and positive law. God is not naturally obligated to give man any reward for obedience. That arrangement is not natural but covenantal. Likewise, covenants go beyond natural law, which is “the universal moral law of God” (15) and introduces positive law, “indifferent things prescribed or proscribed for a particular period, place, and people” (15). Thus, an interpreter cannot infer from the presence of a particular feature in one covenant that such features must be present in all covenants. Different covenants can have different positive laws.
Third, Renihan distinguishes between two ways of thinking about law and gospel. Law and gospel can be thought of as “two opposite paths of righteousness” (20). They can also be thought of as “two historical time periods, the Old and New Testaments” (20). It is important to note that law and gospel in the first sense are present in both these periods. This accounts for covenant continuity. But the historical sense should prevent covenant theologians from identifying “the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants with the new covenant, or covenant of grace” (22).
Fourth, the Pauline concept of mystery indicates that there was partial revelation that awaited fuller explication in the New Testament. Thus, “a covenant theology’s treatment of the Old Testament must preserve the presence of Christ as a mystery. And one’s covenantal system must not so flatten out the progress of redemptive history that it effectively, even if unintentionally, unveils the mystery before its actual unveiling” (24).
Belcher, Fulfillment of the Promises of God—8. The New Covenant
Belcher turns to the new covenant in chapter 8. His treatment focuses almost exclusively on Jeremiah 31, though he notes that Ezekiel 36-37 is also a key passage. Belcher does an excellent job setting Jeremiah 31:31-34 within the context of Jeremiah 30-33. Interestingly, he observes that the land promise is a major theme throughout this section. He argues that this theme is fulfilled as the gospel goes out into all the world and will be fulfilled when Christ’s people inherit the earth.
Belcher identifies four new covenant promises:
(1) ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts’
(2) ‘I will be their God and they shall be my people’
(3) ‘they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest’
(4) ‘I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more’ (132).
Belcher notes that the Mosaic covenant had the same goals. However, it could not achieve them because the transformation of heart was not a provision of the Mosaic covenant since the Mosaic covenant was shadowy and Christ had not yet come.
Belcher also qualifies the current fulfillment of the new covenant promises, noting that they are at present “provisional.” He argues that the promised inner transformation is still incomplete. Furthermore, not everyone in the covenant now knows the Lord, as promised on the new covenant. Belcher acknowledges that this is a point of debate with Baptists, who hold that only those who know the Lord are part of the new covenant. Belcher demurs, claiming that the threat on Romans 11 that Gentile branches may be removed from the tree, the reality of apostasy (1 John 5:19), the warnings found in Hebrews, and the fact of church discipline all testify that some people who were externally part of the new covenant were not internally members of it.
In general, this is a helpful chapter. Belcher is correct about the need for the new covenant to replace the old. He is correct that the land promise is a major theme in the new covenant passages. I don’t think, however, that the spread of the gospel around the world is a fulfillment of those passages. More significantly, the Baptists are correct that everyone in the new covenant knows the Lord. This is a point of distinction that makes the new covenant better than the old covenant. To assert that this feature is absent at present is, in effect, to deny the inauguration of the new covenant. It is true that the NT warns against apostasy and that church discipline is a necessity in the present age, but this does not falsify the reality that all in the new covenant know the Lord. It simply indicates that fallible humans cannot see the heart. In fact, church discipline testifies to the importance of regenerate church membership. That is, a membership that attempts to restrict church membership to those who are part of the new covenant.
Belcher, Fulfillment of the Promises of God – 7. The Davidic Covenant / Belcher, “The Davidic Covenant,” in Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives
Chapter 7, and the first part of chapter 8 of Belcher’s The Fulfillment of the Promises of God and chapter 8 of Covenant Theology are identical treatments of the Davidic covenant.
Belcher begins with an exegesis of 2 Samuel 7, noting that even though the term for covenant does not occur in 2 Samuel 7, covenant language is used of the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 23:5; Pss. 89:3, 28; 132:12. Belcher traces the context for the covenant from David’s proposition to build a temple for Yhwh to Yhwh’s covenant promise to build a house for David. He observes that the blessings outlined in 7:9-11 are blessings that David already enjoys to some extent, but the Davidic covenant will guarantee them for future generations.
Belcher sees that Davidic covenant as the culmination of previous covenants, and he documents the many links between them. For instance, he thinks that the use of Adonai Yhwh, unique in Samuel to these verses, is an allusion to Genesis 15:2, 8 and thus to the Abrahamic covenant. He follows Walter Kaiser’s interpretation of 7:19, “This is the Charter for mankind, O Lord God,” which picks up on the universal blessing aspect of the Abrahamic covenant. Belcher traces the idea of kingship back through the Abrahamic and Mosaic to Genesis 1:26-28. He also argues that specific covenant promises from the previous covenants find their fulfillment through the Davidic covenant. For instance, the promise of numerous seed is fulfilled in Solomon’s reign (Gen. 13:16; 15:5; 2 Sam. 7:0-10; 1 Kings 4:20) as is the promise of blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:3; 1 Kings 4:34). Solomon’s reign also saw rest in the land (Dt. 28:1-14; 1 Kings 4:25) and Israel’s witness to the nations (Dt. 28:10; 1 Kings 4:30). The promise of God’s dwelling with his people is furthered by the construction of the temple (1 Kings 8:54-61).
Belcher argues that the Davidic covenant also highlighted the role of the king as covenant mediator for the people and the significance of Zion as the location from which God will reign over the nations.
Finally, Belcher, looking at the specific wording of the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7, the outworking of the covenant in redemptive history, and the commentary upon the Davidic covenant in Psalms 89 and 132, argues that the covenant is conditional with respect to “each individual king” but that “the promises of an enduring dynasty and kingdom” are unconditional because they are not “ultimately dependent on the obedience of individual kings” (176-77).
Review of J. Nicholas Reid, “The Mosaic Covenant,” in Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives
J. Nicholas Reid contributed the chapter on the Mosaic covenant. He observes that there are two main positions with regard to the Mosaic covenant. The dichotomist position holds that there are two covenants: a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. A trichotomist position holds that there are three categories: a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, and the Mosaic covenant which is subservient to the covenant of grace. Reid holds the dichotomist position, but he does describe other positions fairly in the course of the chapter.
According to the dichotomist position, all of the post-Fall covenants are in substance part of the covenant of grace but as to their accidents differently administered. He holds the substance of the covenant to be “forgiveness of sins and salvation” through Jesus (152).
Reid claims that the Mosaic covenant was unilateral in that God unilaterally established it and fulfills its promises of atonement (promises signified in the sacrificial system). But it is bilateral in the expectations for obedience to the law laid down. Further, though an administration of the covenant of grace, it is an “inferior administration” in that it is “Jewish” (rather than universal), “shadowy,” “temporary,” “condemning,” “weak,” and “preparatory” (154-55).
Reid also claims that the law which was part of the covenant of works was included in the Mosaic covenant as “a perfect rule of righteousness” (WCF 19.2). While granting that the Old Testament does not make the ceremonial, judicial, moral law distinction, Reid holds that this distinction emerges by observing how the New Testament writers handle the law.
Reid then discusses the threefold use of the moral law: to restrain sin, reveal sin, and serve as a rule for life. He looks to these distinctions to distinguish how the law functions with relation to justification and sanctification. This the Christian is set free from the law with regard to its function of condemnation but still under the law as a rule of life. Legalism happens when people attempt to keep the law apart from Christ and the Spirit. This is why love for God and others is so important to the law.
Reid grants that the exile shows there is some conditionality to the Mosaic covenant. However, he argues that the exile did not occur because Israel failed to perfectly obey the law. Though the law required perfect obedience, as an administration of the covenant of grace of also provided sacrifices and covenant mediators to deal with the sin problem. Rather, Israel went into exile because of idolatry, a failure to love God. Finally, Reid argues that God’s wrath under the Mosaic covenant is only temporary.
In the final section of the chapter Reid deals with Meredith Kline’s republication thesis. While acknowledging that there are different interpretations of Klinean republication, and that Kline’s view may have developed over time, Reid holds that in the end Kline taught that the Mosaic covenant was part of the covenant of grace rather than teaching substantial republication. Kline holds that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works only on the typological level and that the merit required was also only typological. Furthermore, typological obedience was imperfect, though it pointed forward to Christ’s perfect obedience. Reid notes that Leviticus 18:5 is the key verse for republication since it articulates the works principle. Some argue that Leviticus 18:5 and its use in the NT demonstrates that there was a works principle within the Mosaic covenant, even though the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace and even though the works principle was not tied to eternal salvation. In favor of this view, in addition to its use in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, is Jeremiah 31:33 which says the Mosaic covenant had been broken. Others argue that in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 Paul is responding to false teachers who are misusing Leviticus 18:5. A key verse for this interpretation is Romans 9:32, which indicates that by not pursuing the law by faith but by works, the Jews stumbled. Proponents of this view argue that Leviticus 18:3-4 indicate that this command is given to those who are already God’s people, meaning that the law as a guide to righteous living is in view.
Reid offers a fair summary of the various covenantal views regarding the Mosaic covenant.
Belcher, Fulfillment of the Promises of God – 5. The Abrahamic Covenant
Belcher acknowledges, “The Mosaic covenant is the most difficult covenant to understand” due to its multifaceted nature (75). He begins by noting that the Mosaic covenant is a means of fulfilling the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. Exodus explicitly states that God delivered Israel in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
Belcher then turns to Exodus 19 and 24. His comments are disappointingly general and do not engage the question of whether or not these passages indicate the Mosaic covenant is a conditional covenant or not.
Belcher then turns to Deuteronomy, which he argues is a renewal of the Sinai covenant. He argues that when Deuteronomy 5:2-3 said that God did not make the Sinai covenant with their fathers but with them, it means that God did not make the Sinai covenant with the patriarchs and that the second generation stands in solidarity with the first generation. In favor of this reading is that “fathers” in Deuteronomy universally refers to the patriarchs.
In the latter part of the chapter Belcher argues for the Mosaic covenant’s inclusion within the covenant of grace, while also recognizing its distinctiveness. First, he argues that the Mosaic covenant furthered the fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. He thinks this points to both being part of a single covenant of grace. Second, he claims that the phrase “my covenant” applied to the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic covenants (Gen 6:18; 17:2; Ex 19:5) indicates that these covenants are part of an overarching covenant.
Belcher rejects the claim that the Mosaic covenant is a republication of the covenant of works. First, he holds that the necessity of perfect obedience to the law is universal. Since the law is prominent in the Mosaic covenant the Jews rightly understood it to require perfect obedience to the law to avoid condemnation, and everyone ought to keep the law. Belcher says that this was always true of Jew and Gentile and is not unique to the Mosaic covenant. Second, republication is an incorrect interpretation because Israel entered the covenant already fallen. Third, Belcher claims that both the second and third uses of the law are at work, and it depends on the state of the person as to which is foremost. In this Belcher wishes to distinguish the Mosaic covenant and the law that is contained within the covenant. He did not wish to define the covenant as a law covenant. Finally, Belcher argues that the physical blessings and curses of the Mosaic covenant are typological. They do not pertain to salvation.
Belcher’s overall argument for the inclusion of the Mosaic covenant within the covenant of grace suffers from a failure to examine whether or not the Mosaic covenant is a conditional covenant or not. This is the fundamental issue. I would argue that Exodus 19 as well as several NT references back to the Mosaic covenant make it clear that the Mosaic covenant is a conditional, and thus a works, covenant.
Belcher’s arguments do not overturn this. The Mosaic covenant can further God’s covenant plan without being part of a covenant of grace. The phrase “my covenant” by no means clearly refers to a covenant of grace. It is not right to abstract the law from the covenant; the law defines the Mosaic covenant. Israel’s entrance into the covenant already fallen meant that it could never attain the covenant conditions and would therefore come under the covenant curses, which God states explicitly in Deuteronomy 28-30. However, Christ was born under this covenant and did fulfill its conditions. While there is typology at work in the Mosaic covenant, it is not correct to draw a sharp line between the physical blessings and curses and salvation.
Review of John Scott Redd, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” in Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives
John Scott Redd surveys Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22 in his treatment of the Abrahamic covenant.
Redd is aware that some argue for multiple Abrahamic covenants, usually seeing one in chapter 15 and another in chapter 17. Redd argues for a singular Abrahamic covenant, noting, “The Noahic covenant is singular and complete even though it is administered at different points and with different emphases before and after the flood” (134). He also claims, “the Mosaic covenant is delivered at Sinai (Ex. 19–24) and again renewed and updated on the plains of Moab (Deuteronomy).” Redd is correct to argue for a single Abrahamic covenant, but it is better to see the Noahic covenant as announced in Genesis 6 but cut on Genesis 8-9.
Redd also argues that every covenant is ordained by God and received in faith which then leads to faithfulness to the requirements of the covenant. With this in mind, he states, “The interplay between divine ordination and initiation in redemptive covenants is on display in the Abrahamic covenant, which itself is anticipated, inaugurated, amended, and confirmed over the course of the narrative of Genesis 12:1–25:11” (135).
Genesis 12 is the anticipation, Genesis 15 is the inauguration on the basis of faith, Genesis 17 is the amending to make clear that faithfulness is required, and Genesis 22 is the confirmation. Redd rightly notes that in Genesis 15 God “unilaterally” makes and guarantees the covenant. However, he says that Genesis 17 “includes helpful corrective to the previous emphasis on God’s unilateral participation in the covenant” (135). This is unhelpful wording. The unilateral nature of the covenant, clearly established in chapter 15, does not need to be corrected. Nor, in light of Galatians 3:15, is the language of covenant amendment ideal. Better is the statement, “In Genesis 17, the Lord revisits Abram and clarifies the terms of the covenant into which they have both entered. Lest the foregrounded unconditionality of the covenant ceremony in chapter 15 be misconstrued as a universalistic arrangement in which Abram has no responsibility, the divine instruction of chapter 17 outlines the expectations of the covenant for Abram” (141).
Redd explicitly rejects Kline and sides with John Murray in denying the claim that some covenants are conditional and others unconditional. In doing so, Redd wrongly concludes that all covenants have both unconditional and conditional elements.
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