Did God Make a Primordial Covenant with Adam?

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Dr. Bob Gonzales, Jul 15, 2010.

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  1. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Before Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, the world was unmarred by evil and was “very good” (Gen. 1:31; 2:25). In this important respect, the present world differs radically from the original state of affairs. In other ways, however, the pre- and post-fall worlds share much in common. One point of alleged continuity is the idea that God always interacts with humanity in terms of covenant. Indeed, as George Mendenhall notes, “The names given the two parts of the Bible in Christian tradition rest on the religious conception that the relationship between God and man is established by a covenant.”[1]

    This conception led biblical scholars, as early as Augustine, to speak of God’s relationship to Adam as a covenant.[2] But the implications of this idea were not explored until the Protestant Reformation. From that point, theologians have commonly described God’s original relationship to mankind variously as a “covenant of works,”[3] “covenant of nature,”[4] “covenant of life,”[5] “covenant of friendship,”[6] “covenant with Adam,”[7] “covenant of creation,”[8] “covenant in Eden,”[9] and “everlasting covenant.”[10]

    Some Bible scholars have challenged the depiction of un-fallen man’s relationship to God as covenantal. John Murray, for example, notes that the pre-fall arrangement between God and Adam is never designated a covenant in Scripture. He concludes, “Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design.”[11] Anthony Hoekema concurs and notes, “The word covenant in Scripture is always used in a context of redemption.”[12] More recently, John Stek has argued that
    Biblical covenants were “ad hoc emergency measures” that functioned to guarantee in situations fraught with uncertainties that certain specified actions would be carried out. These uncertainties arose not from the unreliability of God but from the fallibility of humans: their faltering faith, their wayward hearts and lives, the divine judgments their sins evoked, and the hostility of persons and powers arrayed against God’s kingdom.[13]
    Since there were no “situations fraught with uncertainties” before the fall, then God’s relationship with Adam should not be viewed in terms of covenant.[14] Paul Williamson, who identifies oath-taking and promise-threat sanctions as essential elements of a biblical covenant, advances a similar objection.[15] Since the creation account(s) contains no explicit reference to solemn oath-taking, it is inappropriate to view the divine-human arrangement as a covenant.[16]

    One might respond to these objections, first of all, by pointing out that a theological concept may be present though the technical terminology for that concept is absent. As Walther Eichrodt appropriately remarks, “The crucial point is not—as an all too naïve criticism seems to think—the occurrence or absence of the Hebrew word.”[17] One might also question the assumption that covenant-making is a solely redemptive institution, since the institution of marriage, which Scripture elsewhere describes as covenantal (Mal. 2:8), predates the fall.[18] Even if one grants that the swearing of oaths assumes a post-fall context of “uncertain*ties,”[19] one might argue that such formal oath-taking in-and-of itself is not the essence of a covenant relationship.[20] Or, if one grants that oath-taking is a sine qua non of covenant making, he may yet assume such formal oaths were taken though not explicitly mentioned in the text.[21] But in the end, such responses are insufficient without an appeal to positive Biblical warrant.

    Is there exegetical evidence for viewing man’s fall into sin within the context of a covenant?

    [1] George E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (Pittsburgh: The Biblical Colloquium, 1955), 24. F. F. Bruce traces the earliest known references to the two parts of the Bible as “Old Covenant” and “New Cove*nant” to the end of the 2nd century a.d. The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 21-22. The nomenclature with which English-speaking people are more familiar, namely, the Old and New “Testaments,” is derived from the Latin testamentum, which was sometimes used to translate the Hebrew and Greek words for covenant.

    [2] Book XVI, section 27, in The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: The Modern Library, 1950).

    [3] See The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647-1648), 7.2; Johannus Coc*ceius (1603-1669), Summa Theologica, XXII, 1, cited in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources, ed. Ernst Bizer, trans. G. T. Thomson (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1950), 281; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), 2:117-129; Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology (1871; reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 292-305; James Henley Thornwell, “The Covenant of Works,” in The Collected Writ*ings of James Henley Thornwell (1875; reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 264-299; William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888), 2:148-167; Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1941), 211-218; Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), 23; J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), 91-93; 128, 215, 219; Morton H. Smith, Systematic Theology (Greenville, S.C.: Greenville Semi*nary Press, 1994), 1:275-290; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 516-518; Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 430-440; Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers,2006), 107-117; Marguerite Shuster, The Fall and Sin: What We Have Become As Sinners (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 6-29.

    [4] Francis Turretin (1623-1687) seems to have preferred this designation, though he also refers to it as a “legal,” or a covenant “of works.” Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1992), 1:575; see also Cocceius, Summa doctrinae de Foedere et Testamento Dei, II, 22, cited by Heppe, 284.

    [5] The Westminster Larger Catechism (1647), Q 20; Morton Smith, 1:277.

    [6] John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (London: though*mas Tegg, 1839), 446.

    [7] Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Pub*lishing, 1966), 214-226.

    [8] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyte*rian & Reformed, 1980), 67-87; Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 14-137; Michael D. Williams, Far As the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phil*lipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005), 41-62.

    [9] Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 111-134.

    [10] Gordon Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dog*matics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 259-265. For other suggestions and a survey of the various nomenclatures used to describe this original covenant, see Rowland S. Ward, God & Adam: Reformed Theology & the Creation Covenant (Wantirna, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 2003), 25, 95-103.

    [11] “The Adamic Administration,” in The Collected Works of John Murray (Edin*burgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 2:49.

    [12] Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), 121.

    [13] “Covenant Overload In Reformed Theology,” Calvin Theological Journal 29 (1994), 39. For a rebuttal to Stek, see Craig G. Bartholomew, “Covenant and Crea*tion: Covenant Overload or Covenantal Deconstruction,” Calvin Theological Journal 30 (1995), 11-33.

    [14] Roger Beckwith regards the attempt to carry the idea of covenant back to creation as “too speculative.” “The Unity and Diversity of God’s Covenants,” Tyndale Bulletin 38 (1987), 99, n. 23.

    [15] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Pur*pose, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. Donald A. Carson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 39.

    [16] For Williamson’s full argument, see pp. 52-58. John Murray argues simi*larly and prefers the term “administration” to covenant. “Adamic Administration,” 2:47-59.

    [17] Theology of the Old Testament, trans. J. A. Baker (Philadelphia: The West*minster Press, 1961), 1:17-18.

    [18] Gordon P. Hugenberger marshals evidence that the first human marriage de*scribed in Genesis 2:23-24 should be understood as covenantal. Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi (Leiden: Brill; repub*lished Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 216-279.

    [19] This might be a reasonable assumption drawn from Heb. 6:17-18, but it may not be a necessary conclusion. Would not marriage prior to the fall have assumed some sort of formalization analogous to the exchanging of vows?

    [20] True, the OT sometimes uses the term for “oath” [hl'a'] synonymously for “covenant” (Gen. 26:28; Deut. 29:13 [Heb. 14]; Ezek. 16:59; 17:18). But the term for “law” [hr'AT] is also used in parallel with covenant (Ps. 78:10; Isa. 24:5; Hos. 8:1). These may be cases of synecdoche, the part for the whole.

    [21] Meredith Kline attempts to identify the Spirit of God hovering over the deep (Gen. 1:2) as a symbolic oath-taking on the part of God with respect to his crea*tion. Kingdom Prologue, 30-33. Whether this is so, there is no explicit reference to Adam making a solemn oath in response to God’s mandate. But Moses’ creation nar*rative is highly selective and concise. It is conceivable that he did not feel the need to highlight this particular element but expected his Israelite reader to assume its presence. Even Williamson concedes that “where this latter element [oath-taking] is not expressly mentioned, a close reading of the material leads one to the conclusion that such an oath was always implicit in so far as a bürîT is concerned.” Sealed by an Oath, 43.
  2. CovenantalBaptist

    CovenantalBaptist Puritan Board Freshman

    Bob, you may be aware of Warfield's Shorter Writings where I believe he definitively exegetically shows that "covenant" (contra the KJV translation) is the proper translation of Hosea 6:7 which to me adds to the circumstantial evidence for the Covenant of Works that our confession of faith teaches. I hold to this view, but, I do not have the time currently to debate it. Also, since I left Greenville, I do not have access to Warfield's Shorter Writings (but it's in the GPTS library if you don't have it yourself).

  3. nicnap

    nicnap Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I think you mean Adam...not covenant. The KJV renders it as covenant...they simply say like men instead of Adam. It is masculine singular, so I think Adam is correct. Although there are some whose Hebrew is far better than mine. Perhaps they'll weigh in.
  4. CovenantalBaptist

    CovenantalBaptist Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Nick, this is why I need to post less often, I did so in haste. Thanks for the correction, brother.
  5. nicnap

    nicnap Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Neh...I do things like that all the time, and usually over bigger matters. I just wanted to post the correction in case someone else was reading. Blessings, bro.
  6. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    If you take Robert Candlish's explanation of Exodus 6:3, which I think is quite convincing, then the change in the name used for God from Genesis 2:4 becomes rather forceful evidence that a covenant is in fact in view. But surely the main line of evidence is simply the parallel established between Adam and Christ. Since there is an analogous relationship that they bear to their posterity, and since that relationship is covenantal in the case of Christ, the conclusion that it is covenantal in the case of Adam draws itself.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2010
  7. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    It doesn't really matter what you call it, as long as you don't confuse it with the Covenant of Grace, and as long as you parallel it with the work of the Last Adam in fulfilling the "Covenant of Works" where Adam failed. Although the question of - not so much questioning ? - what it should be called can lead to the confusion.

    Adam had to merit salvation for himself and his posterity by continuing in original righteousness for a probationary period i.e. He and Eve and his offspring would be confirmed in righteousness and, at some point, after fulfilling their Cultural/Creation tasks, inherit the Heavenly Eschatalogical Kingdom.

    In reality this meant that Adam had to do precisely nothing to be confirmed in righteousness because all he had to do was avoid eating from the Tree.

    But this just shows God's bountiful goodness - I prefer not to use the word "grace" to avoid confusion - to Adam in the arrangement. There are other elements of bountiful goodness in God's treatment of Adam e.g. giving him Eden and a wife, but because of Who God Is, He would always have treated the unfallen Adam, having freely and willingly and wisely brought him into existence, with a certain degree of justice, God being a just God. God wouldn't treat the unfallen Adam unjustly, because He is a just God, but He didn't need to treat him as well as He did in order to be just to him.

    I don't know what the specific arguments against cavils against Original Sin are, but one may be that in the "Covenant of Works" God was giving Adam an opportunity to do far better for himself and his offspring than he needed or deserved. It meant that he could be confirmed in righteousness, (eventually) have access to the Heavenly Eschatalogical Kingdom, and do the same for his offspring in a short period of time; presumably before Eve conceived (?)

    It would mean that Adam's offspring wouldn't have to undergo probation individually.

    And although the greatest issues hinged on Adam's behaviour because of this arrangement, it wasn't some kind of "throw of the dice".

    There are no "throws of the dice" in God's Universe anyway, but from a human point of view it was quite straightforward. God didn't give Adam some big or difficult or strenuous moral task to do in order to confirm his righteousness. All he had to do was to avoid eating from one notable Tree among thousands of other luscious trees.

    Maybe we could explore some of these issues about Original Sin on another thread. Sometimes when faith seeks understanding about e.g. Original Sin some (Reformed) Christians only think that you are questioning it.

    You can take oaths without words e.g. when we take bread and wine at the Lord's Table. All that passed in converstion between Adam and God in words of love is not recorded anyway. That love turned to hate in eating of the Tree as the essence of sin is hatred towards God.
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