How many covenants in traditional Covenant Theology: 6, 2 or 1?

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thistle93

Puritan Board Freshman
Does traditional Covenant Theology believe in
1) 6 covenants (Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses & David & New)
2) 2 covenants (covenant of works with Adam and covenant of grace with Abraham, Noah, Moses & David & New)
3) 1 overarching continual covenant (made up from the 6 covenants)

???
I know a complex subject. Any resources that help explain the answer in a simple manner?

Thank you!

For His Glory-
Matthew
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
I'd say that there is one covenant of grace, as displayed historically among the several administrations thereof.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
There are theological covenants and historical covenants. The theological covenants are the covenants of works and grace (or also covenant of redemption if you want to dichotomize the covenant of grace and the covenant of redemption).
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
2) 2 covenants (covenant of works with Adam and covenant of grace with Abraham, Noah, Moses & David & New)

I'll just add that Adam belongs in the Covenant of Grace category in addition to the Covenant of Works category.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
I would agree with Ruben. There are two theological covenants; The C of W's and the C of G. The historical covenants are an outworking or an administration of the C of G.
 

Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
I would add that both the Covenant of grace, and the covenant of works, are temporal covenants, the foundation for which is the "pre-temporal" Covenant of Redemption. WCF 7.2,3 speak of a "first" and a "second" covenant administered in history. That second covenant, the covenant of grace (7.3) is administered over the whole of redemptive history, as has been intimated above, by "promises, prophesies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb" etc. (WCF 7.5). So the promises and covenants made in the days of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and finally in the fulness of time, Christ, the surety and Testator, are administrations of the Covenant of Grace.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
The historical, reformed position is two -- covenant of works and covenant of grace. It is accurate to refer to the ongoing revelation that occurs as each historical covenant was made, reaching a fullness in Christ.

In the last 100 years or so, you can see a loss of understanding regarding the provisional nature of the covenant of works -- rather than seeing the possibility of man moving through the provisions of the CoW and moving on to a more blessed estate, many have presumed that the status quo in Adam would have been ongoing if he had withstood the temptation to the fall.

I've also seen some reformed folks I respect considerably arguing against a separate CoW saying the Genesis text does not support the position and also claiming that their position has an historical context from, among others, Calvin. I don't understand this position well enough to argue for or against it, but figure it's safe to stay with the confessional language.

Pastor Ruddell, doesn't the Covenant of Redemption language assume a prehistoric covenant made between the members of the trinity? While intriguing, I've always wondered how the position could be asserted without scriptural basis. I guess I was influenced greatly by O Palmer Robertson while developing my understanding of covenants.
 

Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
It is true that some reformed theologians have not understood, from the Scriptures, a basis for a pre-temporal, inter-trinitarian covenant. My own belief in this covenant is drawn from Titus 1.2, where the Apostle states that the un-lying God promised eternal life before the foundation of the world. When taken with the understanding that in the NT the word promise is often put for Covenant, there are questions as to who those parties were, before the world began, by whom promise was made, and promise received. I would also infer that covenant from the many statements of Christ speaking of the grant of an elect people given to Him of His Father, upon His faithful (and covenantal) obedience. I do understand that our confession does not posit a pre-temporal covenant, so there is latitude in confessing such a covenant, or not.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Is διαθηΚη used there? I suppose the marvelous insight Paul provides in Ephesians: "he chose us in him before the creation of the world" would also support this perspective. From a Biblical theological viewpoint, this is hard to grasp -- the idea of covenant is hardly developed early in Genesis which, I suppose, would support rejection of both a prehistoric covenant of redemption as well as a stated covenant of works -- and I have enough faith in the Westminster divines to accept that there is a stated covenant of works. Oh well, I guess that's why I'm a pew dweller :)
 

Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
No, the standard greek word for covenant is not used in Titus 1.2, it is the common word for promise. As for the covenant of works, some theologians have seen it in Hosea 6.7, and many have argued that since all of the elements of a covenant are present in Genesis, that a Covenant is present. An exception would be Prof. John Murray, who describes many of the elements of a covenant, but draws back from calling it such because the Scripture does not use that term specifically.

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au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I think it's a matter of defining a covenant as an agreement that contains elements like promises, conditions, and consequences (N.b., I don't think that's the official list; it's just what comes to mind). Was there an understanding between God and Adam (and Eve) that either he obeys personally, perfectly, and perpetually, or "dying thou shalt die" ([KJV]Gen. 2:17[/KJV])? That's the Covenant of Works. There is more implied, yes, but the Covenant of Works is summarized in the divine instruction not to eat from the forbidden tree, together with its consequence (death), and its implied promise (if he obeys, at the very least he stays in Eden and won't die).

The same is true of the inter-Trinitarian covenant. If we agree that promises are made to Christ from eternity and that there were conditions for Him to fulfill, then that's a covenant -- maybe not the kind we see every day, but it matches the definition at least. Now there is some disagreement among those who believe in an inter-Trinitarian Covenant of Redemption as to whether it is essentially identical with the Covenant of Grace or should be distinguished, but that is a different question.

Taking a moment to address the original question about the numbering of the covenants, I want to say that the concept of covenant is a little more, if you will, nebulous than that. It is true that there are promises made specifically to Abraham that were not made to Noah; to David that were not made to Abraham as such; etc., but the overarching Covenant that the LORD affirms with each of them is His determination to deal graciously with them because of the coming Messiah (i.e., the Covenant of Grace). Likewise, from the human side of things, we see various kings of Judah and their subjects making covenants with the LORD. In a matter of speaking these are separate covenants, but from another angle they are just pledges to abide by the covenant God had already made with them. The point of all this is that it is not a simple matter to number the covenants, as they are not easily separable. We call the covenants with the men mentioned in the OP administrations of one Covenant of Grace, and rightly so. But it is not wrong to speak of a covenant with Abraham, a covenant with David, etc. as long as their essential unity as administrations of the Covenant of Grace is understand, as opposed to the very different covenant originally made with Adam that required his personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, on pain of death, i.e., what we rightly call the Covenant of Works.

I guess this is just another way of saying what Ruben said succinctly -- that a distinction needs to be made between theological covenants and historical covenants.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
2) except there are three(3) covenants:

a) the covenant of redemption ("counsel of peace" amongst the Trinity)
b) the covenant of works
c) the covenant of grace

The Abrahamic, Noahic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants are within the overarching covenant of grace.

The whole of Scripture is viewed from the standpoint of covenant (rather than the modernist notion of dispensation)
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
the overarching Covenant that the LORD affirms with each of them is His determination to deal graciously with them because of the coming Messiah
:amen:

No, the standard greek word for covenant is not used in Titus 1.2, it is the common word for promise. As for the covenant of works, some theologians have seen it in Hosea 6.7, and many have argued that since all of the elements of a covenant are present in Genesis, that a Covenant is present. An exception would be Prof. John Murray, who describes many of the elements of a covenant, but draws back from calling it such because the Scripture does not use that term specifically.
Thanks!

I think it's a matter of defining a covenant as an agreement
In a Biblical sense, a covenant is a king dealing with his vassals -- a covenant is unilateral. What's astonishing is that God would bind himself to man in his covenants.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
In a Biblical sense, a covenant is a king dealing with his vassals -- a covenant is unilateral.

I think it is problematic to define all covenants as unilateral. Even the divine covenants can be said to have unilateral and bilateral aspects to them. Additionally, a covenant can be between equals as well as between superiors and inferiors. Men make covenants all the time. A covenant has promises and conditions. If we are overly-specific in the definition of covenant based on special attributes of certain Biblical covenants (e.g., "a bond in blood, sovereignly administered"), then naturally we will have to drop some of the covenants we have recognized historically. I personally don't believe there is any benefit to this.

What's astonishing is that God would bind himself to man in his covenants.

:amen:
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Yup, but in the OT, God didn't sit down over a cup of coffee and make up a deal with man. Spiraling through is the language: "If you obey, are faithful, follow ... xwz ... you will be blessed."
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Yup, but in the OT, God didn't sit down over a cup of coffee and make up a deal with man. Spiraling through is the language: "If you obey, are faithful, follow ... xwz ... you will be blessed."

I see what you mean. I like the way you put it.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Read Is.49:1-7 as a rehearsal of the Covenant of Redemption, set forth as if it had been discussed in a high-level (pre-temporal) meeting between Father and Son.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Does traditional Covenant Theology believe in
1) 6 covenants (Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses & David & New)
2) 2 covenants (covenant of works with Adam and covenant of grace with Abraham, Noah, Moses & David & New)
3) 1 overarching continual covenant (made up from the 6 covenants)

???
I know a complex subject. Any resources that help explain the answer in a simple manner?

Thank you!

For His Glory-
Matthew

It depends whether you're talking from the perspective of biblical theology or systematic theology.

Biblically speaking you have
(a) The CoW
(b) The Proto-Evangelium.
(c) The Noahic Covenant
(d) The Abrahamic Covenant
(e) The Mosaic Covenant
(f) The Davidic Covenant
(g) The New Covenant

But reflection on the biblical data makes it clear that the last six of these are progressive revelations of essentially the same Covenant of Grace, under progressive administrations. They are covenants of the one promise ( Eph 2:12).

That leaves you with the CoW and the CoG. On further reflection on the data of Scripture, some Reformed theologians distinguish within the CoG, the Divine relations respecting the CoG as the CoR, whereas others don't like to distinguish the Divine relations under the rubric of the CoR.

Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The covenant of works and covenant of grace are theological categories required by the biblical structure of two overarching historical administrations which are represented by two Adams. Once it is recognised that there are only two representative men it will follow that there can only be two covenants. The "covenant of redemption" is nothing other than the covenant of grace as made with Christ.

The biblical word "covenant" is used in relation to the theological category which we call the covenant of grace. I personally cannot see how the word could be used of the covenant of works when it is so integral to the unfolding of God's purpose of grace. The traditional argument is that the word itself does not need to be used in order for a covenant to be present. This suffices to establish a covenant of works in the garden of Eden. There is no need to alter the meaning of words or to impose a creation-covenant in order to account for the concepts which make up the covenant of works as a theological construct.

One benefit of traditional covenant theology is its recognition of the testamentary concept which allows for greater clarity in distinguishing old and new administrations of the covenant of grace. The rejection of this concept has led to much confusion concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
The historical, reformed position is two -- covenant of works and covenant of grace. It is accurate to refer to the ongoing revelation that occurs as each historical covenant was made, reaching a fullness in Christ.

In the last 100 years or so, you can see a loss of understanding regarding the provisional nature of the covenant of works -- rather than seeing the possibility of man moving through the provisions of the CoW and moving on to a more blessed estate, many have presumed that the status quo in Adam would have been ongoing if he had withstood the temptation to the fall.

The history is a little bit more complicated than that. There was disagreement among theologians in the period of Reformed Orthodoxy about what sort of life Adam was promised for obedience, whether a really glorified life or continuance in his earthly life. See Drawn Into Controversie, chapter 7 for more.
There's also been some back-and-forth over whether to speak of two covenants or three. John Brown's perspective that to speak of two is correct, but that to speak of three is not erroneous has much to commend it.
 
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fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
The covenant of works and covenant of grace are theological categories required by the biblical structure of two overarching historical administrations which are represented by two Adams. Once it is recognised that there are only two representative men it will follow that there can only be two covenants. The "covenant of redemption" is nothing other than the covenant of grace as made with Christ.

The biblical word "covenant" is used in relation to the theological category which we call the covenant of grace. I personally cannot see how the word could be used of the covenant of works when it is so integral to the unfolding of God's purpose of grace. The traditional argument is that the word itself does not need to be used in order for a covenant to be present. This suffices to establish a covenant of works in the garden of Eden. There is no need to alter the meaning of words or to impose a creation-covenant in order to account for the concepts which make up the covenant of works as a theological construct.

One benefit of traditional covenant theology is its recognition of the testamentary concept which allows for greater clarity in distinguishing old and new administrations of the covenant of grace. The rejection of this concept has led to much confusion concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
Matthew makes a good point here. My view is that there are two covenants: Works and Grace. There is a federal head for each, Adam and Christ (Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15). The Covenant of Grace has an eternal aspect, which could be termed the Covenant of Redemption, and an in time aspect, which could be termed the Covenant of Grace.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The biblical word "covenant" is used in relation to the theological category which we call the covenant of grace. I personally cannot see how the word could be used of the covenant of works when it is so integral to the unfolding of God's purpose of grace. The traditional argument is that the word itself does not need to be used in order for a covenant to be present. This suffices to establish a covenant of works in the garden of Eden. There is no need to alter the meaning of words or to impose a creation-covenant in order to account for the concepts which make up the covenant of works as a theological construct.

I'm not sure I follow you here. If it is agreed that the concept of a covenant is present in the garden, then it is not clear to me how there is a danger of "imposing a creation-covenant."
 

stephen2

Puritan Board Freshman
There's also been some back-and-forth over whether to speak of two covenants or three. John Brown's perspective that to speak of two is correct, but that to speak of three is not erroneous has much to commend it.

Dabney has a great little section on this in his systematic that is also worth a read (or re-read)
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I'm not sure I follow you here. If it is agreed that the concept of a covenant is present in the garden, then it is not clear to me how there is a danger of "imposing a creation-covenant."

In traditional thought the covenant of works is a post-creation act of providence. It is superadded to man. Modern attempts to justify the covenant of works have taught the covenant of creation as an essential element of the created order and invented ideas which were no part of the traditional formulation. In neo-Calvinism it becomes a metaphysical law governing all the spheres of life. In Klinean exegesis it assumes "works" is a part of the natural order over against which the covenant of grace is instituted, thus making grace and works contrary "principles." As far as I can see they only succeed in resurrecting the mythical ideas which the biblical account of creation has effectively demolished.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I'm not sure I follow you here. If it is agreed that the concept of a covenant is present in the garden, then it is not clear to me how there is a danger of "imposing a creation-covenant."

In traditional thought the covenant of works is a post-creation act of providence. It is superadded to man. Modern attempts to justify the covenant of works have taught the covenant of creation as an essential element of the created order and invented ideas which were no part of the traditional formulation. In neo-Calvinism it becomes a metaphysical law governing all the spheres of life. In Klinean exegesis it assumes the place of "justice" over against which the covenant of grace is instituted, thus making justice and grace contrary "covenants." As far as I can see they only succeed in restoring the mythical ideas which the biblical account of creation has effectively demolished.

Thank you. I recall reading somewhere that making the covenant of works part of the created order as opposed to it being superadded was a difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology. If the statement is correct, I can see how it could explain our different approaches to law and gospel. Do you know if this is accurate?
 

Steve Paynter

Puritan Board Freshman
Does traditional Covenant Theology believe in
1) 6 covenants (Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses & David & New)
2) 2 covenants (covenant of works with Adam and covenant of grace with Abraham, Noah, Moses & David & New)
3) 1 overarching continual covenant (made up from the 6 covenants)

???
I know a complex subject. Any resources that help explain the answer in a simple manner?

Thank you!

For His Glory-
Matthew

As the original question was from a "Particular" Baptist, it is perhaps appropriate to provide a Baptist answer to this question.

It has been argued recently (by Pascal Denault, in his important and helpful little book, "The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology") that the 1689 Particular Baptist Confession of Faith, did not follow the WCF and posit a "covenant of grace" that had two "administrations" - the "Old" (Mosaic covenant) and the "New" (i.e. the covenant established by Jesus' blood). Instead, the 1689 - while recognising the important progressive revelation of the "covenant of grace" from the Fall ... teaches that the "covenant of grace" (i.e. the New covenant") was not established until Jesus died.

The Particular Baptists did not view the Mosaic ("Old") covenant as being a covenant of grace - but rather a Law covenant that differed in essence (and not merely circumstance, as the Presbyterians claimed) from both the promise given to Abraham, and the reality as established by Jesus. This is not to deny that the Mosaic covenant pointed forward to the New covenant. Notice, however, that in spite of holding this position, the Particular Baptists did not fall into the Dispensational error of thinking that there was a different way of salvation prior to the New covenant being established. Rather they saw salvation as always being by faith in the promises given ... in the promised Messiah. In this way, Particular Baptist treatment of the continuities between the testaments is much closer to the Reformed Presbyterian understanding than to the Dispensationalist understanding.

(There are Presbyterians who agree with the Particular Baptists over the role of the Mosaic covenant, and its distinction from the covenant of grace. One thinks of Samuel Petto and John Owen in the seventeenth century, and Michael Horton, and the faculty of the Westminster Seminary, California, today. However, as I understand it, they do not buy into the Baptist revealed-not established understanding of the Covenant of Grace from the time of Abraham, as they continue to draw parallels between circumcision and baptism.)

The Particular Baptists, in agreement with most 17th century Presbyterians, held to a covenant of works (Denault explains the differences in wording between the 1689 and the WCF on the matter of the covenant of works in terms of the Baptist's worrying that the WCF was ambiguous.)

If I remember correctly, because of the way that Reformed orthodoxy was developing in the seventeenth century between 1630s and 1670s, the 1689 Baptist confession is explicit concerning the covenant of redemption where the WCF is only implicit.


However, all this being said, I understand that there are contemporary "Reformed" Baptists who hold to the "one covenant of grace, two administrations" position, and who think they can square this with the 1689. More importantly - given the way subscription tends to be understood in Baptist circles - presumably they think that this is the way to best synthesise the teaching of the Bible.


It should be noted that amongst many biblical scholars the reigning paradigm is that the Scriptural covenants are all essentially covenant renewals - and many would include the "New" covenant in this. This extreme mono-covenantalism tends to lead to an understanding of the New covenant that makes our works the basis of our final condemnation or acquittal at the final judgment.

I can't recommend Pascal Denault's little book too highly. You'll find my review of it on amazon.com or amazon.co.uk.

I hope this helped.

Blessings,
Steve P.
 
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Clark-Tillian

Puritan Board Freshman
Two Adams=Two Covenants. Even if one doesn't care for the language of a CoW, Romans 5 rather demands you utilize the category.
 

PaulMc

Puritan Board Freshman
In traditional thought the covenant of works is a post-creation act of providence. It is superadded to man. Modern attempts to justify the covenant of works have taught the covenant of creation as an essential element of the created order and invented ideas which were no part of the traditional formulation. In neo-Calvinism it becomes a metaphysical law governing all the spheres of life. In Klinean exegesis it assumes "works" is a part of the natural order over against which the covenant of grace is instituted, thus making grace and works contrary "principles." As far as I can see they only succeed in resurrecting the mythical ideas which the biblical account of creation has effectively demolished.

Would you mind expanding on this point, or perhaps directing me to a thread where these issues are discussed?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Would you mind expanding on this point, or perhaps directing me to a thread where these issues are discussed?

It is well explained by William Young: Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism - The Westminster Presbyterian. See especially "Thesis II: The covenant relation between God and man was an essential element of man's original state entailed by the creation of men in God's image." He explains how neo-Calvinism parts company with historic Calvinism at this point.
 
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