Ten Things You Should Know about the Biblical Covenants

by: Thomas R. Schreiner (original source here)

Thomas R. Schreiner (MDiv and ThM, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary; PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of the school of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

1. Covenants are the backbone of the biblical story.

Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have argued that the covenants advance the storyline of the Bible in their book Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, and they are on target. If one understands how the covenants function in the Bible, one will have a good grasp of how the Bible fits together. If we see the big picture in Scripture, we will do a better job of interpreting the details, and the covenant plays a fundamental role in seeing the big picture.

2. Covenant can be defined as follows: a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.

A covenant should be distinguished from a contract because it is a personal relationship which people voluntarily enter. The definition of covenant here is rather broad, but that is because there are many different kinds of covenants in Scripture. Marriage is a good illustration of a covenant, for a man and woman choose to enter into a relationship with one another and make promises to one another. Not all covenants were alike in the ancient world. In some covenants a person with more authority made a covenant with those having less authority and power. Such was the case when a king made a relationship with his subjects.

3. Some definitions of covenant are too narrow and don’t fit every covenant in Scripture.

Some scholars have said that covenants always presuppose an already existing relationship. The Gibeonite story shows that this is not the case, for Israel didn’t have any relations with the Gibeonites before entering into a covenant with them (Josh. 9:3–27). Also, some say that all covenants are enacted with blood, but this isn’t true of the marriage covenant or the covenant between Jonathan and David (1 Sam. 18:1–4). Nor is there evidence of a sacrifice at the inauguration of the Lord’s covenant with David (2 Samuel 7). We need to distinguish, when talking about covenants, about what is often true and what is always the case.

4. Virtually all the covenants have both conditional and unconditional elements.

Since covenant partners obligate themselves to one another with promises and call curses upon themselves if they disobey, we are not surprised to learn that virtually all covenants have both conditional and unconditional elements. There are clearly conditions in the covenant with Israel made at Sinai. Some scholars say that the covenant with Abraham and David are unconditional, but when we look at the text carefully, conditions are clearly present (e.g., Gen. 17; 2 Sam. 7:14). What needs to be investigated is how the conditional and unconditional elements relate to one another. The principle enunciated here, however, also has exceptions. The covenant with Noah, for instance, seems to be unconditional.

5. There are good reasons to believe there is a covenant at creation.

Some scholars doubt whether there was a covenant with Adam, but we have good reasons for seeing a covenant at creation. Even though the word covenant is lacking, the elements of a covenant relationship are present. The word covenant doesn’t need to be present for a covenant to exist since the term covenant isn’t found in the inauguration of the Davidic covenant. The claim that all covenants are redemptive isn’t borne out by the use of the term in the Scriptures. The elements of a covenant were present at creation, for blessing was promised for obedience and cursing for disobedience. Continue reading

Calvinism and Covenant Theology

Article by Tom Hicks: The Five Points of Calvinism and Covenant Theology (original source here)

In recent years, there has been a recovery of the five points of Calvinism among many evangelicals, but there has not been a concomitant revival of the covenant theology of seventeenth century Puritanism as the rich soil in which Calvinistic soteriology grows. This post will not attempt to thoroughly defend every doctrine mentioned, but to show the connection between Calvinism and the theological covenants of covenant theology. The Synod of Dordt listed the five points of Calvinism, not in their contemporary order of “TULIP,” but in the order of “ULTIP,” which is the order I’ll be using here.

1. Unconditional Election. The eternal decree of unconditional election is the foundation of covenant theology and the doctrine of salvation. God chooses to save sinners not because of any foreseen goodness or conditions in them, but merely because of His good pleasure to redeem a people for Himself to bring Him glory. Speaking of unconditional divine election, Paul writes, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). There are no conditions in God’s choosing individuals for salvation. God’s choice is based entirely upon His sovereign will: “He has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills” (Romans 9:18).

2. Limited Atonement. Limited atonement might be better termed “particular redemption” or “definite atonement.” It means that Christ’s death is absolutely effective to save, purchasing every life blessing for His chosen people, including new birth, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, as well as an enduring holy life (Rom 8:31-39). Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Christ accomplished salvation for His people, “by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” Notice Christ’s blood “secures” redemption. It doesn’t just make redemption possible, but actually secures redemption. His blood secures “eternal” redemption, not temporary redemption. And it secures “redemption.” That is, the blood of Christ actually redeems and doesn’t merely make a provision for redemption. Since only a limited number of people are redeemed, we must conclude that Christ died only to save His chosen people. And this is in fact what the Scriptures teach. Matthew 1:21 says, “He will save His people from their sins.” In John 10:15, Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” In John 17:9, Jesus says, “I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me.” Christ’s priestly work of atonement and prayer is limited to the elect alone.

So, what does this have to do with covenant theology? Covenant theology views “limited atonement” as rooted in the eternal “covenant of redemption” between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. In this eternal covenant (an aspect of the eternal decree), the Father appointed the Son to enter into this world, to fulfill the law of God, to die for His chosen people, and to rise from the dead. The Son agreed to accomplish the Father’s will (John 17:4). A covenant is “an agreement between two or more persons;” therefore, it is proper to view this agreement between the Father and the Son covenantally. Based on this eternal covenant, or agreement, between the Father and the Son, the Son came into the world, kept the law of God and accomplished the redemption of the elect in time (2 Timothy 1:9-10). The whole of Isaiah 53 is about Christ’s temporal obedience to this eternal covenant of redemption, and Isaiah 54:10 explicitly calls it the “covenant of peace.” Continue reading