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