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Trinity and Covenant

The Christian Worldview

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

Chapter Two

A Covenantal World

Creation and Revelation

The world of the Bible is a covenantal world. The doctrine of creation -- fundamental to the Biblical doctrine of God no less than it is to the Biblical doctrines of revelation, history, man, sin, and salvation -- introduces us to the covenantal theme from the very beginning of the Bible. Though the word "covenant" itself is not used in the creation narrative, covenantal ideas and vocabulary abound. Also, it is not, as is often mistakenly thought, that God created the raw stuff and then afterwards made a covenant. The point is rather that the act of creation itself was a covenantal act, bringing the world into existence as a covenantal world.

Thus, too, from the beginning God reveals Himself in the world and speaks to man as covenant Lord. It was not necessary for God to speak to Adam about making a covenant because the covenant relationship was already established by creation. God's words to Adam presupposed the covenant. And just as throughout the subsequent history of the world, God's relationship to man is always and only covenantal, God's word to man is always covenantal.

Covenantal Creation

The Biblical doctrine of creation is often lost in debates that surround the Genesis narrative. Modern men want to know how the Bible relates to science and how to interpret the Genesis narrative so that it can be harmonized with modern perspectives. These are actually the wrong kind of questions, at least the wrong ones to begin with. Rather than opening the discussion with questions provoked by the modern world, we need to return to the text to see what it was originally intended to teach. The text must be read as it was originally intended to be read. What we need to ask about is the theological meaning of the creation of the world. What do the early chapters of Genesis and subsequent Biblical references to creation teach us about God and the world?

Creation as Covenantal Act

God created the world out of nothing, into His covenant. God did not create the world into "brute factuality" and then later impose His covenant onto the existing order. From the beginning the world was created as His kingdom in covenant relation to Him. From the perspective of creation, the so-called "laws of nature" are God's laws, the laws of His covenantal rule over the world. Thus, long before Steven Weinberg ever dreamed, Moses declared the truth that obviates "a certain sort of science, the ancient search for those principles that cannot be explained in terms of deeper principles."[1] The ultimate answer is that the world is not explained by laws or principles at all but by the Triune God -- Father, Son, and Spirit.

That creation was a covenantal act has been neglected by evangelicals in general in part because it is not immediately evident on the surface of the text. The word "covenant," for example, is not used in the creation narrative.[2] Even the covenant theologian John Murray attempts to interpret the creation account apart from the doctrine of the covenant.[3] It is important, therefore, to take time to consider the covenantal character of the original creation and to demonstrate that creation was a covenantal act.

First, the creation act is described in a manner that can only be called covenantal. Consider how God creates the world. He is not described as first creating a nebulous mass of matter by the wave of His hand. Although not every single thing is created ex-nihilo, all of creation is the work of His word. When God created, for example, He first commands and by His command, light comes into being: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Gn. 1:3). The Psalmist looks back on the creation with joy: "By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. . . . For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast" (Ps. 33:6, 9). In a later Psalm the whole world is invited to praise the name of the LORD, "for He commanded and they were created" (Ps. 145:5). It should be clear that when we confess that "the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear," (Hbs. 11:3), we are confessing that God created the world into a relationship with Him in which He is the Lord who commands and the created world is His obedient kingdom.

Furthermore, God's covenantal lordship in creation is seen when He judges everything that He has created and pronounces it good (Gn. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), when He names things (Gn. 1:5, 8, 10; ), when He defines the purpose of the stars, sun, and moon (Gn. 1:14-15, 16-18), and especially when He creates man as His image to exercise lordship over the rest of creation. It is clear that man is not an absolute lord. God's proscription of the tree of knowledge demonstrates the limits on man's authority over creation. Man is given his position of lordship by God; it is clear that he is accountable to God. His position is one of covenanted responsibility.[4]

Second, the language of Genesis one is covenantal, even though the word "covenant" is not used. Especially significant in this regard is the use of the word "bless," a term that is almost a technical covenantal term. When the verb "bless" is used with God as the subject, a covenantal relationship is always presupposed (cf. Nms. 6:23-27; Dt. 11:26-27; 30:16; etc.). God blessed Adam and Eve and gave them a mandate to rule the world (Gn. 1:28). This language suggests that a covenant relationship already existed and that the responsibility given was covenantal in nature.

Third, later Biblical references suggest that the creation was covenantal. The clearest is the controversial Hosea 6:7a, which may be translated "they like men have transgressed the covenant," or, better, "they like Adam have transgressed the covenant."[5] On the second rendering the meaning is clear: the Jews of Hosea's day have sinned so egregiously that Hosea can only compare their iniquity to that of Adam in the Garden.

Hardly less clear is the story of Noah where the word "covenant" is first used. In contrast with the wicked who will die, God promises Noah, "But with thee will I establish my covenant" (Gn. 6:18a). The Hebrew here translated "establish my covenant" is best understood not as instituting a relationship that does not yet exist, but rather as a promise that God's covenant would be continued with Noah.[6] If there could be any doubt about this, the confirmation of God's covenant after the flood should remove it, for there God repeats the same covenantal commands that He gave to Adam (Gn. 9:1-7). Noah is the new Adam, the head of a new human race, given the same covenantal blessing that God had given to the first man.

The most emphatic testimony of later Scripture, however, comes from those passages which treat salvation both as a new covenant and a new creation. The culmination of this theme is the book of Revelation where the new Jerusalem is revealed as a new creation in which all things are made new (21:5) and in which God will dwell with His people (21:3).[7] The gold and jewels of the Garden of Eden -- seen also in Israel's tabernacle and temple -- have become the building materials for the heavenly city (Gn. 2:12; Rv. 21:18ff.). The four rivers that flowed through the center of Eden have become one river flowing out from the throne of the Lamb. Near the center of the new Jerusalem, there are two trees of life, bearing fruit every month, and from them the people of God may freely eat (Rv. 22:2). In short, the end of the Bible ties in with the beginning. The old covenantal creation that was marred by man's sin is saved by God's grace to become a new covenantal creation. Thus, the covenantal nature and goal of redemption testify unambiguously to the covenantal nature of the original creation.[8]

Significance of Covenantal Creation

What, then, is the significance of creation as a covenantal act? In particular, how is this truth important for the Christian worldview? A full answer to this would require a whole book (or two!), but the following six points can serve us here as a beginning.

First, when we say that creation was a covenantal act, we are defining the fundamental character of the world -- something more fundamental and important than quantum mechanics, gravity, relativity, chaos theory, or any so-called "laws of nature." A tripersonal God whose very character is covenantal created the world into a covenantal relationship with Himself. He now rules that world by His covenant. The ultimate explanation of reality, therefore, is personal -- which means to some degree unpredictable, since God's personal will rules -- and covenantal -- which means to a large degree predictable, since God has given His covenant promise that He will govern the world according to regular patterns.

Second, just as the ultimate understanding of the physical world must be covenantal, so our ultimate understanding of man, too, must be covenantal. The covenant not only defines man's relationship with God, it also defines man's psychology, social relations -- family, church, and state -- and history. The most important truths about man are not biological, but covenantal. Man as an individual and in society is the image of the covenantal God.

Third, the covenant was -- and only can be -- a gift of love and grace. At the time of creation it was not redemptive grace, of course, for there was no sin at the beginning, but grace considered as "unmerited favor" does describe the original relationship. That grace and love are the essential character of the covenant is a truth that requires some emphasis.

Traditional Reformed theology correctly recognized the covenantal character of Adam's position in the Garden, though the Westminster Confession's doctrine of the "covenant of works"[9] somewhat misses the mark, especially if it is interpreted to mean that Adam had to earn favor before God on the basis of legal merit. For Adam to be created in covenantal relationship with God means that Adam was the recipient of God's unmerited favor and blessing. His position among the creatures as lord of creation was a pure gift of love. Adam was placed in a Garden-sanctuary specifically designed for him and his future bride so that they could enjoy fellowship with God. In the rest of Scripture, too, the covenant is always a gift of grace and love. The loving fellowship which the covenant formally establishes can never be based upon legalism or legal merit.[10]

If the covenant is a relation of love and grace, and if it primarily means a self-denying, self-giving commitment to bless the other, why all the emphasis on commandments? Why the emphasis on God's law? The answer to this is actually found in the law itself:

And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? (Dt. 10:12-13; cf. Dt. 5:10; 6:5; 7:9; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20).

What may be called the "legal element," the emphasis on obedience to God's commands, is not "legal" in the sense that obedience to law obtains merit and becomes the basis for blessing. Obedience to God's commands and sincere worship are simply the loving response of the creature to God's covenant love. In other words, since the covenant is a relationship of love, it requires reciprocity on the part of man. God bestows love on man and asks for love in return. This is not a "legalistic" relationship, even when the law is most emphasized. The law is given by God not in opposition or contrast with love, but as the standard and definition of love.[11]

Fourth, the covenant with Adam in the Garden included the bestowal of an historical project that could only be fulfilled by his posterity with him: "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Gn. 1:28).[12] To rule over the world and subdue it meant to bring the full potential of the creation into realization. Just as God had worked six days to give light, form and substance to the world, culminating in the creation of His covenant representative, now Adam was commanded to take the world and develop its potential to the fullness, increasing light, order, and substance until the historical task would be finally complete. The institution of the Sabbath pointed to the goal of man's labor. God's week set the pattern for man's week and man's historical mission. The completion of the task would require the whole human race.

Fifth, this historical project is still man's duty. Although Adam sinned, and as the representative of the race took the rest of mankind with him into judgment, man's historical calling was not repealed. As the covenant with Noah makes clear, the task of ruling the world still belongs to the descendents of Adam, in spite of human sin. The rest of the Bible is the story of the fulfillment of man's covenantal task -- a task which the Church inherits and which is ours to this day. The book of Revelation tells of the final fulfillment of Adam's commission in the vision of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem which John describes in terms of symbolism originating in the Garden of Eden.

Sixth perhaps the most important point to be observed from the creation covenant is that God first gave the covenant not as a means of redemption -- He gave it before man sinned -- but because He is a covenant God and man is His image. The world is created in covenant with God because in so doing God reveals the kind of God that He is. Man is created in covenant with God because man is the pinnacle of God's creation, His very image, and, therefore, must be like God: a covenant being.

Covenantal Revelation

We have come to the place now where we must consider the doctrine of revelation, for it is clearly bound up with our assertions about the covenant. When we say that the world is created in covenant with God in order that God may reveal to us what kind of God He is, we are saying that the creation of the world was an act of divine self-revelation. To this the Bible bears abundant witness. The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1), the earth manifests the excellence of His name (Ps. 8:1). The doctrine of creation may even be said to include the doctrine of revelation.

Theologians speak of special and general revelation. Special revelation is God revealing Himself to us through His word.[13] General revelation is God revealing Himself to us through the world that He has created, including both the things in the world and the events of history. The Biblical doctrine of God and the Biblical doctrine of creation require general and special revelation because the God of the Bible is the God who creates the world by His word -- He is a God who speaks -- and He creates the world so that it will communicate to man, His own image. In order to have fellowship with man, His image, God surrounds man with the signs and symbols of Himself and then speaks to man the words man needs to understand it all.

Thus, although it is true, as Paul says, that the world reveals God clearly (Rms. 1:18ff.), it is also true that by itself general revelation is somewhat ambiguous. It needs special revelation to be interpreted correctly.[14] This was true even before man sinned as can be seen from the fact that God speaks to Adam in the Garden to reveal to him his work. God's word to man taught Adam the truth he needed to know so that he could serve God properly in the Garden.[15] But if the Garden itself was not comprehensively revelatory of God, the word spoken would have had no context in which to be applied. It would have been unintelligible. General and special revelation, therefore, mutually presuppose and require one another.

General Revelation

Everything that God created reveals what kind of God He is. In the nature of the case this must be so, just as the things that a man does reveal what kind of a man he is (Mt. 7:16, 20). But the doctrine of general revelation is saying more than the simple point that what God does must show something about Him. It is saying that God created each thing in order that they might reveal Him. Each creature has its own purpose and meaning in the plan of God.

Thus, since God has spoken to man in and through the creature in symbols that are designed to communicate to man, it is permissible for man to speak of God in creaturely language. Indeed, man's own language is part of general revelation. It was created and granted to Adam first of all and primarily because Adam was God's image, and in order that Adam could know and enjoy God. "Anthropomorphic" language therefore is not some concession to our human nature, or a compromise of truth; rather, it is the God-designed method of revealing truth. It is perfectly adequate for the task.[16]

The Bible tells us how man reveals God when it describes God in human terms. Again, it must be emphasized, these expressions are not the Biblical writers' best attempts to say something about a transcendent God, nor are these primitive relics of theological striving. The Scriptural expressions describing God in human terms show us how God reveals Himself in and through man and the creation. Biblical anthropomorphism, thus, is maximal, as Bavinck writes:

Whatever pertains to man, whatever pertains to creature, is applied to God: especially 'human organs, members, sensations, affections,' etc. God has a soul, Lev. 26:11; Matt. 12:28; and a Spirit, Gen. 1:2; etc. . . . [A]ll the terms expressive of bodily organs are applied to God: mention is made of his countenance, Ex. 33:20, 23; Is. 63:9; Ps. 16:11; Matt. 18:10; Rev. 22:4; his eyes, Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:113; his eyelids, Ps. 11:4; the apple of his eye, Deut. 32:10; Ps. 17:8; Zech. 2:3; his ears, Ps. 55:1; nose, Deut. 33:10; mouth, Deut. 8:3; lips, Job 11:5; tongue, Is. 30:27; neck, Jer. 18:17; arms, Ex. 15:16; hand, Nu. 11:23; right hand, Ex. 15:12; finger, Ex. 8:19; heart, Gen. 6:6; the 'yearning of his heart' . . . Isa. 63:15; cf. Jer. 31:20; Luke 1:78; his bosom, Ps. 74:11; foot, Is. 66:1. Further, every human emotion is also present in God; e.g., joy, Is. 62:5; rejoicing, Is. 65:19; grief, Ps. 78:40; Is. 63:10; anger, Jer. 7:18, 19; fear, Deut. 32:27; love, in all its variations; e.g., compassion, mercy, grace, longsuffering, etc.; furthermore, zeal, and jealousy, Deut. 32:21; grief, Gen. 6:6; hatred, Deut. 16:22; wrath, Ps. 2:5; vengeance, Deut. 32:35.

Further, human actions are ascribed to God, as, knowing, Gen. 18:21; trying, Ps. 7:9; thinking, Gen. 50:20; forgetting, I Sam. 1:11; remembering, Gen. 8:1; Ex. 2:24; speaking, Gen. 2:16; calling, Rom. 4:17; commanding, Is. 5:6; rebuking, Ps. 18:15; 104:7; answering, Ps. 3:4; witnessing, Mal. 2:14; resting, Gen. 2:2; working, John 5:17; seeing Gen. 1:10; hearing, Ex. 2:24; smelling, Gen. 8:21; testing, Ps. 11:4, 5; sitting, Ps. 9:7; rising, Ps. 68:1; going, Ex. 34:9; coming, Ex. 25:22; walking, Lev. 26:12; descending, Gen. 11:5; meeting, Ex. 3:18; visiting, Gen. 21:1; passing, Ex. 12:13; casting off, Judg. 6:13; writing, Ex. 34:1; sealing, John 6:27; graving, Is. 49:16; smiting, Is. 11:4; chastening, Deut. 8:5; punishing, Job 5:17; binding up the wounds and healing, Ps. 147:3; cf. Ps. 103:3; Deut. 32:39; killing and making alive, Deut. 32:39; wiping away tears, Is. 25:8; wiping (out), II Kings 21:13; washing, Ps. 51:2; anointing, Ps. 2:6; cleansing, Ps. 51:2; decking with ornaments, Ezek. 16:11; clothing (with), Ps. 132:16; crowning, Ps. 8:5; girding with strength, Ps. 18:32; destroying, Gen. 6:7; laying waste, (making a waste), Lev. 26:31; killing, Gen. 38:7; plaguing, Gen. 12:17; judging, Ps. 58:11; condemning, Job 10:2; etc. . . .

In order to indicate what God is for his children language derived from the organic and inorganic creation is even applied to God. He is compared to a lion, Is. 31:4; an eagle, Deut. 32:11; a lamb, Is. 53:7; a hen, Matt. 23:37; the sun, Ps. 84:11; the morning star, Rev. 22:16; a light, Ps. 27:1; a torch, Rev. 21:23; a fire, Heb. 12:29; a fountain, Ps. 36:9; the fountain of living waters, Jer. 2:13; food, bread, water, drink, ointment, Is. 55:1; John 4:10; 6:35, 55; a rock, Deut. 32:4; a hiding place, Ps. 119:114; a tower, Prov. 18:10; a refuge, Ps. 9:9; a shadow, Ps. 91:1; 121:5; a shield, Ps. 84:11; a way, John 14:6; a temple, Rev. 21:22; etc.

Scripture calls upon the entire creation, i.e., upon nature in its several spheres, and especially upon man, to contribute to the description of the knowledge of God. Anthropomorphism seems to be unlimited. In order to give us an idea of the majesty and exalted character of God names are derived from every kind of creature, living and lifeless, organic and inorganic.[17]

What is especially important about these symbols is that they are part of a whole symbolic system and that system is covenantal. In the symbolism of creation, God reveals His nature as Triune, He reveals His attributes, He reveals glory, but He also reveals His covenant.

Thus, the rainbow is a sign of His covenant (Gn. 9:16). Blood is a sign of the covenant (Ex. 24:8) and animal sacrifices serve as symbols of the covenantal sacrifice of Christ. The creation of the world in a seven day period made the Sabbath a sign of the covenant (Ex. 31:16, etc.). Salt is a sign of the covenant (Lv. 2:13; Nms. 18:19; etc.). God has made covenant with day and night (Jr. 33:20, 25). God shows His covenant loyalty (Heb. hesed) every morning and night (Ps. 92:2). Heaven's height reveals the greatness of His covenant loyalty (Ps. 103:11). God's covenant loyalty is great above the heavens and His covenant truth reaches to the clouds (Ps. 108:4). In short, every aspect of His creation reveals His covenant loyalty: His miracles, the heavens, the sun and moon (Ps. 136:1-9).

The blessings promised to Israel show that God's covenant includes the whole creation: "Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. . . . And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee. The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow" (Dt. 28:4, 11, 12). God promises to make a covenant with the beasts of the field, the fowls of heaven, and the creeping things of the ground (Hos. 2:18). His covenant of peace causes "evil beasts" to cease from the land (Ezk. 34:25).

Special Revelation

Special revelation is covenantal to the core. In the famous words of Robert Rollock, "God says nothing to man apart from the covenant." Although the Bible writers do not identify a set of books as "old covenant" and another set as "new covenant," the church bears witness to the covenantal nature of Scripture in the names it has given to the pre- and post-incarnation special revelation. Two aspects of special revelation must be considered: first, the symbolic system revealed to Moses and expressed in the tabernacle and later the temple; and second, the revelation of God's covenant in history.

First, God's special revelation to Moses of the pattern of the tabernacle (Hbs. 8:5; Ex. 25:40; 26:30; 27:8; Nms. 8:4; Ac. 7:44) provides the key to the symbolism of God's revelation in creation, for the tabernacle and temple were reproductions of the symbolism of Eden.[18] The cherubim, the mountain, the trees and fruit of the garden, and, most important of all, the presence of God Himself -- all the major themes of the Edenic symbolism are present again in the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a symbolic world picture, a worldview model for ancient Israel to teach them the real character of the world. And in that world picture the central issue was the covenantal rule of God the king. His throne was the ark of the covenant in which were the symbols of the covenant -- Aaron's rod, the manna, and the tablets of stone with the words of the covenant on them.

The symbolism of the ceremonies, too, was covenantal. Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant and was the sign of covenant initiation. The sacrifices of the law of Moses each had their distinctive meaning but all may be included under the broad umbrella of covenant renewal. In short, every aspect of the symbolic system of the Old Testament was covenantal in nature. The book of Revelation, which shows the final fulfilment of the Old Testament symbolism, ends with the climactic development of covenantal symbols, including the New Jerusalem, the New Temple, the New Creation, the New Israel, and the New Covenant.[19]

Second, the structure of the Bible is covenantal. The old covenant given in the Garden is broken by Adam, but God graciously renews the covenant and gives man a new start. The Bible begins with the story of God's covenant with man in Eden. The original covenant with Adam is the basic covenant for the entire era from the creation until the incarnation of Christ. Paul points to this when he explains the whole history of the world in terms of two men--Adam and Christ (Rms. 5:12-21; 1 Cr. 15:22-49). Adam was the head of the old covenant. Christ is the head of the new covenant. Adam was the vice-regent of God who failed and led his sons into sin (Rms. 5:12). Christ is the vice-regent of God who keeps God's covenant and wins the blessing, both for Himself and for His seed (Rms. 5:19; cf. Is. 53:10-12).

From the time of Adam's fall until the coming of Christ, the Bible records God's renewing the Adamic covenant five times. Each of these new covenants promises salvation in the future while preserving the Adamic order in the present. Each of these covenants significantly develop God's administration of men's affairs in the Adamic world system, without actually altering the fundamentals of God's covenant with man. The covenants slowly guide history toward Christ, until He comes to fulfill all the promises of salvation. They also show the growth of God's creation purpose in the course of history. Although Satan tempted man to sin and ruined man as God's vice-regent, God's grace restores man, so that man can work in history, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring in the kingdom of God.

The six covenants of the old era are: 1) the original covenant with Adam in the Garden and its redemptive renewal after the fall; 2) the covenant with Noah (Gn. 9); 3) the covenant with Abraham (Gn. 12:1-3; etc.); 4) the covenant with Moses (Ex. 20:1-17); 5) the covenant with David (2 Sm. 7); and, 6) the restoration covenant (Ezk. 36:24-28; etc.).[20] Each time man sins and the covenantal order breaks down, God brings judgment and, then, a gracious renewal of the covenant. But not until a truly new Adam appears can man's fundamental problem be solved.

With the coming of Christ, God granted a wholly new covenant, but not until the demands of the old covenant had been fulfilled in Jesus' death. Thus Jesus had to be born under the law and satisfy the demands of the law in order to save us from sin, ending the sacrificial system (Hbs. 10:1-14). The world itself, which had been "made subject to vanity" because of the sin of Adam (Rms. 8:20), was reconciled to God by the saving work of Christ (Col. 1:20) and was restored to its original ceremonial cleanness. There are no unclean lands nor holy places since the world has all been cleansed. The new race, the new Israel, are all priests of God, including women and Gentiles, so that all have equal access to the throne of God (Eph. 2:12-22; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). Christ Himself is the Great High Priest who brings us unto God.

Now that the world has been renewed and man has been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, man may inherit the glory originally intended by the Heavenly Father. In the person of Christ, a glorified man sits at the right hand of God ruling the world until "he hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Cr. 15:25; Ps. 110:1; Eph. 1:22; Hbs. 1:13). Only then, when the Church, His body, shall have conquered all the nations through the preaching of the Gospel (Mt. 28:18ff), may Jesus return in glory for final judgment (1 Cr. 15:23-28). The world of men converted to faith in Christ, not sinless, to be sure, but righteous by God's grace and the power of His Spirit, will fulfill the original Adamic commission to subdue all things to the glory of God. The world will be filled with men and every desert turned into a garden. The potential of the creation will be developed to the praise of God. Then history may come to an end with Satan wholly defeated, man truly saved, and God glorified as Creator and Redeemer.

Then the kingdom is fulfilled and the ages of the eternal kingdom begin. The new humanity inherit their resurrection bodies and live with God in everlasting glory. The covenant of creation and redemption is fulfilled and man is glorified with Christ in the New Jerusalem (Rv. 21-22). Thus, from beginning to end, the Biblical view of history is covenantal.


The creation of the world was both a covenantal act and the beginning of God's self-revelation. From that covenantal creation to the final redemption of the world, God reveals Himself to be the God of the covenant. It is, therefore, the doctrine of the covenant that provides the unifying theme and structural key to Holy Scripture. In the words of Heinrich Bullinger:

The entire sum of piety consists in these very brief main points of the covenant. Indeed, it is evident that nothing else was handed down to the saints of all ages, throughout the entire Scripture, other than what is included in these main points of the covenant, although each point is set forth more profusely and more clearly in the succession of times. For whatever things have been said in the Holy Scripture about the unity, power, majesty, goodness, and glory of God are included in this one expression of the covenant: "I am the all-sufficient Lord." Whatever promises have been written about bodily blessings, glory, the kingdom, victories, labors, and the basic needs of life, are included in this one expression of the covenant: "I will give to you and your descendants the land of Canaan; I will be their God." In the same way, those things which have been handed down afterward at various times about Christ the Lord, both in figure and in truth, whatever has been said about his justice, about the sanctification and redemption of the faithful, about the sacrifice, the priesthood, and the satisfaction of Christ, about the kingdom and eternal life, and, further, about the calling of all peoples, about spiritual blessings, about the abrogation of the law, about the glory of the church gathered from Gentiles and Jews, are foretold in this single promise: "And all the nations will be blessed in you and you will be the father of many peoples; wherefore from now on your name is not Abram, but you will be called Abraham." Again, those things which have been said about faith in God, about the vanity of idols, about worshiping the one God, and also about true justice, about judgment, and about cultivating equity and charity -- all these things that have been transmitted through various laws, through the many discourses of the prophets, through the epistles of the apostles, and finally through the Gospel narratives, have been summed up in these few words: "You, however, shall keep my covenant, you shall walk before me, and you shall be complete or upright."[21]


1. Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature (London: Vintage, 1993), p. 13.

2. As Eichrodt points out the presence or absence of the word "covenant" is less important than the contextual indicators of a covenant relationship. Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (London: SCM Press, 1967), p. 13-14.

3. In his short book on the covenant, for example, John Murray does not even mention a covenant with Adam. He seems to view the covenant as essentially redemptive. John Murray, The Covenant of Grace (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, reprint 1988).

4. Numerous other details of the creation account point to its covenantal nature. See the exposition by Meredith Kline in Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), and the extended discussion of the creation covenant in W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation: A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984, reprint, 1993).

5. As Warfield indicates this is not a new problem: "The difference of opinion thus represented by our English versions is not of modern origin. It goes back to the very earliest times, and indeed gave rise to divergent traditions of interpretation between the Eastern and the Western churches. The early versions of the Eastern churches -- the Septuagint Greek and the Syriac -- followed by the Arabic, took the word as a common noun. Jerome, on the contrary, in his Latin version, which has since his day occupied the position of the Vulgate Version of the West, renders it as a proper name." As Warfield further explains, early Christian interpretation is also split along the lines of the versions. Neither is Jewish interpretation unified, though, according to Warfield, the best interpreters favor "Adam." Benjamin B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 1 (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), pp. 116 ff.

6. For a detailed discussion of the Hebrew terminology of covenant institution and continuation, including the interpretation of this passage, see: W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, pp. 15-26.

7. The formula "I will be their God and they shall be my people" -- and variations of it -- expresses the very essence of the covenant. (Cf. Gn. 17:8; Ex. 29:45, 46; Lv. 26:44-45; 2 Sm. 7:24; 1 Chr. 17:22; Jr. 24:7; 31:33; 32:38; Ezk. 11:20; 14:11; 34:24, 30; 37:23, 27; Zc. 8:8; 9:16; etc.) It should be remembered that this is a marriage formula (Hos. 2:20-23). Even the expression "their God" implies the covenant since God is only Israel's God by way of a special covenant. As the Creator, He is God of all.

8. This is developed at length by William J. Dumbrell, The End of the Beginning: Revelation 21-22 and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985).

9. See the Westminster Confession of Faith, VII, 2.

10. This means that the prohibition to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was no mere "test." First, Adam and Eve were told "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat" (Gen. 2:16). The proscription of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil came after this as an exception, the point apparently being that they were not yet qualified to eat of it, which the subsequent narrative makes clear. The purpose of the prohibition itself and of allowing Satan to tempt Adam and Eve was instruction. Satan's lie should have been the means for Adam to gain understanding of the essential truth of covenantal ethics: that it is God's word alone which ultimately arbitrates good and evil. Once Adam came to realize the nature of good and evil, he would have become ethically mature and, thus, qualified to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

11. As John Murray explains, "It is not quite congruous, however, to speak of these conditions as conditions of the covenant. For when we speak thus we are distinctly liable to be understood as implying that the covenant is not to be regarded as dispensed until the conditions are fulfilled and that the conditions are integral to the establishment of the covenant relation. And this would not provide a true or accurate account of the covenant. The covenant is a sovereign dispensation of God's grace. It is grace bestowed and a relation established. . . . The continued enjoyment of this grace and of the relation established is contingent upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. For apart from the fulfillment of these conditions the grace bestowed and the relation established are meaningless. Grace bestowed implies a subject and reception on the part of that subject. The relation implies mutuality. But the conditions in view are not really conditions of the bestowal. They are simply the reciprocal responses of faith, love and obedience apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation is inconceivable." The Covenant of Grace (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988), p. 19.

12. Contrary to what many evangelicals seem to think, we are no where near having fulfilled that command. See: Julian L. Simon, Population Matters: People, Resources, Environment, and Immigration (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1990). Von Hayek liked Simon's research so much he sent Simon a "fan letter." Also see: Jacqueline Kasun, The War against Population: The Economics and Ideology of Population Control (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

13. Properly speaking, special revelation is not limited to the written word, though for us, now that the Scriptures are completed, practically speaking, it is.

14. Bavinck writes: "Without [God's own interpretation of his revelation in nature, which interpretation we find in Scripture] even the believer, even the Christian, would not be able to understand God's revelation in nature or to interpret it rightly." Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), p. 62.

15. This needs to be emphasized because many theologians and Bible teachers have the mistaken notion that special revelation is necessarily redemptive.

16. See: Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, pp. 85 ff.

17. Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, pp. 86-88.

18. For an extensive development of this point, see: James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, Ten.: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1988), especially pp. 41-51.

19. See: William J. Dumbrell, The End of the Beginning.

20. Jordan suggests a slightly different development of the covenant. He includes a covenant with the remnant in the period of Elijah. See: Through New Eyes, p. 312, n. 18.

21. Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker, Fountainhead of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition (Louisville, Kenn.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), p. 112. The quotation comes from Bullinger's A Brief Exposition of the One and Eternal Testament or Covenant of God written in 1534 and translated into English by McCoy and Baker.

[ Trinity and Covenant | Introduction ]
[ Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Conclusion ]

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