In the O.T. the Hebrew word for covenant is
always brith. In the N.T. it is always diatheke. A covenant is a pact
or agreement between two or more parties. God has initiated many agreements, or covenants,
with different people throughout biblical history, i.e., Adam, Noah, and Abraham, etc.
Covenant is an important part of biblical history and, therefore, theology.
There is a flow to the covenants found in the Bible.
Basically, it is as follows. First, God the Father made a covenant with the Son with
regard to the elect. This covenant was made before the universe was created and it
consisted of the Father promising to bring to the Son all whom the Father had given Him
(John 6:39; 17:9,24). The manifestation of that covenant occurs in our world in a sequence
of additional covenants that God makes with individuals: Adam (Gen. 2:15-17), Noah (Gen.
9:12-16), Abraham (Gen. 17), the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:28), David (Sam.
7:12-16), believers in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-37), etc. These additional covenants
with people fall under the Covenant of Grace where God makes a covenant with the elect and
promises them salvation through faith in Jesus.
A major question regarding the covenants is how many are
there? Some theologians say there is only one covenant, the covenant of redemption and
that within this covenant are all the other covenants. Others say that there are two
covenants: the Eternal Covenant and the Covenant of Grace. Others say there are still
The Eternal Covenant, also known as The Covenant of
Redemption, may be defined as the agreement between the Father and the Son giving the Son
as head and Redeemer of the elect. The Son voluntarily took the place of those whom the
Father had given Him: "The position of Christ in the covenant of redemption is
twofold: First, He is "guarantee" (NIV, NASB) a "surety" (KJV). This
word appears only in Heb. 7:22 and means one who becomes responsible for the legal
obligations of another; namely, fulfilling the legal requirements of the Law of God. In
the Covenant of Redemption Christ undertook to atone of the sins of His people. And by
taking the place of sinners He became the last Adam and is the Head of the covenant. He,
then, is both surety and head." See also Heb. 13:20.
The Covenant of Grace is the promise of God to redeem the
sinner. This redemption is based upon faith in Jesus.
Requirements and Promises in the
Covenant of Redemption
"The Father required of the Son, that He should make amends for the sin of Adam
and of those whom the Father had given Him, and should do what Adam failed to do by
keeping the law."
This requirement included the following:
The Relation of the Covenants of Redemption and of Grace
- That he should assume human nature.
- That He should place Himself under the law.
- That He, after accomplishing forgiveness of sins and eternal life, should apply them to
"The counsel of redemption is the eternal prototype of the historical covenant of
grace. This accounts for the fact that many combine the two into a single covenant. The
former is eternal, that is, from eternity, and the latter temporal in the sense that it is
realized in time. The former is a compact between the Father and the Son as a surety and
head of the elect, while the latter is a compact between the triune God and the elect
sinner in the surety."
If there had been no eternal counsel of peace between the
Father and the Son, there could have been no agreement between the triune God and sinful
The Holy Spirit, which produces faith in the sinner, was
promised to Christ by the Father, and the acceptance of the way of life through faith was
guaranteed by Christ.
Covenant with Adam
Everlasting life based upon obedience to God. "And
the LORD God commanded the man, You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but
you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it
you will surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17).
God entered into a covenant with Adam. The promise annexed
to that covenant was life. The condition was perfect obedience. Its penalty was death.
Covenant with Noah
To never again destroy the world with a flood. God gave the
rainbow as a sign.
"I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and
with every living creature that was with you -- the birds, the livestock and all the wild
animals, all those that came out of the ark with you -- every living creature on earth. I
establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a
flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." And God said,
"This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living
creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the
clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring
clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant
between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters
become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see
it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every
kind on the earth." So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I
have established between me and all life on the earth" (Gen. 9:9-17).
God promised a land and descendants to Abraham, who was
commanded to "keep" the covenant (Gen. 17:9f., 14) and was given circumcision as
the sign (Gen 15:8-18; 17:1-14).
"On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and
said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river,
the Euphrates'" (Gen. 15:18).
Covenant with Moses
"In the giving of the Law, the nation of Israel was
constituted a holy nation and given stipulations to follow to ensure fellowship with God.
The covenant was ratified by a covenant sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood" (Ex.
Covenant with David
God gave a promise to David that his descendants should have
an everlasting kingdom and be known as his sons. david,
"You said, I have made a covenant with my
chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, I will establish your line forever and make
your throne firm through all generations" (Psalm 89:3).
The New Covenant
This is the new covenant of the Messianic age where the Law
of God would be written upon the hearts of men. "The time is coming,"
declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with
the house of Judah...This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that
time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on
their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people" (Jer. 31:31,33).
|It was Promised in Eden:
||"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring
and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Gen. 3:15).
|It was Proclaimed to Abraham:
||"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and
all peoples on earth will be blessed through you," (Gen. 12:3).
|It was Fulfilled in Christ:
||"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has
redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his
servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our
enemies and from the hand of all who hate us -- to show mercy to our fathers and to
remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the
hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and
righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the
Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his
people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the
tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on
those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of
peace," (Luke 1:68-79).
The Covenant of Grace
This may be defined as that gracious agreement between the
offended God and the offending but elect sinner, in which God promises salvation through
faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this believingly, promising a life of faith and
The Covenant of Works
The agreement between God and Adam, whereby eternal life is
conditioned upon obedience.
Comparison of the Covenant of Works (the Adamic
and the Covenant of Grace
|Covenant of Works
||Covenant of Grace
|God is the Creator and Lord.
Established because of His love and benevolence.
|God is the Redeemer and father.
Established because of His Mercy and Grace.
|Man appears simply as God's creature, rightly related to his God.
||Man appears as a sinner who has perverted his ways, and can only appear in union with
||Jesus is the Mediator
|Righteousness is based upon the obedience of a changeable man which is uncertain.
||Based on the obedience of Christ as Mediator which is absolute and certain.
|The way of life is by keeping the Law.
||The way of life is by faith in Jesus Christ.
|The covenant is partly known in nature, since the law of God is written in the heart
||The covenant is known exclusively through special revelation: the Bible.
Just as in the covenant of works, so also in the covenant
of grace God is the first of the contracting parties; He takes the initiative and
determines the relation in which the second party will stand to Him.
It is not easily determined who the second party is. In
general, it may be said that God naturally established the covenant of grace with fallen
The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the
elect is a perfectly scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:21-34; Heb.
8:8-12. It is also entirely in line with the relation in which the covenant of grace
stands to the covenant of redemption.
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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 1998-2006
I welcome your comments via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org