Paul's Passing Thoughts

Biblical Covenants: An Overview and Explanation

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on January 3, 2015

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If there is an area where the laity is completely ignorant and confused, it is on this wise. In discussing our lesson prior to tonight, Susan, and think about this, who has been a Christian for almost sixty years, and abundantly faithful to the institutional church, professes to be very foggy on the issue of covenants.

So, let’s get into the primary covenants.  There are six, NOT seven. Here they are: Noahic, Abrahamic, Palestinian, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New Covenant. God never made a covenant with Adam. How do we know this? Because when God makes a covenant, He states it as such. God never calls any arrangement He had with Adam a “covenant.” Let me ask you a question: “Why do you think God made a covenant with Adam?” Because a guy went to seminary, they told him that God made a covenant with Adam, and then he left seminary and told you that, and you believed it because he’s certified by Protestant philosopher kings.

In the Garden of Eden, God calls them “trees” not a covenant. How do we get “covenant” from “tree.” In the six actual covenants, guess what? God says, “I will make a covenant.” Why do you need to spend 50,000 dollars to understand that? What you need to do is pay 50,000 dollars to figure out how a tree is a covenant. Also, when God covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness, He didn’t call that a covenant either. In both cases, it’s pure assumption. However, when God says, “I will make a covenant,” that’s not an assumption.

Granted, the tree of life ends up in the New Jerusalem, but what we primarily look for as Christians is the city built by God, not the tree. The tree of life is one of the results of the Abrahamic covenant, but it isn’t THE covenant or even A salvific covenant. Those who posit the idea that God made a covenant with Adam must now split that covenant into two different covenants:  the Edenic Covenant of innocence, and the  Adamic Covenant of grace. See, this is what happens when you make something a covenant that isn’t a covenant, you have to come up with more covenants to cover for the first covenant that wasn’t a covenant.  You search in vain for the covenants of innocence and grace. Not there.

Ultimately, Christians look for the fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant, not some Adamic covenant. Let’s look at some Scripture:

2Peter 3:13 – But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

We aren’t waiting for a tree, we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth.

Hebrews 11:10 – For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Abraham was looking for a city, not a tree.

Now, get a pen out, here is the definition of a covenant in regard to the biblical covenants specifically. They are NEVER based on anything man does, nor are they predicated on an agreement between God and man. Covenants are predicated on one thing and one thing only: God’s promises. The six covenants are covenants of promise. They are NOT agreements between God and man, they are promises TO man.

Furthermore, ELECTION is the means by which God executes His promises. Why must God elect the means? Because He cannot break His promises. He elected Christ to make the promises possible, He elected angels to enforce the covenants of promise, and He elected Israel to execute the covenants on a human level aided by the Holy Spirit.

God does not elect individuals, but rather the means of fulfilling His Promises. God is only limited by His character, but is not limited by any of His attributes. God cannot break a promise, and He cannot be unjust.  Individuals are not elected; only the means for fulfilling His promises are elected. Otherwise, the promises cannot be to anyone in particular; in other words, if individuals are elected, they themselves cannot know definitively that the promise is to them.

Hence, the promises are to everyone who will believe. If that is predetermined, the promise is useless because it is only a promise to those who have been predestined which means the promises of God must be qualified with an “IF”: “Yes, it’s a promise, you just don’t know whether it’s to you specifically or not.” Much like the gospel, or “good news.” Why is “Maybe you’re in, but maybe you’re not” “good news”? You really have no way of knowing whether it is necessarily good news for you or not. In the same way, you are presented with THE promise without any way of knowing whether the promise is really to you. The only way you can know for certain that the promise is to you is if the “IF” relies on your choice to believe the promise which is to EVERYONE who believes. Let’s look at an example of this:

Acts 3:36 – “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Stop right there. See the words “the promise”? Whenever you see that in the New Testament it is referring to the Abrahamic Covenant. An example is the aforementioned 2Peter 3:13. Peter stated on Pentecost that the promise was to them, their children, and those far off which probably referred to the Jews not present that day. Yes, it could also refer to the Gentiles, but more than likely refers to the Jews who didn’t make it to Jerusalem for Pentecost that year.  The promise is to all of them, but the promise must be obtained by faith. God calls all men to Himself, but they must come by faith, and that being faith in the Son of God.

Let’s pause here for a moment to revisit this whole idea that God made a covenant with Adam though God never said He made a covenant with Adam. A whole bunch of this is tied up in the granddaddy of all theologies, Covenant Theology which shows up in the 16th century. It posits the idea that the one command given to Adam about the tree of good and evil was a covenant of works, also referred to as the covenant of life, or as mentioned earlier, a covenant of innocence.  Adam was promised life/blessings for obedience, and death/cursing for disobedience.

Now look, we could spend the next two hours plunging the depths of all of this while including Dispensationalism to boot, and all of the various views on this which are myriad, as if God is a god of confusion, but let me make it really, really easy for you. As the theories go, born out of this idea that God made a covenant with Adam, when Adam sinned, and thereby breaking the first covenant, God instituted the “Covenant of Grace.” And what is this Covenant of Grace? It is the promise of the seed in Genesis 3:15—that’s the Covenant of Grace.  So, let’s turn now to where that takes place:

Genesis 3:14 – And Jehovah God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (ASV).

Do you see the glaring problem here? Who is God talking to? When you make a covenant with someone, wouldn’t it be with the person you are talking to? Note what takes place after verse 15, God then addresses Eve, and then afterward addresses Adam separately. If there is a Covenant of Grace, it was made with the serpent! Adam and Eve are right there, and according to the Covenant Theology federal headship of Adam, any covenant made at that point should be addressed to Adam, no?

This whole idea that God made a covenant with Adam is at the root of almost every errant view of biblical covenants that there is, and is also the basis of the Reformed doctrine of double imputation. This is the belief that Christ fulfilled the covenant of works that Adam violated through perfect law-keeping when He was on earth as a man. Hence, paradise is restored due to Christ fulfilling this covenant, which is a law covenant.

In addition, key to understanding  the salvific covenants of promise is Ephesians 2:11,12.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Notice that being unregenerate is synonymous with being alienated from the “commonwealth of Israel” and the covenants (PLURAL) of “promise.” Any, I repeat, any salvific covenant must be defined as a covenant of promise, and NOT agreement, and MUST be attached to Israel. Problem: Adam had nothing to do with Israel. Even if God did make some kind of covenant with Adam, it depended on something Adam did and not a promise despite any action by Adam.

At best, it would have to be some kind of law covenant, and shockingly, the Reformed crowd actually concedes this and makes the primary covenant of promise a law covenant. This is clearly a plenary affront to Scripture.  Nevertheless, this is how the Reformed, and frankly many others, including dispensationalists, interpret Romans 5:18,19.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Supposedly, the one act of Christ is His “passive obedience,” and the overall obedience of Christ is His “active obedience.” Hence, Christ came to fulfil a law covenant. Regardless of what Protestant camp you dwell in, you hear this all the time; viz, Christ kept the law perfectly for us; viz, Christ’s resurrection was proof that God was satisfied with His perfect obedience; viz, Christ had to keep the law perfectly in His life first before He could be the acceptable sacrifice; viz, we have the righteousness of Christ. Whether Calvinist or Arminian—you hear these truisms constantly.

Here is where I want to enter in a quotation from Present Truth magazine because it perfectly articulates John Calvin’s view on this from his commentary on Romans:

After a man hears the conditions of acceptance with God and eternal life, and is made sensible of his inability to meet those conditions, the Word of God comes to him in the gospel. He hears that Christ stood in his place and kept the law of God for him. By dying on the cross, Christ satisfied all the law’s demands. The Holy Spirit gives the sinner faith to accept the righteousness of Jesus. Standing now before the law which says, “I demand a life of perfect conformity to the commandments,” the believing sinner cries in triumph, “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, His suffering and dying; mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, and suffered, and died as He did . . . ” [Luther]. The law is well pleased with Jesus’ doing and dying, which the sinner brings in the hand of faith. Justice is fully satisfied, and God can truly say: “This man has fulfilled the law. He is justified.”

We say again, only those are justified who bring to God a life of perfect obedience to the law of God. This is what faith does—it brings to God the obedience of Jesus Christ. By faith the law is fulfilled and the sinner is justified.

On the other hand, the law is dishonored by the man who presumes to bring to it his own life of obedience. The fact that he thinks the law will be satisfied with his “rotten stubble and straw” [Luther] shows what a low estimate he has of the holiness of God and what a high estimate he has of his own righteousness. Only in Jesus Christ is there an obedience with which the law is well pleased. Because faith brings only what Jesus has done, it is the highest honor that can be paid to the law (Rom. 3:31) [see The Truth About New Calvinism pp. 100, 101].

So, what does church become? Or rather, what has church in fact become? It has become a ritual that we partake in for the purpose of Christ’s obedience fulfilling a law covenant. “Christians” verbalize these ideas all the time.  The Reformed call this “the obedience of faith.” Our faith alone in Christian living—Christ’s imputed obedience to fulfill the law covenant as long as we walk by faith alone. I had one person from the anti-Calvin, anti-Lordship salvation crowd tell me that Christians only obey one time—when they believe. After that, it’s all Christ’s obedience perpetually imputed to our account. I had another anti-Calvinist refer to en nomos to Christ. What’s that? It means in-lawed to Christ; the law is fulfilled for us in Christ. Calvinists call this the “vital union.” As long as we are walking by faith alone, Christ continues to satisfy the law for us.

Listen, do you know why Calvinists and Arminians bicker back in forth in the SBC but will not separate? Do you know why a non-Calvinist president of a major SBC seminary wrote me and stated that Calvinism isn’t a false gospel? The answer is simple: they all believe in the same law covenant. When it gets right down to it—they believe the same gospel.

The Abrahamic covenant, the covenant that all of the other covenants of promise are based on, are based on promise and NOT law.  It doesn’t matter who keeps it—it’s NOT a law covenant. The apostle Paul spent all of his Christian life refuting this very idea.

Galatians 3:15 – To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Listen, if Christ had to keep the law for us, that makes the promise what? Right, “void.” Who keeps the law is not the point, law period is the point. Paul goes further to make his point with the ONE SEED argument. What’s that? If the law is part of the Abrahamic covenant, there are two life-giving entities and not just one being Christ. Verse 21, the law cannot give life. We are going to come back to this text when we get to the Mosaic covenant.

Let’s now do an overview of the covenants of promise starting with the Noahic  covenant.

Genesis 9:8 – Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

This is pretty straight forward, but let me point out that when God makes a covenant with someone, he tells them about it directly. In every case where God makes a covenant, He says, “I establish my covenant with you.” God never said to Adam, “I establish my covenant with you.” Moreover, in the text cited by Calvinists and Arminians alike to make a case for a “Covenant of Grace,” God is talking to Satan. In every other covenant of promise, God establishes the covenant with those he is talking to.

The foundational covenant of promise that the rest of the covenants of promise are based on is the Abrahamic covenant. To get the full breadth of this covenant, you really have to study Genesis from chapter 12 to pretty much the end of the book, but I would like to point primarily to chapter 15. In what is obviously some kind of ritual to establish a covenant, because verse 18 states such, God put Abraham in a deep sleep and executed the covenant Himself—He performed the ceremony with Abraham in a deep sleep. Why? Because the promise will be kept by God alone. It’s not some kind of mutual agreement commonly found in law covenants.

This is the essence of law covenants—they are based on some kind of agreement. This is why the idea that the church is the bride of Christ is so popular; this makes the idea of a law covenant more feasible than a one direction covenant of promise.  Hence, “Christians” keep themselves “faithful to our covenant with Christ” by being good little “faithful members” in the local church by showing up every time the doors are open, tithing, serving, and being a “blessing to the pastors.” How often have we heard this stuff all of our Christian lives? When I was a member of the institutional church, every time I was able to spend some time with my family, we were packing everyone up and heading to church because “the doors were open.” Not being a “blessing” to the church =’s being a bad wife to the bridegroom who is supposedly Christ.

But when it gets right down to it, being a “faithful member” results in the “covering of Christ” that continues to fulfill the righteous demands of the law because the institutional church covenant is a law covenant. As long as we are faithful to the covenant; i.e., a member in “good standing,” Christ will continue to cover us with His perfect obedience in order to keep us righteous, or as CJ Mahaney puts it: “keep us in the love of God.”

The Palestinian covenant (Deu 30:1-10), again, a covenant of promise, is a land promise to the nation of Israel. This is also included in the Abrahamic covenant. Dispensationalists contend with the Reformed that this is a promise God will keep while the Reformed argue that Israel broke their covenant with God, a marriage covenant, or law covenant, resulting in God divorcing Israel, and being replaced by the Gentile church. Therefore, this promise no longer stands because Israel was unfaithful to the law covenant.

Nevertheless, on this wise, the Reformed are more consistent in regard to their partnership with Arminians in believing the same gospel based on law. If Calvinists and Arminians appear to be like an old married couple constantly bickering back and forth—it’s because that’s what they are. They will never get divorced; it’s a marriage of institutional convenience.

Now we come to the Mosaic covenant and as mentioned beforehand we will go back to Galatians to shed some light on this covenant. After Paul’s argument that the Abrahamic covenant is according to promise and not law, does that mean the law is kaput?

Galatians 3:19 – 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came [Christ], we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor [guardian v.23] to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor [guardian v.23] (NKJV).

 What this is saying is that Christ ended the law for righteousness (Rom 10:4) when he died on the cross. Until then, until “faith came,” all the sins of the righteous were imputed to the law: “But the Scripture has confined all under sin… we were kept under guard” (also see Rom 7:6). All sin is transgression against the law (1Jn 3:4), so all sins that believers committed until Christ came were imprisoned in the law, and then Christ ended the law. Therefore, our sin is not merely covered by some law covenant, but actually ended. Where there is no law, there is no sin (Rom 5:13, “Apart from the law, sin lies dead” Rom 7:8).

By the way, if Christ kept the law for us, this posits the idea that there is a law that can give life. “But Paul, Christ kept it for us.”  So what? That’s still saying that the law gives life if kept perfectly, but there is no law that can give life.

This is why the Mosaic law is not ended. It still functions as a covenant of death to those who do not believe, for those whom faith has not come yet, or faith in Christ has not come. All sin is transgression against the law, so if belief in Christ ends the law, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). But if the Mosaic law is ended, there is no law in which to judge anybody—everybody is going to heaven. In this way, the Mosaic law is an instrument of the gospel because all of the sins of unbelievers are imputed to it. If they would only believe in Christ—their sins are ended and there is no law to judge them. We implore unbelievers to escape the law by fleeing to the blood of Christ.

The Bible also refers to the Mosaic covenant as an inheritance, or a will. When Christ died on the cross, believers received their inheritance:

Hebrews 9:15 – Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.

The New Covenant is a better covenant. Why? Because the Old Covenant only COVERED sin, the New Covenant ENDS sin. This is why the old is “becoming” obsolete and “passing away” (Heb 8:13). Also, let’s not forget the elect angels that enforced this covenant when God came down to make it on Mount Sinai. Undoubtedly, the forces of darkness were preset that day, and when the God of Israel came down to meet with Israel to enact this covenant, we have this apocalyptic scene of the angels making a protective perimeter for the event. Angels are also at work daily in ministering to those who are God’s ambassadors, and will again be covenant enforcers in the last days (see the book of Revelation).  The angels are elected for this purpose.

The Mosaic covenant is also a covenant of promise regarding blessings and cursings. This is a promise of blessing for obeying God’s law for purposes of love. Since the law cannot condemn us because it has been ended for righteousness, Christians can now be assured that their law-keeping is faith working through love (Gal 5:6). We can be assured that the law of condemnation is now the Spirit’s law that He uses to sanctify us (Jn 17:17).

 Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

And, we are blessed for obeying:

Ephesians 6:1 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

James 1:25 – But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Philippians 4: 8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

These are promises for sanctification; we can only believe to receive the promises of justification, but in order to receive reward in sanctification, we must act in love:

Hebrews 6:10 – For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.

I am going to spend little or no time on the Davidic covenant. It’s a promise that Christ will rule on David’s throne in the millennial kingdom. It’s founded on the Abrahamic covenant,  and Peter eludes to it in his gospel presentation at Pentecost.  Again, all salvific covenants of promise are tied to Israel.

Lastly, the New Covenant.

We have touched on the New Covenant to a point in discussing the Mosaic Covenant. The New Covenant which, here we go again, is a covenant to Israel specifically (Jere 31:31), was inaugurated by the death of Christ, but will not be fully consummated until the millennial kingdom.

The inauguration of the New Covenant ended the law for righteousness, and ushered in the beginning of a better covenant. The Old is fading away, but I assume that it will not be completely obsolete till the end of the millennial kingdom because that’s when the final judgment takes place. The law will be needed, unfortunately, to condemn those who appear at that judgment.

How do we know that the New Covenant is not fully consummated at the present time? Read the covenant in Jeremiah 31.

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: 34 and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more (ASV).

Are we in those days when Israel is completely given over to God and there is no need for teachers or the written law? Obviously not. Is all Israel saved according to Romans 11: 25-27? Obviously not. And by the way, this particular writing of the law on hearts does NOT refer to present-day Christians and does NOT abrogate the Old Testament law written on tablets of stone etc., ad nauseam.

This is how we know that the New Covenant is not fully consummated at this time. Besides, when Christ instructed us on the remembrance of the Lord’s Table, He said He would not drink of that cup again until he did so with us in the kingdom. I think this speaks to the full consummation of the New Covenant as well.

Another thing we can associate with the covenants is the vanquishing of God’s enemies. Christ came proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and performed a lot of healing of diseases. This is indicative of the millennial kingdom where there will be little disease if any.  The Bible states that an infant will be 100 years old. In the new heaven and new earth, the last enemy to be defeated will be death. The new heaven and new earth is the consummation of the Abrahamic covenant when the city Abraham was looking for, heavenly Jerusalem, the real bride of Christ, will descend from heaven and God will dwell among men.

When Christ came and died on the cross, sin was defeated because the power of sin is the law (1Cor 15:56). That was the first enemy of God to be defeated. And by the way, why would Christ want to fulfil the law in our stead for righteousness? All that would do is empower sin that much more! “But Paul, what’s Matthew 5:17 talking about?” Answer: see Romans 8:3,4.

The second enemy that will be defeated is disease in the millennial kingdom which is why healing was such a major theme during Christ’s ministry.

The last enemy to be defeated will be death at the consummation of the Abrahamic covenant (1Cor 15:24-28). That is also the Sabbath rest that yet remains for God’s people (Heb 4:9).

That concludes our overview of biblical covenants.

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