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Covenant Theology: Covenant of Works (Part 1)

As we kick start this overview of Covenant Theology we run head first into the Covenant of Works. A proper understanding of this covenant is essential to getting the gospel correct. The history on this covenant is a lengthy one. Deviations from the standard model of the Covenant of Works have occasionally received the "heretic" word. Individuals have tried to look at it in different light and been cautioned.

This is going to be a fun set of posts on this Covenant, its history and controversies.

The Covenant

The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity,upon condition of perfect and personal obedience. - WCF 7.2

There are some of significant and complex qualities to this covenant. But in its most basic form it stands that God made a covenant with Adam. This covenant provided eternal life and warned of death. This covenant was built upon the active work of Adam in obedience to God's command.

It is true that nowhere in the creation account is the word "covenant" used. This has led many to ignore and disregard any attempt to establish a Covenant of Works. This is foolish since many Christian doctrines have been established on words that don't get used in the Bible. However, the concern is noted and generous room should be given when discussing the covenant as long as we retain Biblical descriptions.

Despite the lack of the word "covenant", there still remains two valuable modes of defense for this covenant. The first, and weaker of the two, is that Hosea does make a reference to Adam and a covenant (Hosea 6:7). There have been many great exegetical surveys of this text and its meaning in the original Hebrew. Though even John Calvin himself denied they interpretation that this was referring to the historical "Adam", Calvin acknowledged that the reference to "man", if not pointing to the Adam, was pointing to the inherit rebellion of all mankind. 

How, or why, would Hosea point back to a general "mankind" that had transgressed the covenant? There is implied an open doctrine that all men have broken a covenant with God. What covenant would this in fact be? Covenant Theology would state that this is the covenant with Adam. This would seem to be the implications of Paul's theological thrust in Romans 5.
The second better argument for a covenant in Genesis is that the language implies covenantal obligation. However, there are some unique elements to this covenant. The blessings of the covenant are given without any precondition. Man is created and given dominion and authority over the entire earth and all over creation (Gen 1:28-30; BBC). These aren't things he must earn but things he must hold onto. Following this thought, man is given a set of obligations or commandments to faithfully obey upon entering the garden (Gen 2:15-17; BBC). In the fall these obligations were not met and man was removed from the garden. Lest anyone think they weren't included in this fall let them ask if they were born in or returned to this garden of Eden apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ.

The Christ

It becomes quite apparent that the death experienced by Adam spread to the entire world (Rom 5:12-14). The turning point in world history is a new Adam who could fulfill the Covenant of Works. Paul makes it clear that this is fulfilled by Jesus Christ in Romans 5. As would be expected, Paul uses Eden (Rev 21-22) and dominion (1 Cor 15:24-28) language about Jesus Christ. He also overcomes the death found in Adam (1 Cor 15:55-57; Heb 2:14-15).

One should begin to see an important link. The description of the Covenant of Works affects our perception of the saving work of Christ. One should not let the system get in the way of making Biblical statements. But one can use the system to generally measure whether or not something is orthodox. In the next post we'll take a look at the Federal Vision controversy over the Covenant of Works.

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