Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

January 25, 2007

Here is part II of the paper. You probably should…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 6:05 am

Here is part II of the paper.
You probably should not skip this part since it contains definitions of “covenant”.

Meredith Kline has provided impetus in this direction in his concluding sentence in the introduction to his seminal Kingdom Prologue Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. “By unfolding and developing that infrastructure [Biblical Theology], Kingdom Prologue performs, in part, a prolegomenon function for the program of Biblical Theology, while also serving the enterprise of systematic theology by contributing very directly to the formulations of covenant theology.”1 This paper attempts to tackle the other side of Kline’s coin. He is mostly concerned with Biblical Theology. I will attempt to demonstrate how the covenant idea is a servant of systematic theology.

Before moving ahead to the proper defense of my thesis, I will conduct a brief survey of the covenant idea. This will provide a definition of covenant that I will use to discuss the thesis of this paper.

O. Palmer Robertson describes a covenant as a bond in blood sovereignly administered. Robertson is motivated by his conviction that the phrase ‘to make a covenant’ is literally ‘to cut a covenant’ and primarily via the term “cut”, carries with it a clear reference to blood. He makes a reference to such covenants where the phrase ‘cut a covenant’ is present in those made between men2. And he makes reference to such covenants initiated by God toward man. Significantly, Robertson neglects to include the covenant of redemption in his treatment of covenants.

John Murray holds the view that the covenant concept is all about grace. Murray arrives at this position because he essentially denies the existence of any covenant of works. The Adamic covenant he contends is no covenant at all, not having been so named in scripture.3 Further, he sees the Adamic “administration” as well as the Sinaitic covenant as fundamentally gracious.

Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to a redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow. . . .The Mosaic covenant was distinctly redemptive in character and was continuous with and extensive of the Abrahamic covenants.4

What is notable about both of the above views is that neither is really suitable as a lens through which to view Scripture or to do theology. These views are restrictive in that they don’t account for all the data. By excluding the covenant of redemption from the discussion, both Robertson and Murray truncate the broadest possible sweep of the covenants. So also, by excluding the covenant of works from the discussion, Murray seriously hamstrings the covenants, rendering them useless as a lens as well.

When all the data is accounted for, a more useful definition of covenant emerges. This is what Meredith Kline has done in providing his definition that covenant is a divinely sanctioned commitment.5 As befitting a wide-angle lens, Kline’s definition is broad as it is succinct. His view stretches the scope of covenant to extend before time and into eternity. Kline then goes on to show his definition to include two basic kinds of covenants, one of works and one of grace.6

We must remember that Kline is not an innovator on the point of two covenants. His definition is useful and I commend it assured that he is in step with the reformation.7 Space prevents me from listing the work of those reformers who had a similar understanding of the covenants. In summary though, the divines who formulated the Westminster Confession attest to a broadly held view of the covenants as follows:

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. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.8

1Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. (Eugene Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 7.

2See Gen 21:27-32. 2 Sam 3:12-13.

3John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 2. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 49. Hosea 6:7 notwithstanding. Murray contends that this verse may have other interpretations but fails to offer any. See footnotes 6,7,8,9 and 10 starting on page 282 of Covenant Theology by Jeong Koo Jeon for a detailed exposition of Hosea 6:7. Interpreters have produced “they, like men”, “they, like man”, “they, like mankind”, “they, as at Adam”, “they, like Adam”, “they, in their land”. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew “ws anqrwpos ”. Additionally, Murray avoids discussion of Isaiah 24:5 in his treatment. This verse has been used by Meredith Kline and others to defend the works principle and the associated covenant of works. See Kingdom Prologue, page 14.

4 ibid p. 50.

5Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 2.

6For more on the covenant of works and the covenant of grace see Meredith Kline’s “Covenant Theology Under Attack”, Online: http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/Kline_cov_theo.html

7Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1980), 234-242. Here Vos provides an excellent tracking of the history of the development of covenant theology.

8WCF Ch. 7 P2,3.

Note that in the above section, Dr. Horton docked me for not citing all my assertions. And, amazingly, Dr. Horton caught my Greek error in footnote 3 where I failed to correct the wrong form of ‘s’ or sigma that ends the word anthropos. He went over this paper with a fine toothed comb. Also, Dr. Horton liked my phrase “as befitting a wide-angle lens”. I think that phrase all by itself rescued the paper from mediocrity.



  1. Good stuff. Well done. Interesting about Murray. Is it now any surprise that Norm Shepherd was Murray’s successor? Murray got a lot of things right, but you’ve put your finger precisely on where he went wrong. Somehow, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” is an excellent work. Here is a perfect case in point in which Murray’s view of covenant theology undermines the gospel, but he still was solid on the gospel. Very solid. He didn’t apply his errors in covenant theology consistently to the rest of his theology. Although, who knows what would have happened if he had written a Systematic Theology?

    But check this out. His error was simply that he didn’t want to call the covenant of works a covenant. He had everything else about it fully understood, he just basically didn’t want to call it a covenant, because it didn’t involve grace.

    Norm Shepherd comes along and agrees that all covenants are gracious, but he thought the Adamic covenant was in fact a covenant. So what did that mean? That it must have been a gracious covenant.

    This all happened because these men got bogged down doing theology like a science. They devoloped definitions of terms that they allowed to control their theology. It’s similar to the way a central dogma works.


    Comment by Michael — January 28, 2007 @ 4:45 am

  2. I struggled through this part of the paper because it was done primarily out of duty to present some definitions. Give some background. It comes out sounding a bit like a high-school book report.

    A question has been raised about my statement that Murray’s definition “seriously hamstrings the covenants, rendering them useless as a lens as well.” I have given this question some thought and I have only this to say: My thesis was to demonstrate the usefulness and value of covenant as a lens into systematic theology. I was not trying to “prove” the existence of a covenant of works. So, even though it may seem to be question begging by faulting Murray as I do, that is not the case, since my goal was not to target “Federal Vision” in any way. The fact remains that Murray’s view of covenant does morph covenant into a locus rather than a lens as my thesis asserts.

    It so happens that the paper does become a defense of a covenant of works, primarily through an exposition of the covenant of redemption, which was a covenant of works. But that was not my goal. (Early on I had planned to write a polemic against FV. But I got so sick of FV that I wisely decided to abandon it. I didn’t want to play around with toxins for a month or two).

    If you glossed over the footnotes, take a close look at the remarks about Hosea 6:7 which can become the center of a brouhaha in itself. “They like Adam broke my covenant”.

    Comment by Bruce S — January 28, 2007 @ 5:16 am

  3. “got bogged down doing theology like a science”

    Yet that’s exactly what Arminians accuse (we) Calvinists of, when they can’t face the consistent logic of scripture and want to hide in a shroud of mystery.

    I want theology to be like a science. I’m good at science.

    Comment by RubeRadhttp://ruberad.wordpress.com — January 28, 2007 @ 10:13 pm

  4. By “theology” as “science” I meant that what I am studying, figuring out, has nothing to do with me. It’s about that God, “up there”. It doesn’t really affect me.

    Ultimately they came up with a definition for covenant that was extrabiblically founded, and then read it back into the Scriptures and screwed it all up. That’s because they were experimenting. “I wonder what would happen if I used this definition of covenant… Whoa, that’s an interesting result. I think I’ll write a book.” Novelty in theology is actually almost always bad.


    Comment by Michael — February 5, 2007 @ 10:22 am

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