328: Introduction

I. What is Covenant Theology?

A. One of core assumptions is that God has approached His people through covenant
B. One example of a definition, from Donald Macleod: covenant theology is “the use of the covenant concept as an architectonic principle for the systematizing of Christian truth.” (DSCHT, 214)
C. Our definition: “Covenant theology is the study of God’s eternal, unchanging purpose to bring a people to Himself through covenantal relationship.”

1. Importance of “Immanuel Principle”

2. God is pursuing this through covenant; Deuteronomy 29.12-13


II. What is a Covenant?

A. Complex yet coherent idea
B.  A Proposed Definition

“Now there is not the same signification attached to God’s covenant in the Scriptures. It denotes properly a pact and agreement entered into between God and man, consisting partly in a stipulation of duty (or of the thing to be done) and partly in the promise of a reward (which is the meaning in Gen. 17:2 where God is said to wish to make a covenant with Abraham). At one time it is taken improperly for a simple promise (as the promise not to destroy the world again by a flood is called a covenant, Gen. 9:9). At another time, it is taken metonymically for the symbols and sacraments of a covenant: as circumcision is called a covenant (Gen. 17); the eucharistic “cup” is said to be “the new testament in the blood of Christ” (Lk. 22:20), i.e., a sign and seal of it; then for “the tables of the covenant” laid up in the ark (1 K. 8:21); again for the “covenanted people,” as the people of God are called “the holy covenant” (Dan. 11:28, 30); and for the Messiah, the foundation of that covenant, in whom it is made with us (“I will give thee for a covenant of the people,” Is. 49:8). But we, dismissing the improper significations, attend here to the proper signification, when we dispute concerning the covenant.  Turretin, Institutes, 2.172.

1. Two key ideas

a. Binding obligation.

b. A relationship.

c. Together, give the idea of a relationship within parameters.

C. Biblical terminology of covenant

1. Old Testament

a. ברית

i. Relationships between men

a) Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31.44)

b) David and Jonathan (I Samuel 18.3)

ii. Relationships between nations (Joshua 9.15)

iii. Relationship between God and men

a) Noah (Genesis 6.18)

b) Abraham (Genesis 15.18)

c) David (Psalm 89.3-4)

d) Phineas (Numbers 25.12)

e) Corporate people Israel (Exodus 19.5)

f) These have the distinctive feature of being both sovereignly and graciously administered.

b. Variety of verbs paired with ברית

i. כרת ברית. To cut a covenant.

a) To make or inaugurate a covenant.

b) Jeremiah 34.18

ii. הקים ברית. ‘To arise; to stand’

a) The perpetuation or maintenance of a covenant.

b) Genesis 6.18

iii. נתן ברית. To give a covenant.

a) Emphasis on one party ‘giving’ the blessings of that covenant to the other party.

b) Genesis 17.2

2. Septuagint

a. ברית almost uniformly rendered as διαθηκη

b. Uniformity striking given the option of συνθηκη

c. Nuances of meaning between the two

3. New Testament

a. Uniform usage of διαθηκη continues, most importantly in New Testament quotations of Old Testament texts. E.g. quotation of Jeremiah 31.31-34 in Hebrews 8.8-12.

b. Meaning of διαθηκη

i. Importance of distinction from συνθηκη

ii. Uniform identification of ברית with διαθηκη in both New Testament and LXX.

iii. Turretin: διαθηκη can refer to any covenant or agreement. ‘But it peculiarly denotes a testamentary disposition with a federal agreement.’ (Institutes, 12.1.3; II.170)

a) “Testamentary disposition”

b) “Federal agreement”

D. What the language teaches us

1. Importance of contractual terms

2. Importance of relationship

E. A definition

1. ‘A binding relationship between two parties that involves both blessings and obligations.’

2. Marriage as a qualified example


III. Note on Terminology

A. ‘Covenant theology’ and ‘Federal theology’ largely interchangeable
B. Some different connotations

IV. An Overview of Covenant Theology

A. WCF VII.I and starting assumptions
B. Three different ‘covenantal entities’

1. Council of Peace / Covenant of Redemption / Pactum Salutis

a. Pre-temporal, intra-Trinitarian covenant

b. What is accomplished

2. Covenant of Works / Covenant of Life / Covenant of Creation


b. Stipulations/rewards

c. God bridges the ontological gap

d. The covenant wherein God condescends to provide a way whereby the perfect obedience of man will bring infinite life to a finite creature.

3. Covenant of Grace

a. Addresses the moral chasm between the holy God and sinful man

b. Work of Christ the Mediator

c. Several distinct ‘covenantal administrations’. Individual, distinct, yet interrelated covenants that God made, in history, with different individuals or groups.

i. Protoevangelion

ii. Noah

iii. Abraham

iv. Moses

v. David

vi. New Covenant

d. Covenantal administrations are unique, yet all form one whole.

i. Example of jigsaw puzzle

C. Areas of disagreement

1. The place of the Mosaic Covenant within the larger Covenant of Grace

2. The legitimacy of the overarching Covenant of Grace

3. Relationship between the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption


V. Conclusion

A. What covenant theology is.
B. What a covenant is.
C. A general sketch of the overall system of covenant theology.

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