Covenant theology

The past, present, and future events in the redemptive history of humans are a progressive story of God’s covenants with humans. Covenants found both in the Old Testament and New Testament unlock the meaning and significance of the death of Christ. The person and work of Christ were the fulfilment of all Biblical covenants. Jesus expounded his death in covenantal terms and fulfillments. His blood inaugurated the New Covenant. Without his bloodshed, there would have been no New Covenant.

Characteristics of covenant theology

1.     Covenant Theology is also called federal theology. The Latin word “foedus” means covenant. Covenant theology is not a systematic set of doctrines. In that sense, it is not a theology. It is a framework for biblical interpretation. Covenant theology brings together all covenants in the scripture, into a coherent account. It explains the significance of the scriptural covenants in redemptive history.

2.     Covenant theology explains the relationship between God and humanity in terms of divinely initiated covenants. It explains almost all themes and issues related to human redemptive history. Covenants expound on unity and progress, as well as the temporary discontinuity in the process of fulfilling the promise. It reveals the final fulfilment of redemption and salvation.

 3.     Covenant theology is a Christocentric way of looking at the whole scripture. It explains the Old Testament as the promise of Christ and the New Testament as the fulfilment of Christ. Covenant theology is all about the gospel. It exemplifies how sin entered the world and how sin was counted among all humans, making all humans sinners through the transgression of one man. Just as all were made sinful by Adam’s disobedience, many will be justified through Jesus Christ’s perfect obedience. This is redemptive history.


4.     Covenant theology is scriptural. It contains the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, consecration, and consummation. Covenant theology places our salvation in the proper context of the greater purposes of God.


5.     Covenant theology is exegetical and theological. Covenant theology is derived from the Scripture, not an imposition upon it. Covenant theology is on display throughout the Bible. It explains how God has been working throughout redemptive history. Such reflection is called biblical theology. It is also systematic or dogmatic. It tells us what we must believe and confess about God in the totality of Scripture.


6.     Covenant theologians believe that God has never abandoned His promises to Israel. They expect the fulfilment of these promises in the person and the work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The New Testament church is an organic continuation of Israel. The church is not a separate replacement entity. Many covenant theologians believe that unregenerate Israel will be restored in the future.


7.     Covenant theology is not sectarian. It is an ecumenical, reformed approach to understanding the Bible. Its origin goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. It became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries during the Calvinistic Reformation. Covenant theology is historically accepted by all Protestant denominations. Covenant theology is accepted by the Baptist, Congregationalist, Independent, Presbyterian, Reformed, Anglican, etc.


The well-known form of Covenant Theology is associated with the “Westminster Confession of Faith” (1646). Another form is called Baptist Covenant Theology. The Baptist Covenant Theology is associated with Reformed Baptists and comes from the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. It is also called “1689 Federalism." Methodist hermeneutics present Wesleyan covenant theology, which is consistent with Arminian soteriology.


8.     Covenant theology is not the only way to interpret Scripture. Dispensationalism is another interpretative framework. Covenant theology and dispensationalism are different in many areas like the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. They pose opposite views on some other secondary doctrines, like eschatology. But both adhere to the essentials of the Christian faith: salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and to God alone be the glory!


Covenant theology is not a response to dispensationalism. It pre-existed the formulation of dispensationalism by several centuries.


Dispensationalism originated in the nineteenth century through the teachings of John Nelson Darby. Darby was an Anglican priest in Ireland. (Born, 18 November 1800, Westminster, London, United Kingdom; died, 29 April 1882, Bournemouth, United Kingdom). He was the co-founder of the original “Plymouth Brethren” and the founder of the “Exclusive Brethren." He originated dispensationalism, futurism, and pre-tribulation rapture theologies. These were further popularised in the United States in the early 20th century by the Scofield Reference Bible.


“The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology,” said the great English Baptist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon. Dr. R.C. Sproul has observed that the “Reformed theology is Covenant Theology.”


What is a covenant?


The word “covenant” occurs over 300 times in the Old Testament and 30 times in the New Testament. The two parts of the Bible are called the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.”


Testamentum is a Latin word that means "will" or "testament." In theology, the Latin word “testamentum” is "testament," and in English, “Testamentum vetus et novum” means "The Old and New Testament."


Covenant in Hebrew is “berith” and “diatheke” in Greek. These words are best translated as "covenants,” not "testaments." A testament means "disposition of property made in contemplation of death." It is a way or means of transferring an inheritance, usually because of a pre-existing relationship. In a testament, the testator expresses his will, which must be executed after his death. It is a legal enactment effected by the death of one party, whereby a living party receives a bequest.


Characteristics of a covenant


1.     Covenants are a choice of God.


The covenantal relationship that is established between God and humans is God’s sovereign choice. It is initiated by Him according to His will and conditions. Humans cannot, in any way, choose or initiate a covenant with God. Humans cannot dictate the conditions. God never consults with humans before He pronounces a covenant. God in the Bible is a covenant-making, covenant keeping, and covenant-fulfilling God. Through these covenants, God unfolds his redemptive plan for humanity.


2.     Obligations, blessings, and curses


God’s covenants contain obligations, privileges, duties, blessings, and curses. They are all for his glory and our good. It may entail an inheritance.


3.     With elected people


God enters Himself into a covenant with only elected people, not with all creatures or humans. God created Adam and brought him into a covenant relationship. God did not make any covenant with plants or animals. God made a covenant with Noah, not his contemporaries; Abraham, not his father, other family members, or fellow countrymen; Moses and Israel, not Pharaoh or Egyptians; David, not Saul. The New Testament covenant is made between Jesus and all those who are elect for salvation.


Romans 8:28-30

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.


4.     Covenants are a binding relationship.


Biblical covenants are not mere legal agreements. Each covenant established a binding relationship based on trust, obligations, promises, and consequences for unfulfilling those obligations. They remind us that we belong to God and demand total commitment. They are permanent and never cancelled by either party. They are life and death. Once accepted, we are obliged to fulfil all the conditions of the covenant. If any one of the parties who has obligations to keep violates any conditions of the covenant, he is considered dead. Or his death is the penalty for violation of obligations.


Galatians 3:15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.


Covenants bind God to us, and He binds us to himself only. He takes us as his most precious possession and gives us Him as our most precious possession.


Exodus 6:7 'I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.


Violations of the obligations in a covenant are always a sin. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin. So, all violations of divine covenants result in death. This death is either the death of the covenant-breaker or the death of a substitute.


Hebrews 9:22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.


5.     Living relationships


God’s covenants are unique, living relationships. It is what they should keep while living. It is inaugurated by the covenant initiator and enjoyed in life. A covenantal life with God is not all about what comes after death but also about living with God and for Him now. The covenants verify, validate, and order, a person’s life with God and other humans in this world. Everything for a person in the covenant is as dictated by the covenant.


6.     Secures an existing relationship.


Covenants do not start a new relationship. They formalise and secure pre-existing, unique relationships with blessings and obligations. A covenant itself is a secured relationship.


7.     Covenant words


The words that are spoken and written are the covenant’s words. They include words that come from God (verbal revelation) and words that are written by God or his designee (written revelation). They describe the content of the covenant relationship.


8.     Indicates eras and progress.


A covenant indicates different phases, eras, and progress in God’s overarching plan of redemption. A covenant indicates specific relationships with specific people. Covenants are the progressive revelation of the redemptive plan.


9.     Ceremonious inauguration


Covenants are often instituted and inaugurated by a ceremony. Representative and confirmatory signs and seals are established. These confirming signs can be sacraments or ordinances.


Covenant structure


In the ancient Near East, treaties between kings were common in the 2nd millennium BC. There were two types of treaties: the Parity Treaty and the Suzerain-Vassal Treaty. They were also known as covenants. These covenants were designed to create a setting of amity between the two contracting parties.


A parity covenant is an agreement between two equal parties that aims to establish nonaggression. Both parties usually enter the covenant willingly. Most of the time, they agreed in the covenant to honour each other’s boundaries, maintain trade relations, and return run-away slaves.


Suzerain-Vassal covenants were made between a greater and a lesser party. The greater party is called "suzerain," and the lesser party is "vassal." They were a high king and a lesser ruler, or a superior and his inferior. If the relationship was familial or friendly, the parties were referred to as “father” and "son." If the relationship is bereft of kindness and intimacy, the parties are referred to as “lord and servant” or “king” and “vassal” or “greater king” and “lesser king."


The greater king is the suzerain, and the lesser king is a prince, or a lesser lord in the service of the greater king. The lesser king or lord is representative of all the common people who are under the protection of the greater king. The lesser party enforces the covenant among the masses.


The suzerain initiates and formulates the covenant. The suzerain promises the vassal, blessings for loyalty and obedience, and curses for rebellion. The vassal may receive a new name, land, and blessings as a reward. Through the Suzerain-Vassal covenants, new families were created between people who were not previously in a family.


Suzerain covenants usually have the following particulars in it.


·       Preamble (Deuteronomy 1:1–4)

·       Historical prologue (Deuteronomy 1:5–3:29)

·       Stipulations (Deuteronomy 4–26)

·       Document clause (Deuteronomy 27)

·       List of gods as witnesses (lacking in Deuteronomy)

·       Sanctions: curses and blessings (Deuteronomy 28; 31–34).


Different kinds of Covenants


There are different kinds of covenants: conditional and unconditional; bloody and bloodless. The covenants may be established with the shedding of the blood of an animal or without it. The Adamic and Davidic covenants were without blood. The covenant of grace in the Garden of Eden was confirmed with blood. The Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New Testament covenants are examples of bloody covenants.


Conditional covenant


A conditional covenant is an agreement that has certain obligations to be fulfilled by both parties. Both parties must agree to the conditions. If the terms are met, there will be blessings, and if not, it will incur curses.


The Mosaic covenant had a conditional aspect with respect to the physical land promise. The people of Israel needed to keep the stipulations of the covenant to stay in the Promised Land. But unfortunately, they repeatedly broke the covenant and were eventually sent into exile.


Deuteronomy 28:1, 7, 15, 25, 63, 64,

1 "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth.

7 "The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.

15 "But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:

25 "The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth.

63 "And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.

64 "Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known-wood and stone.


Deuteronomy 31:16, 17

16 And the LORD said to Moses: "Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.

17 "Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, 'Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?'


Unconditional covenant


An unconditional covenant involves no obligations of any kind for the fulfilment of the agreement. In unconditional covenants, agreement by both parties is not necessary. One party makes an oath to another person and keeps it, regardless of the opinion or wants of the other party.


The Noahic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant are examples of unconditional covenants. There was nothing Abraham could do to break the covenant God made with him.


Genesis 9:8-11

8    Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying:

9    "And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you,

10 "and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.

11 "Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."


Genesis 12:2, 3

2    I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.

3    I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."


Genesis 17:2,4-8

2     "And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."

4     "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.

5     "No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.

6     "I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

7     "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.

8     "Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."


Theological Covenants


The Covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the New Covenant are called scriptural or biblical covenants. Theologians have brought all the Biblical covenants under three headings, which they call “theological covenants."


Theological covenant is not a term that we find in the Bible. Theologians often use extra-biblical terms to explain important biblical concepts. Examples are the terms, Trinity, Theodicy, and homoousios (the Father and Son being of the same essence). Such a term is “theological covenants,” which describes the covenantal relationship between God and humans.


Covenant theologians view the history of God's dealings with humans, from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation, under the framework of three overarching theological covenants:


1.     Covenant of Redemption

2.     Covenant of works

3.     The covenant of grace


Covenant of Redemption


The Covenant of Redemption (Latin: pactum salutis, agreement of salvation), is a pre-temporal, intra-Trinitarian covenant intended for the salvation of humans. Pre-temporal means it is pre-historic. Intra-Trinitarian means it is a covenant within the triune God.


It is a parity covenant, which is an agreement between three equal parties. In parity covenants, if the relationship is familial or friendly, the parties are referred to as “father” and "son."


It is a covenant made in eternity past among the three persons of the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The purpose was to elect, atone for, and save the elect people for salvation and eternal life. It aimed to redeem a people for the glory of God and the eternal good of His people.

Redemption involves election, atonement, and salvation. The Father granted the Son, by an eternal covenant, a people to save and to redeem. For that purpose, the Father elects the people to save. The Son redeems them through His life, death, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies the redeeming work of the Son to those whom the Father has chosen. However, each person of the Trinity is involved in all these aspects of the covenant of redemption.


The Covenant of Redemption is not explicitly stated in Scripture. But the Scripture does speak of the eternal nature of the plan of salvation. Jesus often referred to His task as carrying out the Father’s will (John 5:43; 6:38-40; 17:4–12). The salvation of the elect was God’s intention from the very beginning of creation. The Covenant of Redemption just formalises this eternal plan in the language of a covenant.


Ephesians 1:3-7

4    just as He (God and Father) chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,

 5   having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,

6    to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

7    In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace


Ephesians 3:11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,


2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,


2 Timothy 1:9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,


1 Peter 1:1, 2

1    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

2    elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.


Psalm 2:7-9

7    "I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.

8    Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.

9    You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.'"


More scriptural support for the covenant of redemption is found in Psalms 110, Isaiah 53, Philippians 2:5–11, and Revelation 5:9–10.


The covenant of grace manifests this purpose and plan in human history. It is made possible by the covenant of redemption from eternity.


There are some covenant theologians who disagree with the intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption.


Covenant of Works


The covenant of works (Latin: foedus operum) is also called the covenant of life, the covenant of creation, or the Adamic covenant. The Covenant of Works is the covenant between God and Adam as the federal head of all humanity (Romans 5:12–21). Thus, it was a covenant not between God and one man but between God and all human beings.


Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned-


Covenant theologians agree that the word covenant is not found in Genesis 1–2. But all the characteristics of a divine covenant are found in God’s command to Adam.


Genesis 2:16, 17

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;

17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."


Hosea 6:7 explicitly calls this a transgressed the covenant.


Hosea 6:7 But like men they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with Me.

The word “men” in Hosea 6:7 is “'āḏām” in Hebrew (aw-dam'). The word means Adam, the first man, man, mankind, and human being (an individual or species). So Hosea may be referring to the Adamic Covenant. But this is the only place the word “covenant” is used in connection with God’s command to Adam.


Hosea 6:7 As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to me there. (NIV)


Hosea 6:7 But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust. (NLT)


The covenant between God and Adam is a divinely initiated, binding, and living relationship. It contained obligations, blessings, and curses. Under the terms of this covenant, God promised Adam a state of perfect and eternal life if he did not violate God's commandment. The condition in the covenant stipulated that death would follow if he violated the covenant condition.


Unfortunately, Adam, as the federal head of all human beings, violated this covenant with drastic consequences (Genesis 3). He and the whole humanity in him were condemned because of the violation. If Adam had obeyed God and not eaten from the forbidden tree, his obedience would have been counted among all humans, and all would have eternal life. But since Adam disobeyed, and his disobedience is counted by the whole of humanity, all his descendants are born in a state of sin and estrangement from God. All humans became totally depraved.


From a redemptive historical perspective, the covenant of works is the first covenant we see in Scripture. We can see the covenantal language implied in this command. Life is the reward for obedience, and death is the punishment for disobedience. This is a covenant language.


The concept of the Covenant of Works helps to explain the Covenant of Grace.


Covenant of Grace


The Covenant of Grace stretches from Genesis 3 to the New Testament. It was first announced just after the fall, in the Garden of Eden. Covenant theologians consider the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12; 15; 17) also to be a covenant of grace. The ‘new covenant’ is simply the administrative ‘extension and unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant.


The covenant of grace is called so, not because no works are involved in it. It is a gracious covenant. After the fall of humans, God was not at all obliged to enter another covenant with humans. God could leave humanity in a state of sin, misery, and death. There was no merit in the fallen human beings that necessitated a new covenant. Still, God, in His sovereign will, graciously chose to enter a new covenant and show grace to the elect. That is the covenant of grace.


The Covenant of Grace promises to save the elect in Christ. God promised Adam and Eve, as federal parents to all humans, a “seed of the woman” who would crush the serpent. This promise was the historical inauguration of the covenant of grace.


Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel."


In turn, we respond in faith, trusting the “seed of the woman,” who is Jesus alone, for salvation. This faith bears fruit in obedience.


The Covenant of Works is the basic covenant with human beings. It is never cancelled or modified. The covenant of grace does not annul the covenant of works. There are demands for the fulfilment of works in the covenant grace as well. But since we cannot fulfil the covenant of works, another person – Jesus Christ, our Lord—fulfilled all the requirements of the covenant of works for us. As the last Adam, he renders the perfect obedience God demanded from the first Adam. And also, Jesus atoned for the sin of His people, assuaging God’s wrath.


The covenant of grace is unconditional and is given freely based on God’s grace. Faith seems a condition of the covenant of grace, but even the saving faith is a gracious gift from God.


Ephesians 2:8, 9

8    For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,

9    not of works, lest anyone should boast.


The covenant of grace promises eternal life for all people who have faith in Christ. Christ is the substitutionary covenantal representative, fulfilling the covenant of works on their behalf. Christ has fulfilled the positive requirements of righteousness and the negative penal consequences. His righteousness is his active obedience to the covenant of works and his passive obedience to the penal consequences.


In the Covenant of Works, Adam was the federal head of humans. In the covenant of grace, Christ is the federal head of His people. When we trust Christ, His perfect obedience is imputed to us and credited to our account before God. Thus, God declares us righteous and considers us to have fulfilled the covenant of works. Therefore, we inherit the eternal life that Adam could inherit with obedience to the covenant.


In the covenant of grace, God provides a substitute and representative for the atonement of our sins. Sin is failing to live up to the covenant of works. Since all humans failed in Adam as the federal head, all humans are considered sinners. In the covenant of grace, God freely offers to sinners eternal life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.


The specific work of Christ in fulfilling God’s demands through His obedience is revealed in texts such as Matthew 3:15 and Romans 5:12–21. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us is revealed in passages including Romans 3:21–4:25 and 2 Corinthians 5:21.


The covenant of grace is unfolded in the history of salvation in a series of covenants God made with individuals. The covenant with Abraham to be his God and Abraham and his descendants to be His people is an extension of the covenant of grace. Another unfolding of the covenant of grace is the Davidic Covenant, which promised a descendant of David who would reign as king eternally.


The covenant of grace was operative in the Old Testament period. It is the same in substance under both the law and the gospel. But there is a difference in the administration. Some of the provisions in the Mosaic Covenant were an application of the covenant of works. They attracted God’s judgement upon Israel for their disobedience to His commands. But God dealt patiently with them. God’s promise to fulfil the covenant of grace often overrode His right to enforce the covenant of works.


All covenants in the Old Testament pointed towards the coming saviour, Jesus Christ. The sacrifices and rituals in the Old Testament pointed forward to the saving work of Christ, the great High Priest (Hebrews 8–10). Humans were justified by their faith in the coming saviour, just as they are justified by faith in Jesus under the gospel. This is why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that He came not to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). And all of them were fulfilled in Christ.



The New Covenant is the final expression of the covenant of grace. God writes His law on human hearts and completely forgives their sins.


Reformed orthodox theologians taught that the covenant was primarily unilateral or monopleuric on the part of God. The conditions of faith in Christ in the covenant of grace are assumptive and confirmatory rather than duties required to receive the covenant.


Covenant Theology views the covenants of Scripture as manifestations of either the covenant of works or the covenant of grace. The entire redemptive history is God unfolding the covenant of grace from its nascent stages through to its fruition in Christ.


The Biblical Covenants


There are many covenants in the Bible. Among them, five covenants are crucial for understanding God’s redemptive plan: the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant.


1. The Noahic Covenant


The Noahic covenant is found in Genesis 9. It is also called the covenant of continuation. The Noahic Covenant is the covenant between God and Noah in which the Lord promises to preserve the earth and never again send a flood to destroy all life. The covenant promises the preservation of humanity.


Genesis 9:7-12

8    Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying:

9    "And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you,

10 "and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.

11 "Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

12 And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:


The whole story of the flood is a re-enactment of the de-creation and re-creation of the earth, as mentioned in Genesis 1.


Genesis 1: 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."


Genesis 9:1, 2

1    So God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.

2    "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand.


The redemption of Noah and his family from the judgement waters is a shadow of the salvation of humans. The whole story further points to the last days in which the earth will be de-created and a new heaven and earth will be created.


2. The Abrahamic Covenant


The Abrahamic covenant is also known as the covenant of promise. It reveals God’s promise to bless the entire world through one family and through one son from that family. The Abrahamic covenant is found in Genesis chapters 12, 15, 17, Romans 4, and Galatians 3:15–29.


The covenants with Adam or Noah were universal. But the covenant with Abraham is limited to his descendants. The Abrahamic Covenant is the first covenant found in the Bible that God enters with an elected family.


God made a covenant with the patriarch Abraham to give him many descendants, a good land, and a great name. But he would not see its fulfilment in his own lifetime. The Book of Hebrews explains that he was looking to a better and heavenly land, a city with foundations, whose builder and architect is God (11:8–16).


Hebrews 11:9, 10

9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;

10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.


The Apostle Paul writes that the promised seed in the covenant refers to Christ.


Genesis 12:7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants (Hebrew - seed) I will give this land." And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (NKJV)


Genesis 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. (KJV)


Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ.


This reveals that the covenant has a future spiritual fulfillment, which Abraham knew about. Jesus also confirms Abraham’s spiritual anticipation of a spiritual land and descendant. The whole world will be blessed through this spiritual descendant.


John 8:56 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."


The Abrahamic covenant is exclusively for him and his physical and spiritual descendants. It is an everlasting covenant. It has not replaced any former covenants and is not replaced by any later covenants. Abraham accepted the covenant by faith.


Genesis 17:7 "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.


Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.  


The circumcision was an external sign of the covenant which followed the circumcision of the heart.


Genesis 17:10 "This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;


Jeremiah 4:4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, And take away the foreskins of your hearts, You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My fury come forth like fire, And burn so that no one can quench it, Because of the evil of your doings."


Philippians 3:3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,


According to Paul, since the Abrahamic covenant is eternal, the followers of Christ are "children of Abraham" and therefore part of this covenant through faith.


Galatians 3:6-9

6    just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

7    Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.

8    And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed."

9    So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.


Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.


According to covenant theology, Christian baptism is the external sign of faith in Christ. Through faith in Christ, the believer is part of the Abrahamic covenant. This provides the basis for the doctrine that baptism is the New Testament sign of God's covenant with Abraham.


Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.


Non-covenantal theology (dispensationalism) does not teach that the Abrahamic covenant is inherited by gentiles and thus presents a different view of baptism.


3. The Mosaic Covenant


The Mosaic covenant is also known as the old covenant or law covenant. It is found in Exodus 19–24 and the book of Deuteronomy. It is an expansion of the Abrahamic promise of a people and a land. It contains extensive legal regulations and a sacrificial system.


This is the covenant God establishes with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai after he leads them out of Egyptian slavery. God gave them the law to form and govern the nation of Israel in the Promised Land. It distinguished the people from the surrounding nations as a special kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:1–7). The covenant was conditional, with blessings and curses based on obedience or disobedience (Deuteronomy 28-29).


The Mosaic Covenant is fundamental to the blessing and curse in the Old Testament, the exiles of Israel and Judah, the disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees, and Paul’s pastoral teachings about law and grace.


Covenant theology recognises that men and women were redeemed under the Mosaic covenant through faith in God’s promises alone, just as they were saved under every other era during the covenant of grace.


Nevertheless, the Mosaic law and covenant, as Paul tells us in Galatians 3:10–14, holds out the promise of eternal life to all those who keep it perfectly.


Galatians 3:11, 12

But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them."


Leviticus 18:5 'You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.


God never intended the Mosaic law to be a means of salvation for sinners. Instead, the Mosaic law proved that we cannot live up to the holiness of God by obeying all of it. Thus, the law pointed to a promised seed who would keep them perfectly. In the New Testament, Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of works for the elect.


Galatians 3:19, 24-26

19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.


24 Therefore the law was our tutor 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.

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.


 Three important characteristics of the covenant are:


1.     The Law of Moses was in first place a re-enactment of the covenant of works. It is the ministration of condemnation and death.

2.     It was a national covenant, giving national blessings based on national obedience. It was purely legal.

3.     The sacrificial system points to the Gospel of salvation through a mediator.


However, some of the reformed theologians do not believe that the Mosaic covenant was a re-enactment of the covenant of works.


4. The Davidic Covenant


The Davidic Covenant is also known as the Kingship Covenant or Royal Covenant. It identifies the one family descended from Abraham in whom God would accomplish all the promises to His people. God chose David out of all the people of Israel to hold the kingship over Israel permanently. In the Davidic covenant, God promised David, from the tribe of Judah, an everlasting throne and a son to build him a temple.


The Davidic covenant is given in 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89. The Lord proclaims that He will build a house and lineage for David, establishing His kingdom and throne forever.


2 Samuel 7:12, 13, 16

12 "When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.


16 "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever."


1 Chronicles 17:11-14

11 "And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom.

12 "He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.

13 "I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you.

14 "And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.""


Psalm 89:3,4

3    "I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David:

 4   'Your seed I will establish forever, And build up your throne to all generations.'"


Ezekiel, who prophesied during the Babylonian exile, spoke about the restoration of the Israelites under a Davidic king who would bring peace and justice.


Ezekiel 37:24, 25

24 "David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them.

25 "Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.


Other verses, like Genesis 49:10, also predict the exaltation of David’s throne over the nations. Isaiah 53 describes how the Son of David pays for the sin of the elect through his suffering.


Genesis 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. 


In the Davidic Covenant, God promises a descendant of David to reign eternally on the throne over the people of God. This covenant is the basis for the hope of a Messiah. The Gospels show that Jesus is the promised son of David, the rightful king of the Jews.


5. The New Covenant


The New Covenant is made by God in Christ with His elect people. All scriptural covenants, including the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, are fulfilled in the new covenant.


The new covenant is announced in Jeremiah 31; inaugurated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; continued in the ministry of the church; and will be consummated at the return of Jesus at the end of history.


Jeremiah 31:31-34

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."


Jeremiah was prophesying to the exiled Israelites in Babylon about their rescue and re-establishment. He also prophesied about a coming day when God would make a new covenant, unlike the one that Israel had broken. This coming day will bring forgiveness of sin, internal renewal of the heart, and intimate knowledge of God.


On the night of Jesus’s Last Supper, Jesus takes the cup and declares that his death will be the inauguration of this new covenant. Jesus was speaking in covenantal language.


Luke 22:19, 20

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.


All the earlier covenants point forward to the new covenant. Jesus fulfils the promises and goals of these covenants between God and His people. Jesus’ death is the ground for forgiveness of sins in the New Covenant. His covenantal mediation assures everlasting communion with God. The new covenant began in the work of Christ, but the fullness of its blessings will not arrive until Jesus returns.


Coram Deo


We have been going through a brief description of covenant theology and how it interprets Scripture. Covenants are fundamental to understanding the Bible correctly. The Old Testament covenants establish promises that look forward to fulfilment. The New Testament shows how Jesus Christ fulfils these covenant promises. The New Covenant was inaugurated by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.




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