The History Of Covenant Theology

covenant of graceUntil recently, it was widely held that covenant theology was created in the middle of the seventeenth century by theologians such as Johannes Cocceius (1609–1669). In fact, covenant theology is nothing more or less than the theology of the Bible. It is also the theology of the Reformed confessions. In the history of theology, the elements of what we know as covenant theology; the covenant of redemption before time between the persons of the Trinity, the covenant of works with Adam, and the covenant of grace after the fall; have existed since the early church.

Indeed, Reformed readers who turn to the early church fathers (c. 100–500 AD) might be surprised to see how frequently they used language and thought patterns that we find very familiar. The covenant theology of the fathers stressed the unity of the covenant of grace, the superiority of the new covenant over the old (Mosaic) covenant, and that, because Jesus is the true seed of Abraham, all Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile, are Abraham’s children. They also stressed the moral obligations of membership in the covenant of grace. Read more»

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  1. A terrifically helpful and clear historical study; thank you. A comment about recent scholarship and three quick questions, if I may

    My understanding is that recently discovered Hittite covenants were bilateral covenants of ‘works’, ie like the Adamic (and if you will, the Mosaic) covenants. In patristic language they stressed the ‘moral obligations of membership in the covenant’, ie the necessity of obedience by the ‘junior’ party to the terms of the covenant, eg pay tribute. Some now use this to take us back to the medieval pre-Reformation view which, as you say, dangerously conflated law and gospel, such that the gospel empowers us to keep the law, and is therefore servant of the law. I have seen this as a strengthening trend within supposedly conservative evangelical Reformed circles here in the UK over the last 30+ years. And all this notwithstanding the guts of Galatians (which nobody wants to preach on). So
    Q1. Is the Mosaic covenant a recapitulation of the Adamic covenant of works, or an administration of works within the Abrahamic covenant of grace, and does it matter?

    Q2. Could you say more how federal headship fits in?

    Q3. The Heb 6 benefit(s) for the non-elect would be coming under the Word and observing the work of the Holy Spirit in the local church? Anything substantially more?

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