Engaging Confessional Baptists on Covenant Theology (Part 2): Unity of Salvation in the Old and New Testaments

This two-part series engages recent confessional Baptist publications on the nature of covenant theology in order to help Reformed readers understand the Baptistic view better and to have some starting points for responding to it. Part one looked at new developments in how confessional Baptists have argued for a two-level typology in the Old Testament types. This part looks at the issue of the unity of salvation for Old and New Testament believers.

Confessional Considerations

How do confessional Baptists explain salvation’s unity if no Old Testament covenant delivers salvation in Christ? Most fundamentally, they define the exclusively saving new covenant as “forgiveness of sin in Christ’s blood,” which is not inherently tied the new covenant’s outward form of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. How then do Old Testament believers take part in the covenant of grace, since the Old Testament’s covenants reveal but do not apply the covenant of grace? London Confession 8.6, mostly repeating Westminster Confession 8.6, states:

Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ until after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and today and forever.1

The London and Westminster confessions state that the old economy’s ordinances communicated the efficacy of Christ’s work to the elect. The Reformed easily affirm that salvation came from the future to saints of old based upon Christ’s work as the guarantor of the new covenant, since the diverse administrations of the covenant of grace all deliver that substance through their ordinances.2 The conclusion that Baptists understand London Confession 8.6 to mean the same as Westminster 8.6 is difficult (at least for the Reformed to follow) because 1) they omitted Westminster Confession 7.5–6 which makes the same point from the historical perspective and 2) they explicitly reject that the old economy covenants administer the substance of the covenant of grace.3

Understanding the Baptist Position

If Baptists assert that the new covenant alone provides the substance of the covenant of grace, how were Old Testament saints in the new covenant? First, they say that the covenant of redemption made Christ the federal head of all the elect in the new covenant.4 Second, Baptists affirm that Old Testament saints trusted in Christ in advance.5 On both points, the Reformed agree inasmuch as the covenant of redemption appointed Christ as the one mediator and the only way to receive salvation is by trusting in him incarnandus or incarnatus. Third, Baptists argue that the new covenant was “carried within the covenants of promise.”6 But what does this actually mean? Baptists reject both that old and new covenants have the same substance and that the Old Testament covenants included the new covenant itself, since “they carried the promise of another covenant, the New Covenant, in that they promised the One who would bless freely, and the blessing He brought was the New Covenant.”7 So, the covenants of promise merely reveal but do not apply the substance of the new covenant.8

The problem is that Baptists struggle to maintain this point consistently or to explain clearly the nature of salvation by Christ alone for Old Testament believers. Regarding consistency, they often fail to keep the new covenant totally distinct from the other covenants. For example, although at times asserting that the Abrahamic covenant is primarily an earthly covenant that does not provide a relationship to Christ, they also argue that it does apply the new covenant.9 The inconsistency is clear when, despite claims that the Abrahamic is substantially distinct from the new covenant, they state that it carries the new covenant within itself.10 How the Abrahamic covenant can contain and apply the new covenant while remaining substantially distinct from it is not obvious. This inconsistency appears exegetically as well. Despite claiming that the Abrahamic is primarily earthly, the Abrahamic covenant as declared in Genesis 12 is the new covenant.11 So, because God’s acts in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 are the expansion and confirmation of one covenant, it is not clear how circumcision did not then ratify the terms of the new covenant, since it ratified the terms declared in Genesis 12.12 The denial that the covenants of the old economy applied the same substance of the new—Christ and his benefits—is not maintained consistently and seems to conflict with London Confession 8.6 that types and ordinances communicated the virtue and efficacy of Christ’s work.

Probing the Coherency of Formulation

Regarding the clarity of expression concerning Old Testament salvation, Baptist formulations often suggest to Reformed readers that Old Testament believers did not truly experience salvation until after Christ’s death. For example, Baptists assert that the new covenant was “retroactively applied” to believers in the Old Testament.13 Reformed readers are troubled by a retroactive application. On the one hand, if the Old Testament covenants do not apply the new covenant but merely announce it in advance, then believers in the old economy were not truly saved, at least not until Christ came in history.14 This is the implication if Baptists truly mean retroactively applied, rather than applied proactively or in advance. They intend this “proactive” sense but do not always clearly express it, specifically when explaining the relationship between covenants.15 The confusion increases for Reformed readers when Baptists deny that members of the old covenant partook of the same substance—Christ and his benefits—as we do in the new.

On the other hand, if Baptists argue that the Old Testament covenants apply the new covenant, proactively or in advance, then they implicitly admit that the old economy administers the substance of the one covenant of grace. Even within their two-level typology (see Part One), some aspect of the old covenant distributes Christ, so delivering the substance of the new covenant as the covenant of grace by the ordinances of other covenants. London Confession 8.6, if its meaning is identical to Westminster Confession 8.6, requires this understanding.

In this respect, Baptists qualify that Old Testament believers had the promise of the new covenant, somehow participating in it by types despite how it lacked its own outward life.16 In their view, the old covenant’s external form was not itself the new covenant but was the way the believers participated in the new.17 Believers were not saved by the outward form of life itself, as the Reformed certainly affirm even concerning the new covenant, but under it. If that be the case, old covenant believers participated in the covenant of graceeven understood as exclusively the new covenantthrough the old economy’s outward forms.18 The Old Testament covenants would then be the way to receive the covenant of grace, entailing diverse administrations of the covenant of grace.19 Baptist arguments often seem inconsistent by affirming both that the old economy covenants include the new covenant and at the same time rejecting that they deliver it. If Old Testament types and ordinances truly granted “the new covenant of grace” to believers, then they were a different outward form of life for the same blessings given in the new, namely a divers administration of the same substance.

The distinction between God distributing in advance the blessings of Christ’s new covenant work (as the Reformed), or the new covenant itself (as confessional Baptists) seems negligible if not semantic.20 After all, notably just before stating the sacraments of the New Testament, Westminster Shorter Catechism 92 confesses that a sacrament in principle—regardless of its redemptive-historical epoch—represents, seals, and applies “Christ and the benefits of the new covenant” to believers.21 In that respect, extending the new covenant itself into other previous covenants seems to undermine its genuine newness, particularly as an administration. Although abundant biblical evidence demonstrates that Christ is the Savior of believers throughout every era of redemptive history, none obviously states that the new covenant itself as a covenant extends back into prior covenants. The benefits associated with it are clearly applied to Old Testament believers but nowhere in the covenant itself. Rather, types and ordinances of previous covenants communicated the efficacy of Christ’s work. Baptists, at least in the seventeenth century, admittedly insisted on their formulation to protect believers-only baptism.22 If their view means that the substance of the new covenant was truly delivered through the covenants of the old economy, why not concede the Reformed view’s other implications, so that Baptist and Reformed friends could worship as the same church family?

This discussion again concerns the plural “covenants of promise” from Ephesians 2:11–15. Confessional Baptists argue that only the new covenant includes the reception of Christ and his benefits: “the extent of the blessings and benefits of the covenant is limited to those for whom Jesus Christ is High Priest in the New Covenant.”23 Still, Old Testament believers were somehow “the children of the new covenant.”24 The other covenants apparently contained the new covenant to provide salvation to Old Testament believers but somehow still did not themselves offer Christ.

This interpretation does not square Ephesians’ direct point that true participation in any of the old economy’s “covenants of promise” was contrary to being “separated from Christ.” Baptists understand “promise” to mean something future but not yet accomplished.25 This understanding, although certainly sometimes applicable, does not explain every use of “promise.” In Luke 24:49, after his resurrection when he had certainly accomplished the reality, Christ said, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” In Romans 4:16, Paul wrote justification must depend on faith rather than the law, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” Christians, whose father is Abraham, receive by faith the same promise after Christ’s resurrection as Abraham did in the old economy prior to Christ’s coming, but that promise is certainly now accomplished. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul argued “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Paul’s exhortation rests upon the very present possession of promises, requiring that these promises—namely that God dwells with his people (2 Cor 6:14–18)—not await future accomplishment. Hebrews 8:6 notes the Mosaic covenant’s inferiority, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.” Christ’s presently-enacted ministry still involves promise.

Paul’s use of the covenants of promise indicates that the members of those covenants were members of Christ’s body. If they did not receive Christ through the promises and ordinances of their times, it is not clear how he was truly given to them.26 Respectively, confessional Baptists argue that all the Old Testament covenants focused on earthly blessings.27 In regard to Abraham, “the covenant of circumcision” was God’s agreement with Abraham about circumcision pertaining to earthly and not spiritual blessings.28 For Abraham personally, circumcision signified the blessings of Christ, since he received it as a believer, but it was the law’s curse to those circumcised as infants yet without faith.29 In one sense, the Reformed agree with the latter point because circumcision signified Christ’s curse-bearing death for his people while that curse remains on those outside Christ (Col 2:11–15).30 Still, the same is true of baptism. In 1 Peter 3:18–22, baptism corresponds to the Flood concerning how Noah and his family came safely through the water. The rest of the world also went through the water but not safely.31 In another sense, the insistence that circumcision meant one thing for Abraham and another for everyone else seems more asserted than argued from the texts of Genesis 17 or Romans 4:11–12. Just because Paul explained what circumcision meant for Abraham does not entail a different meaning for everyone else who received it. The same meaning is expected unless a different meaning is explained, which Paul did not do.32

Their main argument, especially concerning Romans 4:11–12, is that Abraham had a “dual paternity” over a “dual offspring” of “all who believe” and “the circumcised” which distinguishes “the children of his body, and the children of his belief.”33 This interpretation separates the spiritual realities offered to Abraham from the Abrahamic covenant itself, tying those spiritual realities exclusively to the new covenant and only earthly blessings of a seed and the land to the Abrahamic covenant itself.34

Paul made no such distinction but rather argued Abraham was circumcised in order “to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised…and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom 4:11–12). Abraham fathers all believers whether circumcised or not.35 As Paul wrote in Romans 9:7 regarding Israel’s covenants and promises, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring,” indicating that Abraham’s true children have always been believers and his paternity focused on his spiritual descendants.36 The “two covenants” stemming from Abraham in Galatians 4:21–31 are not an earthly covenant of circumcision and a spiritual covenant of faith, since one of those covenants “is Mount Sinai” (Gal 4:25).37 The earthly focused covenant is the Mosaic covenant, not one of two Abrahamic covenants. This argument that the cited texts do not teach Abraham’s “dual paternity,” although not refuting the category as such, challenges its exegetical support. We cannot invent and impose categories onto Scripture just because the text does not reject them. Exegesis must warrant a category.

Confessional Baptists interpret the Abrahamic covenant as having a primarily earthly focus, binding it closely with the other Old Testament covenants and contrasting the promises of the new covenant with the entire old economy.38 The Reformed, as argued at length when we come to the new covenant, recognize that Scripture contrasts the new covenant specifically with the Mosaic covenant, which provisionally fulfilled the Abrahamic with distinct focus on the earthly aspects.39 The Abrahamic covenant itself, however, always emphasized spiritual realities.40

The Reformed used the identity of the sacraments from the old and new economies to argue against the Roman Catholic view that the Old Testament sacraments were only shadows and figures of the grace offered in the New. Again, Turretin emphasized how the old economy conveyed the reality of baptism in its own mode, as Paul explicitly argued regarding Israel’s baptism at the Red Sea. Further, the spiritual meat and drink were spiritual realities that must be received by faith, rather than mere bodily food for earthly reasons (1 Cor 10:1–4). God gave the sign of circumcision to Abraham to seal the righteousness that he had by faith, and that circumcision remained the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Rom 4:11–12). The sacraments of the old economy are then shadows and types of Christ rather than symbols pointing to some other reality.41 Turretin’s arguments against the Roman Catholic understanding of Old Testament sacraments easily apply to any view that disconnects the ordinances of Old Testament administrations from the same spiritual realities that believers receive today in our sacraments. The ordinances of the old economy, particularly circumcision, concerned the spiritual realities of Christ rather than merely the earthly promises to Abraham concerning a physical offspring, a land, and kingship.42

For the Reformed, the unity of substance in the means of grace in the old and new economies concerned far more than guarding a particular ecclesiological formulation. Rather, they saw the unity of substance coming through all the outward administrations throughout redemptive history as pivotal to the Protestant refutation of all they rejected in the Reformation. Our typology then should always square with our most fundamental concerns, the most fundamental, of course, being the gospel. And our typology should underscore the unity of salvation across the testaments.


Theological discussion is not helped by truncated or caricatured presentations of views with which we disagree. This two-part series has sought to describe fairly and interact cordially with confessional Baptist views on covenant theology and redemptive history, primarily as formulated by my friend Sam Renihan. The point has not been a full response or refutation but a clear and reliable sketch of some main talking points that drive the disagreement between Baptist and Reformed theologies. The responses are admittedly initial and tentative but also hopefully thought-provoking and helpful.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.


1. The Reformation Study Bible, ed. R.C. Sproul (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2483 (emphasis added).

2. Whereas the Westminster Confession 8.6 reads “the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation,” the 1689 London Confession was amended to “the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ until after His incarnation.” Although the difference should not be overstated, nor is there presently historical evidence from the writing of the 1689 London confession to confirm suggested explanations for the change, and confessions are open to various legitimate readings, this change may represent a true difference regarding Christology. Specifically concerning the nature of Christ’s suretyship, the Westminster Confession’s phrasing, maintained in Savoy Declaration 8.6, represented an expromissor perspective but the London Confession may presume an fideiussor perspective; Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1877), 3:621; A Declaration of the Faith and Order Owned and Practised in the Congregational Churches in England (London, 1659), 11. The mainstream Reformed opted for expromissor, that the elect’s covenantal debt was entirely assumed by the Son as the mediator according to the covenant of redemption. The tendency for confessional Baptists to emphasize that the new covenant as the exclusively salvific covenant was not “concluded” until Christ’s death plausibly suggests the fideiussor premise that the elect’s covenantal debts remained theirs until Christ he historically paid that price of redemption. According to expromissor, he wrought the work of redemption as he had already assumed his people’s debts but, according to fideiussor, he paid a price that someone else continued to owe until he actually paid it. This plausibly differing premise coheres with the Reformed assessment that confessional Baptist explanations of Old Testament salvation often seem imprecise or vague, as was the critique of Cocceius’ view of πάρεσις rather than ἄφεσις; Willem J. van Asselt, “Expromissio or Fideiussio?: A Seventeenth-Century Theological Debate between Voetians and Cocceians about the Nature of Christ’s Suretyship in Salvation History,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 14 (2003): 37–57.

3. This language should accurately reflect their position, since they affirm that the new covenant, which they argue is the covenant of grace, differs in substance from the Old Testament covenants. From the historical perspective, this view is not in step with the wider Christian tradition. Reformed theologians adopted the ancient church’s language that the old and new covenants have the same substance, and that Christians were simply brought into the covenant with God’s Old Testament people, e.g. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.9.1, in Jacques Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologia Cursus Completus: Series Graeca, 161 vols. (Paris, 1857–66), 7.1:996; Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds.), Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 volumes (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885), Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:472; The Epistle of Barnabas 13.1, 6; 14.1–6, in Michael W. Holmes (ed.), The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 423, 425; Augustine, Seven Questions, 2.73, Jacques Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologia Cursus Completus: Series Latina, 221 vols. (Paris, 1844–64), 34:623; Augustine, Merits and Forgiveness, 1.13, 54, in Schaff, Philip (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, 14 vols. (New York, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 5:20, 35; Augustine, Spirit and the Letter, §18, 27, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1, 5:90, 95. The Baptist formulation rejects that the old and new covenants have the same substance, since only the new delivers salvation in Christ. In this regard, Reformed theology stands in continuity especially with Irenaeus’ interpretation of Scripture, but Baptist theology does not.

4. “The relationship between the Covenant of Redemption and the New Covenant establishes an obvious, but important, fact. Jesus Christ is the federal head of the New Covenant. This is so because he was appointed as a federal head in the Covenant of Redemption, particularly as a priest.” Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant and His Kingdom (Cape Coral, Fl: Founders Press, 2020), 171; Micah Renihan and Samuel Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” in Richard C. Barcellos (ed.), Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2014), 476–79.

5. “Rather, there were many prior to Christ who trusted in Him through the mystery that made Him known and thus received all of the blessings that Jesus secured in His life, death, and resurrection. They believed the gospel, the good news, and were the children of the New Covenant.” Renihan, Mystery, 192.

6. Renihan, Mystery, 186.

7. Renihan, Mystery, 186.

8. “In other words, the Abrahamic Covenant contained a promise, this promise was the revelation of the covenant of grace.” Pascal Denault, “By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology,” in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, 92, 86.

9. “These passages emphasize and reinforce the fact that the Abrahamic Covenant is first and foremost an earthly covenant of national promises.” Renihan, Mystery, 97. “In other words, this [Abrahamic] covenant provides a descendant who will bless. But it does not provide a relationship to the descendant beyond common genealogy.” Renihan, Mystery, 89 (emphasis added).

10. “The benefits of Jesus Christ’s salvific, life, death, and resurrection are made available to all the world through the New Covenant. So, from its inception, the Abrahamic Covenant is not just anticipating the New Covenant but carrying it within itself. The Old Covenant is pregnant with the New Covenant.” Renihan, Mystery, 99.

11. “The covenant whose terms were declared in Genesis 12 is the New Covenant, carried within the covenants of promise.” Renihan, Mystery, 186.

12. “What was initiated in Genesis 12 is confirmed in Genesis 15.” Renihan, Mystery, 90. “It is important to note the continuity of promises between Genesis 12, 15, and 17…Genesis 17 is an expansion of the covenant…” Renihan, Mystery, 91. “It is important to notice how Genesis 12, 15, and 17 build on each other.” Renihan, Mystery, 93.

13. “The covenant of grace is the in-breaking of the covenant of redemption into history through the progressive revelation and retroactive application of the New Covenant.” Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 477.

14. Although at least Renihan rightly rejects this meaning, some statements suggest it: “The distinction between the revelation and the administration of the covenant of grace finds its whole meaning when the second element of Particular Baptist federalism is added to it, that is to say, the full revelation of the covenant of grace in the New Covenant.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 86. “The covenant of grace, in this specific sense [of being a true covenant rather than merely a promise], was not given to Adam or to Abraham.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 88.

15. “This means that inwardly, or invisibly, the church began as far back as Eden after the fall. The body of Christ, the company of those united to Jesus and enjoying the benefits of His salvific work, did not appear or begin subsequent to Christ’s appearance.” Renihan, Mystery, 190–91. “Rather, there were many prior to Christ who trusted in Him through the mystery that made Him known and thus received all of the blessings that Jesus secured in His life, death, and resurrection.” Renihan, Mystery, 192.

16. Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 88; Renihan, Mystery, 192.

17. “Rather, we are arguing that the covenant of grace has always been an internal covenantal relationship with God through Christ, while the national covenants were an external covenantal relationship with God through Abraham.” Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 484.

18. “The benefits of Jesus Christ’s salvific, life, death, and resurrection are made available to all the world through the New Covenant. So, from its inception, the Abrahamic Covenant is not just anticipating the New Covenant but carrying it within itself. The Old Covenant is pregnant with the New Covenant.” Renihan, Mystery, 99; Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 482–86.

19. “…the Messianic and external relationship was always active, embedded within that external covenant.” Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 484.

20. Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 152–58; Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003–2008), 3:216.

21. Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:696 (emphasis added).

22. “Baptist theologians understood that if they kept these dualities united in the same covenant, they no longer had any reason to reject the paedobaptist model of the covenant of grace.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 93.

23. Renihan, Mystery, 172

24. Renihan, Mystery, 192.

25. Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 86–87.

26. “The covenant of grace, in this specific sense [of being merely a promise rather than a covenant in the Old Testament], was not given to Adam or to Abraham.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 88.

27. “Many passages of Scripture emphasize Abraham as the federal head of this covenant and Canaan as its primary promise. Consistently, the covenant is described in an earthly sphere.” Renihan, Mystery, 95. “…the Abrahamic Covenant is first and foremost an earthly covenant of national earthly promises.” Renihan, Mystery, 97.

28. Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 96–97; cf. Thomas R. Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World (Short Studies in Biblical Theology; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 48–50, 115–16 who also argued that the Abrahamic covenant promised earthly blessings fulfilled in spiritual realities.

29. Jeffrey D. Johnson, “The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant,” in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, 240–41.

30. J.V. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Grand Rapids, MI: RHB, 2010), 232–38; Meredith G. Kline, By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Signs of Circumcision and Baptism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 39–49; G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 813–14; Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 782.

31. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit, 204–6, 242–46; Kline, By Oath Consigned, 65–67.

32. Belcher, Fulfillment, 224–25.

33. Renihan, Mystery, 184–86; Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 91–98; Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 482–85. Even this premise does not itself justify a believers-only ecclesiology, since some Reformed theologians have also articulated two distinct Abrahamic covenants; Charles Hodge, “Visibility of the Church,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 25 no 4 (1853): 684–85.

34. Richard P. Belcher Jr., The Fulfillment of the Promises of God: An Explanation of Covenant Theology (Fearn UK, Mentor, 2020), 224–26.

35. Daniel I. Block, Covenant: The Framework of God’s Grand Plan of Redemption (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 449–53. As other baptistic writers argued concerning Galatians 3–4: “The conclusion that Paul comes back to again and again in these arguments is that Gentile believers in Christ are the children of Abraham or the children of God (children of Abraham: 3:7, 29; children of God: 3:26; 4:7, 28, 31). This conclusion rests on a view of Abrahamic sonship that understands it not only as a physical but as a theological category.” Bruno, Chris, Jared Compton, and Kevin McFadden, Biblical Theology According to the Apostles: How the Earliest Christians Told the Story of the Old Testament (New Studies in Biblical Theology; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 90; Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, 145–46.

36. Baptistic writers conclude concerning Romans 9–11: “‘Israel’ has always been a theological category, a people defined not by ethnic descent or moral effort but by God’s own call or choice of individuals (Rom. 9:6–23). The distinction God made among Abraham’s and Isaac’s children foreshadows the distinction he is currently making among the children of Jacob/Israel. Theological ‘Israel’ is actually narrower than the twelve tribes. But it is also broader, for God has also called some of the Gentiles to be his people (9:24–25). We should observe that, because it is rooted in OT history, this is not technically a ‘redefinition’ of Israel. Paul’s entire point is that this is the way it has always been.” Bruno, Compton, and McFadden, Biblical Theology according to the Apostles, 145; Schreiner, Covenant, 108–9.

37. Belcher, Fulfillment, 226.

38. “Therefore, what is commonly known as the Old Covenant began with Abraham and ought to be viewed collectively in such a way that the Old Covenant includes the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, and the Davidic Covenant.” Renihan, Mystery, 97. “The promises of the Mosaic Covenant are nothing more and nothing less than those of the Abrahamic Covenant.” Renihan, Mystery, 108. “The Old Covenant is coextensive with and collectively representative of theocratic Israel, defined by the Abrahamic, conditioned by the Mosaic, and focused on the Davidic Covenants.” Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 479. “Because the Mosaic Covenant controls both the Abrahamic and the Davidic Covenants, it is the primary referent of the New Testament when speaking about the Old Covenant.” Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 482.

39. “Paul’s reasoning here [in Gal. 3:21–22], perhaps as cryptic as in the first cluster of question/answer/further elaboration, is clear enough on at least one point: the Sinai covenant was sub-eschatological. The ‘life’ available by that administration was only temporal life in the land of Canaan; it was not Edenic life, free of sin and mortality: ‘Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you’ (Deut. 16:20)…Obedience to Sinai’s statutes would give the Israelites a legitimate covenant claim to a long tenure in the land; disobedience would lead (and did lead) to exile. But original Edenic life, forfeited by Adam, could not be restored by the terms of the Sinai administration; Sinai could not ‘make alive’ those who had become mortal through Adam’s transgression.” Gordon, Promise, Law, Faith, 151–52; Belcher, Fulfillment, 93–95, 133–35; Michael J. Glodo, “Dispensationalism,” in Guy Prentiss Waters, J. Nicholas Reid, and John R. Muether (eds.), Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 544–45; Michael G. Brown, and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond, 2nd ed. (Reformed Fellowship, Inc. 2017), 113.

40. “Thus it is clear, from even a few texts in the New Testament, that the covenant with Abraham is the basis and foundation for the gospel message announcing forgiveness of sins and justification through Jesus Christ.” Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 235. The land itself was intended as a provisional fulfillment – with types – of God’s promise for Abraham’s global inheritance; Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 690.

41. Turretin, Institutes, 19.9.1–18.

42. E.g. Johnson, “The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism,” 223–56.



Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. In rereading this a few weeks after writing it, I see even more how the real sticky wicket is differing understandings of what it means for a covenant to have an outward administration. Whereas confessional Baptists define the new covenant as “forgiveness of sin in Christ’s blood,” the Reformed see this as the new covenant’s benefit. For us, the new covenant holistically is its benefits with its administration. In this respect, we confess in Westminster Shorter 92 that the *benefits* of the new covenant are applied through sacraments, which in the OT were promises, types, and ordinances. We believe that OT believers were saved by faith in the promised Messiah. Accounting then for the confessional Baptists’ separation of the covenant’s benefits from its outward administration, when they argue that OT believers were saved by “the promise of the new covenant,” they mean that they were saved by the promise of forgiveness in Christ’s blood. I think this does clarify their soteriology some, although Reformed readers struggle to follow their formulations precisely because we do not define a covenant as its benefits disconnected from its outward administration. Both are part of the covenant, even if distinct. Perhaps this issue also explains why I, along with other Reformed readers, struggle to follow their points about the OT covenants: The Baptist position does not include benefits and outward administration in their *definition* (distinct from wider explanations) of a covenant. So, the OT covenants get *defined* as their outward administration because there is no substance-administration distinction.

    This became clearer to me as I reread and replaced every instance of “the new covenant” with “forgiveness by Christ’s blood.” I think that the Baptist formulation still needs improvement but see better now how they reached that formulation. I believe the Scripture provides good information about the substance-administration distinction and now see the conflation of that distinction a major contributor to why Baptists have the typology they do and express their soteriology in a way that confuses Reformed readers.

    Obviously, this comment isn’t as carefully crafted, nor shared in advance with my Baptist friends, as the posts were.

  2. Thank you for this excellent overview of the Particular Baptist view of the unity of of salvation for OT and NT believers based on a two tier typology of OT covenants as a means of defending their hermeneutics and practice, which make them distinctly different from the Reformed As you point out, this entails some problems for them. The question it raises is whether a two tier exegesis is exegetically warranted. “We cannot invent and impose exegetical categories onto Scripture just because the text does not reject them. Exegesis must warrant a category.”

    • Hi Angela, this is a good question! As will be obvious, I don’t think that their views are exegetically warranted. I think the point, which the essay raised in a particular way, is an important part of these discussions.

      While interacting about a number of passages treated in the Baptist literature, some mentioned in the posts, I would often note problems with the way Baptists explain the passage. One response was, “just because this passage doesn’t teach this doctrine doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” Yes, that’s fine. I agree. But eventually we must concede that at least one passage must teach our view for it to be viable. We could load a lot into theology if the premise were that we can teach whatever the Scripture doesn’t deny. That isn’t how confessional Reformed or confessional Baptists do theology. In this respect, I think the critiques in these posts do whittle away at the ground under 1689 federalism by showing that the evidence appealed to doesn’t support their position. Eventually, if no passage teaches their view, we conclude that it is incorrect.

  3. One of the difficulties I run into when “engaging” with Particular Baptists and even many of those more of our own stripe is this, “What is the New Covenant?” or more germane to the PB argument, “What are the promises of the NC?” PB’s would contend that the NC is a “different” covenant, where we would say it is a “better” covenant. Here I find Turretin helpful. In 12.5.34 he states

    The ‘promises of the new covenant’ are said to be ‘more excellent’ (Heb. 8:6), relatively, not simply. Not with regard to the substance of the promises, but with regard to the mode both of setting them forth more clearly, of enlarging them and efficaciously impressing them and of extending them to the Gentiles also. Therefore, the preeminence of the New Testament is wholly in mode, not in the thing, and has relations to the nonessentials and not to the essentials of the covenant. For more excellent promises as to the matter cannot be granted than were made to Abrahem, Issaac, and the other fathers.

  4. Harrison, If I understand this correctly, you are saying that the Baptist view of OT covenants, as two tier covenants which are covenants of works on the first level, and promises of the covenant of grace on the second level, are administered only as covenants of works for earthly rewards, such as tenure in the land. I suppose because they see the substance, namely forgiveness in Christ’s blood, as not existing until the new covenant.

    • Hi Angela,
      A couple of remarks before answering your question outright. 1) Despite what I think is a very often confusing way of explaining it, they do say that OT believers were justified by faith alone in their own day. The way that they explain how that works is often hard for me to follow, and – in my view – not entirely consistent, which is a major implication of some of this post’s arguments. 2) They do believe in the covenant of works and covenant of grace distinction, so they do hold to the doctrine of the covenant of works itself. Then they limit the covenant of grace to the new covenant and, again in my view, very confusingly explain how OT believers were actually members of the new covenant, usually by appealing to the eternal covenant of redemption.

      Then to your point, the other various historical covenants, best as I can tell, are not categorized as covenants of works or grace in the way that Reformed people think of these terms. God made a covenant with Abraham to give him a land and descendants. At least as I read *some* of the 1689 Baptists, they are not arguing that this was a covenant of works (I believe others have said that but Mike Horton always taught me to engage with the best version of any opposing view). They are arguing that it was not THE covenant of grace. Basically, it was a covenant, even a gracious one, but did not provide forgiveness of sin. It was about other things and also happened to have some types and promises that taught of Christ and carried redemptive history toward the new covenant. There is then a greater amount said about the historia salutis than the ordo salutis.

      If this response seems confusing, I think that my 1689 friends often hold a confusing position. I do my best to explain them fairly and to critique them only insofar as I’m able to understand. They are operating with a different set of categories and definitions from traditional Reformed covenant theology but sometimes using our same terms with their own understandings loaded into them, which often makes it very hard to understand their arguments and follow their views.

    • This is how a friend of mine who is a PB Pastor would answer the question, “How was Adam saved?” He would say, “Adam was saved by grace through the gift of faith in the ‘promise’ of the New Covenant which would be ratified by the death and resurrection of Christ.” For Adam the “Old Covenant” was “do this and live”. So if you asked him was Adam under the Covenant of Grace he would say yes. He would say that Abraham would have been under the Covenant of Grace through faith in the promise New Covenant. He would also have been under the national Covenant of Works or Circumcision. Not two levels but two covenants. He would be of the Barcellos camp of PB’s.

      • Bill,

        This is the very view to which I’ve been responding. This is why I use the prepositions “in, with, and under.” In the view you describe, the covenant of grace is still only prospective insofar as it has not yet actually entered history. That’s why the manifestations of the Son, in, with, and under types and shadows are so important. If one concedes that they are indeed manifestations of the Son (huiophanies, if you will), then one is left to argue that the Son was present but the covenant of grace was not actually present. This seems unlikely and even bizarre. It is strained to say the least.

    • Bill and Scott,
      Both your points helpfully point out the main issue I tried to highlight in the post: consistency of the Baptist formulation. I think they start with two things they know: A) OT believers were saved by Christ like NT believers, and Z) only believers are baptized in the new covenant church. Then, B-Y are filled in accordingly and, in my view, not totally consistently. I think those B-Y premises are what *must* be the case to get A to connect to their Z. B-Y then become quite plastic (both in differing discussions and as they connect within “the alphabet”) because they aren’t about viable premises on their own but about making sure the two essential points connect.

      In Mission Impossible 3, it was cool to see Tom Cruise jump off a huge building tied to a cable to land on another building, so I overlooked the physics of being able to swing so far back to clear the roofline. It’s harder to buy into this sort of maneuver when it happens on a page of written theology.

  5. Harrison, thank you for the response. Yes, trying to figure out this out gives me such a headache! It is extremely confusing. I wonder if ordinary Baptist church members have any idea of how their theologians justify Baptist piety and practice. I suspect that they just go along with the piety and practice because that is what Baptists do. When they claim the title of Reformed, it is again because their church tells them and shows them that their teachings are so similar to the Reformed standards because most of the 2LC is almost identical to the Westminster Confession, and that the differences in the 2LC are actually improvements! But as this series on the Heidelblog is making clear, their amendments provide for a piety and practice that is very different from that of the Protestant Reformers. The danger, I see, is that given the sheer numbers of Baptists, compared to Reformed, the Baptist voice is becoming generally accepted as truly Reformed, even though a thorough examination of their claims shows this is not the case.

  6. Dr. Clark,
    I have not gotten a satisfactory answer from the PBs as to how they deal with Mal. 3:1, Luke 1:72-73, nor Romans 15:8. Or how “their man” Owen deals with those verses. Of course, they take issue with the legitimacy of this being his mature thought. Your work on this was very helpful.

  7. My question is quite late to a conversation that has refreshed a new understanding of confusion from other groups regarding God’s Covenant of Redemption. I realized after laboring to understand the imaginative labyrinths of Dispensationalism and the Baptist’s Progressive Covenantal ideas I need a specific distinction.

    I am studying Romans 3:25-26 (with the commentaries of J. Fesko and J Murray) in order to understand God’s Righteousness in Redemption.

    How do Baptists and Dispensationalists relate to God’s Righteousness in Redemptive History. (J. Murray – Justice is inherent in a propitiation which meets and removes the judgment of his wrath.) (J. Fesko – In Christ’s sacrificial work, God reveals His righteousness. Recall, this is one of the chief themes of Paul’s epistle to Rome. Rom. 1:17”. . . .”The gospel reveals both the mercy and justice of God, His wrath and His Grace. . . . . “God mercifully granted access to Christ’s representative and intercessory work through the gift of faith alone, and for this reason He is also the justifier.)

    • Catherine,

      There are a lot of Baptists out there and there are lots of varieties of Baptists.

      Some of them agree with the Reformed that the Old Testament (from Adam through the Prophets) was, after the fall, an administration of the covenant of grace. So, they would speak as we do, that believers were given new life and true faith by the Spirit, through the preaching of the gospel, which occurred in, with, and under the types and shadows. They see the covenant of grace as a present reality for the OT believers. The word they (and we) use to describe the taking hold of a future reality (Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection) is proleptptic. The OT believers had it, by faith, before it happened.

      There are others, who take a more radical view—even a quasi-Dispensation view, in my opinion—who argue 1) the OT believers had it proleptically but that it did not presently exist under the types and shadows and 2) that, after death, OT believers went to the upper regions of Sheol to wait the coming of the reality in the New Covenant.

Comments are closed.