The Covenant in Classical Covenant Theology (2)

Part One

If we turn to Covenant theology’s own explanations of their system we find a curious dualism of frankness and subterfuge.  I do not use “frankness” in the ethical sense, just in the sense that there is sometimes a willingness to face the text and deal with what it actually says.  Likewise, by “subterfuge” I am not saying there is an unethical motive in these men, but that they almost instinctively avoid the clear implications of passages which undermine their teaching.  Robertson, for example, when dealing with the inauguration of the Abrahamic covenant, carefully picks his way through Genesis 15 (and 12:1) without mentioning God’s land-promise (Ch. 8).  He first constructs his thesis with the help of certain NT texts, and then deals with the land issue once he has a typological framework to put it in.  He is more “up-front” when he refers to Jeremiah 31, 32 and Ezekiel 34 and 37 on pages 41-42 of his book, but this plain speaking about God’s planting of His people “in this land” to “give them one heart and one way”[10], and his explicitly linking the land promise to Jacob through the Abrahamic covenant[11], does not last for long.  Needless to say the land promise to Israel withers under the flame of Reformed typology as Robertson’s book progresses (Ch. 13), and the Church becomes “Israel” through its participation in the new covenant[12].

In none of this does one find any solid exegetical demonstration.  Instead, at the crucial moment, in order to get where they want to go, CT’s will rely upon human reasoning (e.g. “if this, then that”) to lop off covenanted promises which contravene their theological covenants.  The land promise stated over and over in the Abrahamic covenant (e.g. 12:1, 7; 15:18-21; 17:7-8) and repeated in the prophets (e.g. Isa. 44; Jer. 25:5; 31:31-40; 32:36-41; 33:14-26; Ezek. 36:26-36), is ushered into a room marked “obscurity” using the covenant of grace.  How ironic; the land promise is expressly stated and restated all over the OT, and the covenant of grace never once puts in an appearance!  But this maneuver can be carried out under the auspices of this brand of theology due to what Gerhaardus Vos called “a consciousness of the covenant”, meaning the covenant of grace.  I might humbly point out that there are other, more perspicuous covenants that ought to have our attention as Bible readers.

Another noted Covenant theologian who exemplifies the phenomena I have been referring to is Michael Horton.  His book God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, takes back with one hand what it appears to give with the other.  Placing an enormous burden of proof on Galatians 4:22-31, which it was never supposed to bear, Horton sometimes seems to interpret the covenant passages at face value.  He repeatedly admits that both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unconditional.  He rivals any dispensationalist in his belief in the unilateral nature of these biblical covenants[13].  But then he makes the land promise part of the Mosaic covenant, whence it can be safely dispatched.  As he says for example,

The Mosaic (Sinai) covenant is an oath of the people swearing personal performance of the conditions for “living long in the land,” while the Abrahamic covenant is a promise by God himself that he will unilaterally bring about the salvation of his people through the seed of Abraham.[14]

This is an amazing statement.  Although he is right to say that possession of the land was tied to obedience to the Mosaic covenant (e.g. Lev. 26), even the Mosaic covenant looked forward to a New covenant whereby God would circumcise the heart (Deut. 30:6), so that “in the latter days” they would not be forsaken, but would be remembered because of the existing terms of the Abrahamic covenant (Deut.4:30-31; 30:19-20).

What happened?  Is the Abrahamic covenant only about salvation as Horton claims?  I invite anyone to read Genesis 12-17, Jeremiah 33 or Ezekiel 36 and demonstrate such a single track in regards to the Abrahamic covenant.  It is a patently false reading.  In fact, there is no provision for salvation at all in the Abrahamic covenant itself.  Although the Seed promise (singular) is there, it is developed through the New covenant, not per se the terms of the Abrahamic.  All the talk about typology (Horton’s book is also filled with it) cannot alter these facts.

That God must be gracious to sinners if they are to be saved is not at issue.  What is at issue is whether there is any such thing as the covenant of grace (I have focused on it since it is the main support for CT’s interpretations and theology).  I have no qualms in describing it is a figment overlaid on the biblical covenants.  It is the lens which makes CT’s see only the salvation of the church in the covenants.  It is what encourages them to transform the NT Church into “new Israel”.  It stands behind many of the dogmas of covenant theology.  But the covenant of grace, together with the “covenant of works”, is nonetheless absent from the Word of God.


[10]  O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 41

[11] Ibid. 42

[12] E.g. 289

[13] See Michael S. Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, 42, 45, 48-49

[14] Ibid. 48


The Covenant in Classical Covenant Theology (1)

I think it is fair to say that the whole impetus for the covenants of redemption, works and grace in the Reformed Confessions stems from the assumption that the Old Testament must be read through the lens of the extra light of the New.  If that assumption is flawed, as I believe it certainly is, then the whole project is in serious trouble.

The release of the Westminster Confession of 1647, although it was preceded by over a century of formative thinking about the covenant, stands out as the principal document of what is known as Covenant Theology.[1]  Covenant is employed as a fillip to understand and arrange the “doctrines of grace”, and is central to the Confession’s portrayal of redemption.[2]  This means that the concept takes on a deliberate soteriological hue.  The WCF treats its concept of covenant as principally a gracious relationship; a condescension.  And there is no doubt that in this it is correct.  The Westminster Divines did not lay stress on a pre-creational ‘covenant of redemption’, although their anticipatory language of salvation for the elect in the ‘covenant of grace’ is in tune with it[3], and it is there in WCF 7:3.

Biblical Covenantalism is centered around the twin concepts of God’s words and God’s covenants.  To repeat what has already been stated, the present work calls attention to the relationship between God’s words (therefore thoughts) and His actions, and relates them to the covenant commitments which God makes in the Bible.  The motif of God’s words = God’s actions (the GWGA motif), segues into the covenants which He has made in that these covenants are an amplification of God’s promissory words to those to whom He commits.  Whatever else covenants are, they function as reinforcements of speech.  Thus, when a man marries a woman he does not only say words of promise to her on their wedding day, he enters into a committed relationship of promise with his bride.  The presence of a covenant amplifies and underlines the word of promise and binds them together.  It is the same with the covenant God.  This “binding of God” in covenantal obligation has to be carefully studied and traced out in Scripture.  It is not, please note, a theological “binding” first.  That is, we are not to deduce that God has covenanted with X because we have arrived at certain theological convictions.  Rather, the only way we know that and how and with whom God has entered into covenant is through the clear testimony of God Himself.

To set out this difference more plainly, let us think of the “covenant of grace” of covenant theology.  In Reformed theology this covenant of grace has specific content.

The “Covenant of Grace”, which is often simply called “the covenant” by CT’s, wields tremendous, we might say decisive hermeneutical power over CT’s biblical interpretation.  But before one gets to use such a potent hermeneutical and theological device, one needs to prove that it is actually Scriptural.

As Herman Witsius defines it,

The Covenant of grace is a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner; God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and everything relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that good-will by a sincere faith.[4]

Witsius goes on to make it clear that the covenant insures that there is only one people of God, the Church, in both Testaments.  This means, for one thing, that whenever one comes across any passage which seems to point to a separation of, say, OT Israel from the NT Church, this must not be allowed to stand, since the “covenant of grace” will not permit it to stand.  Therefore, CT’s must first demonstrate if it is possible to establish a “Covenant of Grace” from the text of Scripture rather than from human reason, and then they must show that this covenant is the very same covenant as the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants, which are very clearly found within the Bible.

So what is the exegetical basis for the Covenant of Grace?  Well, don’t hold your breath!  Even dyed-in-the-wool Covenant theologians like O. Palmer Robertson admit that there is slender exegetical apparatus from which to derive it (he thinks the “covenant of works” fairs better, expending much effort on making Hosea 6:7 refer to a pre-Fall covenant).  In reality I would say there is no exegetical justification at all!

Reformed theologian Robert Reymond, who boldly claims that “The church of Jesus Christ is the present-day expression of the one people of God whose roots go back to Abraham”[5], does no better in coming up with actual biblical texts which support this extra-biblical covenant.  He, like all CT’s, insists the issue be settled by the Scriptures[6], but he begs leave to spiritualize the texts whenever it suits[7].  Reymond also insists that the OT be interpreted via (his interpretation of) the NT.  In having things this way he can still maintain that the land promises “were never primary and central to the covenant intention”[8].  Quite how one can read Genesis 12-17 and come away believing that the land was not a primary issue escapes me.

Following the reasoning of CT’s as they dive in and out of selective passages, often avoiding the specific referents within the context ( E.g. land, Canaan, Jerusalem, mountains of Israel, Judah, etc.), can be a mind-numbing experience.  One needs to try to keep in mind what they are attempting to prove: that God has made one covenant with the elect of both Testaments to guarantee that there will be one people of God, inheriting heavenly promises in Christ.  For example, Robertson says,

The covenants of God are one.  The recurring summation of the essence of the covenant testifies to this fact… All the dealings of God with man since the fall must be seen as possessing a basic unity…Diversity indeed exists in the various administrations of God’s covenants.  This diversity enriches the wonder of God’s plan for his people.  But the diversity ultimately merges inti a single purpose overarching the ages...The various administrations of the covenant of redemption [i.e. grace] relate organically to one another…[9]

That may sound okay, but what one has to realize is that this means that anything found in the biblical covenants which does not fit this preconceived picture (e.g. a physical land for the people of Israel, a literal throne of David in Jerusalem), is demoted to an ancillary and temporal place or is transformed into a “type” or “shadow” of a spiritual reality which comports with the requirements of “the covenant.”


[1] See Peter Golding, Covenant Theology, 15.  This is an excellent historical account.

[2] Ibid., 60.  Although the ‘covenant of works’ is not redemptive because it deals with man in his innocence, it nevertheless puts forth “life” as something to be achieved or forfeited dependent upon man’s observance of God’s “law”.  See WCF 7:2 & 19:1

[3] See especially the Westminster Longer Catechism 31.

[4] Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 1.165 [Bk. 2. Ch.1.5].

[5] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 525f.

[6] Ibid. 528

[7] Ibid. 511 n.16

[8] Ibid. 513 n.19

[9] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 52, 55, 61, 63 (my emphasis).

Part Two

The Noahic Covenant and the Interpretation of Scripture

In his Commentary on the Book of Genesis the Reformer John Calvin notices that a reason for God’s covenant promise to Noah was to encourage him in the hard task of obedience in the building of the Ark. By way of application he writes,

For then do we freely embrace the commands of God, when a promise is attached to them, which teaches us that we shall not spend our strength for nought…It is especially necessary that the faithful shall be confirmed by the word of God, lest they faint in the midst of their course; to the end that they may certainly be assured that they are not beating the air, as they say; but that, acquiescing in the promise given them, and being sure of success, they follow God who calls them. – John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of Genesis, Vol. I, 258

Calvin is right to fasten on the encouragements to faith of a divine covenant (though interestingly, Calvin interpreted Genesis 2:17, a common proof-text for the “covenant of works”, negatively as requiring meritorious works and not faith.  (See Daniel P. Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 181-182).  But note that his application is on target only if God’s promise means what it says; otherwise faith can find no assurance in what God said. It is a moot point, or ought to be. But it is routinely overlooked in biblical and systematic theology. Covenants become malleable in the hands of many writers. It is our opinion that this contributes in a major way to the disagreements between scholars over just where the biblical covenants function in God’s program.

We might ask, ‘How many people take Genesis 9:11, which include the terms of the covenant with Noah, typologically or spiritually or allegorically?’ The answer would be, ‘nobody.’ And that simple answer is very significant, because it means that this first covenant is interpreted uniformly in what we call a “literal” way. The words of verse 11 mean what they say:

The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” – Genesis 8:21-22

If this is compared with what God said to Himself in 9:11 we see a close correspondence:

I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth. – Genesis 9:11

This again shows that there is agreement between God’s thoughts (“the LORD said to Himself”) and God’s words in the covenant oath. This brings a certain welcome rigidity to what God says in His covenant. There are over sixty ancient Near Eastern covenants or treaties which have been discovered, and the terms all mean what they say (not that we take our lead from extra-biblical sources). In point of fact, many of these treaties specify in the clearest terms the cruciality of the words in the covenant oath, explicitly saying that the words themselves are inviolate.

To give just two examples taken from a reliable and accessible resource (The following are from Readings From the Ancient Near East, eds. Bill T. Arnold & Bryan E. Beyer, 97-98): From the first part of the second millennium B.C. there is a covenant between two brothers, Abban and Yarimlim pertaining to lands which includes the line,

Abba-AN is under oath to Yarimlim, and also he cut the neck of a lamb. He swore: I shall never give back what I gave you.

The central core of the oath which Abban made to Yarimlim is plain and clear. It cannot suffer typological or symbolical transfiguration into some other thing. Although this covenant is conditioned upon Yarimlim’s fidelity to Abban, the oath binds his successors, and therefore cannot undergo any alteration of meaning without being made void.

In another example (14th century B.C.), Hittite king Suppilulima makes a treaty with Mattiwaza, king of Mitanni, witnessed by a host of gods on both sides. It includes the warning:

If he breaks it or causes anyone else to change the wording of the tablet…, If you, Mattiwaza, the prince, and you the sons of the Hurri country do not fulfill the words of this treaty, may the gods, the lords of the oath, blot you out…

What is noteworthy about this is that the wording, and so the meaning of the wording, is sacrosanct. It is not open to reinterpretation, and the pantheon of gods is called upon to ensure against such a thing. This is standard procedure for ANE covenants, in fact, for all covenants. The reason for it is because the oaths must be unambiguous and must mean what they say. I might go further and say that the choice of words as conveyors of accurate meaning is a sine qua non of covenants and treaties.

Going back to the Bible, the well known example in Joshua 9 where the Gibeonites fooled Joshua and the elders into making a covenant with them makes this point well. As Golding correctly says,

When the Israelites discovered how they had been deluded, they were furious, but could not go back on their oath, which had been solemnly sworn with God as witness (v.19). – Peter Golding, Covenant Theology, 70 (My emphasis)

In like manner, the covenant cut by Laban with Jacob in Genesis 31:44-54 makes the same point. The pile of stones (31:46) acted as “a witness” (31:48, 52) to the terms of the covenant (31:52):

This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. – Genesis 31:52

If after striking this agreement Laban would have rose up, strode past the heap and knocked Jacob to the ground, only one of two understandings of his actions would be possible. Either Laban would be knowingly violating the words he just agreed to keep, or, he would have dishonestly and disingenuously made an oath which he knew whose words he knew full well he would not keep. Either way he would have broken his bond. (more…)


The Biblical Worldview (Against All Others) – Pt.2

Part One

2. The Place We All Stand: Everyone Stands within the Biblical Worldview

When I say that we all stand within the biblical worldview, I know that I have some explaining to do. I want to say right away that I am not claiming that we all acknowledge this. In fact, the Bible says we act to suppress the knowledge of God. But it protrudes here and there since it must. For God must be already there in order for anything else to be there. Cornelius Van Til called God “the precondition of intelligibility.” He meant that the existence of the God of the Bible was necessary in order for us to assert anything about anything – even if that assertion is false. Hence, the Christian-biblical worldview is the environment in which we all live, even though many of us wish it were otherwise, and try to construct other “explanations” for things like love, truth, justice, logic, number, information, good & evil, the external world, consciousness & personhood, etc., or even if that means throwing up our hands and saying (in something akin to blind faith) “it’s just there.”

Let me give a few examples of this suppression of truth:

  • A solipsist is someone who denies the reality of anyone or anything but their own existence. As such they are exceedingly rare creatures! I once spoke with someone who told me he thought that solipsism was the most rational philosophical position to take. I asked him who he thought he was talking to?
  • So, many Hindus believe the external world isn’t real. They believe all is one. Yet in propagating it and its central doctrine of reincarnation Hindus actually presuppose the objective reality of an external world to be re-born in to (e.g there is the cycle of samsara and there is the transcending of it). They believe their views are reasonable, although they must hold that the laws of reason are essentially unreal since these laws of logic make distinctions between things, which is a denial of the monism that undergirds much Hindu belief.
  • A church member called me last week after she had been talking with a friend who held Panthesitic New Age beliefs which deny the existence of evil. She told me she had asked her friend about the Holocaust and was told that it wasn’t evil, just necessary. I think a worldview which denies evil is obstinately myopic. It is a denial of the world.
  • Naturalistic materialists may tell us that we are mere bio-chemical machines with no freewill, just dancing to the music of our DNA, but they will take those “machines” to a graveside, to a Shakespeare play, or to the coffee house, or to the university (where they got this stuff from), or even to events like this; and they believe they are free to agree or disagree with other people’s viewpoints. They believe that their views are rational, despite the fact that they must hold that the non-physical laws of thought evolved as our brains evolved, and point towards, not truth, but merely pragmatic ‘aids’ to survival. Laws of thought require a mind to think them. The brain is not the same as the mind.  Intentionality and consciousness are not reducible to the laws of physics. As one of my favorite writers, David Bentley Hart, observes in showing up the obvious difference: “Software no more “thinks” than a minute hand knows the time or the printed word ‘pelican’ knows what a pelican is.” – The Experience of God, 219.

These are accounts of the world.  But as G. K. Chesterton put it, these worldviews are, “complete in theory and crippling in practice.”

I say that there is a cognitive dissonance here. Many worldviews just cannot be lived out in the real world. But this dissonance too is explained by the biblical worldview, namely, the sinful suppression of the knowledge of the Creator, and the replacement of the biblical-Theistic picture with another picture (an idolatrous one).

God is necessary:

Logic/Reason…..precondition ……. God who is immaterial perfect rationality

Morality…………..precondition ……..God who is righteous

Truth……………….precondition ……..God who is unchanging Truth

Uniformity……….precondition ……..God who upholds regularity (providence)

Love………………….precondition ……..God who is Love and demonstrates it

Personality………….precondition ……..God who is Personal

Relationship………..precondition ……..God who is social

Science………………..precondition ……..God who gives skills & conditions for analysis

History………………..precondition ……..God who created & guides with a telos in view

Hope……………………..precondition ……..God who raises Christ from the dead

Meaning & Significance...precondition ……..God who made us in His image

Now, you take God out of all this and all these things cry out for an explanation. They hang like half-inflated balloons, untethered from a central hub which lends them value and coherence (recall my quotation of Barthes earlier!). They are needing to be related to each other, and to us!
Therefore, it is not the case that deciding to disbelieve in God leaves a person with nothing to prove.
It is rather the case that there is an immense about of work to do to make sense of oneself and the world without the biblical God (a job which I say is impossible to complete – see Rom. 1:18-22).  The canvass must be completed, but how?

In Scripture Creation leads to purpose and order. I teach the Bible Story as “the Creation Project” – a project to be consummated; a project full of hope. There is a Creation Mandate for us to explore the world and to analyze it – to do science. All the founders of modern science believed this creation mandate. It is simply wrong to think you can exclude God and not pay the price.  For example, if you were walking down a dark alley and you saw a group of young guys coming towards you, wouldn’t you be relieved to see them carrying Bibles in their hands? (more…)


The Biblical Worldview (Against All Others) – Pt.1

This is the working document I used for my talk at the Bible and Beer Consortium in Fort Worth last week.  As you will discover if you watch the presentation itself, I departed from the notes quite a bit (which is not unusual for me).  


Let me begin with a few lines from T. S. Eliot:

“Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, but ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,

All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God. 

Where is the Life we have lost in living?  Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?  Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” – Choruses from ‘The Rock’ 

I want to add to this the words of Jesus in John 8:12:

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

We live in a world suffused with the information of which the poet speaks, and much of it trivial.  If we don’t prioritize correctly we will never be wise.  But what information we prioritize depends much on how we view our lives and our world.  Some questions are bigger and more solemn than others.  It is a shame when men and women settle for explanations which do not explain; answers which do not answer.  The ‘choice’ of worldview is a determining choice.

Before I launch into my talk I want to make 2 clarifications:

  • No neutrality: Everyone has an angle (Dawkins, Krauss, etc., are classic examples of no neutrality). All assertions about reality and ethics are to a large extent controlled by prior beliefs.  These beliefs emanate from the picture of the world which a person holds in their heart.  So for someone to claim that their outlook is neutral while that of those who disagree with him is biased is both naïve and absurd.  We all have our biases, and these must be declared so that they can be compared.  To ignore them or to forget about them is a form of self-deception.

Many atheists I’ve dealt with seem to hold the attitude, “Let the Xtian give up his biases; I’ll stick with mine.”  (By bias I mean “an opinion or inclination towards something.”)  Not all biases are bad.  E.g., a bias for an umbrella over a paper bag when it’s raining outside.

  • Proper definition of ‘Faith’ – “persuasion of Divine truth” (J. Frame). It is common for New Atheists to wrongly define faith as “belief in something without evidence.” (The multiverse hypothesis would exemplify this definition).

This definition of faith is nonsense.  In the Bible, “through faith we understand…” (Heb. 11:3).  Though there is such a thing as blind faith, this is not the biblical understanding.  Faith is not credulity.  Scripture tells us to “prove all things.” (1 Thess. 5:21).  Faith is never blind, it is always reasonable, and, indeed evidence based.  Blind faith can be coerced.  True biblical faith cannot be coerced.  Faith properly defined is essential to all knowledge.

You don’t have to be a Christian to see this.  Renowned physicist Max Planck said,

“Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith.  It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.” – Science, Faith and Revelation, 350.

This is because, as physical chemist and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi noted, “all acts of knowing include an appraisal by the knower.” (Personal Knowledge, 17).  And as Polanyi said in his book Personal Knowledge (266), “No intelligence, however critical or original, can operate outside [of] a fiduciary framework.”  As the Puritan William Gouge wrote, “Faith is in the understanding.” – Faith is implicit in all understanding!  Faith is thinking God’s thoughts after Him.  Any view of biblical faith which opposes it to reason and evidence is a red herring.

The Bible says and Polanyi explains, faith is necessary to know.  Faith in God anchors both mind and soul.

What if we try to exclude God from our attempt to explain the world?

Just here let me introduce a quotation from the French post-modern critic Roland Barthes, from his The Death of the Author: “to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God.”  Barthes said there is no such thing as a fixed meaning of a text (or the world).  Meaning is assigned, not by the author (or God as Author), but by the reader.

Of course, in order to believe what he said what have you got to do? – believe Barthes, the author!

  1. A Place To Stand: We all have a perspective  

So I am here to talk about the biblical worldview, and in doing that I shall be commenting on other outlooks.  A worldview is the lens through which a person views reality.  It is a commitment or inclination of the heart.  To qualify as a worldview, any picture of life should be able to comment on and offer explanations of our varied experience, and then to put the pieces together.  In other words a worldview must tackle the array of data to do with ourselves, our environment, and our beliefs: it must deal with God, Man and the World.

A worldview must confront the big questions about purpose and significance.  E.g., Is the world an illusion?  Are my experiences unreal?  Or is the world uncaused, unguided and therefore purposeless.  Or is it created?  And if so, by Whom?  And why is there is nagging sense that things are not the way they ought to be?  The contemporary artist John Mayer caught some of this when he wrote, “Stop this train.  I wanna get off and go home again.  I can’t take the speed it’s movin’ in.  Honestly, won’t someone stop this train?”

The biblical worldview makes sense of our experience as humans in a multifarious environment, and it all starts with the biblical God.  The God of the Bible is the great Fact underlying every other fact.  All goodness, truth, knowledge, power, justice, beauty, purity, and love comes from Him.  The Bible declares “God is love.”  He is referred to as “the God of all Truth,” as “the Almighty,” “all [Whose] ways are justice,” etc.  As the Psalmist puts it, “all our springs are in Him.”  We see ourselves and life rightly when we ourselves in relation to Him.  In His light we see light (cf. Psa. 36:9).

God transcends His creation but He acts within it.  He is both transcendent and immanent, He is Lord above and within the world.  (“Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” – Deut. 4:39).  Creation has been made with its own integrity.  Yet all our abilities are derived, just as all our knowledge is derived.  Knowledge itself, in the biblical worldview, is that which corresponds to the reality which God has made.  Complete objectivity, therefore, is only possible to God, yet objectivity is attainable to humans.  Further, God has made the extended world for us and made it amenable to us: we are told to investigate the world analytically and ethically; to do science and to treat other creatures with care as custodians of the earth, under God’s eye.

Part Two


Dr. Henebury on Livestream – 25 October 7pm (CST)


In less than an hour, I will be lecturing for The Bible & Beer Consortium in Fort Worth, and the event will be Livestreamed. The topic of my lecture is:  The Biblical Worldview Against All Others. Here’s how you can join in:

1. create a free Livestream login ID
2. sign in and subscribe to “The Bible & Beer Consortium” channel
3. play the event when it begins, or jump in at any time

Since I’m teetotal, I’ve been getting a lot of queries about what the Bible & Beer Consortium is!  Here’s a great little video introducing the ministry and starring its founder, and my good friend, Ezra Boggs.  Enjoy, and I hope to see you tonight.



These are some notes i made on one of Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermons.  Edwards got to the heart through the mind, as all real preaching does.  I re-post this because I was reminded of the sermon yesterday by a preacher I heard.

Following the standard Puritan model of composition (outlined by William Perkins) Edwards gives a brief exposition of his text: Matt. 16:17. He then explains the doctrinal content of the passage, before closing with application.

  1. Exposition

The knowledge which Peter has of Jesus’ identity is communicated, as only such knowledge can be, by God. God is “the original of knowledge,” in that He “is the author of all knowledge and understanding whatsoever.” [We may rightly say then that all knowledge is, at its core, revelatory knowledge.]. Nevertheless, Edwards states that the knowledge which Peter had was imparted by God’s Spirit, rather than being something that was discoverable by qualities which are latent within man.

  1. Doctrine

The doctrinal section of the sermon forms the main part of the work. [This was not always the way – sometimes Puritan sermons are heavy on application, although they never bypass the doctrinal aspect. Just a thought, but were this method adopted universally by today’s preachers it might well spur a revival of doctrinal preaching in our churches].

The author’s first duty is to clear away any false opinions as to what this “divine light” is. He lists four things that it is not:

  1. It is not natural. This means the unregenerate come to it even though they may experience pangs of conscience from time to time as a result of their consciences. The conscience may even be assisted by the Spirit of God, but without any internal testimony.
  2. It is not the stirring of religious imagination or fervor. This may be aroused even by the devil (though Edwards is careful to point out that true spiritual knowledge will inevitably provoke the imagination).
  3. This “light” is not new revelation. It is not something which cannot be found to be in accord with clear Scripture.
  4. It is not any “affecting view” that some may have of God and Christ. This may arise from within or from someone else, yet not be spiritual in its origin.

Having cleared away these four things, the author continues by declaring what this divine light is.He says that the leading characteristic of this light is “A real sense and apprehension of the divine excellency of things revealed in the word of God.” It is seeing the divine glory in the propositions of Scripture. Thus,

“He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart.”

Here we encounter the well known contrast between rational and spiritual understanding.There is a “notional” or theoretical knowledge of things and there is a “sensible” or experiential knowledge of things. There is a huge difference between knowing formally that honey is sweet and experiencing what that sweetness tastes like. Thus, divine knowledge surpasses theoretical knowledge in that it is known by the soul – it is experienced.

But this experimental knowledge (as the English Puritans called it) comes in by the removal of “the prejudices of the heart” whereby the reason is sanctified and can appreciate the force of truth. It also intensifies the reality of divine truths by placing them in their true context so that the mind can comprehend them better.

In addition to this, it is shown that the doctrines of Scripture and their great truths are seen to be no human invention. Men “believe the doctrines of God’s word to be divine, because they see a divine, and transcendent, and most evidently distinguishing glory in them…”

These new impressions are the fruit of saving faith. [Here I may say that this is the one proposition that he does not establish in the sermon].

Having said all this Edwards proceeds to show how God imparts this light. Following the scheme of clearing obstacles before propounding the doctrine he says that we must not think that God imparts this light either by a. bypassing the natural faculties that He has put in man; b. bypassing Scripture, or, c. through the witness of the Word independently of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.

In the third part of the doctrinal section Edwards now sets out to prove the truth of his teaching.He does this by demonstrating that it accords with both Scripture and good reason.

Scripture declares that this spiritual knowledge is separate from anything that may be attained by the ungodly. It is knowledge that is immediately given by God (e.g. Matt. 11:25-27; 2 Cor. 2:4, etc.)

This section is very impressive and plainly shows that this divine light is a selective revelation, the impartation and prerogatives of which are solely in God’s hands.

Rationally speaking, this spiritual knowledge of divine things would only be expected to be separate from knowledge of mundane things. Edwards asks: “and why may there not be that stamp of divinity, or divine glory, on the word of God…that may be …distinguishing and as rationally convincing [as e.g. Christ’s Transfiguration], provided it be but seen?”Therefore, he proceeds to argue that once it is granted that this knowledge would be different it follows that it must be “seen” differently too.

This is a simple but effective apologetic argument. It does not itself establish the reality of this supernatural knowledge, but it does differentiate it from other forms of knowing and thereby show the necessity of divine illumination under such circumstances. So also, “it is rational to suppose, that this knowledge should be given immediately by God…”

Further, when all this is added to man’s sinful condition it is certain that natural reason could never arrive at it. In fact, reason as a faculty simply isn’t up to the job “perceiving of spiritual beauty and excellency no more belongs to reason than it belongs to the sense of feeling to perceive colours, or to the power of seeing to perceive the sweetness of food.”

His teaching established, Edwards closes with some applications (improvements):

  1. Since this spiritual knowledge comes from God it may be granted to persons of any station or any level of intellect.
  2. It ought to lead us to examining whether we have ever been the recipients of it.

iii. In the third place, it ought to be sought out because of its excellence, because of its brilliance (“This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart.”), because of its influences – assimilating our natures to the divine nature, – and because of its fruit in holiness and worship!

This message certainly makes one appreciate the acuteness of Edwards mind as well as his wonderful grasp of the importance of truth. That his congregation asked for it to be published shows that they understood it and valued its teaching. Whence today’s congregations? I hope you all benefited from reading it as much as I did.

Thx to Servant’s Place for the photo


Speaking in Fort Worth on the 25th

This coming Sunday (the 25th Oct.) I shall be giving a talk for The Bible and Beer Consortium

The ministry of BBC is explained by my friend Ezra Boggs in the link above.  Basically, it is having Christian speakers give presentations or do debates in bars and pubs in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex. This creates an opportunity for those who would never usually come into contact with the message of Christ to hear about it.

The talk I am to give is entitled, “The Biblical Worldview Against all Others.”  Yes, I know that is quite a title, but I gave it to Ezra as a sort of placeholder and, well, it stuck.  I have about 45 minutes for the talk and then there follows a lengthy Q & A.  I would appreciate your prayers that I represent the truth of God in the best way I can.  I am looking forward to the opportunity.

I kick off at 7 pm central time and the whole thing finished around 10 pm.  Then I get to visit some old Texas friends before flying back home.



Is the Covenant with Noah a Recapitulation of a Previous Covenant? (2)

Part One

The second argument, that there are covenantal elements in the Creation narratives, is somewhat dependent upon the first for its advocacy.  Nobody denies that there is a repetition of parts of the Creation mandate in Genesis 9.  But such a repetition was necessary seeing that God had just wiped out every living thing from the map.  That necessity doesn’t extend however, to requiring a covenant given to Adam in the Garden.  And we are not justified in drawing an inference that the earlier use of the words were thereby covenantal simply because their repetition to Noah was in a covenantal setting.  One wonders how the Lord was to warn our Adam about taking from the forbidden tree without including some of the language which would later be used in covenants.  Covenants often included prohibitions and warnings.  They were necessarily made by or with human parties.  In that sense, all prohibitions are formulaic and “covenantal”(speaking anachronistically), but that does not turn them into covenants.     Again we sense a lack of control in the understanding of the function of a Divine covenant.

However, this belief in a pre-Noahic covenant just might be supplemented by Hosea 6, even though it must be admitted that the all-important substance of that particular “covenant” remains anyone’s guess.  Attempts to designate Genesis 2:16-18 as the oath are exegetically specious.  All one can properly bring out of the text is what is there: a prohibition and a dire warning.  That is it.  So one is left with a vacuous covenant with no identifiable solemn oath.  Not much to go on for the exegete, but rich pickings for a pious theologically charged imagination that wants to find light in between Scripture’s gaps!

As for the third argument put forth by defenders of a pre-Noahic covenant; the mention of “Adam” in Hosea 6:7, we are unmoved.  Although studies by Warfield and others lend some superficial credence to the notion, there remain too many problems and unanswered questions that plague it.  The immediate context favors a location (Tell ed-Damiyeh?).[12]  Concerning the identification of it with the person Adam, McKenzie comments:

modern scholars are nearly unanimous in rejecting this understanding.  For one thing, there is no mention anywhere else in the Bible, including Genesis 2-3, of a covenant between God and Adam… Furthermore, the word “there” in the second line of the verse suggests that Adam may be a place name, and this possibility is strengthened by the places mentioned in subsequent verses – Gilead (v.8) and Shechem (v.9).[13]

Duane Garrett thinks there is a deliberate wordplay between the man Adam and the place of transgression, the town of Adam in area of Gilead.[14]  But we must repeat the fact that even if the exegetical case for the person Adam were in the future universally accepted, we would still be none the wiser as to what the covenant actually entailed.  We would certainly not be constrained to embrace a “covenant of works”, a “covenant of grace”, a “Creation covenant” etc., an Adamic covenant’, etc., on such flimsy internal evidence.[15].  Plus, we would not be one step further to knowing what the putative covenant said.  Better then, not to assert anything.

While not everyone will agree with my conclusions, and while respect is owed to those whose opinions differ, I believe the arguments for a covenant prior to the Noahic covenant fall short of being convincing and rely upon inferences brought to the text.  More important is the glaring fact that there is just not enough scriptural data to provide content for these pretender covenants.

Personally, I could wish that I could confidently detect a true covenant in Genesis 1, or Genesis 1-2, or Genesis 2–3.  I am, after all, attempting to show that the biblical covenants contain both the telos and the eschatos of the Creation Project as set out in the pages of Scripture.  But I fear that any attempt to ground my scheme upon a covenant without a defining oath would be to make it, in fact, groundless. And so I am content to connect the covenants with Noah, Abraham, David, etc., with the already noted correspondence between God’s speech and His actions and to treat Divine covenants as intensifications of this motif.

I conclude, then, that for all the assertions of a pre-Noahic covenant notwithstanding, there is little or nothing to show for it but the personal judgments of good men who pour their own meanings into an empty vessel.  The biblical record remains unchanged.  The first covenant in the Bible of which we can speak meaningfully is the covenant God made with Noah after “the world that then was perished.”


[12] Ibid, 164-165.  He cites Craig Bartholomew’s note about marriage being an example of a covenant before the Fall.  I shall return to this, but will just say here that marriage is not a Divine-human relationship.  Furthermore, both Proverbs 2:17 and Malachi 2:14 refer to the encroachments of sin within marriages.  It might be argued that the covenantal aspects of marriage became necessary only after the entrance of sin.  We have argued that the essence of a covenant is to insure obedience of one or both of the parties involved.  This would be unnecessary prior to Genesis 3.

[13] Even Gentry, when rightly speaking of “the covenant with Noah [creating] a firm stage of history where God can work out his plan for rescuing his fallen world” (Ibid, 175), tacitly agrees that this is indeed the principle purpose of the covenant; namely, no more flood guarantees the uniformity of nature and a linear flow of history.  It does not then appear to be necessary to for God to bind himself to Creation this way before the Flood.

[14] See J. Glen Taylor, ‘Hosea’, ZIBBC, Vol. 5, 28

[15] Steven L. McKenzie, Covenant, 22-23.  Earlier he notes that, “The Assyrians probably had a covenant affirming Israel’s vassalhood, against which they rebelled.” – Ibid, 8.  He gives Hosea 12:1; 10:4, and 6:7 as possible references.

[16] Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, NAC 19A, 162-163

[17] Walter C. Kaiser rightly refers to these as “hypothetical” covenants.  See his The Promise-Plan of God, 26.


Is the Covenant with Noah a Recapitulation of a Previous Covenant? (1)

More material from the “big book”.

There need not be much dissension from the view that Genesis 6:18 may refer to a previous understanding of covenant on Noah’s part.[1]  It could equally mean that the covenant was “in God’s mind” before the waters came and He chose out Noah.[2]  In either case the interpretation stresses the gracious (hen) movement of God towards Noah (6:8).

But could it, indeed, should it, be construed as a reference to a “Creation covenant,” instituted in Genesis 1?  If the instructions given to Adam and Eve are repeated to Noah, doesn’t this show that, as Jeffrey Niehaus has it, “the Noahic or recreation covenant with the Adamic one” should be seen “as one legal package”?[3]  That is a big question.  It assumes, in fact, that the “Adamic” or “Creation covenant” is unambiguously self-evident like the Noahic covenant.  But that position requires a good deal of reinforcement if it is to withstand scrutiny.

So what evidence is there of an existing covenant in the first three chapters of Genesis?  I have already alluded to the fact that the evidence is “spotty”.  But it would be of some benefit to examine it a little more closely.  Not uncommonly those who see covenants in the opening chapters of the Bible do not take much space proving it.  But some arguments have been put forth deserve attention.

  1. the language of establishing not “cutting” the covenant.
  2. the repetition of parts of the Creation mandate.
  3. the reference in Hosea 6:7 to “Adam” breaking the covenant.

The first argument, and the best in my estimation, concerns the Hebrew expression used in regards to the Noahic covenant.  Merrill concludes that “Genesis 1:26-28 is at least a truncated example of a royal grant document.”[4]  It may be, but where are its specific terms?  Where is the oath which God supposedly made?  It certainly had nothing to do with a global flood.  Yet the flood is at the heart of the covenant oath God made with Noah as His witness.  In other words, without the assurance that God would not again visit the earth with such a deluge, there would be no reason to even mention the covenant!  To move from that position backwards to the first two chapters of the book in order to find a “Creation covenant” (or other), looks like moving far beyond the evidence readily discernible in the oath of the Noahic covenant.

Niehaus says that the elements of covenant (which he says stems from an “idea” in God), are present in the Creation chapters (Gen. 1 & 2).  So, even though the oath is not found there, the presence of a covenant is assured.[5]  Very well, but without knowing what the oath is we have no way of knowing for sure what the covenant was about.  Once more, Gamble, in his impressive book, thinks that “The reordering of the world after the Flood was a covenantal recapitulation.”[6]  But he gives no solid evidence for this assertion.

Perhaps the best defense of this position is found in the work of Gentry and Wellum called Kingdom through Covenant.  Building on the work of Australian scholar William Dumbrell, whose basic ideas he defends[7], Gentry asserts, and I think proves, that the deliberate choice to use heqim berit (“to establish a covenant”), rather than what would become the normal expression, karat berit (“to cut a covenant”), indicates that God was already committed to this covenant prior to Genesis 6.[8]   This does not mean they support the idea that Genesis 6 and 9 refer to covenant renewal.  Rather, the claim seems to be that God’s pre-existing commitment to His creation is now expressed in the initiation of a promised covenant.

In summary, based on the expression heqim berit, linguistic usage alone demonstrates that when God says he is confirming or establishing his covenant with Noah, he is saying that his commitment initiated previously at creation to care for and preserve, provide for and rule over all he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he gave to Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants.  This can be substantiated and further supported by noting the parallels between Noah and Adam, and between the covenant terms given to Noah and the ordinances given to Adam and his family.[9]

Gentry goes on to detail the parallels he has mentioned, but the existence of parallels, which it must be admitted, are hardly avoidable, do not require the presence of a covenant. (more…)