Reformed Covenantal Inconsistency – Barry Horner

“If the land promise in the Abrahamic covenant was conditional (that is, based on an unspecified degree of obedience), then does the same principle of conditionality equally apply to the fulfillment of other aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, and particularly the resultant new covenant?  If it is claimed in response that the Abrahamic covenant has distinctive conditional and unconditional elements, I would reply that such an attempted covenantal bifurcation is exegetically untenable, especially where a Calvinist understanding of Scripture is concerned, and indicates a fundamental doctrinal weakness.”   – Barry E. Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged, 47.



  1. Dr. Horner’s book caused me to reconsider my whole position, as I had been amil for most of my Christian life up until then.

    If I recall correctly, Horner notes that Horatius Bonar made this same observation regarding Patrick Fairbairn’s writings, specifically the idea that all prophecy is conditional in some sense. What a strange position for those who assent to unconditional election to maintain. And dispensationalism gets accused of being “Arminian”?!

    It also seems clear that Horner demonstrated that what is called Historic Premillennialism today isn’t our grandfather’s (or great-grandfather’s) covenantal premillennialism. It was a revelation to me to find that such worthies as Bonar, Ryle and Spurgeon held to ideas that would be considered dipsensational distinctives today.

  2. Chris,

    That’s interesting. Re. your last paragraph, the influence of G. E. Ladd is often missed. His “tweaking” of Historic Premillennialism altered things considerably, even affecting Amillennialism.

  3. I am a premillennialist. However, I am not sure Horner is being entirely fair with the Amillennial or Postmillennial positions. They would argue that the OT covenantal promises were given conditionally by God to Israel whereas the New Covenant were given expressly unconditionally. That is God’s Sovereign prerogative so we cannot simply cherry pick and advise Him on what we deem is acceptable to us.

  4. Hi Paul,

    you are right to a point. Some amil & postmil proponents try to make God’s covenants with Abraham, David etc. conditional by ignoring the unconditional bases of those covenants (e.g. Gen. 15 re. the Abrahamic), and zooming in on the conditions for enjoyment of the unconditional promises (e.g. Gen.17). Our doctrine of God’s Sovereignty must come from God’s Word (of course) and must never drift free of its exegetical moorings. Hence, when the sovereign God tells us He has unconditional covenants in force for Israel (e.g. Jer. 31 & 33) and we ignore them, we are not honoring God’s sovereignty – since He must be allowed to decide what will and will not be the case – but are slighting it by not taking Him at His Word.

    Thank you for your comment.

    God bless,

    Paul H.

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