A Fourth Response to Josh Sommer

Part Three

In addressing Josh’s fourth post reacting to my Deciphering Covenant Theology series I am up-to-date with him so far. Josh’s main concern is with the covenant of works, which I critiqued in Parts Four and Five. But he also takes brief aim at my Rules of Affinity which I referred to in one of the posts. But he shows a severe lack of concentration in saying that they constitute “five a priori categories.” If they did then he would be right in claiming that I was employing my own form of deductive inference.

Are the Rules of Affinity Deductive?

But if one examines the Rules of Affinity it ought to be crystal clear that that are necessarily a posteriori or inductive. By the very nature of the case the “Rules” cannot be applied until the biblical passage is set out. It then compares the passage with external uses of the passage to see if they match up. A quick example may help: If I claim that the Bible supports gay relations and use as my proof-text David’s grieving words about Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:26 it would look something like this:


I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Surpassing the love of women


David’s love for Jonathan was so deep that it must have resulted in homosexual relations between them.

Well, this is not what the verse actually says. It has nothing direct to say about sexual orientation. Therefore , there is no C1 (direct) relationship between the text and the proposition. Neither is there an inevitable conclusion that must be made from the text that David was gay, so no C2. What about the best inference? Is the text at all inferring that David and Jonathan were lovers? No, so no C3. And as the “Rules” recommend that no doctrine be formulated with anything less than a C3 connection between text and what is said about the text the case is closed. 2 Samuel 1:26 says that Jonathan was “very pleasant,” that is, kind and considerate to David. Their friendship was years long and their bond of friendship was close. Some men have known bonds of friendship with other men that went beyond even their relationship with their wives. Think, for example, of police partners and the level of trust and commitment that is created by working together in high-stress conditions. The “homosexual” is being read into the passage and the Rules of Affinity help ferret it out.

Josh also claims that my C2 category “is essentially a restatement of ‘good and necessary consequence’ as it has been historically understood.” But this is not true at all. A C2 comes about only if the link between the text or texts lead inevitably to a conclusion; something that could never be claimed for the theological covenants of CT. That is why I designated the covenant of grace as a C4, which is a statement which is founded on no clear or plain statement of Scripture.

So What About the Covenant of Works?

Josh starts off his defense of the covenant of works by stating,

“In substance, all that is meant by “covenant of works” is the divine imposition of conditions upon man in the garden with blessings for obedience to those conditions and curses for failing to obey.”

And I reply with, “and just where in Genesis 2 is there any mention of blessings for obedience? There are none. Furthermore, you see once more the loosening of the definition of covenant as though it is the same as a promise or agreement. Genesis 2:16-17 records God’s word to Adam that he could eat from any of the trees in the garden except for just one:

“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:17.

There is no agreement. There is no oath. There is a prohibition and a consequence for disobedience, but a prohibition and a consequence do not constitute a covenant. What has to be done is for “covenant” to be made to mean something like “promise and warning” when there is no affirmative promise in the chapter. CT’s identify the absent promise with the gift of having access to all the other trees. Often the insinuation is that this was a temporary arrangement conditioned on whether Adam could pass the test (for some unstated period of time) of not eating from the forbidden tree. Again, this is not in the text, although a generous critic might allow that the concept of probation is a reasonable inference.

To introduce a bit of exegesis into the argument Josh comments:

“The Hebrew term for “command” (swh) is the same term used within the context of the giving of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 19:7.”

True enough, but no covenant is made in Exodus 19. And even when the commands are put into a covenant frame in Exodus 24, the inclusion is made explicit. There is no explicit or implicit requirement in Genesis 2 for God’s “command” to be understood as covenantal. God can command without entering into a covenant can He not? It is therefore the duty of the person who claims a covenant to be able to prove a covenant. One cannot simply cite Genesis 2:16-17 and think that it is “all that is required for a covenant of works in the garden.”

Covenants Without Oaths?

Josh then tries to establish the existence of covenants in the Bible without oaths. I’m sorry to say that his reasoning here is not very impressive. While he is an intelligent man the system he is defending puts him up against the wall. The fact that in every place where a covenant is made in Scripture an oath is present isn’t enough for him. His position is that of asking “where does the Bible itself require this of every covenant?” He needs to study Paul Williamson’s Sealed with an Oath and rethink his position. Williamson states that the oath is the sine qua non of a biblical covenant.

Next Josh challenges my view that the active obedience of Christ is not atoning. I do not deny that Christ lived a sinless life and that the merits of that life are reckoned to me. But I do have a problem with that life being included with the death of Christ as an atonement for my sin. Again, Josh’s attempt to reason scripturally to his conclusion is pretty tortuous. But I will let the interested reader peruse his argument for himself.

Risking the Gospel Message

Finally, Josh quotes Romans 5:14 and reasons thus:

“But if Adam is an imperfect pattern of our Lord, then his responsibility before God anticipates the responsibility of Christ before God in the stead of Adam’s sinful posterity. And this just means that getting Adam wrong is to risk getting the gospel itself wrong…if Christ came as the antitypical fulfillment of the first Adam, as Romans 5:14 declares, a covenant of works appears necessary. Christ came to merit the life Adam himself failed to obtain for his posterity.”

What he’s getting at here is that our hope was predicated on Adam’s merit. Since Adam fell we fell with him. This is Federal Theology in which Adam is the federal head of the human race. This is related to the Transmission of the Soul (See here etc.) and the question of guilt, which I shall not get into here. Now just because a person does not agree that the active obedience of Christ is part of the atonement does not at all mean that the Gospel is at risk. The proclamation of the Gospel in Acts and the Epistles is absent any mention of this idea.

But it is clear that Josh is reading Federalism into his conclusion. Yet nowhere in Genesis 2 or 3 are we informed that Adam was tasked to obtain merit for us. Josh is deducing this from his Covenant Theology. From what I can see he has much work to do to establish the biblical credentials of the theological covenants that undergird the whole system. With due respect to him I have not seen any persuasive arguments for Covenant Theology in his efforts thus far.


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