The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology
Part 2: NCT Defined (II)
“Its major themes may be summarily described with reference to: (1) God’s eternal purpose of redemption: covenantally revealed and administered through biblical covenants beginning with a pre-Fall covenant of obedience with Adam (Rom. 5:12-19)….” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Defined [http://www.ptsco.org/NCT%20Brochoure%20Text%202013.pdf])
New Covenant Theology maintains that God’s eternal purpose of redemption is progressively revealed and administered in the biblical covenants of the Old Testament. In other words, the covenants manifest the eternal kingdom purpose of God throughout redemptive history.
As mentioned in the previous post, the Lord Jesus Christ is the telos (i.e. the end, goal) of the biblical covenants. Moreover, the New Covenant itself may be viewed as the telos of the Old Testament covenants in the sense that the preceding covenants not only anticipated the New Covenant (via shadows and types) but also find their fulfillment in the New Covenant which Christ Himself secured, ratified, established, and fulfilled.
Many advocates of New Covenant Theology (or progressive covenantalism) insist that the biblical covenants begin with a pre-fall covenant and a post-fall-covenant, both of which God forged with Adam. This blog post will address the existence of a pre-fall covenant, while next week’s post will address the post-fall covenant.
At this juncture, it is important to note that Covenant Theology teaches the existence of a pre-fall covenant, a covenant which it designates the Covenant of Works. R.C. Sproul describes the Covenant of Works: “The original covenant between God and humankind was a covenant of works. In this covenant, God required perfect and total obedience to His rule. He promised eternal life as the blessing of obedience, but threatened mankind with death for disobeying God’s law.” In contradistinction, those proponents of New Covenant Theology who hold to a pre-fall covenant refuse to define such an arrangement as do Covenant Theologians. They insist that Covenant Theology’s “covenant of works” is a non-Scriptural theological deduction, which suffers from at least two systemic inaccuracies. First, they readily assert that Adam could not have earned eternal life by obedience to the stipulations of the pre-fall covenant as taught by CT’s “covenant of works.” Adam would have simply had a perpetual existence in the Garden in the manner and form that he was already experiencing. Secondly, Scripture defines no probationary period which Adam was required to successfully negotiate in order to be confirmed in his holiness, be glorified and gain eternal life. To be fair, other adherents of New Covenant Theology believe a pre-fall covenant constitutes a theological concession to Covenant Theology, insisting that a pre-fall covenant, no matter how defined, is theologically deduced and unnecessary.
Although the creation narrative does not use the term covenant (בְּרִית, bĕrît) to describe Adam’s relationship with the Lord, many in New Covenant Theology contend there is ample biblical evidence for a pre-Fall covenantal relationship between God and Adam. These individuals readily concede that the absence of the word covenant in Genesis 1-2 constitutes a strong, but not insurmountable, objection to the existence of a pre-fall covenant. Why? 2 Samuel 7:1-29 recounts the historical ratification of the Davidic Covenant, but the word covenant appears nowhere in this particular biblical text. However, Psalm 89 clearly identifies God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 as a covenant. Just as the Davidic Covenant is identified as such by biblical references external to 2 Samuel 7 (cf. Ps. 89:4ff), many proponents of New Covenant Theology would state that Adam’s pre-fall relationship with God is identified as a covenant by Hosea 6:7.
This understanding hinges upon interpreting the Hebrew word kĕ’ādām in Hosea 6:7 to mean like Adam: “But they like Adam transgressed the covenant; there they dealt treacherously with Me.” Many argue that this is the most natural rendering of Hosea 6:7, as the verse is comparing the Israelites and Levitical priests to Adam. The prophet Hosea is comparing Israel’s transgression of the Mosaic Covenant to the willful, rebellious transgression of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Since all Israel would have been familiar with Adam’s transgression, they, so it is argued, would have readily recognized what the Lord was saying to them through the prophet Hosea who references the book of Genesis on numerous occasions (e.g. Hos 11:8, 12:1-14).
Many advocates of New Covenant Theology also find Scriptural support for a pre-fall covenant in the type – antitype relationship between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15. Just as Christ is the Head of those represented under the New Covenant (i.e. the Elect of God), Adam, so it is argued, was the head of those represented under a pre-fall covenant (i.e. all those who have ever lived, except for Christ). Thus, it is insisted that this representative or federal headship directly implies a covenantal relationship both in the case of Christ and in the case of Adam. Resultantly, many argue that the imputation of sin to all in Adam and the imputation of perfect righteousness to all in Christ are both strongly dependent upon a covenantal relationship.
Many New Covenant Theology proponents of a pre-fall covenant also strongly assert that when the Old Testament describes the ratification of the various biblical covenants it primarily uses one of two Hebrew constructions: to make / cut a covenant or to establish a covenant. The first construction, kārat bĕrît, ‘to make or cut a covenant’, is used with regard to the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Gen 15:18), the Old Covenant (cf. Exod 34:10, 27; Deut 5:2-3, 29:14; Jer 31:32), the Davidic Covenant (cf. Ps 89:4), and the New Covenant (cf. Jer 31:31,33; 32:40; Ezek 34:25; 37:26). This particular construction appears when a covenant is being ratified for the first time. However, it is argued that the second construction, hăqim bĕrît, ‘to establish a covenant’, is used when a previous covenant is amended, reconfirmed, or reestablished. For instance, when the Lord amends the already-standing Abrahamic Covenant by making physical circumcision its covenantal sign, He uses this particular Hebraic construction in Genesis 17:7 and again later in 17:21 (when God promises to reconfirm the Abrahamic Covenant with Isaac). Thus, this distinction is argued to be essential for an accurate understanding of the Noahic Covenant, where God repeatedly declares to Noah, “I will establish (wahăqimōtî) My covenant with you” (Gen 6:9; cf. 6:18, 9:9,11). Thus, NCT advocates of a pre-fall covenant insist that the usage of this construction in Genesis 6-9 implies that God’s covenant with Noah is an amendment, reconfirmation, or reestablishment of God’s pre-fall covenant with Adam.
Regardless of one’s conviction on whether or not Genesis 1-2 has in view a pre-fall covenant, few dispute that the relationship between God and Adam appears to be covenant-like – due to the presence of many covenantal motifs in the creation account. First, the similarities between the Tabernacle, Temple, and the Garden of Eden strongly indicate that the garden was “a non-architectural temple” where God uniquely manifested His presence. Since all other temples of Yahweh are connected to biblical covenants, it could be argued that the Garden of Eden must also be connected to a biblical covenant. Secondly, the two verbs in Genesis 2:15 which describe Adam’s responsibility in paradise (NASB: “to cultivate it and to keep it”) are respectively used to describe “the duties of the Levites (see Num. 3:7-8; 4:23-24, 26)” to serve God and “to guard the tabernacle.”  In other words, Adam fulfilled a priestly role in Eden, and this fact may evince that God forged a pre-fall covenant with him. Elsewhere, priests of the one true God, with the sole exception of Melchizedek prime (Gen 14:18-20), are connected to biblical covenants. Thirdly, as Jeffrey Niehaus states: “All Yahweh theophanies do in fact take place in covenantal contexts.” He continues: “Four pre-Sinai theophanies have clearly Sinaitic characteristics- that is, characteristics of storm theophany. Each of these takes places in a covenantal context. The first is the avian appearance of the Spirit of God in Genesis 1:2; the second is Yahweh God’s storm theophany in Genesis 3:8; the third is Yahweh’s presence at the Flood (especially as reflected in Ps 29); and the fourth is Abram’s theophanic visions of Yahweh in Genesis 15.” The storm theophany of Genesis 3:8 to which Niehaus refers involves the following words: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Interestingly, this section of the verse may also be translated in the following manner: “And they heard the voice of the LORD God moving back and forth in the garden in the wind of a storm.” This particular translation evokes even more parallels with Yahweh’s theophany at Mount Sinai – which was the revelatory context of the book of Genesis.
Robert C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1992), 73.
As far as Adam was concerned, he had to maintain a perfect perpetual obedience to God’s command in the pre-fall covenant. CT bases their so-called probationary period with Adam on how God dealt with the elect angels, namely, that after a certain probationary period, God confirmed the elect angels in their holiness, so that they would never sin. However, it must be noted that God does not deal with us as He does the angels. The fallen angels fell individually and cannot be redeemed. All mankind fell corporately in Adam, and the elect of humankind are corporately redeemed in Christ.
The word federal is actually derived from the Latin word foedus, which means covenant.
This view is undergirded by the repeated parallels between Adam and Noah; Noah in essence is a new Adam. Just as Adam is the progenitor of the entire human race, Noah is the father of all those living after the flood. Both were given similar mandates to multiply and fill the earth (Gen 1:28; 9:1-3). Just as Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden resulted in knowledge of his nakedness and the cursing of the entire human race, Noah’s sin in his vineyard resulted in his nakedness and the cursing of his grandson, Canaan (Gen 3; 9:20-27). Many more parallels exist between Adam and Noah, but for the sake of brevity, they will not be addressed here.
G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 383. For other works which describe the Garden of Eden as a temple of God, see also the following works: Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1980; reprint 1999; Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations For A Covenantal Worldview. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006; Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006.
Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006), 105.
Jeffrey J. Niehaus, God at Sinai: Covenant & Theophany in the Bible and Ancient Near East (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1995), 142.