What is Covenant Theology?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

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Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
Please note, as a ministry, GotQuestions.org is not in agreement with all aspects of Covenant Theology. While we are for the most part in agreement with covenant theology in regards to the doctrine...

July 01 2013 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
'Covenant theology' is a conceptual framework for interpreting scripture that was developed in the 17th century. The idea came out of the Calvinist circles of the Protestant reformation that the Bible organizes itself by implicit 'covenants'. Covenant Theology and the theory of the seven Dispensations are the two largest Calvinist theories for how the Bible should be organized.
[See https://ebible.com/questions/1244-what-are-the-seven-dispensations for the Dispensation theory].

Almost anyone who picks up a Bible will note that it is already divided into two covenants - the Old Covenant/Old Testament, and the New Covenant/New Testament. (II Cor 3:14). Early church faithers such as Augustine and Irenaeus also wrote of the covenant of works vs. The covenant of grace. Yet this is not specifically what covenant theology refers to.

Covenant Theology views the Bible as having three main 'theological covenants': the Covenant of works, the Covenant of Grace, and the Covenant of Redemption - as well as dividing scripture by actual covenants God made with man (The Abrahamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, etc). Sacrements such as baptism and communion are viewed as seals of covenants.

Covenant of works or Covenant of life: 

Covenant theology holds that this Covenant was made between God and Adam in the Garden of Eden.

"... just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned" Rom 5:12

While scripture does not mention a specific covenant between God an Adam or between God and nature, one can be implied through other passages of scripture such as Rom 5:12-21, Jer 33:20-26, and Hosea 6:7.

"But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant..." Hosea 6:7

However, this brings up one of the greatest problems with Covenant theology as a system to organize the Bible - it is circular reasoning!

'Covenant theology is implicit from scripture, so organize the Bible by covenant theology. See how organizing by covenant theology shows all these verses support covenant theology? So you should organize by covenant theology, because it is implicit in scripture...'

 Covenant of grace:

This covenant of grace is the promise of eternal life for all who believe in Christ. (John 3:16)

Under Covenant theology, the Holy Spirit is also given to the elect to make them 'willing and able' to believe. However, this is directly contrary to what we find in scripture, where the Holy spirit is only given to those who have faith.

"In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise." Eph 1:13

"Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2:38

This brings up the second weakness of Covenant theology: it presupposes the teachings of Calvinism as true. And when one starts with axioms of belief -before- going to scripture, that again leads to circular reasoning.

Covenant theology holds the covenant of grace as underlying the covenant with Noah, with Moses, and with Abraham. Yet scripture specifically contrasts the covenant of Christ/grace with the covenant with Moses (Rom 6:14-15, Acts 13:38-39, Gal 4:25-26, etc).

This shows how using Covenant theology to prove covenant theology can lead to missing key points of the gospel!

Covenant of redemption:

This covenant is the agreement within the Godhead; the Father appoints the Son to suffer and die, the Son takes on humanity and dies, the Father promises to raise Christ and glorify Him, etc.

There is support for there being a sort of intra-trinity contractual arrangement from scripture (Phil 2:5-11, Psalms 2, Isaiah 53, Rev 5, etc).


It is very important to understand covenants in scripture, but 'Covenant theology' might actually skew that understanding.

May 02 2016 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

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