A Typical Objection to the Covenant of Works: Stated, Answered, Concluded (from SCRBPC 2014 lecture)
A Typical Objection to the Covenant of Works
Many have denied the covenant of works for various reasons. For the sake of time, I want to deal with one typical objection.
1. The Objection Stated
Probably the most obvious objection, and a very common one, is that the word “covenant” is nowhere to be found in the first two chapters of Genesis. In fact, the Hebrew word for covenant, berith, does not occur in the book of Genesis until chapter 6. These observations lead to the conclusion, so goes the objection, that there is no covenant in the Bible until Genesis 6. A covenant of works in the Garden, then, lacks biblical evidence and is, in fact, unbiblical. It is an extra-biblical, human construct imposed on the Bible to justify one’s theological system, which obviously needs re-casting. The covenant of works has human origins, not divine origins, so it is said. It is man’s theology, not God’s. Put in the form of a question, this objection can be stated as follows: how can there be a covenant in Genesis 2 if Moses does not say so? My short answer to this question would be because God says so. But to be fair to any objectors, I will answer this objection under three points of consideration.
2. The Objection Answered
First, this objection assumes that if a word is not in a text its concept cannot be there either. This is the word-concept fallacy. The Bible itself sees concepts in texts and then uses words that do not occur in the text being referenced to describe those concepts. For example, consider Acts 2:22-31 again. Here Peter references Psalm 16:8-11. Then notice what he does in 2:31. He uses words that are not in the Psalm to describe concepts from the Psalm. He says that David “spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.” The words “resurrection” and “Christ” do not occur in the Psalm. Peter uses these words to describe concepts implicit in the Psalm though not used explicitly by the psalmist. The point is this: concepts can be present without the words we normally use to describe them. If I said, “Base hit, home run, strike three, and walk-off single,” you would, most likely, reduce those phrases and the concepts indicated by them to a single word–baseball–yet I did not use the word baseball.
Second, there are words used outside of the Garden narrative to describe Adam and his Edenic vocation which are not contained in the narrative of Genesis 1-2. For example, in Luke 3:38, Adam is called “the son of God.” However, Moses does not call Adam the son of God in Genesis and, in fact, the word “son” first occurs in Genesis 4:17 with reference to Enoch’s son. Here’s my point: if God tells me Adam was a son of God, it does not matter where he tells me. The case is settled, even if he tells me in Luke 3. Also, Adam did not first become a son of God when Luke penned his Gospel. He was constituted as such at his creation. Therefore, the concept of Adam as a son of God is implicit in the Genesis 1-2 narrative, even though the word “son” is nowhere to be found there. How do we know this? God tells us so in subsequent, written revelation.
In Romans 5:14, Adam is called “a type of Him who was to come.” However, Moses does not call Adam a type of Christ in Genesis and, in fact, the word “type” first occurs in the Bible in Romans 5:14. If God tells me Adam was a type of Christ, it does not matter where he tells me. The case is settled, even if he tells me in Romans 5. Also, Adam did not first become a type of Christ when Paul penned Romans. Therefore, the concept of Adam as a type of Christ is implicit in the Genesis 1-2 narrative, even though the word “type” is nowhere to be found there. How do we know this? God tells us so in subsequent, written revelation.
In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul says, “For as in Adam all die…” However, Moses does not tell us that Adam was the representative of men in the Genesis narrative. The phrase “in Adam” is not in the book of Genesis or anywhere else in the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, the phrase “in Adam” occurs only in 1 Corinthians 15:22. If God tells me “in Adam all die,” it does not matter where he tells me. The case is settled, even if he tells me in 1 Corinthians 15. Also, all did not die in Adam when Paul penned 1 Corinthians 15. Therefore, the concept of Adam as the representative man in the Garden is implicit in the Genesis narrative, even though the words “in Adam” are nowhere to be found there. How do we know this? God tells us so in subsequent, written revelation.
Third, the Bible itself, looking back upon Adam in the Garden, uses the explicit language of covenant. Since this is the crux of the argument, we will explore this in our next major heading in more detail. But for now, let me draw a conclusion to this typical objection.
I think the objection is cleared, though I could give more counter-arguments. The account of Genesis 1-2 contains more than meets the eye. It is a narrative, not an exhaustive theological essay drawing out all the implications embedded or assumed in its terms. It is one of those texts that ends up being referenced many times in subsequent, written revelation. Other texts assume it and draw out of it what is implied in it. What is implicit in it becomes explicit by the subsequent, written word of God. The biblical writers were theologians after all. They articulated the meaning of ancient texts in their own words. As stated above, subsequent revelation often makes explicit what is implicit in antecedent revelation. In other words, the Bible often comments upon and explains itself. And, in the case of Adam in the Garden, this is exactly what happens.
 Cf. Richard L. Mayhue, “New Covenant Theology and Futuristic Premillennialism” in The Master’s Seminary Journal, 18.2 (Fall 2007): 221 and 225 for this kind of argumentation.
Hermeneutics and Doctrinal Formulation:
From the Garden to the Covenant of Works
Getting the Garden Right:
From Hermeneutics to the Covenant of Works
Richard C. Barcellos
In this study, I want to focus on the hermeneutical principles that guided the Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century in their formulation of the doctrine of the covenant of works. As you are probably well aware, many in our day deny this doctrine. Some deny it because they think it derives from a theology that produces a hermeneutic that is then imposed upon the text of Scripture. Others deny it because they view all of God’s covenantal relationships with man as gracious and not works- or merit-based. I will not deal with all the various types of denials related to the covenant of works. My focus will be upon hermeneutics. More specifically, I want to show you some of the hermeneutical principles that led to the formulation of this doctrine and then apply those principles to the text of Scripture in an attempt to justify the doctrine. In doing so, I will argue that the covenant of works is a conclusion based on the exegesis of texts and the theological synthesis of the fruit of that exegetical work. In other words, the formulation of the covenant of works is based on exegesis and is the result of reducing the exegetical fruit to a doctrinal formulation reflective of that fruit.
1. “The Importance of Scripture,” Dr. Carl R. Trueman
2. “The Inspiration of Scripture,” Dr. Carl R. Trueman
3. “The Clarity of Scripture,” Dr. Carl R. Trueman
4. “Sufficient, Certain, and Infallible: The Inscripturated Word,” Dr. James M. Renihan
5. “Getting the Garden Right: From Hermeneutics to the Covenant of Works,” Dr. Richard C. Barcellos
6. “The Reading of Scripture,” Dr. Carl R. Trueman
There also will be one Q&A session conducted each evening.
The Catholic Doctrine of Scripture of the Westminster Confession
1. The Importance of Scripture
2. The Inspiration of Scripture
3. The Clarity of Scripture
4. The Reading of Scripture
SCRBPC extends an invitation to pastors to bring their wives. They can sit it on all the sessions for free. They can even participate in the two conference meals, though we will be asking for a $10 fee for such. Housing is on a first-come, first-serve basis for pastors alone. Hope to see you there!
Some have asked if the conference is restricted to Reformed Baptist pastors. The answer is, “No.” Though it is geared toward them, we allow anyone interested to attend. Here is this year’s schedule and here is the registration page.
Dr. Renihan will be lecturing on chapter 1 of our Confession. His lecture title is “Sufficient, Certain and Infallible: The Inscripturated Word.”
Dr. Barcellos will be lecturing on Hermeneutics and the formulation of the doctrine of the covenant of works. He will discuss some hermeneutical principles of seventeenth-century Federal Theology and how the doctrine of the covenant of works was formulated utilizing those principles.
We are glad to announce that full-conference attendees will share in two complimentary meals together – Argentine BBQ and Tacos. Both meals will be prepared on-site by very competent chefs.
This year’s conference will be held at the Trinity Reformed Baptist Church building in La Mirada, CA. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Carl R. Trueman. The topic is the doctrine of Scripture. Drs. Renihan and Barcellos will be guest speakers. There will be more information given in the next two weeks – i.e., registration information, etc. Stay tuned!