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Does Genesis 2:15-17 Teach A Covenant Of Works?

Introduction

In the early to middle years of the twentieth century, conservative Christians were forced to choose between two opposed camps B traditional dispensationalism and reformed covenant theology. Each had its advantages. The hallmark of traditional dispensationalism has been an acute biblio-centrality. Indeed, Charles Ryrie has stated that a sine qua non of dispensationalism is a literal, normal or plain interpretation of Scripture.1 The hallmark of reformed covenant theology has been a Godward-oriented soteriology and a lineage to the historic Protestant confessions of faith and the reformation. For biblically-oriented, theologically sensitive, historically appreciative Calvinists, who frankly would have liked to have had one foot in each camp, this must have been an uncomfortable time. The war of words between the two camps was sometimes over-heated.2

In recent years, however, there has been a remarkable rapprochement between contemporary dispensationalists and covenant theologians.3 As a Calvinist, I have studied the literature surrounding the ongoing dialogue between “progressive dispensationalists” and covenant theologians with keen interest. In the process, I have become more familiar with, and gained more respect for, the reformed theology articulation of certain theological covenants such as the “covenant of redemption,” the “covenant of works” and the “covenant of grace.” Several questions have come to my mind. Are these covenants biblical? Are they compatible with current notions of dispensationalism? Are they important? This paper attempts to answer these questions with respect to the covenant of works.

In chapter two, I describe the typical reformed view of the covenant of works. In chapter three, I attempt to discover whether this covenant is biblical. In chapter four, I explore whether the “covenant of works“ is compatible with current notions of dispensationalism. Finally, in chapter five, I reach some conclusions about whether it matters.

Chapter 2
What Is The Reformed Covenant Of Works?

Genesis 2:15-17 states:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

Reformed covenant theology has traditionally seen in this passage a “covenant of works“ between God and Adam. The covenant of works, as asserted in Reformed theology, involves four components: (1) parties, (2) a promise, (3) a condition and (4) a penalty.

The parties. Berkhof says that the contracting parties were the triune God on the one hand and Adam as God’s dependent creature on the other. He states that God, “by a positive enactment, graciously established a covenant relationship“ and that “Adam was constituted the representative head of the human race so that he could act for all his descendants.“4

The promise. Berkhof says that “the great promise of the covenant of works was the promise of eternal life.“5 Adam was given the promise of eternal life for himself and his descendants if he would comply with the condition. Berkhof additionally notes that those who deny the covenant of works generally base their denial on the fact that there is no record of such a promise in the Bible. He agrees that “Scripture contains no explicit promise of eternal life to Adam.“ However, he believes “the threatened penalty clearly implies such a promise.“ He states:

When the Lord says, “for in the day that thou eastest thereof thou shalt surely die,“ his statement clearly implies that, if Adam refrains from eating, he will not die, but will be raised above the possibility of death. The implied promise certainly cannot mean that, in the case of obedience, Adam would be permitted to live on in the usual way, that is, to continue the ordinary natural life, for that life was his already in virtue of his creation, and therefore could not be held out as a reward for obedience. The implied promise evidently was that of life raised to its highest development of perennial bliss and glory.6

Hodge similarly states that “the life thus promised included the happy, holy, and immortal existence of the soul and body.“ He believed this was plain because (1) only eternal life would be suited to man as a moral and intelligent being composed of soul and body; (2) the eternal life which the Scriptures speak of as connected with obedience flows from the favor and fellowship of God and includes glory, honor and immortality; and (3) the life secured by Christ is spiritual and eternal.7

The condition. The condition was that of perfect obedience. In other words, Adam was temporary put on probation in order to determine whether he would willingly subject his will to the will of God in the way of obedience. He was subject to the moral law of God written on his heart. As Berkhof put it, the “great question that had to be settled was, whether man would obey God implicitly or follow the guidance of his own judgment.“8 Hodge states that this specific command not to eat of a certain tree was not the only command given to Adam, but it was “the outward and visible test to determine whether he was willing to obey God in all things.“9

The penalty. The penalty for disobedience was death B physical, spiritual and eternal death.10 Because Adam did not obey God’s command, the execution of the penalty began instantly after the first sin. Spiritual death came immediately, and the aging process of the body began which would eventually lead to physical death.

Was the covenant of works abrogated at the time of Adam’s fall? According to most Reformed theologians, the covenant of works was not abrogated in the following ways: (i) man still owes God perfect obedience; and (ii) the penalty for sin remains in effect for those who continue and die in their sins. However, after the fall of man, no one can comply with the condition.

Reformed theologians believe that the covenant of works was abrogated in as much as it was an appointed means to obtain eternal life. For that purpose, it is powerless after the fall. Instead, Jesus Christ satisfied the covenant for his people by his active obedience to God’s law.

According to Berkhof, the history of the doctrine of the covenant of works is “comparatively brief.“ The early church fathers did not speak in terms of a covenant idea, although “the elements which it includes, namely, the probationary command, the freedom of choice, and the possibility of sin and death, are all mentioned.”11 Berkhof notes that the doctrine did not develop in the scholastic period or the Reformation era either. Instead, the second generation reformers, Olevianus, Cloppenburg, Coccejus, Witsius and others, formulated the doctrine.12 It found official recognition in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which stated in relevant part:

The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.13

In America, Presbyterian scholars Charles and A. A. Hodge, Thornwell, and Dabney, among others, fully treated the doctrine of the covenant of works in their theological works. Nevertheless, Berkhof noted that “in the Churches which they represent it has all but lost its vitality.”14 Interestingly, the covenant of works has had a strong following in the historic Baptist tradition. For example, John Bunyan wrote a comprehensive treatise on the subject, and John Gill devoted a number of pages to its exposition.15 Southern Baptist founders John Dagg, R.B.C. Howell, and James Boyce expounded it.16 Of course, among contemporary Baptists, as with other evangelicals outside the reformed tradition, the doctrine is essentially forgotten. For example, Millard Erickson has no mention of it in his systematic theology, although Wayne Grudem gives the doctrine extensive coverage.17

Like any other doctrine, however, the question is not whether it is historical or tradition, but whether it is biblical. To that issue I now turn.

Chapter Three
Is The Covenant Of Works Biblical?

In Things to Come, Dwight Pentecost states that “there is much in the position of the Covenant theology that is in agreement with the Scripture,” although he criticized the system as not going far enough to explain the Scriptures eschatologically.18 In the same vein, Charles Ryrie asserts in Dispensationalism that “the theological covenants on which covenant theology is based are not specifically revealed in Scripture,” and that “the whole covenant system is based on a deduction and not on the results of an inductive study of Scripture.”19 And yet he too acknowledges that “the ideas and concepts contained in the covenants of works and grace are not unscriptural.”20 According to these dispensationalists, the covenant of works is merely “not unscriptural.” This is faint praise at best. Is the “covenant of works” deserving of more? To begin to answer this question, we need to first understand what a covenant is.

The Biblical Concept of “Covenant”

The Old Testament word used to express the covenant concept is berit. Despite extensive investigation into the etymology of this word, its root meaning remains obscure.21

Some have connected the root with an Assyrian word that means “fetter” or “obligation.”22 Others have derived the root from a word meaning to cut and have emphasized a sacrificial ceremony as the main idea.23 Although the etymology of the word is unclear, scholars are generally agreed that a covenant is “an agreement between two parties which binds them together with common interests and responsibilities and which is composed of certain component parts . . . and is concluded or consummated by certain ceremonial acts.” Or, as Robertson has put it, “a covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.”24

The three component parts of a berit are: (1) an agreement which binds the two together; (2) the form or component parts of the agreement; (3) the concluding ceremony.25 In addition, the following points are generally recognized as included in the “classic form” of the covenant agreement: (1) The introduction of the speaker; (2) historical prologue; (3) stipulations or conditions; (4) the document; (5) the witness of the gods; and (6) curse and blessing.26

The introduction often contained the participants’ names and their titles which were usually stated in glowing terms. The historical prologue recounted the previous contacts of the partners, sometimes going back even several generations. The stipulations were then presented in which there was an exchange of promises and conditions that each agreed to fulfill. This involved a wide range of things including loyalty, protection, aid, return of escapees, suppression of rumors, etc.27 Moreover, with respect to a biblical covenant, God is not merely a witness but a party to the covenant. He actually enters into a covenant relationship with his people.

Significantly, when one party to the agreement was greatly superior to the other, the superior party would simply announce his decree and the inferior party would express his acceptance and readiness to confirm.28 As Morris has observed:

Especially valuable are the suzerainty treaties imposed by the great king on his vassals, for in these the terms are dictated by the superior authority. The inferior simply accepts them and agrees to perform the obligations imposed upon him.29

In the case of a covenant entered into by God, this one-sided aspect of the transaction was even more apparent, since the contracting parties stood upon entirely different levels.30

Is the covenant idea contained in Genesis 2:15-17?

All agree that the actual word “covenant” is not used in the Genesis narrative.31 However, that fact is not significant as long as the central elements of a covenant relationship are present. It appears that the key elements of a covenant are present in Genesis 2:15-17.

1. Two parties are clearly present. This is evident by the fact that God speaks to Adam (along with his wife) and gives commands to him. Genesis 1:28-30 states:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground, everything that has the breath of life in it, I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God’s command is implicit in Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” It is explicit in the direct command to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

2. In addition, there are stipulations present in this passage.

a. First, there is an implicit promise of blessing for obedience in this passage. What is this blessing? Clearly, it involves not receiving death. This is inherent in the statement “for when you eat of it you will surely die.” But it must have consisted of more than that. The blessing must have involved a promise of eternal life. This is seen in the fact that the death that is promised involves not only physical death, but spiritual death as well.32 The converse is also true. Just as the death that is offered involves physical and spiritual (or eternal) death, the life that is offered must also involve physical and spiritual (or eternal) life.

This view is supported by the presence of the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). After the fall, God removed Adam and Eve from the garden so that they would not eat from the tree of life and thereby gain eternal life (Gen. 3:22). Contrast this tragic garden scene with the happy garden of the eternal state, in the New Jerusalem, where “on each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month “and “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” “No longer will there be any curse.” (Rev. 22:1-3).

b. To obtain the promise, Adam had to fulfill the condition. The condition, of course, was that Adam not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As Vos has stated, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “was the God-appointed instrument to lead man through probation to that state of religious and moral maturity wherewith his highest blessedness is connected.”33 This condition, if followed, would have enabled Adam to obtain eternal life for himself and for his descendants in the way of obedience.

Robertson rightly emphasizes that the focal point of the covenant of works was this single test. In it, “the radicalness of the obedience demanded stands out boldly,” for “contrary to the normal order which pervaded the garden scene, man was not to eat of this single tree.”34 Man was given the privilege of eating from every other tree in the garden but not this one. This one exception was a reminder that Adam was not the creator; he was merely the creature. The point of testing was whether he was willing to submit himself to God’s rule and choose obedience for the sake of obedience alone. Dagg also rightly notes: “The test of obedience prescribed to Adam was easy; and this very fact makes the transgression the more inexcusable. It showed the greatness of Abraham’s faith, that it stood so severe a test when he was required to offer up his son Isaac; and it proves the greatness of Adam’s sin, that it was committed, when he might so easily have avoided it.”35 And a’Brakel muses: “If anyone wishes to meditate somewhat upon this commandment, it will become evident that much is comprehended in this commandment. It declared that God alone was the Lord and thus entitled to command Adam as He pleased, and that Adam was thus required to obey blindly without asking why.”36

3. There was finally a curse or penalty for disobedience. As noted, the penalty was spiritual as well as physical death. As Vos has said, “it was intimated that death carried with it separation from God since sin issued both in death and in the exclusion from the garden.”37 Hence, spiritual death occurred immediately upon Adam’s sin since he was cut off from fellowship with God. Physical death also began to exact its toll as the aging process began. Genesis 5:5 shows the ultimate fulfillment of this penalty, as Adam grew old and eventually died.

4. There is no recorded agreement to the covenant arrangement on the part of Adam in the passage. Undoubtedly, however, Adam did assent, for if he had not, that refusal itself would have been the first sin. As John Gill stated, “he had the most sincere affection; and the inclination and bias of his will were strongly toward it. . . his will was to observe it; his resolution to keep it.”38 Thus, Adam had no liberty to decline. “His obedience was due to God, whether he promised him anything or no.”39

A. A. Hodge similarly responds to a hypothetical objection that the covenant of works is not valid because Adam did not assent by stating: (1) “Although Adam’s will was not consulted, yet his will was unquestionably cordially consenting to this divine constitution and all the terms thereof, and hence the transaction did embrace all the elements of a covenant.” (2) “Instances of analogous transactions between God and men are expressly styled covenants in the Bible. If God’s transactions with Noah (Gen. 9:11,12) and with Abraham (Gen. 17:1-21) were covenants, then was his transaction with Adam in the garden a covenant.”40

Does the Bible elsewhere refer to this passage as a covenant?

If the text of Genesis 2:15-17 is alone not persuasive, a designation of this Adamic relationship as a covenant elsewhere in Scripture should suffice. And in fact, Hosea 6:7 speaks of a covenant transgressed by Adam—which can only refer to this covenant of works. Hosea 6:7 states: ”Like Adam, they have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there” (NIV). The Hebrew for “like Adam” (ke Adam) has been translated variously.41

For example, the RSV and NRSV translate it “at Adam” suggesting a geographical place near the Jordan River. However, as Warfield, Berkhof and Grudem all note, the preposition ke means “like,” not “at.”42 Those who hold to this view, then, have to assert that the text is corrupt (be Adam rather than ke Adam). Warfield rightly commented that this is “critical divination” rather than exegesis. Like Warfield, we “decline to go behind the written text save under a pressure indefinitely stronger than the exegetical difficulties which here face us.”43

The KJV and NKJV translate the phrase “like men,” taking the Hebrew Adam in its generic sense, rather than as a proper name. However, Berkhof notes that there is no plural in the original and that “such a statement would be rather inane, since man could hardly transgress in any other way” (that is, other than “as men”)44 Grudem similarly observes that this” would make little sense” because “it would do little good to compare the Israelites to what they already are (that is, men) and say that they ‘like man’ broke the covenant.”45 And a’Brakel notes that Job 31:33, containing the same phrase (ke Adam), clearly refers to the historical Adam.46

Hence, the ASV, NIV and NASB rendering is the correct one, suggesting a comparison with the first man, Adam, who blatantly violated God’s covenant requirement by eating from the forbidden tree. As Warfield observed, “the transgressing of Adam, as the great normative act of covenant-breaking, offered itself naturally as the fit standard over against which the heinousness of the covenant-breaking of Israel could be thrown out.”47 In Hosea 6:7, then, we conclude that Israel’s transgression of its covenant is equated in seriousness with Adam’s transgression of the first covenant—the covenant of works.

Conclusion

Thus, we have seen that the covenant of works is a biblical notion and an adequate explanation of the relationship between God and Adam, as stated in Genesis 2:15-17. Is this covenant still in force? In a sense, it is.

First, in several passages, Paul implies that perfect obedience to God’s laws, if it were possible (which it is not), would lead to life (Rom. 7:10; 10:5; Gal. 3:12).48 Second, we all stood the test in Adam as our representative, and we all failed in Adam.49 In addition, the penalty for Adam’s violation is still in effect. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death.” Indeed, Jesus Christ fulfilled what Adam could not; he perfectly obeyed the covenant of works for us because he committed no sin (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:22). As Paul said in Romans 5:18-19:

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Yet in another sense, the covenant of works has been abrogated. As Murray has pointed out, the special prohibition of Eden does not now apply to us.50 We no longer are faced with the specific command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Moreover, since we all have a sin nature, we are not able to fulfill the provisions of the covenant of works on our own and receive its benefits. Although, for Christians, Christ has fulfilled the provisions of this covenant successfully once for all, we gain the blessing of life, not by actual obedience, but by trusting in the merits of Christ’s work. Indeed, to attempt to earn eternal life by our own obedience would be to cut oneself off from the hope of salvation.51 As Paul made clear in Galatians 3:10-11:

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”

We will next explore whether this covenant is consistent with dispensationalism.

Chapter Four
Is The Covenant Of Works Consonant With Contemporary Notions Of Dispensationalism?

In 1936, O. T. Allis attacked dispensationalism for dividing the unity of the Bible. He claimed that this violated not only the Bible but also the Westminster Standards.52 B. B. Warfield also criticized Chafer for failing to adhere to the Presbyterian church’s confessional standards.53 Thus, it has long been assumed that key tenets of reformed covenant theology are wholly incompatible with the teachings of dispensationalism. However, at least with respect to the covenant of works, to my mind, there is no reason why that covenant would not harmonize with dispensationalism. To explain this reasoning, we need to determine both negatively and positively the sine qua non of dispensationalism.

Negatively, the sine qua non of dispensationalism is not a belief that history is divided into distinct economies or dispensations. As Blaising and Bock have pointed out, such notable covenant theologians as Johannes Cocceius, Herman Witsius, Francis Turretin, Isaac Watts, Patrick Fairbairn and Andrew Faussett divided history into various dispensations.54 So did Jonathan Edwards.55

Nor is it the using of a literal interpretative methodology. Dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists alike employ a literal hermeneutic. As Saucy has stated, “an analysis of non-dispensational systems . . . reveals that their less-than-literal approach to Israel in the Old Testament prophecies does not really arise from an a priori spiritualistic or metaphorical hermeneutic” but rather, “it is the result of their interpretation of the New Testament using the same grammatico-historical hermeneutic as that of dispensationalists.”56

Nor still is it a belief that God’s glory is the underlying purpose of God in the world. After all, the very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: What is the chief end of man? Its answer is that man’s chief purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Still less is dispensationalism defined by a belief that (a) law and gospel are antithetical (b) the Christian is not bound by the moral law of the Old Testament or (c) that a different mode of salvation was in place in the Old Testament. Saucy states that a primary point of difference in earlier years was the relationship of law and grace, but that “contention over the issue of law and grace has. . . been rendered passe.” Indeed, he asserts that “dispensationalists apparently never intended to teach a dichotomy between law and grace as principles of God’s salvation” even though “some statements of early advocates were easily constructed that way.”57

Positively, the central features of dispensationalism are (1) a belief that Israel and the church are separate entities and (2) a belief in a national hope for the nation of Israel. As Stanley Toussaint has observed, “all dispensationalists would agree” with Ryrie’s statement that “[t]he nature of the church is a crucial point of difference between dispensationalism and other doctrinal viewpoints.” “Indeed, ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church, is the touchstone of dispensationalism.”58

Thus, dispensationalism, in its essence, relates to ecclesiology and eschatology, but not the Christology or soteriology to which the covenant of works (or for that matter, the covenant of grace) is addressed. In fact, today’s progressive dispensationalists affirm a unity among God’s people that appears to be in accord with the teaching of the Westminster Confession (the same confession Chafer was criticized for violating). They reject the notion that the various dispensations are different arrangements between God and man and instead hold that the church is a vital part of God's plan of redemption and that this plan does not differ for Israel and the church. Blaising states: "The appearance of the church does not signal a secondary redemption plan, either to be fulfilled in heaven apart from the new earth or in an elite class of Jews and Gentiles who are forever distinguished from the rest of redeemed humanity. Instead, the church today is a revelation of spiritual blessings which all the redeemed will share in spite of their ethnic and national differences.”59 Therefore, as John MacArthur stated in The Gospel According to the Apostles, "dispensationalism shapes one's eschatology and ecclesiology" and "that is the extent of it." He rightly declared that "pure dispensationalism has no ramifications for the doctrines of God, man, sin or sanctification" and "true dispensationalism makes no relevant contribution to soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation."60

Thus, I suggest that, within dispensationalism, there is ample room for the following:

1. An embracing of a five-point Calvinistic soteriology.

2. An affirmation of the covenant of works.

3. An affirmation of the unity of the covenant of grace which overlays all dispensations after the Fall of man.

4. An affirmation that salvation is by grace through faith in all dispensations after the Fall of man.

And yet none of these things impinge upon—

1. A premillennial, pretribulation rapture eschatology.

2. A belief that God will keep his promises made to Israel in the Old Testament.

3. A rejection of the view that the church is the “new Israel of God.”

4. A belief that “all Israel” will be saved during the Tribulation period.

In sum, there is no inherent conflict between dispensationalism, in its essence, and that basic form of theology found in the pages of the Westminster Confession, the Baptist Confession of 1689, and the Heidelberg Catechism—including the covenant of works.

This does not mean, however, that there are now no genuine differences and disagreements between the new dispensationalism of MacArthur, Saucy, Bock and Blaising, on the one hand, and covenant theology, on the other. (See points 5-8 above). I have no illusions that the two will ever meet in the middle. Nevertheless, I wonder whether the differences that remain are of such a degree that dispensationalists of all stripes cannot benefit from a reappraisal of the covenant of works as well as the other soteriological elements of reformed theology. I also wonder whether the differences are such that the level of “heat” generated by discussion between the two camps cannot be turned down considerably.

This leads to the final question to be answered in this paper. Why does it matter?

Chapter Five
Why Does It Matter Whether We Believe In A Covenant Of Works?

But when the time had fully come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,
to redeem those under law,
that we might receive the full rights of sons.
(Gal. 4:4-5)

John Murray stated several years ago that “we are liable to regard the Adamic administration [i.e., the covenant of works] as abstract, unrelated to our situation and practical interest, and so far removed from us that it has little or no relevance.”61 Is that good or bad? Does it matter whether we believe in a covenant of works? I suggest that it does matter a great deal—for the following reasons.

1. It matters in terms of bibliology. Simply put, the Bible teaches a covenant of works; therefore, we as Bible-believing Christians are duty-bound to accept it. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

2. It matters in terms of Christology and soteriology. Paul makes clear in Romans 5 that both Adam and Christ stand in covenant relation to humanity. Adam disobeyed God and violated the covenant, thereby visiting death and sin on all humanity (whether as federal head or through seminal representation). In contrast, Christ, as the last Adam, obeyed God and kept the covenant, thereby visiting life on believers. As Charles Hodge has stated:

The two Adams are the heads of the two covenants. The one the representative of all who are under the covenant of works, communicating his image unto them; the other the representative of all who are under the covenant of grace, and communicating His image unto them. By the one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, and by the obedience of the other many shall be made righteous.62

Thus, the covenant of works places Christ’s active obedience in perspective. As Berkhof said, “its obligations were met by the Mediator for his people.”63 In his active obedience, he accomplished what the first Adam failed to accomplish. He reversed the consequences of Adam’s failure for his people. And in doing so, “Christ abolished the law as a covenant of works by fulfilling its conditions.”64

Of course, it is not important that one use the terminology—“covenant of works.” John Murray preferred the phrase “Adamic administration.”65 So does the author of a Reformed Baptist commentator on the Second London Confession of 1689.66 Nevertheless, it is important that we value the relevance of the covenant of works. As Murray said, if we are inclined to disregard this covenant, “we do not have a biblically conditioned way of thinking.”67

We are sinners and we come into the world as such. This situation demands explanation. It cannot stand as an empirical fact. It requires the question: Why or how? It is the Adamic administration with all its implications for racial solidarity that alone provides the answer. This is the biblical answer to the universality of sin and death.

We need salvation. How does salvation come to bear upon our need? Racial solidarity in Adam is the pattern according to which salvation is wrought and applied. By Adam sin—condemnation—death, by Christ righteousness—justification—life. A way of thinking that makes us aloof to solidarity with Adam makes us inhabile to the solidarity by which salvation comes. Thus the relevance of the Adamic administration to what is most basic, on the one hand, and most necessary, on the other, in our human situation.68

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____________. Commentary on Ephesians. Reproduced on CD-ROM by the Ephesians 4 Group.

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Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980.

Rogers, Cleon L. , Jr. AThe Covenant With Abraham and Its Historical Setting.@ Bibliotheca Sacra. vol. 127, no. 507 (July, 1970).

Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995.

Saucy, Robert. The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993.

Vos, Geerhardus. Biblical Theology. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1948, reprinted 1996.

Waldron, Samuel. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1989.

Westminster Confession of Faith.


1 See Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966, revised 1995), 40, 80-85. Whether this is a sine qua non of dispensationalism has been the subject of recent debate. See Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 36-42.

2 For example, John Gerstner unaccountably labeled dispensationalism “a cult and not a branch of the Christian church.” He associated dispensationalists with “false teachers“ and “heretics. “ John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 150, 262. Ryrie has catalogued other unfortunate attacks by covenant theologians. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 12-16.

3 See Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, ed., Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church - The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), and particularly the responses by Walter C. Kaiser, Willem VanGemeren, and Bruce Waltke. See also a number of articles on the “Dispensational Study Group of the Evangelical Theological Society“ in the Fall 1989 issue of Grace Theological Journal.

4 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1941), 215.

5 Ibid, 216.

6 Ibid.

7 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 1995), 118-119.

8 Berkhof, 217.

9 Hodge, 119.

10 Berkhof, 217.

11 Ibid, 211.

12 Ibid, 212.

13 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VII, paragraph 2.

14 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 213.

15 John Bunyan, “The Doctrine of Law and Grace Unfolded” in The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 1 (Glasgow, Scotland: W. G. Blackie and Son, 1854, reprinted Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 497-520; John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, reprinted 1995), 311-316.

16 See J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, reprinted 1990), 144-46; Robert Boyte C. Howell, The Covenants (Charleston, S.C.: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1855, reprinted Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1994), 6-13; James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (1887, reprinted, Hanford, CA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, n.d.), 234-39.

17 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 516-518.

18 G. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 66.

19 Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 193.

20 Ibid, 189.

21 Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., ”The Covenant With Abraham and Its Historical Setting,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 127, no. 507 (July, 1970): 243; O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 5; Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 67.

22 See G. L. Archer, Jr., “Covenant” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1984), 276.

23 Rogers, “The Covenant of Abraham and its Historical Setting,” 243.

24 Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 4.

25 Rogers, 243.

26 Ibid, 245.

27 Ibid.

28 See G. L. Archer, Jr., “Covenant” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1984), 276.

29 Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 69-70.

30 Archer, 277.

31 Berkhof, 213 (“It must be admitted that the term ‘covenant’ is not found in the first three chapters of Genesis”); Grudem, 516 (“The actual word covenant is not used in the Genesis narratives”); Hodge, 117 (the statement that God entered into a covenant with Adam “does not rest upon any express declaration of the Scriptures”).

32 See Grudem, 516; Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1948, reprinted 1996), 40.

33 Ibid, 30.

34 Roberston, The Christ of the Covenants, 83.

35 Dagg, A Manual of Theology, 146.

36 Wilhelmus a’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1 (republished on CD-ROM, Ephesians 4 Group).

37 Vos, Biblical Theology, 40.

38 Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, 312.

39 Ibid, 314.

40 A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, reprinted 1992), 121-22).

41 See B.B. Warfield, “Hosea VI.7: Adam or Man?” in Selected Shorter Writings, John E. Meeter, ed. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970, reprinted 2001), 116; Robert Chisholm, “Hosea” in Bible Knowledge Commentary [Republished on CD-ROM by Logos Library System]. For a history of the various translations of this verse, see Warfield, 116-129; Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), 458-63.

42 Warfield, “Hosea VI.7: Adam or Man?,” 122-125; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 214; Grudem, Systematic Theology, 516 n.1.

43 Warfield, 124-25.

44 Berkhof, 215.

45 Grudem, 516.

46 Wilhelmus a’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (republished on CD-ROM, available from Ephesians 4 Group); see also Warfield, 128.

47 Warfield, 128.

48 Dabney helpfully reminds us: “The fact that in some of these places the offer of life through the covenant of works was only made in order to apply an argument ad hominem to the self-righteous Jews, does not weaken this evidence. For the reason that life cannot, in fact be gained through that covenant is not that it was not truly promised to man in it, and in good faith; but that man has now become through the fall, morally incapable of fulfilling the conditions.” Robert. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (republished on CD-ROM by Ephesians 4 Group).

49 John Murray, “The Adamic Administration” in Collected Writings, vol. II (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 57.

50 Ibid.

51 Grudem, 518.

52 See Craig A. Blaising, “Developing Dispensationalism” in Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (July 1988): 267.

53 Randall Gleason, “B. B. Warfield and Lewis Sperry Chafer on Sanctification” in JETS vol. 40 (June, 1997): 247-48.

54 Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton, IL: Bridgepoint, 1993), 118.

55 Herbert W. Bateman IV, “Dispensationalism Yesterday and Today” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism, 22.

56 Robert Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 20.

57 Ibid, 14. Saucy also noted that non-dispensationalists such as Daniel Fuller, Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn have concluded, as a result of these developments, that newer dispensationalists have eliminated the problem of seemingly teaching divergent ways of salvation in different ages. Ibid, 15.

58 Stanley D. Toussaint “Israel and the Church of a Traditional Dispensationalist” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism, 227.

59 Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 47.

60 John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1993), 222.

61 Murray, 58.

62 Robert Haldane, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (reproduced on CD-ROM by the Ephesians 4 Group), comment on Rom. 5:16.

63 Berkhof, 218.

64 Charles Hodge, Commentary on Ephesians (reproduced on CD-ROM by the Ephesians 4 Group), comment on Eph. 3:15-16.

65 John Murray, “The Adamic Administration” in Collected Writings, vol. II (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 47-60).

66 Samuel Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1989), 96.

67 Murray, 58.

68 Ibid, 58-59.