In his book The Christ of the Covenants Dr. O. Palmer Robertson points out that God is consistent in His dealings with humankind, particularly with regard to the making of covenants with humankind. He understands God as having one basic covenant with all of humanity, which He administers sovereignly under various modes of administration. What we perceive as different covenants with different start- and end-points should rather be seen as various phases of God’s continuing covenant relationship with humanity. The covenants overlap rather than replace one another.
The two major phases of the covenant refer to the situation prior to and after the fall of Adam and Eve. God has made a covenant with His creation, which is usually refereed to in Reformed circles as a “covenant of works.” After the fall, God must modify the covenant by adding the element of redemption, which is usually referred to the “covenant of grace.” Robertson prefers the terms “covenant of creation” and covenant of redemption to avoid confusion because both grace and works actually operate within both basic covenants.
The covenant of Redemption comprises several different phases as noted in the diagram below:
| ———————-Creation: Adam and Eve——————————————————-|
|————-Redemption (Commencement: Adam/Eve)—————————–|
It is important to understand that that the beginning of a new covenant does not automatically void the entirety of the previous covenant. While conditions in the newer covenant may modify the contents of a previous covenant, the newer covenant also retains elements from the prior one.
For instance, the original creation covenant required humankind to reproduce and work to keep their environment from degenerating. When Adam and Eve sinned, their workload increased to include working harder for their food. They were still required to reproduce, though more pain and anxiety would result. Even through that, Eve’s “seed” would do battle with the serpent and overcome it, restoring humanity’s role.
God’s covenant with Noah confirms God’s desire to perpetuate the human species, though it also modifies the conditions by allowing humans to eat meat. Subsequent covenants are given within the background of God’s provision of the seasons and life-giving rainfall.
Similarly, the covenants with Moses and David presupposed the Abrahamic Covenant. They are even predicted by God’s words of blessing to Abraham. Abraham’s “seed” is promised to bring blessing to the nations of the world.
Later prophets did not envision the New Covenant as something that had no room for elements of previous covenants. Examples are in Jeremiah 31:31-40 and 32:36-44 and Ezekiel 34:20-31 and 37:24-26. Jesus becomes the “seed” of David who fulfills these prophecies about a new covenant.
Later posts will develop and interact with Robertson’s themes in greater detail.