Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why I Believe in the Covenant of Works in Genesis 2

Recently, a question has arisen on an email discussion list about whether or not there is a Covenant of Works, or, rather what can be a covenant at all, in the narrative of the pre-Fall state of man in Genesis. In addition the dawgs at Fide-O have been writing about Covenant Theology itself for a few days. In addition, I've been revisiting Vos and some others myself, as well as studying the text on my own. I do affirm that there is a Covenant of Works in this text. I'd like to confine myself to why I affirm there is a covenant here without addressing its nature as much as its presence. I'd add that one does not have to affirm CT in order to hold this position. Dispensationalists often affirm that there a named covenants in Scripture. I believe that if look at the common elements between those covenants, it becomes abundantly clear that there is a covenant here in this text, and thus there is no good reason not to affirm that there is a covenant here. I'd like to thank Steve in particular for writing about the sacramental imagery of the Tabernacle, Ark, Creation, and the Balaam narrative in the past, as that has contributed to my understanding of these texts, so he may find some of this quite familar. I'm not going to reveal who wrote the comments to which I am responding on this list so as not to violate confidence, but I am choosing to provide them in order to provide a framework for my responses. This individual had stated that the word "berith" being present would make the case stronger here. I disagreed, stating that this would commit the word-concept fallacy. We need only prove that the concept is present, and I outlined some reasons why I believe it is present without giving many details. We pick up at this point in the conversation...

I'll expand this further, but this cannot be a covenant for the simple reason Adam had no choice. There is no acquiescing to a covenantal arrangement (e.g. Ex 24:7). This is God making a declaration of the natural order in the world. This is God saying “this is the ways things are.”

A. Covenants of Grant in particular require no concept of parties in mutual agreement with each side making more or less equal contributions, where one "acquiesces" to the other. God's covenants are sovereignly bestowed. A one-sided law can become a berith because of a religious sanction. It would seem to me that you're hiding behind stipulative definitions here. Why not mount an internal critique of the concept?

B. God's covenant with Noah in chapter 9 fits this same description you give, and here we have a named covenant. There are no stipulations and it too is imposed, and he has no choice. Do you deny that there is a covenant in chapter 9 of Genesis? What about Abraham? That was imposed too.

C. Then by your own yardstick, there is no New Covenant. To start with, the Covenant of Grace emanates from God's side, not ours anyway. Regeneration is monergistic and we repent and believe as a response but it is a response secured by grace; the covenant is imposed upon us and we do not, strictly speaking "have a choice." Predestination itself undercuts your objection. The covenant form between king and vassal allows for a covenant to be imposed this way, when one is the vice regent of the other. What's more, Adam certainly does "acquiesce", since he names animals and does not fall away immediately. What's more he calls the woman his wife, anticipating that he will obey the cultural mandate to be fruitful and multiply.

There is nothing about “eternal life” and nothing about “probation” these are inferences you are reading into the text to obtain the desired result.

False and here's why:

A. Audience: These statements are recorded in a book. The book operates at two levels. There’s the historical level of the original events and speeches. And there’s also the narrative level of the authorial viewpoint, after the fact. The author is writing with a target audience in mind. Genesis is addressed to a Hebrew audience and written by Moses. They would bring a cultural preunderstanding to the text. We must also assume the role of those hearers/readers. Even if we assign a later date, which I deny, but if we do, then this only amplifies that understanding.

B The Theme of Inheritance: "Who will inherit the earth God created and why?" is hovering in the background of the whole Bible (the answer is "the covenant people," / "the sons of God"). Moses is writing to a people poised to enter the promised land. Why is the land theirs? Because God has a covenant with them, going all the way back to Adam. Adam is not just the father of all people, but the father Seth, who fathered Enoch..Noah...Shem...Terah...Abraham...
Isaac...Jacob...the sons of Jacob (and the 2 of Joseph)...the recipients of the book. This presumes a covenant relation going back to creation, because the geneaologies retell redemptive history, which presumes a covenant to underwrite it It isn't just redemptive history, this is their history, the history of God's covenant people. Likewise why do believers as a whole "inherit the earth?" Because Christ is the Second Adam, and we find that He succeeded where Adam failed. This presumes a covenant relation in eternity among the Godhead and the breaking of a covenant by the first Adam, and gets us to imputation issues in Romans 5, for example.

The covenants, while not last wills and testaments, often involve a concept of inheritance. The protoevangelion points to regaining the Garden one day, so the earth will be inherited by God's children in some way. The Noahic passed on the cultural mandate to Noah and his family and this covenant that keeps the cycles of nature as long as heaven and earth remain thus these cycles and the earth itself is inherited from one generation of men to the next. The Abrahamic and Old Covenants involve an inheritance of land on one level and many nations on another, the Davidic is specific to the House of David, and thereby stipulates the inheritance of the Davidic King as the nation, and this culminates in Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, the Coming King, and in whom we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8, thereby the children of God inherit the earth. Inheritance is thus a thematic element in covenants. Here, God places Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam is called God's son (Mt. 1), he, like the prodigal son in Jesus' parable, is given his inheritance early and we know what he did with it. Thus, we can expect a covenant to be present in this text.

C. Tabernacle Imagery: Note once again the environment. The Garden of Eden itself is structured in a manner that reflects the 3 tiered structure of creation but this is also carried forward in the minds of the readers to the Ark of Noah and then Tabernacle. Cf. G. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission (IVP, 2004) (I would add that this too is reflective of the Trinity as well).

Now, let's widen this out a bit more. Let's start with the flood and move back and then move forward to the Tabernacle and Trinity. In the flood account we have a triple-decker ark with a window and a roof (6:16; 8:6,13). The animals occupy different decks. During the deluge the ark has water above (rain) and below (floodwaters). Now, let's compare this to the world. In the creation account, the world has windows (7:11) and a roof (1:6-8; 14-16). It has water above and below (1:2,7). The world has three decks: sky, earth, water (cf. Exod 20:4). Animals occupy different "decks." Now, let's compare this to the Garden. It is in the world, surrounded by the rivers (waters), in Eden there is a garden (earth) and in the center (sky) are the two trees, one to life or death. Now, let's compare this to the Tabernacle. We have the camp surrounding it. It is set at the center of the camp (earth/the world), there is a court (Eden) with a laver (water, the rivers), a Holy Place with bread and light (earth/the garden) and a most holy place where God dwells (sky/the center of the garden) with the mercy seat (the tree of life/God's mercy) over the Ark of the Covenant containing the Law, staff of Moses, and manna (the tree of knowledge/God's justice).

This is even more explicit by the time we get to the construction of the Temple and the way it was decorated as well as structured. The point here is that man and God are together in the Tabernacle and with the "mercy seat" (the tree of life) and the ark of the covenant (the contents, the Law, the staff, the manna) represented by the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (In fact, it is because the first couple break the Law that they are cast out and that the Law was given in Moses day to reveal sin). This assumes, from the standpoint of the original recipients of the book, that they are engaging in a covenant relationship. This is no mere inference. This is the structure of the images themselves. So the setting of Gen. 2 itself is the place, the tent of meeting, where God began His covenant relation with the covenant people and met with them. Indeed God is pictured as walking in the Garden looking for Adam suggesting that he and Adam met in the Garden, and they certainly fellowshipped there before the Fall.

Now let's add the Trinity. We have the Spirit (hovering over the waters/water/Eden/the Courtyard), the Son (the Word that created, the Word of Wisdom, the Incarnate Word/The Holy Place where both God and man can meet w/o man being destroyed, in addition Christ is the High Priest who can see God face to face, and finally at the center, we have the Father (sky/the center of the Garden/The Most Holy Place) and His justice and mercy (the two trees/the mercy seat & Ark/His throne...all of which in the New Covenant include Christ's intercession and/through the blood of Christ taking away our sins by satisfying God's justice and giving grounds for His mercy for His covenant people). The entire plan of salvation is about God including us in a relationship with Himself, thereby participating in life forever with the Trinity. Indeed the way to the tree of life is open again at the end of Revelation and the tree of life reappears and we are in the "New Eden, "where there is no curse, there is only life, we have rivers here too, and we have God's throne, fellowship with God, eternal bliss with Him! This is the culmination of the covenant.

If that wasn't enough, you have more than that. You also have the image of an altar and a house, which evokes the concept of covenant as well. The Bible pictures the earth as a house, cf. Job 38:4-6. Moreover, the Bible pictures the earth as an altar, with four corners, cf. Revelation 7:1; 9:13-21. All of this goes back to the Garden of Eden, which had four rivers flowing out of it to water the whole earth, headed for the "four corners." The word for ‘corner’ in Hebrew is kanaf, literally ‘wings.’ The cherubim have four wings (Ezekiel 1). The garment worn by each Hebrew male was to have four wings or corners, so that his garment was analogous to a house or tent that he carried with him at all times (Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12; Haggai 2:12). This gives us is a series of analogous models: The Garden of Eden is like a house, and they are like an altar, and they are analogous to the human person (who is the temple of the Spirit), etc...all of which evoke the concept of covenant relation.

In addition to the "housing" metaphor there is the figuration of the cosmic "tent." This sets up an intentional parallel involving the tabernacle as a microcosm of the cosmos, which is patterned by Eden in the world before the Fall, and thus we're back to the Garden as the tent of meeting for mankind and God before the Fall. Noah in the curse of Genesis 9’s conclusion mentions the tent of Shem, and he had the ark itself as his tent of meeting with God. Moreover, David anticipated the building of the Temple, this prompts the Davidic covenant. Abraham’s dream in Gen. 15 becomes its own tent of meeting, and then God’s visit with Abraham in Gen. 18 is an event of meeting under the tree, telling us that, in fact, the entire land was the tent of meeting for God and the Patriarchs. Abraham will even be told sacrifice Isaac on what will be the Temple Mount. In the New Covenant the Spirit dwells in the church as God’s temple and we anticipate the New Jerusalem with a new Temple.

Thus, where there is a tent of meeting/temple, there is a covenant underwriting it. It would not make sense to divorce these tabernacle images from the concept of the covenant yet unite them to covenants elsewhere. All of this points toward God and His covenants in this text as well, because of the typology of the Garden as the tent of meeting. Thus there is every reason, based on this alone, to read this as a covenant in this part of Genesis. It would not make sense to place Adam in a "tent of meeting" (indeed being a living soul in a body is another type of "tent" in which we meet God through the Holy Spirit's work today), e.g. Eden, without a covenant underwriting their relationship, especially given the audience.

In the Fall, they are cut off from the tree of life and put out of the Garden and thus put outside the tent of meeting and cut off from the covenant. To the Jew this would be analogous to being put outside the camp and left to the elements to die. Why would this happen to an Israelite ? Because he had apostatized from the covenant. Likewise, they are cut off from the presence of God in the tent of meeting, because they violated the covenant, but rather than "stoning them to death," God is merciful and in the protoevangelion begins another by His grace.

D. Structure: The covenant includes a stipulation and sanctions. A negative presupposes a positive. But that is not the ground for asserting that there is a promise of life here, because the only tree prohibited for eating is the tree of knowledge. The tree of life is not prohibited until after the fall. They are cut off from the "sacramental" source of life, but they had access to it beforehand. The sanction, death for eating the tree of knowledge presupposes a promise, bliss, the state in which they were already living, and in which, it would seem from 3:24, they could have continued had they eaten from that tree and not the other.

We also have in this text a preamble, parties, as well as stipulations, and sanctions. This is all in the context of a relationship between God and man. That's all we need. If we consider the wider scope inclusive of the "New Eden" there's the promise of life there, so why would this not reflect a promise of life in this text? We should not expect an explicit promise of eternal life here if probation is also here, because they fellowshipped with God and were already living. God is the God of the living. Such would fail to distinguish between that life they had naturally and that eternal life which would come if they passed their probation.

The absence can be accounted for on three bases (a) in the immediate situation, their walk was so close with God and their nature of innocence such that there need be no promise, because they enter the narrative already on that trajectory toward life by nature; and (b) the author's purpose is to contrast this trajectory with the actual trajectory, to their sin, so (c) the relation between this text in Gen. 2 is to the nature and purpose of the Law spoken at Sinai, to govern the nation and to reveal sin and administer grace after sin is revealed--here grace is in the background through the tree of life, and that Law does include ceremonial law to underwrite mercy and grace to men, but the need for that is not yet present. It is lurking in the background in that there is a second tree, which is analogous to the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, where the blood would be poured out later in history with a promise of life for God’s people. The tree of knowledge is in the foreground here right now. Ergo the moniker "Covenant of Works."

As to "probation" the very term "knowledge of good and evil" suggests maturity and growth. God had them in the Garden and the tree of life and the tree of knowledge were the instruments that would lead them and would stand as a testimony either for or against them, just as the OT Law would lead Israel, and the Law, through being written on our hearts leads us. By being cut off from the tree of life after the Fall, we can see that not only was the contrast between good and evil impressed upon them as very stark indeed, but they are cut off from the tree of life itself. They cannot work their way back into God's presence and fellowship on their own (total inability). Thus we have a judgment based on their violation of a covenant.

E. Sacrifices and Signs: Other covenants between God and man have sacrifices and sacramental signs besides the tabernacle/tent of meeting/Temple. The New has the work of Christ and then the ordinances. The Davidic is an extension of the Old and the Abrahamic, but it has the seed culminating in Christ, who is the outward sacramental sign (He is the water and bread of life) and the ultimate once for all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews). The Old has circumcision (from Abrahamic) and the sacrifices and the Ark of the Covenant. The Abrahamic has circumcision and sacrifice. The Noahic has sacrifice and the rainbow. The Adamic has the clothing from animals killed by God, the naming of Eve, mother of all living, anticipating children and “the seed.”. This one pre-Fall has no sacrifices (they are unnecessary) but a sacramental sign, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge would be eaten so it becomes the reason we require sacrifices.

F. Lawsuit presumes covenant: We know a covenant was here because God comes looking for them after they eat the fruit. He comes and judges them. He also asks them questions prior to rendering a verdict and He gives them time to respond. He's bringing a lawsuit and this is the typical procedure in a covenant lawsuit under the Law. This presumes a law was broken, and this in turn presumes a covenant, because the Law supplies the supporting material for the covenant lawsuit (Isaiah-Malachi), returning an indictment against Israel while pointing towards the final redemption, and through Jesus, God the Son incarnated as man now comes Himself just as God came in the Garden.

In fact, His ministry often puts Him in the position of examining Israel's leaders with questions. In the Passion Week, He recapitulates the role of God in the Garden, by entering the Temple and, though they believe they are examining Christ, He examines the religious leaders, brings the final phase of the lawsuit, and pronounces His judgment, and ultimately the Old Covenant terminates into the New. "The world" has already been judged according to John (John 3), He comes to examine the covenant people, since they are His representatives to the world, and in the end He goes to their representatives before God, the religious leaders, after walking among the people, ministering, and yet examining them and finding them unbelieving (John 6 for example). In the same way, we have Satan here as the serpent, already fallen and judged, then Eve is interviewed, then last Adam her head who represented her and us before God.

The Noahic covenant is instituted after judgment, and at the end of Genesis 9, we have a curse on Ham through Canaan and a prophecy of the destinies of Noah’s sons, followed by Babel, where God comes, observes, judges, and scatters. The Abrahamic has Sodom and Gommorah. The Mosaic lays out the covenant and God ends up pronouncng lawsuit and judgment on them through Moses in rejecting the first generation. The prophets bring them throughout Israel’s history following the examination/proclamation/judgment procedure. Nathan will pronounce a lawsuit upon David, and the later prophets will pronounce lawsuit on David’s house until the Exile. Finally, John is the last of the OT prophets, and Jesus will then make the final lawsuit.

Lawsuits by God against man presuppose a covenant has been violated.

G. A Tempter: Then there's the snake. This can be related to the Balaam narrative, where Balaam comes tempting the covenant people. The name of the Tempter is a pun: the word for "snake" (Heb.=nahas) in Gen 3:1 is from the same root word used by Balaam to put a hex (Heb.=nahas) on Israel (Num 23:23; 24:1). The angel who opposes Balaam is named "Satan" (22:22). The same sword-drawn angel (22:23) recalls the cherubim who guard the Garden (Gen 3:24). The brazen snake (Num 21:9), as well as the "fiery serpents" (21:6,8) or "seraph-serpents" (another double entendre), recalls the Temper (Gen 3:1) and the fiery cherubim (3:24). The talking donkey recalls the talking snake (3:1ff.). And an imprecatory theme is common to both accounts. In terms of other intertextual relations, the fiery angelology connects Gen 3:24 with the Angel of the Lord [Exod 3:2; 14:19], while the angelic sentinel connects Gen 3:24 with the tabernacle [Exod 25:18-20; 26:1,31; 36:8,35; 37:6-7]. And Ezk 28 picks up on all these motifs, viz., Eden, apostasy, guardian angel, stones of fire. Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, etc. all share the same audience. The Tempter remains to threaten the seed many times culminating in the Temptation in the Garden, the crucifixion, and then his activity in the world up to the present day. He also comes to tempt the covenant people to apostatize.

All of this is done in this narrative and in the parallel narratives, in order to tempt those in the covenant to apostatize from the covenant. Why such similarities? To draw attention to the historical correspondence between the apostasy of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and the apostasy of Israel in the wilderness. Israel recapitulates the Fall, for, like the First Parents, they were on probation too. Such activity presupposes a covenant to tell the reader that the tempter designed to invoke apostasy by the First Parents that day. Apostasy presupposes a covenant relationship exists in order to have something from which to apostatize. This element remains until he is cast into the Lake of Fire once and for all.

None of this is an exegetical stretch, for, given the common authorship of the Pentateuch, it is not surprising that Moses has woven a number of literal and literary analogies into one theological tapestry. Underlying these interpretations is the principle of typology, in which one historical event foreshadows another, or even a number of events—like a row of dominoes—until the final domino falls flat. So the NT isn't reading anything into Gen 3 and neither am I or others here when we say that the preponderance of the evidence here favors this being a covenant. The question is not whether or not a covenant exists, but what the nature of that covenant is.

Also, where is there “probation” in any other named covenant?

This is not an administration of the covenant of grace . You're making a category error to assume that every covenant is like another in every way. The existence of probation in a covenant is not necessary to constitute a covenant but it certainly can indicate a covenant is present. However, we assert it is probationary in that it anticipates something greater. The named covenants, even Noah's, anticipate something greater to come (notice that the cycles of nature repeat as long as earth remains). The Abrahamic anticipates the Old, the Davidic, and the New, and the Davidic links the Old and the New, thus anticipating the New. What's more, the Old Covenant with Israel is multi-generational and it anticipates the New Covenant itself. As such it is "probationary" because it is anticipatory of the final covenant, the New Covenant. In addition to this, the Exodus generation recapitulates Adam's fall. They do it again at the time of the Exile. In fact, the entire nation recapitulates Adam, the days of Noah, and the Exodus generation again at the Exile. And then the generation of the first century does so yet again when they reject Christ, getting us to the New Covenant. You could even infer the New is probationary in that sense in that it anticipates completion in the eschaton.

What's more, they each underwrite the basis of a lawsuit (see above), so men are on "probation" while God watches and examines them whether it be here or in the covenant of grace. We persevere in the covenant of grace by grace, that's why we survive the probation.

I’m also not sure what the idea of the “cultural mandate” has to do with anything.

1:18 - 30 and 2:16 - 17 go together the way 12: 1 - 3, 15, and 17: 1- 22 do. The command to be fruitful and multiply of our own kind is part of the narrative unit and thus inclusive of the command structure and iteration of the covenant here. The cultural mandate is also reiterated in Gen. 9. I would add that all of the administrations/covenants involve this element, including the New, and let's not forget the New is the exemplar for the Old in particular and by extension the Covenant of Grace itself.

Notice that the pre-Fall covenant or at least condition includes this mandate. This is repeated in the Adamic covenant of grace, when he names his wive "Ava," mother of all living, in response to the protoevangelion and it is even assumed in the curse regarding childbearing. It is repeated to Noah in Gen. 9. At the end of Gen. 9, in the curse on Ham, Noah applies this element of the Noahic covenant in prophesying that Yahve will have a people, Shem, with a tent that in which Japheth will dwell, and Ham will also serve. This anticipates the next administrations of the Covenant of Grace. Abraham was promised a seed and that God would make him into "many nations." This covenant anticipates the Davidic (17:6), and the Davidic (I Sam. 7, 2 Sam. 23) protects the seed of the protoevangelion (Gen. 3), terminating its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus (Mt. 1). The Old Covenant includes a command about parents and children in the Decalogue itself and stipulations involving children and not cutting off the a family line unless there was no other resort, and is generally directed toward the governing and growth of the nation of Israel (among many things), all of which presume the cultural mandate--most especially the command to enter the land and subdue it and live on it. Even the New Covenant, we are told to be fruitful and multiply in that we are commanded to go into all the world and make disciples, etc. (Mt.28, Acts 1), and even in church discipline, we are not to cut off a whole "family line" except as a last resort, and this continues until Christ returns for us. Even the Covenant of Redemption between the Members of the Godhead includes its own agreement to be fruitful and multiply, for this grounds the aim of election, the Incarnation, the atonement & intercession, and the application of redemption, and it results in the effectual calling and constitution of a people in the image of Christ, who Himself is the image of God, thus after God's own kind. So, in both creation and redemption, our God is carrying out His personal decision for Himself to be fruitful and multiply. Ergo, the very presence of the cultural mandate to be fruitful and multiply in each of these administrations (or, if you prefer, separate covenants on a dispensational view) is positive evidence for a pre-Fall covenant, as it appears as an element in them all. Where that mandate is iterated, we have a covenant.

If the Hebrew word for “covenant” was present the case would be a lot stronger.

And my point was that this objection clearly commits the word-concept fallacy That’s like saying that if the word for “Trinity” was present the case for it would be much stronger.

Again, the preponderance of evidence that there is a pre-Fall covenant, by looking at the elements in the named covenants and simply asking ourselves if they are here too. They most certainly are here. It has known many names in historical theology, but it nevertheless there. In denying there is a covenant here you are in effect saying:

There is no covenant, where there is a basic form.

There is a understanding of covenants in the audience but no covenant here.

There is no covenant from which to apostatize, but a tempter to tempt them to apostasy.

There is no covenant where there is an outward sign (one of which points to a coming sacrifice).

There is no covenant where there is an inheritance concept.

There is no covenant where there is a tabernacle.

That there is no covenant where there is a cultural mandate.

There is no covenant where there is a lawsuit.


  1. Great post, Gene. I am working on a post currently about Adam and the Covenant issues. Your post was very informative and edifying.

  2. By the way, concerning the fact that the word convenant isn't in the Creation text:

    It is very interesting that there are two ways of speaking about the making of a covenant in the Pentateuch and elsewhere in the Old Testament.

    1) “cutting a covenant” = refers to the inauguration of the covenant

    2) “establishing a covenant” = refers to the confirming of an already established covenant relationship, to make that covenant firm.

    Is it not interesting to you that in Genesis 6:18, the passage says that the covenant was made firm? Now that is the first usage of “Covenant” in the Bible. But the very language forces you to understand that there was a covenant before it was mentioned.

    And in 2Samuel 7 there is a covenant established between God and David but the word is not used. But we know that there was a covenant made because of the contents of the narrative and the confirmation of Psalm 89.

    So just because the word covenant isn't used during the establishment phase doesn't always mean that there wasn't a covenant made.