Thursday, January 22, 2009

The covenant of works

A preliminary comment before I proceed. PaulSceptic is a card-carrying member of the lunatic fringe. He makes John Spong look like a fundamentalist.

He’s a newbie blogger who’s tried to call attention to himself by picking a fight with an established, high-volume blog. Pursuant to that end, he will use a post of mine (or another T-blogger) as a pretext to affix his irrelevant, off-topic comments.

I’m not going to make an open-ended commitment to responding to his irrelevancies. I will only respond if, and when, it serves my agenda, not his. As a rule, if he adds irrelevant, off-topic comments to my post, I’ll delete them.

I’m only responding to this comment because it raises some rather routine objections to Gen 2-3, and so it’s a topic of general interest.


“Total inherited depravity is the reverse of the Genesis story whether it is fair or unfair.”

Is that a fact?

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).

“For the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

Moving along:

“Calvinists say that Adam knew good and evil, that God gave him a ‘covenant of works’ consisting of the moral law (at least the 10 commandments) and said ‘If you keep these Laws, if you do all these works, you will earn heaven,’ but say the Calvinists, Adam blew it, and as a result none of us knows good and evil anymore and thus we need revelation to tell us good and evil.”

i) Notice how many different claims he bundles into one sentence. Even if just one of these claims happened to be correct, the sentence as a whole might still be false on several counts.

ii) For purposes of Gen 2-3, and Adam’s probationary status, Calvinism doesn’t have to ascribe to Adam a general knowledge of good and evil. It only has to ascribe to Adam a specific knowledge of good and evil with respect to the prohibition against consuming the forbidden fruit. Adam knew that this particular action was evil, since God forbad it.

The extent of Adam’s ethical discernment, beyond that specific issue, while an interesting question to pursue in its own right, is irrelevant to Gen 2-3.

iii) Calvinism in general doesn’t say that God entered into a covenant of works with Adam. Rather, that’s the position of the Westminster Confession—along with many traditional Divines. But this is a controversial issue in 20C Reformed theology.

So your claim is clearly overstated. It’s the closest thing to a true statement you make in the course of your attack on Calvinism. The only thing you say that even comes within hailing distance of the truth.
And even that’s inaccurate—reflecting your ignorance of 20C intramural debates within Calvinism.

BTW, I personally have no problem with the covenant of works, as long as we carefully define our terms.

iv) Feel free to quote 5 or 6 Reformed theologians who say that God revealed the Decalogue to Adam.

v) Does Calvinism in general say that Adam was in a position to “earn heaven”?

You’re confusing reward with merit. For example, children have a filial duty to obey the reasonable commands of their parents. As an incentive, parents may choose to reward filial obedience, but that doesn’t mean the child earned it. If it’s obligatory, it can’t be meritorious.

Adam and Eve had a duty to obey God. Even if God chose to reward their obedience, that doesn’t mean they earned it.

vi) Calvinism doesn’t say no one knows good and evil any more. Rather, it says no one does good—apart from God's redeeming grace.

viii) Calvinism also has a natural law tradition according to which even the reprobate enjoy some degree of innate, ethical discernment.

ix) A revealed law code doesn’t mean we have no innate knowledge of good and evil. Rather, it means:

a) Our innate knowledge of good and evil can be corrupted by sin.

b) Our innate knowledge of good and evil is limited. It needs to be supplemented by more specific ethical guidelines.

“The Biblical story is quite the opposite, God creates Adam and Eve with zero concept of good and evil, places a tree in the garden that can give them that knowledge, tells them not to eat its fruit or they will die, the devil tricks them into eating the fruit, and now because they disobeyed God they have the knowledge of good and evil and pass it down to all their descendants. Fact is, the Calvinists have it backwards from the Bible. Adam was totally disabled before the fall, and now we are enabled to do good only since the fall because the fall is what made us know what is good! Adam could not have had any concept of moral law prior to eating the fruit, otherwise the whole fruit fiasco would be no big deal. If Adam already knew good and evil why command him not to eat the fruit that would give him redundant knowledge?”

Your little tirade commits several basic blunders:

i) Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that Adam and Eve had no innate knowledge of good and evil, that is irrelevant to the terms of their probation. What they undoubtedly had was an acquired (prelapsarian) knowledge of good and evil with respect to the prohibition. And within the narrative framework of Gen 2-3, that’s all they need to know to be morally responsible agents.

ii) You also fail to draw an elementary distinction between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. While Adam and Eve had no experience of evil prior to the fall, they knew it was evil to consume the forbidden fruit. They knew that by divine revelation. God gave them a law—in reference to the tree of knowledge.

iii) You also assume, without benefit of exegesis, that you know what 2:9 means. Your argument flounders on a misinterpretation of the key verse. Victor Hamilton, in his commentary (1:162-66) devotes several pages to the correct interpretation of his verse. By process of elimination, this is the way he construes the text:

“Finally, we mention the view that ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ indicates moral autonomy. This view appeals to many OT passages where ‘good and evil’ is essentially a legal idiom meaning to formulate and articulate a judicial decision…It is our position that this interpretation best fits with the knowledge of good and evil in Gen 2-3. What is forbidden to man is the power to decide for himself what is in his best interests and what is not. This is a decision God has not delegated to the earthling. This interpretation also has the benefit of according well with 3:22, ‘the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’ Man has indeed become a god whenever he makes his own self the center, the springboard, and the only frame of reference for moral guidelines. When man attempts to act autonomously he is indeed attempting to be godlike. It is quite apparent why man may have access to all the trees in the garden except this one,” ibid. 165-66.

iv) Calvinism also allows the NT to interpret the OT. Paul makes some statements which carry certain implications for the moral status of Adam and Eve before the Fall, due to the imago Dei (Eph 4:22; Col 3:10).

“And how is it that he has the epiphany that public nudity is wrong only after eating the fruit, if the fruit took away his knowledge of morality rather than bestowed it on him?”

i) Since Adam and Eve were the only two human beings at the time of the Fall, the distinction between public and private nudity is meaningless.

ii) The narrative doesn’t say that nudity is wrong. It describes the subjective reaction of Adam and Eve. What Adam and Eve may have felt after they sinned is not the criterion of right and wrong. Scripture doesn’t object to nudity between man and wife.

You’re confusing the viewpoint of the characters with the viewpoint of the narrator. These are two quite distinct issues. The viewpoint of a biblical narrative is often at odds with the narrative events. It will often record an event to furnish a cautionary object lesson on what not to do in the same situation.

iii) Even at the level of their subjective reaction, they don’t have a problem with nudity, per se. The text doesn’t say they were embarrassed to be seen by each other in their natural state. Rather, they are now ashamed to appear before God in their natural state (3:8.10). So the action in v7 foreshadows the fear of divine retribution in vv8ff.

“I love who you guys always claim you are being misrepresented when you are caught in twisting scripture, just like the Catholics when you catch them worshiping Mary. The CoW (covenant of works) might not represent Baptist Calvinists (I don't know), but it clearly does Presbyterians. Go read all the past posts on You're the one who's uneducated, or just obfuscating (and I'm sure its the later). Go get your own Reformer quotes - its your doctrine, not mine.”

You stated a half-truth about the covenant of works. Everything else you said was false.


  1. Steve: [O Paulsceptic], you also fail to draw an elementary distinction between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. While Adam and Eve had no experience of evil prior to the fall, they knew it was evil to consume the forbidden fruit. They knew that by divine revelation. God gave them a law—in reference to the tree of knowledge.

    Vytautas: A distinction assumes that Paulsceptic knows that the testimony of God's command is knowledge, but he focus more on the knowledge that Adam gained by eating the friut, rather than the command that God gave to Adam.

  2. That's the problem. He tries to shift the focus from relevant information to irrelevant information.