Conversations on Covenantalism: What are the Covenants?

This is the third post in my little series on Covenant Theology. If you have not read the last two posts you can go to the beginning of the series by clicking here or to the second post by clicking here. Today I want to go over the various covenants and give a brief description of them as we seek to develop our understanding of this great doctrine.

  1. The Covenant of Works (Genesis 1-2)

The Covenant of works is the basis of how God was in relationship with man, before the fall took place. In Hosea 6:7 we see the relationship between God and Adam called a Covenant. Adam was tied to God with some clear responsibilities before the fall took place; he was not left with free reign on earth.

Furthermore notice the seriousness of this Covenant in that life or death is made dependent on Adam’s obedience or disobedience. In this Covenant Adam is told to have children in the relationship of marriage (Gen 1:28; 2:24-25), take dominion of the earth (Gen 2:15) and rest on a pattern of one day after six days work (Gen 2:2-3).


  1. The Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3)

After the fall man was still responsible to God. Some of the responsibility of the first covenant carried over to the second, such as marriage, the obligation to work and have dominion over the earth and the worship of God which included the observation of the seventh day of rest called the Sabbath. The difference was that now the basis for mans relationship with God changed. In the first covenant the basis of man’s relationship with God was man’s obedience. When he disobeyed, it was obvious that he could never relate to God on that basis again in light of the results of the fall on humanity. The fall did not leave man partly helpless, but totally powerless in the spiritual realm.

With the Statement of cursing upon man due to sin (Gen 3:16-19), God graciously gave the promise of a coming Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). God was not obligated to give man this promise of grace. God would have been perfectly just to wipe out all humanity. Yet the outworking of the Covenant of Grace begins with the gracious promise of a coming Saviour.

Further, this covenant clearly was sovereignly administered. Man was in no position to argue or seek to set any terms with God. Man was dead spiritually and dying physically. Only God’s grace could rescue him.

  1. The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 6:17-22; 8:20-22; 9:1-17)

It is worth saying again that Covenant Theology is not like dispensationalism in that each Covenant builds on the other, each covenant maintains the blessings and curses of the past covenants, but also adding divine understanding working its way to the culmination of the covenants in the New Covenant (see last post for more on this).

Thus when the Noahic Covenant unfolds it does not do away with the promises and curses. Man is still under the curse of sin, but man still has the promise of the coming Saviour.

The heart of the Noahic Covenant is grace. God enters into covenant with Noah that he will spare him and his family (Gen 6:17-22) and never again destroy every living thing with water. He promises further that as long as the earth remains, seedtime and harvest will remain, as will cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night (Genesis 8:20-22). Burnt offerings were made by Noah to show his recognition of a holy, righteous and soverign God. Finally man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply and to re-populate the earth and he is forbidden to take the life of another, with the clear penalty stated that if he does, so his life is to be taken also (Genesis 9:1-17).

  1. The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3,7; 13:14-17; 15:3-21; 17:1-27; 22:15-18; 26:1-5; 28:13-15; 35:9-12)

The grace of God continued to be displayed and administered with the establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Its graciousness and sovereignty of administration is seen in that God called Abraham from a heathen background and revealed Himself to him. A bond-in-blood is made and God makes an oath to bless Abraham in a ceremony (Genesis 15:3-21).

That Abraham has responsibilities is clear. He and his seed are constantly told to keep the covenant with clear warnings against breaking it.

The Abrahamic covenant was the clearest manifestation of the grace of God up to this point in mankind’s history. But it is also the establishment of a people through whom the promised Saviour would come.

  1. The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19-24)

Reading Exodus 24 will be enough to show anyone that God entered into a relationship with Israel at this point.

What is important to note is that the Abrahamic Covenant of promise was not annulled or even temporarily replaced by the Mosaic Covenant (Gal 3:15-18). Thus whatever one says about the Mosaic Covenant the fact is, that it is subservient to the Abrahamic Covenant.

Secondly the law was not something new in the Mosaic Covenant. Every Biblical Covenant refers to the will of God for man, that is God’s requirement of man’s obedience.

Third, the law did not end with the Mosaic Covenant when the subsequent covenants followed (2 Samuel 7:14; Matthew 5:17-19; Romans 7:7-12). Obviously we are speaking here about the moral law not the ceremonial law which was a shadow of Christ’s final work on the cross. But since the moral law was never given as a way of Salvation, it never had to be repealed as the guide for God’s people’s lives.

  1. The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-16; 1 Kings 2:1-4; 8:15-20, 25-26; 9:8; 1 Chronicles 17:3-15)

Here David and his seed are promised a kingdom that will be established forever. Again this covenant is soverignly administered and involves a life and death commitment between God and the seed of David.

  1. The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 8-10)

The New Covenant, promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This New Covenant established by Christ is the culmination of all the previous covenants in that they did not exist perfectly in themselves, but they existed as units of God’s continuous revelation of Himself and His gracious plan for His people.



  1 comment for “Conversations on Covenantalism: What are the Covenants?

  1. October 6, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    1. Why do you decide on another ‘covenant’ in Gen 3, if there is no biblical reference to ‘covenant’ here. (none that I know of) Or am I wrong?
    2. Could it be that not every mention of the word ‘covenant’ refers to a specific covenant (as defined by you), but rather a synonym for relationship, such as in Hosea 6?
    3. Perhaps the development of the covenant (in general, the relationship of God and man) becomes more and more specific (narrowed) towards a One to One covenant. (Creation; huManity; Abraham->Israel->David/his son; Jesus (in whom our individual covenant with God exists). I’m not saying that they were not specific ‘covenants’, but I wonder if we isolate them too much, and make too much of their significance as individual covenants. Does covenantalism stand or fall on the delineation of these ‘covenants’?

    Just some thoughts.

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