The Covenants in Scripture

As I was reading the book Renewal Theology about the covenants God made with His people, I was reminded of a certain theologian, a former Presbyterian minister turned Catholic, by the name of Dr. Scott Hahn. In his book, Rome Sweet Home, where he recounts his conversion to Roman Catholicism, he mentions that during his seminary days, his main interest of study was that of the covenant. As a Calvinist Presbyterian—and still even now as a Catholic—he believed that the overarching story of the Bible centers on the covenants God has made with His chosen people.

The relationship of God and humanity is, in a word, covenantal. God does not deal with His creation apart from covenant. Essentially, “covenant” is a bond or relationship between two parties. In the covenants between God and humanity, the Lord God sovereignly imposes the terms of these arrangements in accordance with His own will and good pleasure. In the history of Christian doctrine, it is the unique contribution of Reformed theology to have developed and systematized the biblical doctrine of covenants.

Biblical history is structured in terms of a series of distinct covenants. Following the traditional Reformed schematization, the divine covenants reflect the decretal purposes of God in creation and redemption. Standing behind the creation of the world is the eternal plan or counsel of God. One particular feature of that plan is the “Covenant of Redemption” (to use of older terminology) made in eternity between the Father and the Son respecting the salvation of God’s elect, those chosen in Christ by God the Father and effectually called to true faith and repentance in history by means of the regenerating and convicting power of the Spirit of God. Election to salvation is the proper purpose of redemptive covenant (the “Covenant of Grace” which spans the epoch from the Fall of Adam to the Consummation of history at the return of Christ). According to Dr. Williams, the essential components of a biblical covenant are the (1) parties; (2) promises; (3) ratification; (4) obligation; and (5) fulfillment. As a lawyer familiar with how human covenants—or contracts—are executed, I truly appreciate how this theology of the covenant works out. Article 1305 of the Civil Code of the Philippines provides that “a contract is a meeting of minds between two persons whereby one binds himself, with respect to the other, to give something or to render some service.” Article 1318 thereof further provides the essential requisites of a valid contract, to wit: (1) consent of the contracting parties; (2) object certain which is the subject matter of the contract; and (3) cause of the obligation which is established.

Most Reformed theologians referred to the Old Testament (“Covenant”) covenants as the “Covenant of Works” and the New Testament covenant as the “Covenant of Grace”. I find these terms simplistic because if we analyze the OT covenants, the same were also by the grace of God. What I mean is, although on the surface God demanded certain obligations from the human parties, the existence of the covenant itself is due to the mercy and grace of God. God invited man into a covenant relationship with Him in order to give man a chance at redemption. In fact, all the OT covenants find their ultimate fulfillment in the new covenant of Christ in His blood.

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