Every biblical framework and theological system recognizes the prominent place given in the scriptures to the covenants. However, not every one agrees on the number, meaning and arrangement of the covenants.
Here are four of the most popular views:
Modern Dispensationalism—originating with John Darby in the early to mid 19th century, this system of teaching has become one of the leading views of 21st century Evangelicalism. It arranges eight covenants in “time-tight compartments”, each serving a primary and distinct role within a specific timeframe of history.
New Covenant Theology—originating with those who were dissatisfied with the arbitrary time frames of Dispensationalism, this school of thought is one of the more recent theological developments. It arranges six covenants in a “stair-case advancement”, each serving a primary, distinct and progressive role throughout the course of history.
Presbyterianism—originating with John Calvin of Switzerland and John Knox of Scotland, during the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Its devotees are self-acclaimed “Confessionalists”, believing the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith is the perfect articulation for their understanding of the Bible. It arranges the covenants into three categories: (1) Three foundational covenants—Redemption, Works and Grace; (2) One universal covenant—Noahic; (3) Four administrative covenants of Grace—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and the New. It holds to the view that God made a conditional Covenant of Grace with Adam after the Fall, and that each of the succeeding four covenants are one and the same with this conditional Covenant of Grace, administered differently at various points in history.
Traditional Reformed Baptists—originating with the resurgence of Calvinism among the Baptist and Congressional churches of England during the 1950’s, under the influence of men such as Ian Murray and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and publication houses such as the Banner of Truth. Its devotees are also self-acclaimed “Confessionalists”, believing the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is the perfect articulation for their understanding of the Bible. In many ways, this group has more in common with the Presbyterians than the Baptists, and are therefore more accurately identified as Reformed Presbyterians. Its devotees share a similar view with the Presbyterians on the arrangement of the covenants (see above).
1689 Federalists—originating with the Reformed Baptists of the 1950’s, this school of thought claims to have “rediscovered” the covenantal views of those who compiled and wrote the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. In recent years, the Reformed Baptists have been splintering and dividing, resulting in several distinguishable groups, each forming a separate branch of the Reformed Baptist movement. The 1689 Federalists is one of these branches. They often prefer to be called Particular Baptists, as they are passionate to reconnect with their Baptist roots, but are also unashamedly Reformed Baptists. They too are self-acclaimed “Confessionalists”, believing the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is the perfect articulation for their understanding of the Bible. Although their arrangement of the covenants is similar to that of the Traditional Reformed Baptists, they believe the conditional Covenant of Grace was established on mount Calvary with the death of Christ, rather than the garden of Eden after the Fall. Henceforth, the conditional Covenant of Grace was promised in the covenants of the Old Testament scriptures, and realized in the New Testament scriptures. They believe only the New Covenant is one and the same with the conditional Covenant of Grace.
I do not belong to any of these groups, nor do I subscribe to their views on the biblical covenants.
Here is a summary of my understanding of the matter:
There are two spiritual and perpetual covenants—Redemption and Works; There are four earthly and temporary covenants—Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic. As for the New Covenant, it is an explanation of the Covenant of Redemption (the parties and terms of this covenant are the electing love of the Father, the redeeming grace of the Son and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit), rather than the administration or ratification of a conditional Covenant of Grace (as proposed by the Presbyterians and the Reformed Baptists). I do not believe a conditional Covenant of Grace (with man) is supported by the teaching of scripture. I use the label “Covenant of Grace” synonymously with “Covenant of Redemption”, “Covenant of Peace” and the “Everlasting Covenant”—the same covenant, with different labels. The New Covenant, as an explanation of the Covenant of Redemption, is addressed to the Jewish people living at the time of Christ and His apostles, within the context of the Mosaic economy and its laws. Properly speaking, therefore, the New Covenant is an explanation of another covenant, rather than a covenant itself.
Jared Smith, Muntinlupa, PH (11/11/2022)
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.