Covenant and God's Purpose for the World

Covenant and God's Purpose for the World


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This book shows how the kingdom of God has advanced through the progression of distinct covenants, collectively serving as the foundation for God's promise to bring redemption to his people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433549991
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 07/31/2017
Series: Short Studies in Biblical Theology Series
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 715,373
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Thomas R. Schreiner (MDiv and ThM, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary; PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of the school of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Miles V. Van Pelt (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, academic dean, and director of the Summer Institute for Biblical Languages at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson. He also serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Reformed Church in Madison, Mississippi. He and his wife, Laurie, have four children.

Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is chief publishing officer and Bible publisher at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life. He is an elder at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. Dane lives with his wife, Stacey, and their five children in Wheaton, Illinois.

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Covenant and God's Purpose for the World

By Thomas R. Schreiner

Good News Publishers

Copyright © 2017 Thomas R. Schreiner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4335-5002-7


The Covenant of Creation

This chapter is perhaps the most controversial in the book, for the chapter title says there is a covenant at creation, but we don't find the word covenant anywhere in Genesis 1-3. Am I guilty of imposing something on the biblical text that isn't there? The great Presbyterian theologian John Murray said it would be better to speak of an Adamic administration rather than a covenant with Adam. According to Murray, covenants are always redemptive and given to human beings who have sinned. Therefore, it doesn't fit to speak of a covenant with Adam and Eve, in Murray's view, since they were without sin when God created them.

It is understandable why doubts arise about a creation covenant since the term covenant is lacking. When we add to this the unique circumstances of Adam and Eve in the garden, further ammunition is added to the argument that covenant is not quite the right term. A word should be said about terminology before going further. Those who believe that there was a covenant with Adam use different terms to label it, such as "covenant of life" "covenant of nature" or "covenant of works" The same general idea is involved, whatever the terminology. I prefer "covenant of creation" because it fits with an overarching view of redemptive history, enabling us to see how this covenant integrates with other covenants. In other words, God inaugurated history with creation and will consummate it with the new creation, and thus the old creation anticipates and points forward to the new creation. Still, there is no need to linger on the matter of terminology since the vital issue is the nature of the covenant.

Evidence for a Creation Covenant

I argue that we indeed can identify God's relationship with Adam and Eve as a covenant, for the following reasons. First, the word covenant doesn't have to be present for a covenant to exist, contrary to an older word-study approach that today is rejected by virtually all scholars. Today most scholars recognize that the concept of covenant can be present without the actual word. We find a remarkable example of this in the Scriptures. God enters into a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7 (see also 1 Chronicles 17), but the word covenant isn't used there to describe the promise the Lord made to David. Is it legitimate to identify God's promise to David's dynasty in 2 Samuel 7 as a covenant? Certainly, for subsequent biblical writers, in reflecting on God's promise to David, specifically call it a covenant (Ps. 89:3, 28, 34, 39; 132:12; Jer. 33:21). It is apparent, then, that the concept of covenant may be present when the word is entirely lacking.

Second, we have textual evidence for a covenant at creation, so the analogy to the covenant with David stands on even firmer footing. We read in Hosea 6:7, "But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; / there they dealt faithlessly with me." The interpretation is disputed, but a reference to a covenant with Adam is the most likely reading. Some say that the word "there" in the verse is a place rather than a person. Is Adam ever referred to as a place in the Old Testament? The answer is yes, for we read in Joshua 3:16 that the waters stood up in a heap at Adam, when Israel crossed the Jordan into the Land of Promise. Still, it is highly unlikely that Hosea has in mind the place called Adam. How do we decide whether Adam the place or Adam the person is intended? The answer rests on which of the two is more likely in Hosea's context. Remember that Hosea was talking about Israel's sin and transgression in referring to Adam, and a reference to the place Adam in Joshua 3:16 (the only time the place is mentioned in the Bible) has nothing to do with Israel's sin and transgression. Actually, the story in Joshua 3 is one of the great triumphs in Israel's history, where they crossed the Jordan and stood on the verge of conquering the Promised Land. Seeing a reference to the person Adam, on the other hand, makes perfect sense. Israel, like Adam, transgressed the covenant God made with them. What is striking here is that God describes the relationship with Adam as a covenant! As we shall see, Israel in a sense was a new Adam, and like the first Adam they violated God's covenant. In using the word "there," it may be that Hosea was referring to the garden where Adam spurned God's command, or alternatively perhaps he had Gilead in mind (v. 8). In either case, a reference to Adam is still intended.

Third, we have good reasons to see a covenant at creation because the constituent elements of a covenant were present at creation. There were two partners: God and Adam/Eve. God as the covenant Lord gave stipulations or requirements, demanding that Adam and Eve refuse to eat from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:17; 3:3, 11). Furthermore, there were cursings and blessings for disobedience and obedience, which, as we shall see, were present in later covenants. The covenant was conditional: if Adam and Eve disobeyed, they would die (Gen. 2:17; 3:3), but if they obeyed they would enjoy life with God. Speculation has arisen as to how long the covenant was meant to endure. Some speculate that it was intended to end, and it seems fair to infer that eventually God would withdraw the test and confirm that Adam and Eve had shown covenant loyalty. The other view, that the covenant was unending, is equally speculative, for is it really likely that the test would last forever?

Fourth, John Murray and some others say that covenants exist only in redemptive relationships, and since Adam and Eve hadn't sinned, they didn't need redemption, nor was a covenant necessary. Once again, the objection doesn't stand, for the notion that covenants exist only where there are redemptive relationships isn't borne out by the evidence. Indeed, we have already seen that all kinds of covenants are made when redemption isn't in view. Marriage is covenantal even though the marriage covenant isn't redemptive in nature (Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14). Many other covenants in Scripture weren't made in a redemptive context, such as the covenants between Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31:44-54), David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:3-4; 20:8, 16-17; 22:8; 23:18), Israel and the Gibeonites (Josh. 9:3-27), and Solomon and Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 5:12) To sum up, covenants can exist apart from redemption, so the argument against a creation covenant on that basis isn't decisive.

Fifth, the parallel between Adam and Christ enunciated in Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Co-rin-thi-ans 15:21-22 supports a covenant of creation. Both Adam and Christ functioned as representatives of those who belong to them. They are covenant heads! Therefore, sin, death, and condemnation belong to all human beings by virtue of their covenant connection to Adam, and grace, righteousness, and life belong to all those united to Jesus Christ. The covenantal and representational role of Adam is clear in the biblical storyline.

Sixth, God's covenant with Noah was said to be "established" rather than "cut," which might well indicate that the Noahic covenant was a renewal of the covenant with Adam rather than something completely new (see Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 17). The argument is that the phrase "establish a covenant" refers to the renewal of a covenant that has already been instituted, while "cut a covenant" indicates that a new covenant is being inaugurated. There are some exceptions to this lexical argument (e.g., Deut. 29:1; Ezek. 16:60, 62), but in most cases "establish a covenant" means a previous covenant is renewed. We should not rely on this lexical argument to defend the idea that the Noahic covenant was a renewal of the covenant with Adam, for there are other good reasons to think so, as we will see in chapter 2.

Significance of Being Created in God's Image

God created Adam and Eve, placing them in the beautiful garden he made, the garden where he walked among them so that they enjoyed fellowship with him. God made Adam and Eve in his image (Gen. 1:26), and scholars have long discussed what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. Space is lacking here to explore the matter adequately, so I will restrict myself to a few observations. It is probable that the words image and likeness are synonyms, and thus the difference between the two words should not be pressed. In the ancient world an image (i.e., a statue) was set up to denote the rule of a king over a region. It doesn't follow; however, that image is equated with or limited to ruling.

Still, the emphasis in Genesis is on the call for Adam and Eve to rule the world as those made in the image of God. We read in Genesis 1:26 that they were created in God's image and after his likeness so that they would "have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." The focus on rule is evident as well from Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" We see the same notion in Genesis 2:15, where Adam and Eve are placed in the garden "to work it and keep it" In other words, God made Adam and Eve in his image so that they would govern the world on his behalf. They would serve as his vice-regents, managing and stewarding and caring for the world under God's lordship.

A close relationship exists between image and sonship. Genesis 5:3 says, "When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth" Seth was in the image and likeness of Adam because he was the son of Adam. So also in Egypt the king was said to be in the image of God because he was considered to be the son of God. Adam is also "the son of God" (Luke 3:38), and sonship designates a special and unique relationship to God. Adam and Eve were to exercise their rule as God's children, as those in fellowship with God. Their rule wasn't independent of God but was to be carried out in his presence and for his glory since he is the sovereign Creator (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7). Adam and Eve in their rule, then, were to represent God and reflect his likeness. By displaying his character and holiness, they would bring glory to God. Sons bring glory to their parents by living righteous and beautiful lives, and Adam and Eve would bring glory to God by living in accord with his character. Adam and Eve would show they were God's children by their righteousness.

Incidentally, the image of God was not lost after Adam and Eve fell into sin, even though it was marred. A number of texts clarify that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, even though sin has entered the world (Gen. 5:3; 9:6; James 3:9). Part of what it means to be a son is to be like one's father, so we aren't surprised to discover that full restoration of the image means that human beings come to know God (Col. 3:10), and all those who know God become righteous and holy (Eph. 4:24). Adam and Eve's being created in God's image and likeness was not just a functional matter, for they were created as God's sons and children to be like their Father so that they reflected God's love and character as they ruled the world on his behalf.

If we look forward in redemptive history, we see that human beings are restored to the purpose for which they were made when they are "conformed to the image" of God's Son (Rom. 8:29). Only those who belong to the last Adam, Jesus Christ, are restored to the purpose for which God created human beings as sons and daughters of God. Believers in Jesus Christ are being slowly transformed into the image of God (2 Cor. 3:18). They are being changed "from glory to glory" and will fully bear the image of Christ on the day of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:49). Then they will be like their firstborn brother, Jesus, and will no longer be stained or defiled by evil (Rom. 8:29).

Ruling as Priest-Kings

Adam and Eve were made in God's image to rule the world as God's servants and his sons. There is also evidence they were to function as priest-kings. They were to mediate God's blessing to the world as the king and queen of God's creation. The garden anticipates the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) since God specially resided in the garden, as he later dwelt in the tabernacle. What made the garden so lovely was God's presence with Adam and Eve; it was a place where Adam and Eve enjoyed God's fellowship and love.

We see a number of connections between the garden and the tabernacle and subsequently the temple. (1) God was specially present in the garden and specially present in the tabernacle. (2) The cherubim guarded the garden (Gen. 3:24), and the cherubim hovered over the ark in the tabernacle (Ex. 25:18-22) and were also stitched into the curtains and veil of the tabernacle (Ex. 26:1, 31). (3) Both the garden and the tabernacle were entered from the east (Gen. 3:24; Num. 3:38. (4) The many branched lampstand may symbolize the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9, 3:22; Ex. 25:31-35), for light was often associated with life. (5) The verbs used in Genesis 2:15 are also used of the work of the Levites in the sanctuary (Num. 3:7-8; 18:5-6). Adam was to "work" and "keep" the garden, and the Levites were to "work" and "keep" the tabernacle. (6) A river flowed from Eden and watered and fructified the garden, and so too a river flowed from Ezekiel's temple and made salt water fresh so that trees bore fruit (Gen. 2:10; Ezek. 47:1-12); (7) Stones found in Eden, both gold and onyx, were also in the tabernacle (Gen. 2:11-12; Ex. 25:7, 11, 17, 31). (8) It is likely that both the garden and the tabernacle were on a mountain, which was sacred land in the ancient Near East. The Old Testament describes the temple as being on Mount Zion, and the garden was probably elevated, for the river divided and became four rivers and thereby watered the land. All this evidence supports the notion that Adam and Eve were to be priest-kings in the garden, exercising God's rule over the garden and mediating his blessing to the world while they depended upon him for everything.

The Test

The man and the woman, however, were not to exercise their priestly rule autonomously. They were ever subject to the will of God, and thus they were to rule under his lordship. The Lord showered his goodness upon them by placing them in an idyllic garden with verdant trees from which they were nourished, and the man and the woman were to reveal their submission to God's lordship by refusing to eat from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (2:17). If they consumed the fruit, they would experience death. We have here both the condition of the covenant, and the curse that would come if the covenant was transgressed. It is clear from this account that Adam and Eve were called to perfect obedience. Partial obedience would not suffice; one transgression would lead to death. The covenantal requirement was clearly set forth, and the penalty for infringement was not hidden.

There was not only covenant cursing but also covenant blessing. If Adam and Eve obeyed, they would enjoy life. The "tree of life" (2:9; 3:22, 24) anticipated the final joy of human beings who know the Lord (cf. Rev. 22:2, 14, 19). It seems fair to conclude that if Adam and Eve had passed the test, God would have, at some point, confirmed them in righteousness. Such a matter is speculative since the narrative doesn't answer that question. Still, it seems sensible to think that if Adam and Eve had continued to obey, they would eventually have been confirmed in righteousness.

Since Adam and Eve disobeyed, the curses of the covenant came upon them. More specifically, they experienced the death that had been threatened — they were separated from fellowship with God. When we consider all of Scripture, it is clear that the implications of Adam's disobedience weren't limited to him and Eve. We see in Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 that sin, death, and condemnation spread to all people because of Adam's sin. The curses of the covenant weren't limited to Adam and Eve alone; they had a universal impact.

After the fall we see immediately the monumental consequences of Adam's sin. Murder plagues the first family as Cain slays Abel (Gen. 4:8). Genesis 5 records the roll call of death in generation after generation, documenting the impact of Adam's sin on all those who succeeded him. When we come to the time of Noah, sin's triumph over humanity is indisputable. Adam had unleashed a monster into the world. Hence, the early chapters testify to Adam's representational and covenantal role, even if they don't articulate it in the same terms we find in Romans 5:12-19.


Excerpted from Covenant and God's Purpose for the World by Thomas R. Schreiner. Copyright © 2017 Thomas R. Schreiner. Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 11

1 The Covenant of Creation 19

2 The Covenant with Noah 31

3 The Covenant with Abraham 41

4 The Covenant with Israel 59

5 The Covenant with David 73

6 The New Covenant 89

For Further Reading 121

General Index 123

Scripture Index 127

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“As one of the preeminent biblical scholars of our day, Thomas Schreiner is well qualified to write on the critically important biblical theme of covenant. This short volume is a clear, concise, biblically grounded, and balanced presentation of the biblical covenants, ideal as a resource for both the church and academy.”
Mark L. Strauss, Professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary San Diego

“Simply brilliant! Thomas Schreiner manages to capture both the fine detail and the broad sweep of the covenantal shape of the Bible concisely, faithfully, and irenically. This book may be short, but it is fresh and deeply profound. I know of no better introduction to this vital area of biblical theology. There are, of course, specific areas where readers may disagree with his conclusions, but that doesn’t detract from the unique usefulness of this book.”
J. Gary Millar, Principal, Queensland Theological College, Australia; author, Calling on the Name of the Lord and Now Choose Life; coauthor, Saving Eutychus

“There is nothing like an understanding of the covenants that God makes with his people to open one’s eyes to the way God deals with his image bearers. It at once unlocks the whole Bible and makes plain God’s way of salvation. Thomas Schreiner brings his theological and biblical acumen to bear upon this topic with the precision of an expert. The result is a fresh and stimulating study of this all-important subject. If you want to grow in faith as you face the future in God’s world, then put on your thinking cap and read this book!”
Conrad Mbewe, Pastor, Kabwata Baptist Church; Senior Lecturer, African Christian University, Lusaka, Zambia

“For twenty-first-century evangelicals, Thomas Schreiner is one of the most trusted names in the field of biblical studies. Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World is yet another stellar contribution to the church by Schreiner, and it will benefit all who are seeking to better understand the covenants of Scripture.”
Jason K. Allen, President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Schreiner disciplines himself to present the core of his convictions and not endless expositions and entailments. He describes ineffable truths in accessible language, and the flow, coherence, and interrelatedness of the sections are compelling. He avoids the swagger and dismissiveness that sometimes plague treatments of well-known topics. Not all readers will affirm all of Schreiner's claims, but it is hard to imagine a more methodical and succinct presentation.”
Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

“Thomas Schreiner's book on the covenants is a beauty of accuracy, brevity, clarity, and simplicity. While Schreiner makes his own contribution, it communicates the main thesis of Kingdom through Covenant in a better way to a broader audience: the covenants are the key to the plot structure of Scripture and the means for putting the whole Bible together.”
Peter J. Gentry, Donald L. Williams Professor of Old Testament, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; coauthor, Kingdom through Covenant

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