Was There a Creation Covenant?

Peter Ditzel

Was there a Creation Covenant? Closeup showing God's and Adam's hands from Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.
Did God need to make a covenant with Adam at Creation? Does the biblical evidence show that He did? Closeup from Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. Photo image by janeb13 from Pixabay

Did God make a Creation Covenant with Adam? Reformed or Covenant theologians have for centuries taught that He did. More recently, some New Covenant theologians have also said that God made a covenant with Adam at Creation. Everyone agrees that the Bible doesn’t explicitly state that God made a Creation Covenant. Theologians who teach a Creation Covenant, then, have the burden to present compelling, biblical evidence to support it. If, however, we find that they’re merely asserting what they haven’t proven, then they have diverged from sound biblical exegesis into the labyrinth of personal interpretation. Therein lies the danger. If we allow that kind of thinking to go unchecked, we open the door to a Pandora’s box of subjectivism and relativism. So, let’s look at the evidence from the Bible. Was there a Creation Covenant?

I want to point out that I can’t possibly, in an article like this, present all of the arguments associated with this topic. Instead, my approach will be to examine certain key, foundational premises in the light of Scripture. If these premises don’t stand up to this light, then the proposition that we can find a Creation Covenant in the Bible fails.

Defining Our Terms

Before continuing, we’d better define our terms. Scholars who speak of a covenant that God made with Adam at Creation use various names for it, such as, Adamic Covenant, Edenic Covenant, and Covenant of Works. I’m going to simply use the term Creation Covenant.

Many authors take great care to distinguish between several different types of covenants. This doesn’t need to concern us because we’re only interested in whether or not there was any kind of covenant at Creation.

What we do need to understand is that the Bible contains two basic kinds of relationships between people or between people and God. These two are natural relationships and covenant relationships.

As we might expect, a natural relationship arises from nature. The parent-child relationship is a good example of a natural relationship. A parent does not need to make a covenant with the child to establish his or her authority over and obligations to the welfare of the child.

A covenant relationship is one that does not arise from nature, or it at least contains one or more terms that do not arise from nature. It must be established by contract, or covenant.

Marriage is an example of a covenant relationship. A man and woman may naturally be attracted to one another. But marriage establishes a special relationship that ranges from loving and caring for each other even in hardship to the ownership of property.

So, a natural relationship arises from nature and contains no aspect that does not arise from nature. But when two or more parties want to establish a relationship that contains one or more terms that do not arise from nature, they establish a covenant.

Some writers seem to want to say that if there are commands, there is a covenant. Certainly, covenants often include commands (e.g. Genesis 9:4; 17:10; Deuteronomy 5). But we must not assume that commands imply covenants. Parents don’t need a covenant to give commands to their children.

No Mention of a Covenant at Creation

Nowhere, in either the Old or New Testaments, does the Bible ever speak of there being a covenant at Creation. The Bible explicitly speaks of the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 6:18 and throughout Genesis 9), the Abrahamic Covenant (Acts 3:25 and many other places in Scripture), the Mosaic/Sinaitic/Old Covenant (Exodus 19:5; 24:7-8; Deuteronomy 5:2-3), the Davidic Covenant (Psalm 89:3-4), and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:6-13; 12:24) as covenants. If, as its proponents teach, the Creation Covenant was a basic, foundational, all-important covenant, why does the Bible never name it as such, or even mention it at all?

Certainly, considering this fact, the onus is on those who assert a Creation Covenant to present solid evidence to support it. So now, let’s look at some of the premises theologians use to support their conclusion that God made a covenant with Adam at Creation.

A Creation Covenant Is Needed for God’s Relationship to Adam

The first and most basic premise used to establish the need for a covenant at Creation is that it is needed to understand the relationship between God and Adam. So, we must ask, Of what did that relationship consist?

Summarizing very briefly what we learn about Adam in the Creation account, we find that God was Adam’s Creator, God put Adam in Eden, God gave Adam a command that he could eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). God then made Eve from Adam, the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she gave the fruit to Adam, and he also ate it. Thus, they sinned by breaking God’s command. God then administered their punishment.

Okay, what of this required a covenant? None of it. God was Adam’s Creator. This put God and Adam into a natural Creator-created relationship. As Adam’s Creator, God had every right to put Adam where He wanted and to tell him what he could eat, what he was forbidden to eat, and what would happen if he broke that command. And God had the right as Creator to administer that punishment. There was absolutely nothing unnatural or special about the relationship between God and Adam that required a covenant. When we get to Noah, we’ll see that God restricts Himself and, thus, makes a covenant.

By saying that God’s relationship to Adam required a covenant, Creation Covenant proponents are limiting God’s natural rights as God. In fact, I don’t believe it’s going too far to say that the teaching that God needed a covenant to deal with Adam as He did in the Creation account is an attack on the sovereignty of God. It may be an unconscious attack, but it nevertheless implies that God does not have the sovereignty as an attribute of His very Being to command and punish the man He created.

A Creation Covenant Is Needed for Adam’s Headship

A primary assertion used to support a Creation Covenant is that a covenant was needed to establish Adam as the head over all humanity. By being the head of humanity, Adam’s sin is passed to everyone.

Covenant Theologians, and some New Covenant Theologians, use the term “federal headship” to refer to Adam’s position in the Creation Covenant that places him in the position of head over humanity.

But does Adam’s being the federal head of humanity require a Creation Covenant? It does for the one reason that Covenant Theologians have created and defined “federal head” to mean the representative of a group as set forth in a covenant. But why should we accept that definition? Why should we even accept the term “federal head,” if it’s not supported by Scripture?

Let’s face it, the term “federal headship” is merely a human construct. It makes sense within the context of Covenant Theology, but if we free our minds of that and look to the Bible alone, “federal headship” doesn’t fit. It just confuses the issue.

Just as God’s relationship to Adam was a natural one, Adam’s headship over humanity is also a natural one due to his being the progenitor of all the human race. This sort of relationship was readily recognized by ancient societies and by many today. Genesis 3:20 calls Eve “the mother of all living,” and, though not stated, Adam was the father of all living. Hebrews 7:9-10 expresses the principle when it states that when Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedek, Levi also paid tithes to Melchisedek because Levi was in Abraham’s loins.

So, again, Adam’s headship over humanity doesn’t require a covenant. If anyone insists that “federal head” requires a covenant, then let’s get rid of the word “federal.” It serves no necessary purpose. Adam is the natural head of humanity because he is the father of all humanity.

A Creation Covenant Is Needed for the Imputation of Adam’s Sin

Closely related to the Adam-headship idea is the proposal that Paul couldn’t speak of Adam’s sin passing on to all humanity unless Adam were a covenantal or federal head. My argument against this derives from the definitions of natural and covenant relationships above. Adam was simply the natural head of all humanity. Since he was their natural head, Adam’s sin, guilt, and death passed to all his descendants.

Associated with this is the teaching that just as Adam’s sin is imputed to everyone, so Christ’s righteousness is imputed to all who believe (see Romans 5:12-19). This is biblical, but this fact adds nothing to the Creation Covenant theory. As their progenitor, Adam’s sin passed to his descendants. As the Author and Cause of their salvation (Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; 12:2), Jesus became the Head of all believers, with His righteousness imputed to them. No Creation Covenant is needed for any of this.

Hosea 6:7 Is a Reference to the Creation Covenant

Some say that Hosea 6:7 is, indeed, a reference to a covenant God made with Adam, and that Adam broke: “But they, like Adam, have broken the covenant. They were unfaithful to me, there” (Hosea 6:7). But, the word translated “Adam” can also be “men.” The Hebrew word for “Adam” and “man” is the same. Further, many translators believe this is not referring to either the man Adam or to men in general, but to a place called “Adam” (a location in the Jordon Valley—see Joshua 3:16), or “Admah” (one of the cities destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah, see Deuteronomy 29:23 and Hosea 11:8). Considering that there seems to be no way to know for sure how this verse should be translated, we simply must not base the existence of a Creation Covenant on such questionable evidence.

Hêqîm in Genesis 6 and 9 Really Means “Reestablish”

Proponents of a Creation Covenant try to argue that the Hebrew word hêqîm—translated as “establish” in “I will establish my covenant” in Genesis 6:18, 9:9, and 9:11—should be translated as “reestablish” or “confirm what already exists”, indicating “continuing a relationship.” That is, they contend that God’s covenant with Noah was a confirmation of His Creation Covenant with Adam.

So, must hêqîm in these verses mean “reestablish”? The short answer is no. As can be seen from the fact that just about every English Bible uses “establish” to translate hêqîm in these verses, “establish” is a perfectly correct translation.

Further evidence that hêqîm is properly translated “establish” where it occurs in Genesis 6 and 9 is found in the Septuagint. The Jews who anciently translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in what is called the Septuagint, translated hêqîm in Genesis 6:18 as histēmi (stand), in Genesis 9:9 as anistēmi (stand up), and in Genesis 9:11 as histēmi (stand). This agrees with the definition of “establish” as “to make to stand” or “to make stable.” The translators of the Septuagint did not translate it as “reestablish” or “confirm.” We cannot base the idea of a Creation Covenant on hêqîm.

If “Establish” Was Meant, Kârath Would Have Been Used

Some Creation Covenant proponents further assert that, if “establish” was the idea God wanted in Genesis 6:18 and 9:9 and 11, why didn’t He use the more common word for establishing a covenant, kârath? My response will contain two points, but let’s first look at the background.

Kârath literally means “cut.” It’s use as the language of establishing a covenant stems from the events surrounding and including Genesis 15:17-18. God was making His covenant with Abram.

He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all of these, and divided them in the middle, and laid each half opposite the other; but he didn’t divide the birds.

Genesis 15:9-10

And then, in Genesis 15:17-18,

It came to pass that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. In that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates:

Genesis 15:17-18

The word “made” is kârath, so that verse 18 could just as well say, “In that day the LORD cut a covenant with Abram.” Kârath is used here because the animals sacrificed for beginning the covenant had been cut up. This event is the first use of the word kârath to mean to cut or make or establish a covenant. The use of the word in connection to covenants stems from this incident.

So, my first point is, the use of kârath in association with a covenant, which became the common word from this point on, post-dates the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 6 through 9. Therefore, we should not expect to see kârath used in association with making the Noahic Covenant as it was not yet a word used in that way.

My second point requires that we look more closely at Genesis 9:11:

I will establish my covenant with you: all flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood, neither will there ever again be a flood to destroy the earth.

Genesis 9:11

Interestingly, kârath is used in this verse, but not to refer to the establishing of God’s covenant. Instead, God uses it to mean “be cut off” in, “all flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood.” To use kârath for establishing His covenant in the same context as using it for destroying people with a flood would have been confusing.

So, there is no necessary reason to say that Genesis 6 and 9 used hêqîm instead of kârath because it was intended to mean “reestablish.” The use and non-use of these words is not evidence for a Creation Covenant.

Paul Traces Sin and Death Back to Adam’s Disobedience

True, Paul traces sin and death back to Adam’s disobedience (Romans 5:12). But Paul neither explicitly nor implicitly refers to Adam being under a covenant. Frankly, this proposal is just a restatement of what we’ve already dealt with. But some try to back it up by asserting a type-antitype relationship between a supposed Creation Covenant and the New Covenant. But one would have to read one’s presupposition into Romans 5 to see such a relationship there or to see a Creation Covenant there at all. The same goes for 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. The type-antitype is between Adam and Christ, but not between a supposed Creation Covenant and the New Covenant. Paul clearly says Adam foreshadowed, or was a type (tupos), of Christ (Romans 5:14-21).

Noah Is Just a Reduplication of Adam

God’s relationship to Noah doesn’t just duplicate His relationship to Adam. God does not merely repeat to Noah what He told Adam. As Creator, God has the right to do with His Creation as He sees fit (Romans 9:21). But in Genesis 9:11, He tells Noah that He will never again cut off all flesh or destroy the earth with a flood. By saying this, He was restricting His own natural rights as Sovereign God and Creator with a promise. This required a covenant. God’s relationship with Adam was a natural one between Creator and created. But God’s relationship to Noah had to become covenantal when it included the special restrictions of God’s natural right to destroy His Creation with a flood.

Our Conclusion: There Was No Creation Covenant

It should be obvious that the premises presented on behalf of a Creation Covenant don’t successfully support the conclusion that the Bible teaches a Creation Covenant. Only when someone examines the Bible with a desire to see a Creation Covenant and prejudicially reads a Creation Covenant into it, will that person see what one.

So, the problem comes down to what we want. Do we want to learn the truth by letting the Bible speak for itself, or do we—perhaps unconsciously—have a motive to want something else?

Charting a Course Vs. Letting the Bible Speak for Itself

New Covenant Theology is not homogenous. And, this is good, as it shows we’re thinking, learning, and growing. Part of this healthy thinking process, however, is to look at the various ideas critically, carefully testing them against Scripture. No one’s teachings should be above this process.

Some New Covenant theologians teach that God made a Creation Covenant with Adam. This is especially true of what has sometimes been presented as a subsection of New Covenant Theology called Progressive Covenantalism, but isn’t limited to this supposed subsection. Yet, for many, teaching a Creation Covenant seems to be a purposeful move to place themselves midway between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.

For far too long, some have been billing New Covenant Theology as purposely taking a middle ground between Covenant and Dispensational theologies. If we would only stop to think about it, we would see that such a goal would be a pitfall to sound biblical exegesis. If we followed this practice, we would have to read into the Bible such a middle ground instead of openly accepting whatever the Bible teaches.

As can be seen even in the title of their book, “Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies”), Stephen Wellum and Brent E. Parker expressly seek to chart a course between Dispensational and Covenant Theologies. Again, the danger with this kind of predetermined result approach is that Scripture gets fitted into the goal rather than being allowed to interpret itself. The aim of theology should be to explain Scripture, not to try to seek an intermediate position between two schools of thought.

Since publishing this book and a couple of other books on the subject, Wellum and Parker have come to see that the course they have charted is not the same as New Covenant Theology. They have now distanced their Progressive Covenantalism from New Covenant Theology, and we should also see that the two are not the same.

Theology isn’t politics, where the goal may be to achieve bipartisan agreement. Biblical truth may be one or the other school of thought, something more extreme than either, or something else altogether. Whatever it is, the truth is what we must seek without any prejudice.

As New Covenant theologian, Steve Lehrer says, “Consider whether refraining from calling the arrangement a covenant would do damage to your theological system and whether your system in turn drives you to call God’s dealings with Adam a covenant” (Steve Lehrer, New Covenant Theology: Questions Answered, [n.p.: Steve Lehrer, 2006] 41). To put it another way, stop to think whether you’re afraid that being honest with the biblical evidence will show your theology is flawed. And, reflect on whether you might be bending the Bible out of shape by trying to stuff your theology into it.

Was There a Covenant at Creation: Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill?

Asking the question, “Was there a covenant at Creation?” is a healthy one that deserves consideration. But when we look into it, we must not begin with a predetermined course that prejudices our inquiry before we even start. That would be an attack on the hermeneutics that we use to understand Scripture.

I’m aware that there are some who will think my take on this is overblown and alarmist. Please think again. As someone who’s been teaching New Covenant Theology for decades, I hope you’ll take my warning seriously. If we start saying that something as foundational as God’s dealings with Adam is a covenant when the Bible never calls it such nor does it give us compelling evidence to imply that God’s relationship to Adam is a covenant, then we are pulling the rug out from under our hermeneutics and, hence, our theology.

Boiling the hermeneutics of New Covenant Theology down to its three primary points, they are: 1) The Bible alone is the inspired Word of God and the only authoritative revelation of God, 2) The Bible interprets itself, and, 3) The New Testament is the superior revelation to and interprets the Old Testament.

For centuries, Covenant/Reformed dogma dominated much of the theological discourse. Yet, some, including the Particular Baptists of the past, pointed out and corrected many of the presuppositions and weakly grounded assumptions of that system. Sovereign Grace Baptist Churches (as distinguished from Reformed Baptist Churches) picked up that mantle.

It was New Covenant Theology, however, that took up the task of reexamining long-standing dogma to compare it with an unbiased reading of Scripture. While not afraid to consult what others have said on a topic, New Covenant Theology sought to root its doctrine firmly in Scripture, not in the assumptions and opinions of men.

Steve Lehrer cites a long list of theologians he’d read while examining a particular topic—and with whom he found, after examining Scripture, that he could not agree. With no disrespect, he refers to these people as “famous noses” and observes, “[O]ur theology cannot be based on counting noses, but on sticking our noses into Scripture and examining and weighing men’s opinions against God’s Word” (Steve Lehrer, “Is There A Future for Israel in Romans 11?”).

To see some in New Covenant Theology now turning to assumptions and weak evidence to support a Creation Covenant, which they say is foundational, is disappointing and, quite frankly, discouraging. It is a move in the wrong direction that endangers the very principles for which New Covenant Theology stands.

While I believe it is always our responsibility to judge teaching (1 Corinthians 14:29), I’m not trying to judge people. But I will ask those in the New Covenant Theology camp who teach a Creation Covenant to examine their motives. Are they sincerely trying to exegete from Scripture the truth that God has put there? Or, are they trying to fit Scripture into a predetermined framework?

It is my hope that those who seem to be taking up this form of practicing theology will stop to realize the enormity of such an error. It is a decades-long reverse step that will bring us back to the errors of Covenant Theology.

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