Home > 1689 federalism, abrahamic covenant > Is the Abrahamic Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?

Is the Abrahamic Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?

[Please note the date of this post. It does not necessarily reflect my most current views. See posts linked at the end for more consideration.]

I’ve been teaching a Wednesday night Bible study through the book of Genesis for about a year now. We’ve finally made it to Genesis 17 and the question has come up: Is the Abrahamic covenant (the covenant of circumcision, Acts 7:8) conditional or unconditional? This is not an easy question to answer, but it’s a very important one to answer. In a very helpful essay, Richard Pratt Jr. notes:

In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that contemporary reformed theologians are taking different stances on whether the covenants God made with Abraham and David were conditional or unconditional. This is not to say that we have enjoyed complete unanimity on this and related matters in past centuries. Covenant theology has always been riddled with varying opinions. Yet, in our day, differences on this particular issue have so impacted other theological and practical dimensions of the Christian faith that they should no longer be ignored.

Details notwithstanding, two tendencies have emerged. On the one side, some theologians in our circles have argued that the covenants with Abraham and David were unconditional. That is to say, these covenants guaranteed future blessings unconditionally to Abraham and David.

On the other side, other theologians in our circles have argued that the covenants with Abraham and David were conditional. In this view, the future blessings of these covenants were gracious but in some ways dependent upon the condition of human loyalty.

God of Covenant

The reason it is so difficult to determine if the Abrahamic covenant is conditional or unconditional is because we seem to get two different answers from Scripture. In Genesis 15 God instructs Abram to cut animals in half and spread them out on the ground. This was a typical covenant ceremony wherein the covenanting parties then both pass through the parts of the animals, signifying that if either of them broke the covenant, they would be torn apart like the animals (take a look at Jeremiah 34:18, referring to the Mosaic covenant). However, in Genesis 15, Abram does not walk through the parts. Instead, in a vision, a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot (signifying God) pass through the parts. This would seem to communicate that Abram was not obligated to keep the covenant, that it was unconditional.

However, when we get to chapter 17, God tells Abram “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations (v9).” What does that mean? Well, in context, it is referring to circumcision:

10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

So it would seem that there is something required for Abraham to do. There is a condition. This is made very, very clear in the next verse: “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Verse 14 very clearly establishes that this covenant is conditional and that a failure to meet the conditions will result in being “cut off,” which means put to death (cf Exodus 12:15, 19; Leviticus 7:25, 27).

Pratt notes:

These two chapters are the only places where the term “covenant” (berith.) appears in the Abrahamic narratives, but they are very different from each other. On the one hand, Genesis 15:9-21 reports how Abraham killed animals in a ceremony of malediction and how Yahweh passed through the carnage to confirm by divine oath that Abraham’s descendants would certainly inherit the land of Canaan. On the other hand, in Genesis 17:9-14 the maledictory cutting ceremony of circumcision is required of Abraham and his descendants as a sign of their loyalty to Yahweh. These texts report truths about Abraham’s covenant in very different ways.

So what are we to conclude? I believe the analogy of faith provides us with helpful guidance. Chapter 1 paragraph 9 of the London Baptist Confession says:

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

What we have is an apparent discrepancy between Genesis 15 and Genesis 17. One appears to say the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional, the other says it is conditional. How should we try to resolve the problem? Well, if we agree with the confession, then we should seek to answer the question using the passage that speaks most clearly. Genesis 17:14 is very clear. It is not possible to get a clearer answer to our question. Furthermore, the relevant part of Genesis 15 is a vision. A clear, explicit passage should guide our interpretation of a less clear vision – not the other way around, as is common.

So if Gen 17 is to guide our understanding of Gen 15, where does that leave us? How can we harmonize these two accounts? Well, it would seem we have two options:

  1. Gen 15 and Gen 17 refer to two different covenants. This is the conclusion reached by Paul R. Williamson, for example: Abraham, Israel and the nations: the patriarchal promise and its covenantal development in Genesis
  2. There is some other way of understanding the vision in Genesis 15 that does not lead us to conclude that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional.

In my limited studies, I don’t think option 1) is an option. Pratt notes:

First, we should note that we are not dealing with two covenants made with Abraham. In Genesis 15:18 we read that “the LORD made a covenant with Abram,” or more literally “cut a covenant” (karath), a common way to speak of the initiation of a covenant. In Genesis 17:2, however, God said, “I will confirm my covenant,” using the Hebrew expression ve’ettenah>, meaning to confirm or establish what was already in existence. So, we find here not two covenants, but two facets or dimensions of God’s one covenant with Abraham, the latter being a confirmation and further explanation of the earlier.

That leaves us with 2). But what other meaning could the vision and ceremony have?

The Meaning of the Genesis 15 Vision

In short, I believe the vision means not that there are no conditions for its fulfillment that depend upon Abraham and his offspring, but that God promises to work in the lives of Abraham and his offspring to meet those conditions and thus bring about the fulfillment of the covenant promises.

For example, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham clearly depend upon him having an offspring. If Abraham does not have an offspring, then the promises cannot be fulfilled. But remember what we read in Genesis 17. If Abraham does not circumcise himself then he will be cut off, killed. And the same goes for his offspring. If Abraham had failed to obey God in chapter 17, then it would have been impossible for God’s promises to be fulfilled. If Abraham and his offspring are killed, then so is the hope of the Messiah.

The fulfillment of God’s promise depends upon the obedience of Abraham. But Abraham did obey. In an act of faith, he circumcised himself at 99 years old. Abraham obeyed because God gave him a new heart that was willing to obey.

If we look at the nation of Israel, we see a similar dilemma. If the nation is destroyed, then so is the hope of the Messiah. And yet God warns in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere that if Israel does not obey, they will be destroyed. In Ch. 28 we read a lengthy list of blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience to the Mosaic law. Numerous times we read that “all these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed” (v45), “until he has destroyed you” (v48), “until you are destroyed” (v51), “until they have caused you to perish” (v51), “until you are destroyed” (v61).

So, again, the fulfillment of God’s promise depends upon the obedience of Abraham’s offspring. If they disobey, God will curse them until they are destroyed, and with their destruction comes the destruction of the hope of the Messiah. How is this dilemma handled? The same way it is handled in Abraham’s account in Genesis 17.

Take a look at Deut 30:1-10. Here (and in ch 28 to an extent), Moses is not simply giving warnings, but is instead prophesying of what will happen.

1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.

So the destruction of Israel will be prevented when Israel turns to the Lord and obeys him. But notice how this will happen. In 30:6 we read: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

This is how God can ensure that His promise will come to pass. He will cause the elect to fulfill the conditions necessary to the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. Note that this is not the same thing as saying the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional because it’s conditions were fulfilled by a mediator (like the New Covenant).

So we see the obedience of Abraham and his offspring as a condition for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, and we also see that God will provide the necessary cause of that obedience: a new heart. I believe this is what the vision in Genesis 15 is promising.

Further support for this claim is found in Deut 28:26. In the midst of reciting the curses upon Israel, we read:

25 “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.

A parallel warning is found in Jeremiah 7:33

30″For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. 33 And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. 34 And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

In both instances, the warning is that when Israel disobeys, there will be no one to frighten away the birds from eating their corpses. What is this referring to? What does it mean for someone to frighten away the birds? Where else do we see this imagery in Scripture? Genesis 15:11 “And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.”

Abraham, or rather, the promise God made to Abraham, is what fightens the birds away. God’s promise to Abraham prevents Israel from being utterly destroyed. But how exactly does it prevent Israel from being destroyed? How does Abraham frighten away the birds? These passages say that if they disobey, there will be no one to frighten the birds away. So again, we see that obedience is a crucial condition for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. And thus, God works obedience in the elect to bring about the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. Obedience frightens the birds away.

Take note of Leviticus 26:

40″But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

The condition for God remembering his covenant with Abraham is the circumcision of Israel’s heart – something only He can do. That is the meaning of the vision in Genesis 15. It does not mean there are not conditions to be met by Abraham’s descendants. It means God will cause them to obey and meet those conditions. And I will add that He does that by means of the new covenant. Only the new covenant provides the regeneration necessary for faith and obedience. Witsius notes, regarding the Mosaic covenant:

Nor Formally the Covenant of Grace: “Because that requires not only obedience, but also promises, and bestows strength to obey. For, thus the covenant of grace is made known, Jer. xxxii. 39. ‘and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever.’ But such a promise appears not in the covenant made at mount Sinai. Nay; God, on this very account, distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic, Jer. xxxi. 31-33. And Moses loudly proclaims, Deut xxix. 4. ‘yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.’ Certainly, the chosen from among Israel had obtained this. Yet not in virtue of this covenant, which stipulated obedience, but gave no power for it: but in virtue of the covenant of grace, which also belonged to them.

http://www.reformationtheology.com/2008/11/the_mosaic_covenant_works_or_g.php

Conclusion

Though the thesis of Pratt’s essay is slightly different from mine, he concludes:

To reinforce what we have seen at this point, we should mention that the language of conditionality is the same in all three covenants God made with Israel. As we have already seen, in Genesis 17:9 God told Abraham and his descendants to “keep my covenant” by observing circumcision. This expression also appears in the Mosaic covenant when God says to Israel in Exodus 19:5 “and you must keep my covenant”. In the same way, in Psalm 132:11 the Davidic line is also required to “keep my covenant.” This shared language makes it clear that the fundamental dynamics of all three covenants are the same…

…In my estimation reformed theologians who argue that the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unconditional are fundamentally misguided. Although we may distinguish the central concerns of Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants from each other and from other biblical covenants, there is little justification for arguing that the difference is conditionality and unconditionality.

However, Pratt makes a very serious error in his essay. He makes a number of helpful observations about the Abrahamic covenant, including observations about Royal Land Grant and Suzzerain-Vassal Treaties, so I encourage you to read it. But after establishing that the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants were conditional, he erroneously applies these conclusions to the New Covenant, because he believes that the New Covenant is only an historical administration of the covenant of grace, of which the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and Noahic are all parts or dispensations. He therefore concludes that our salvation is conditioned upon our obedience:

“a measure of conformity to God’s standards of holiness is a necessary condition for receiving salvation…the New Testament makes sanctification a necessary condition for eternal salvation…faith that justifies has always resulted in meeting the requirements of good works.”

Pratt’s error is that he lumps in the New Covenant with all the others and fails to recognize it’s utter distinctness, it’s utter newness. Furthermore, he fails to recognize that the New Covenant, working throughout the OT, was the means God used to fulfill His promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. The Abrahamic Covenant was not the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace. See how John Owen explained this:

“When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and effectiveness, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation to the church, from the first entrance of sin.

But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture,

-Exposition of Hebrews 8:6″

Abraham’s disobedience would cut him off from the covenant of circumcision. Our disobedience can never cut us off from the New Covenant because our obedience is found in our mediator Jesus Christ.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

See also

  1. Alexis
    September 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Would you extend the conditionality of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants to the Noahic covenant?

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  2. December 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    This is really enlightening.

    I’d like to make a contribution about a related matter that might somewhat detract from the question of conditionality

    Concerning how best to interpret God’s dealings with man, one should understand that the whole Scripture comes to a head in Christ Jesus. I read somewhere that even though the New Covenant, as Christ said, is in His blood- the concept of blood covenants far predates the New Covenant. The writer was trying to make it clear that the New Covenant was merely a new administration of the Abrahamic Covenant, and that its newness was not so new, as the recipients of such covenants as the Davidic and Abrahamic somewhat benefited from this newness in a manner of speaking…

    However, what is closer to scriptural truth is that nothing predates the New Covenant. Jesus Christ is not just the fulfilment of all things or the Omega, He is the Alpha and the Omega, or the Beginning and the End- and even though all atoning sacrifices offered to God were shadows of the perfect Sacrifice on the cross, the Lamb of God had actually been slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

    He is before all things. All things were made by Him and for Him. In all things He has the preeminence, and then He is the Head of the body- the church. (Colossians 1:16-18) So He is both the Root and the Offspring of David (Revelation 22:16). This is precisely the question Jesus posed to the scribes- if He is David’s son, how come David calls Him Lord? (Matthew 22:45) And also He says ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58)

    Therefore, everything that God will do with man and for man was completed in Christ Jesus even before Adam was formed or the world was made. Known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world (Acts 15:18). Predestination is a function of foreknowledge (Romans 8:29), and both are accomplished within the parameters of Christ. Interpreting the old by the new is not only good, it is expedient because the old testament experiences of the partriachs, and even of Adam before the Fall are shadows of what Christ, the perfect Man stands to represent for all of mankind and the universe, in terms of right standing before God, and the blessing.

    This does not call for a shabby study of the Old Testament, however no matter how long a Shadow is- it bears no substance in and off itself- it is cast by the light falling on the body of the Object- and until the Object is perceived, the shape and orientation of the shadow cannot be trusted.

    The New Covenant was in God’s heart, the picture from which all types of covenants were drawn, in relating with the fathers, before Christ fulfilled it in physical terms. The shadow cannot be without the object, and light must first fall on the object before a shadow is cast.

    Many thanks.

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  3. December 13, 2013 at 11:15 am

    “Our disobedience can never cut us off from the New Covenant because our obedience is found in our mediator Jesus Christ.

    For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    My first point is one you’ve most like heard. What Paul wrote is Romans assures us no person or spirit a can separate us from the Lord’s love, but it does no address our own actions or choices.

    Secondly, check out the similarities in these scriptures from three different covenants.

    I will make you descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws (Gen. 26:4).

    I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex 20:5).

    As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (Jn 15:9-14)

    Those are three different covenants but in each of them the promise of being loved and blessed by the Lord relies on meeting the obligations of the covenant. Abraham obeyed the Lord that he was able to receive the promise (Gen. 26:4). If Israel loved God and kept His commandments they would experience His love and not His wrath (Ex. 20:5).

    Jesus taught His disciples in the same things. The older covenants had conditions and Jesus taught us that His covenant has the condition of obeying his commands.

    The older covenants had promises and Jesus promised we would abide that we would remain or abide in His love.

    It’s interesting that those three major covenants all were incredibly similar. They were all ratified by blood. All needed faith (Even the Mosaic covenant required Israel to believe God would keep His promises), and they are all conditional.

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    • December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks for the comment Steve. The issue is obviously more complicated than proof texting. See here for the best summary of my position: http://www.1689federalism.com

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      • December 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

        I was only able to look at the video on the main page and a few other things. I can actually agree with 99% of the video. But, the problem I ran into was a statement that we are saved by faith alone. As I understand scripture we can’t be saved without faith and by the same token we can’t be saved without being obedient to Christ as Jesus taught in John 15 and as is taught in many other places. To me it seems we are saved by Faithfulness. That word faithfulness takes into account our obedience to Christ as well as what we believe. Any way thank for sharing that site, as I have time I’ll check it out some more. God Bless.

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        • December 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm

          Then you have denied the faith.

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        • December 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm

          I don’t deny faith at all, but I also don’t deny that what we do matters. “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him…

          God bless you friend.

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        • December 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm

          I didn’t say you deny faith. I said you deny the faith. We are not saved by our faithfulness. What you are espousing is the false gospel of Norman Shepherd and the Federal Vision. If that’s not what you intend then you need to be more careful with your language.

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  4. December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    I’m only acknowledging that Jesus defined the terms of his covenant. if we obey him, we will remain in his love.

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  5. markmcculley
    October 1, 2015 at 3:03 am

    They are not different facets of one covenant, it turns out, but different facets of different covenants, only one of which fulfils the promise to Abraham fully, the others having had different fulfillments in the OT, and these others are done away with the coming of Christ. http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-covenant-with-abraham.html

    Liked by 1 person

  6. markmcculley
    December 6, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Luke 1: Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because He has visited
    and provided redemption for His people.
    69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of His servant David,
    70 just as He spoke by the mouth
    of His holy prophets in ancient times;
    71 salvation from our enemies
    and from the clutches of those who hate us.
    72 He has dealt mercifully with our fathers
    and remembered His holy covenant—
    73 the oath that He swore to our father Abraham.
    He has given us the privilege,
    74 since we have been rescued
    from our enemies’ clutches,
    to serve Him without fear
    75 in holiness and righteousness
    in His presence all our days.
    76 And child, you will be called
    a prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lord
    to prepare His ways,
    77 to give His people knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins.
    78 Because of our God’s merciful compassion,
    the Dawn from on high will visit us
    79 to shine on those who live in darkness
    and the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace http://heidelblog.net/2015/12/the-abrahamic-covenant-unifies-redemptive-history

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  7. January 23, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Hello ! Woud you not also say that in one aspect (but not completely!) the abrahamic covenant is unconditionnal because it contains the covenant of grace in it’s promised form (that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed by Abraham’s posterity,that the pormised seed would come from Abraham’s natural seed by a miracle as Isaac was born thanks to a miracle, that there is a heavenly city to which Canaan point) ? Because if I understood correctly, you consider that the abrahamic covenant is partially inconditionnal only by saying that God promised to give the means to fulfilled the conditionnal part of the abrahamic covenant or the Old Covenant ? For me it’s more than that as Coxe and Denault says, the abrahamic covenant is unconditionnal essentialy because it contained the promise of the covenant of grace (given in Genesis 12).

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    • January 23, 2016 at 6:40 pm

      I would nuance it by saying that the Abrahamic Covenant was certain to be fulfilled. I don’t think I would call it unconditional necessarily because Abraham’s obedience was a condition for its fulfillment. Since God is sovereign, he could insure that Abraham would obey, and thus the conditions would be met and the promise fulfilled. The Abrahamic Covenant was not unconditional in the same way that the New Covenant is.

      Btw, this post is about 6 years old, so I may need to revisit it and revise it. Here are some more recent thoughts: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/additional-answers-to-founders-conference-qa/

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      • June 21, 2016 at 11:26 am

        So you don’t think that the abrahamic covenant contain in itself the new covenant at the state of a promess (before it was established according to the famous baptist slogan, “revealed, an then established”) ?

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        • June 28, 2016 at 11:41 am

          I do believe that the Abrahamic Covenant promised/revealed the future establishment of the New Covenant. So did the Mosaic Covenant.

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  8. Steven Berkness
    March 22, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Perhaps Gen 26:5 …because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements,my commands my decrees and my laws. don’t just argue about chapters 15 and 17, keep reading. the covenant is conditional.

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  9. Deacon John
    July 12, 2017 at 6:51 am

    The assertion that one cannot be cut off from the New covenant seems to contradict Romans 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

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    • July 12, 2017 at 6:57 am

      Hi John. Wild branches are only grafted in through faith. Thus Romans 11:22 only teaches one can be cut off from the New Covenant if you believe that someone can lose their saving faith. Thus one has to deny perseverance of the saints in order to arrive at that view. For more, see https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/the-olive-tree/

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  10. lolodino77
    August 1, 2017 at 6:02 am

    I read anew your article, and I think that I now understand better what you wanted to say. Is it that : Thanks to Abraham’s “federal obedience”, Israel “freely” get the land (even when Israel broke the old covenant for example during the gold calf) ; but Israel would have to remain in the land only by works, obedience to God’s law ?

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    • August 1, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Note that this is a fairly old post. I am working on putting together a better summary. Currently, I would say that yes, Abraham earned the land for his offspring. His obedience brought them out of Egypt and into the land. That promise was finally fulfilled in Solomon’s day. At that point, obedience to the Old Covenant law now becomes the only means of remaining in the land. Thus we see, immediately after Solomon, the long fall of Israel into exile, etc.

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      • lolodino77
        August 1, 2017 at 11:18 pm

        Thanks for your quick answers. I am very eager for your next post on the subject. I also wants thank you because it seems to me that you are the only Reformed Baptist who tried to deal with the Ge 15 & 17 apparent contradiction (without saying that the abrahamic is completely inconditional according to Ge 15, the only answer that I’ve read) contrary to the others who completely ignore that.

        If I’m not wrong, what you are saying is exactly what Horton was saying during his debate against Johnson : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7yHD5z2rrU
        ENtering the land is “inconditional” (in the way you intends), staying in it is conditional.

        But I am not sure that even with Salomon the promise (with the boundaries indicated in Ge 15.18-21) was completely fulfilled, but I think it was only partially. That seems to indicate that a greater fulfillment was to come (that of Christ).

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        • August 2, 2017 at 7:54 am

          Yes, I think it lines up with Horton’s view, though I have not looked closely at what he has to say. Presently I would see Gen 15 and 17 as two sides of the same covenant. Gen 15 is not to suggest that there are no conditions, it was simply God’s “half” of the covenant, while Gen 17 is Abraham’s “half” of the covenant.

          What makes you say that the land promise was not fulfilled in Solomon’s day? (1 Kings 4:20 Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. 21 So Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.)

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        • lolodino77
          August 2, 2017 at 12:45 pm

          Me neither, i am very eager to read his introduction to CT and his book on CT&eschatology. Because i loved Kline, I think I will like Horton too. Me too, it would be odd to posit two covenants because it’s the same promess in 15 and 17. But because in 15, only God passed through the animals (it is “inconditional”), I would say that God’s “half” covers Abraham’s “half” : as you said God will act (by his providence) so that Abraham will not break the covenant.

          Yes I agree with these verses (also with those in Joshua). I mean strictly speaking, Israel never owned the space in the borders given in Ge 15.18-21, there were still space to conquer. I got that in Watlke’s OT theology, but I’m trying to find i again.

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  11. markmcculley
    January 9, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    With so many other “Reformed” folks who oppose the law-gospel distinction, Sam Powell thinks of all talk of “unconditionality” as “gibberish”

    https://myonlycomfort.com/2017/12/29/on-unconditional-covenants/

    “If they are unbreakable vows, then they mean nothing. They are like a cat who is also a raccoon. But God would not have us speaking gibberish. If a man fails to love, fails to honor, fails to cherish, and is unfaithful, he has BROKEN THE COVENANT”

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  12. Craig
    April 19, 2019 at 8:57 am

    Sorry for spamming Brandon, but I found two different Reformed Forum podcasts that I think both complement & critique a lot of what is being done in this post and in the one on Deuteronomy 30. See here: https://reformedforum.org/pc70/.

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    • Craig
      April 19, 2019 at 9:47 am

      Sorry, I should have provided a brief summary. In this episode, he doesn’t get to God’s blessing after the sacrifice, except the “Now I know…” So we’ll have to wait for that, which is the most central part. This episode is brief, less than 30 minutes. He sets about interpreting it as Abraham being set up as an exemplar of the kind of faith we are to have as his children who also believe in Jesus Christ. He uses James to tie this in. We aren’t called to sacrifice our kids literally, but we are called to hate mother, wife, brother, father, and self for Jesus Christ, and to offer our lives as offerings to him. So anyway claiming to have Abraham’s faith must have Abraham’s works. This doesn’t necessarily contradict the Subservient Covenant view, but it does get at something I think is important for subservient covenant folks to acknowledge. Even if the condition of the subservient covenant isn’t faith, the obedience it demanded in some sense exemplified or manifested the sort of faith believers should have.

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      • April 19, 2019 at 10:10 am

        1) See my series on Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works. Kline does a good job of articulating Abraham’s works as fruit of faith in the ordo and Abraham’s works as condition for reward according to the works principle.

        2) I’m not certain faith was required for the outward obedience required by Mosaic law (see post on John Erskine as well as post on Post-Fall Covenant of Works)

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        • Craig
          April 19, 2019 at 11:08 am

          Right, sorry if I was unclear. I wasn’t accusing 1689 Fed or Sub view as actually failing to account for this, but only popularly presented in a way that doesn’t by both friends and enemies. I understand the distinction you are making between condition for blessing being the work, and the motive (or energy source, or efficient cause) of the work being faith, and agree with it.

          If the condition is explicitly simply the work, then faith is not strictly required. Of course, the contention on the podcast is that the condition was in part imposed on Abraham for the purpose of displaying his faith, so in that case, arguably faith was required alongside works, or in other words, the condition was spirit wrought works, and not just works in general.

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  1. September 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm

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