Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 7: R. Scott Clark

R. Scott Clark has recently stated that Kline held to a baptist understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In short, Abraham was not Moses. The Abrahamic covenant is not the Mosaic. The Abrahamic was in no sense a covenant of works. It was a covenant of grace.1

1. Here we must not follow my beloved professor and colleague Meredith Kline when he writes, “Though not the ground of the inheritance from heaven, Abraham’s obedience was the ground for Israel’s inheritance of Canaan.” Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 325. Here Kline did the very thing to which he rightly objected: taking a Baptist position. He has turned Abraham into Moses. Abraham was given the seed and land promises in Genesis 12 and 15 and gracious grants from a sovereign King, God the Lord. The Obedience that God required of Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 was a consequence of the grace received not a prior or antecedent condition in order to receive.

The ensuing Twitter discussion between R. Scott Clark & Chris Caughey is worth reading.


Muller on the Reformed History of Gal 3:17 (Translation & Interpretation)

As explained in a previous post, I believe that Galatians 3:17 refers to the fact that the Abrahamic Covenant contained a promise that concerned or was in reference to Christ. The promise to Abraham that “in you all nations shall be blessed” was a promise concerning, about, in reference to Christ. The verse is often translated “the covenant before confirmed by God in Christ” and is thus used to argue that the Abrahamic Covenant was made with Christ as Mediator and is therefore the Covenant of Grace. εἰς Χριστὸν eis Christon is actually a textual variant and thus “in Christ” is not found in modern translations. Thus modern expositors like Kline do not comment on it (as best I can tell). Richard Muller has an interesting discussion of the translation and interpretation of this passage as it relates to the development of the doctrine of the Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis).

Galatians 3:16-17 is another case of the creation of significant doctrinal associations by a revision and retranslation of the text. In the Vulgate the text read, “hoc autem dico, testamentum confirmatum a Deo, quae post quadringentos et triginta annos facta est lex, non irritam facit, ad evacuandam promissionem”—“now this I say, the testament con-firmed by God, the law which was made four hundred and thirty years afterward does not annul, render the promise void.” Following Erasmus, virtually all of the Reformers re-translated the Greek and added the phrase “erga Christum” or “respectu Christum” after the second clause of the verse, yielding, in Calvin’s version, “hoc autem dico, pactum ante comprobatum a Deo erga Christum, lex quae post annos quadringentos et triginta coepit, non facit irritum, ut abroget promissionem.”

The crucial phrase, “in Christ,” is a text that was not in the Vulgate and that was introduced by Protestants of the sixteenth century because it was found in what they viewed to be the best Greek codices, where, εἰς Χριστὸν [eis Christon] appears following the phrase ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ. In addition, the Greek diatheke, is now rendered not as testamentum but as pactum. Quite simply, the critical and philological re-casting of the text yielded a doctrinal connection that had not previously been present. The orthodox theologians regularly cite Galatians 3:17 as a basis for arguing the pactum salutis, given that the diatheke mentioned in the text is first said to have been given “to Abraham and his seed,” the “seed” being identified as in the singular and indicating Christ, and then is said to have been “confirmed before of God in Christ”—implying the priority, by inference, the eternity, of the confirmation in Christ.159

If we look, moreover, at the trajectory of Reformed exegesis, it is arguable that there was an increased emphasis placed on this text in the era of early orthodoxy. Thus, by way of example, Calvin’s exegesis was rather brief, noting that the “seed,” as a singular, indicates Christ and that, therefore, “Christ” is “the foundation of the agreement” between God and Abraham. Calvin also notes that Paul teaches “that a covenant had been made in Christ, or to Christ,” adding the phrase “erga Christum” to his text, following Erasmus. Calvin, however, points this covenantal act not back into eternity, as Cocceius and Witsius would do, but toward the historical gathering of all nations into the promise through Christ.160 It should be noted that, in this case, there is no startling shift in translation in the movement from the Reformation to early orthodoxy. Calvin already renders diatheke as pactum—a point of continuity both with Beza’s rendering and with later federal readings of the text.161 Similarly, in the so-called Geneva New Testament, namely the English translation begun in Geneva in 1560 and based in large part on Beza’s philology, the relevant portion of verse 17 reads, “And this I say, that the couenant that was confirmed afore of God in respect of Christ, the Law which was foure hundred and thirtie years after, can not disanull.”162

This reading reflects the sixteenth-century revisions of the New Testament from Erasmus onward, and specifically the Bezan collation of the Greek text that became the Textus Receptus: Beza, like Erasmus and Calvin, includes the phrase “in respect of Christ,” which has since been deleted from the text of various modern Bibles. Beza’s short annotation on the text indicates that it offers a comparative argument, “if an authentic human covenant (pactum) remains firm, so much more so a covenant (pactum) of God.” Given this solidity of divine covenants, it is clear that the Law was not given to abrogate the promise made to Abraham, for that covenant was made “with regard to Christ” and its execution depended on Christ.163

In his longer annotation on the verse, Beza indicates that he does not favor Erasmus’ (and, by implication, Calvin’s) rendering, erga Christum. Erga, “towards” or “in relation to” is, in Beza’s view a vague rendering. The Apostles’ point, Beza argues, is that the pactum graciously made by God with Abraham, had been uniquely founded in Christ, so that both Jews and Gentiles might be one in Christ as the seed of Abraham.164 Beza therefore preferred the closer connection implied by respectu Christi, with respect to Christ, or by respicientem in Christum, looking back upon or having a regard for Christ. The Tremellius-Junius Bible goes perhaps even further, rendering the text as “quòd pactionem quae antè confirmata fuit à Deo in Christo,” unfortunately without annotation.165

Perkins’ extended comment approaches the text with many of the same issues that Calvin and Beza had in mind. He notes, first, that the promise is given to Abraham and his seed, and that the “seed,” clearly, is Christ. He then elaborates, drawing into his discussion several other related texts, that the name “Christ,” like the singular “seed,” indicates “first and principally the Mediatour,” but also, like “seed,” identifies Christ as the seed not of the flesh but of the promise, the one who is the mediator is the head of the church. There is, therefore, for Perkins, perhaps reflecting Beza’s reading of the text, an extended corporate sense of “seed”: “the seed is first Christ Iesus, and then all that believe in Christ,” namely, those given to be children of Abraham “by the promise & Election of God.”166 Perkins then adds, in a formula that resonates with his Exposition of the Creed and Golden Chaine, that the “communion” here indicated between Christ and the elect is grounded in the fact that “Christ as Mediatour, is first of all elected, and wee in him: Christ is first iustified, that is acquit of our sinnes, and wee iustified in him: he is heire of the world, and we heires in him.”167 When he comes to verse 17, Perkins reiterates that the covenant was confirmed “to Abraham, as beeing Father of all the faithfull, and then to his seed, that is first to the Mediatour Christ, and consequently to euery beleeuer, whether Iewe, or Gentile.” This priority of Christ derives from the fact that “he is the scope and foundation of all the promises of God.”168 This mediatorship, moreover, is grounded in an eternal appointment: “The Sonne of God takes not to himselfe the office of a Mediatour, but he is called and sent forth of his Father: whereby two things are signified; one, that the office of a Mediatour was appointed of the Father; the other, that the Sonne was designed to this office in the eternall counsel of the blessed Trinitie.”169 The election or designation of the Son as mediator, a theme not referenced in Calvin’s or Beza’s comments on this text, is a major theme in Perkins’ thought. Its basic rationale is to press the issue of an appointment and anointing of Christ back into eternity inasmuch as it pertains to the divine as well as to the human nature of Christ—on the ground that he is mediator according to both natures. He cites Galatians 3:16, echoing his commentary, in his Exposition of the Creed as key to the transition between the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of predestination.170

Rollock’s commentary on Galatians follows the then fairly standard translation of the text, rendering diatheke as pactum. His commentary also emphasizes the identity of Christ as the seed of Abraham but, contrary to Perkins, does not allow the extended corporate sense of the seed as secondarily referring to Christ’s members: “this appears from the following verse, in which Christ’s name is properly presented, where it is said that the covenant (pactio) had been previously confirmed by God with respect to Christ.”171 Rollock then comments on the implication of Paul’s statement that the covenant is made with respect to Christ:

the promise is therefore both made by Christ and made in Christ as he is mediator, for unless he had interceded as mediator between God and man from the beginning, truly, that covenant of grace would never have been concluded with humanity. For … in him the promises of God are firm and invariable, undoubtedly, since he himself is the foundation upon which the promises are, as it were, set forth, on which they stand firmly in eternity, and receive his fulfillment.172

We do not have the term pactum salutis here—but we do have the covenant promise made with respect to Christ as mediator and its eternal foundation, grounded on his intercession a principio. As in the case of Perkins, the text has drawn on the theme of Christ’s mediation and has pressed the issue of covenant mediation into eternity, given the Reformed insistence that Christ is mediator according to both natures. Piscator, we note, does not press the exegetical argument for an eternal pactum at this point.173

This covenant exegesis in relation to Christ also appears strongly in the Dutch Annotations on Galatians 3:17, without the explicit eternal referent, albeit with the cross-referencing to the Epistle to the Hebrews where the concept of eternal testament does appear:

And this I say [That is, this I meane by the foregoing examples of humane covenants or testaments] the covenant [that is, then that much more the covenant of God remains firm without alteration] that was before now confirmed by God [namely, with an oath, Gen. 12:2 and 15:8 and 17:4 and 22:17; Heb. 6:14, 15 &c. And with other outward signs and seals] on Christ, [namely, forasmuch as it was to be confirmed by the death of Christ as Testator, Heb. 9:15….]174

In Diodati’s Annotations, however, the comment has not only focused on the phrase added from the Greek codices but also offers an adumbration of the eternal pactum: “In Christ] That is, of which covenant Christ already appointed and promised for a Mediatour, was the onely foundation, known and apprehended by the fathers.”175 In Dickson’s exegesis, moreover, pactum has become the preferred term for diatheke in Galatians 3:15-17—and Dickson adds both that this pactum between God and Abraham is understood to be “with respect to Christ” inasmuch as it has been confirmed “by a testamentary sacrifice” (per sacrificium testamentario), but also that its promise represents a pactum not subject to the mutation of the Law because it is the Dei absoluta promissio.176 Galatians 3:17 is a primary proof for Witsius [of the pactum salutis].177

The point I want to draw out here is that the translation of 3:17 as “with regard to Christ” rather than “in Christ” was clearly held by many reformed. They interpreted that as somehow meaning that Christ was the mediator of the Abrahamic Covenant, whereas I do not. But my preferred translation (also recommended by numerous commentaries quoted in the previous post) was a common reformed translation. I think John Brown puts it well

The only phrase which is obscure in this verse is the clause rendered “in Christ.” Some would render it to Christ; others till Christ, i.e. till Christ came, which is undoubtedly its meaning at chapter v. 24. I apprehend the true rendering of the particle is concerning or in reference to — a meaning which the term by no means uncommonly bears in the New Testament. I shall give a few examples, — Eph. v. 32 ; Acts ii. 25 ; Heb. vii. 14 ; Luke xii. 21 ; Bom. iv. 20 ; xvi. 19 ; 2 Cor. ii. 9. The covenant in reference to Christ is just the arrangement or settlement as to justification by faith to be extended to the Gentiles through the Messiah, which was made known in the Divine declaration to Abraham. This Divine arrangement was “confirmed of God,” ratified by God in the ordinance of circumcision which was given to Abraham as a person justified in uncircumcision, and made known as a fixed appointment in the Divine declaration so often referred to. It was “confirmed before.” That is, it was a finished, ratified deed, long previously to the law.
John Brown

Chrysostom more succinctly

Thus God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that in his seed the blessing should be bestowed on the heathen; and this blessing the Law cannot turn aside… It was promised Abraham that by his seed the heathen should be blessed; and his seed according to the flesh is Christ.

Re: New Geneva Podcast on Baptism

The New Geneva podcast recently had a two part series titled “A Case for Infant Baptism.” The podcast included 2 hosts and 2 guests, all of which are involved in Twitter discussions on the topic.

I am very thankful that they discussed the topic. I hope that they will consider the below response. (I tried to keep it short, but #7 required a longer reply. I will update this post as necessary following Part 2. Note that Samuel Renihan has briefly responded as well).

1. God is the one who acts in baptism

6:15. Baptists say that baptism is only for those who profess faith, therefore infants should not be baptized. Angela responded that baptism is not about us doing something. God is the one who acts in baptism.

I think this is a case of polemics [over]driving theology. The idea that a profession of faith is required for baptism is not a credobaptist novelty. It’s reformed. Ursinus said “[S]ay our opponents, the church ought to be satisfied with a profession of faith. This we admit, and would add, that to be born in the church, is, to infants, the same thing as a profession of faith. Faith is, indeed, necessary to the use of baptism.” The Westminster Assembly had a debate over the nature of this requirement as it regards infants and their parents.


2. Individualism is Enlightenment

11:50 The Layman’s Cup Podcast said God used to deal with families and nations, but now he deals with individuals. That’s an Enlightenment paradigm. Before the modern era there was never any conception of an individual as an autonomous unit that existed apart from his ancestors.

First, note that none of these hosts affirm the original Westminster Confession precisely because they reject Westminster’s understanding of how God deals with nations. Is that because they have adopted an Enlightenment paradigm? Or is it because Westminster misinterpreted Scripture? Keep in mind that nation and family are one in Abraham.

Second, note Hodge

The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church… Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such… we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians…

Under the old dispensation, the whole nation of the Hebrews was called holy, as separated from the idolatrous nations around them, and consecrated to God. The Israelites were also called the children of God, as the recipients of his peculiar favours. These expressions had reference rather to external relations and privileges than to internal character. In the New Testament, however, they are applied only to the true people of God. None are there called saints but the sanctified in Christ Jesus…

[H]oliness and salvation are promised to every member of the Church. This is obvious; 1. Because these are blessings of which individuals alone are susceptible. It is not a community or society, as such, that is redeemed, regenerated, sanctified, and saved. Persons, and not communities, are the subjects of these blessings[.]

Third, note that Ben appeals to the natural relationship between a person and their ancestors. This is precisely the type of argument that baptists reject. The New Covenant of Grace is not natural, therefore appeal to the relationship that children bear to their parents in nature is irrelevant.


3. Abraham, not Moses

15:35 “To say that the Covenant of Grace is something altogether different than what was in the Old Testament – it makes some assumptions about the Old Testament. It kind of compresses a lot of— the two key figures of the Old Testament, which is Abraham and Moses.
“When you say that was the Old Testament this is the New Testament, you’re taking Abraham and Moses and smooshing them together and you’re just saying ‘Well everything that happened on the left side of the Bible before Matthew 1:1, well that was just Old Covenant, right? And Jeremiah says there is a New Covenant coming.’”
“I will be a God to you and to your children applied to Moses, because… the Covenant of Grace was administered through the Mosaic Covenant, but it was not the Covenant of Grace itself. And so, when we say ‘I will be God to your children,’ that’s still in play, because everything Mosaic has passed away in Christ.”

Scott Schultz seems to have taken R. Scott Clark’s teaching hook, line, and sinker. People new to reformed theology who look to RSC to learn covenant theology are unaware that RSC’s view on this matter is contrary to Calvin, Westminster, and the historic majority reformed view, which “smooshed” Abraham and Moses (and the Davidic and New) together. Calvin said of the Old and the New “both covenants are truly one” (Institutes 2.10.2) and that the Mosaic was a continuation of the Abrahamic, not a different covenant (Commentary on Jer 31:31). John Ball (a primary influence on Westminster) said “Most divines hold the old and new Covenants to be one in substance and kind, to differ only in degrees… [they] hold the old Testament, even the Law, as it was given upon Mount Sinai, to be the Covenant of Grace.” (102) Note also WCF 7.5-6 identifies the Covenant of Grace as a testament and calls it the “Old Testament [Covenant]” prior to Christ, citing both 2 Cor 3:6-8 and Gal 3:7-9.

The idea that the Mosaic Covenant administered the Covenant of Grace but was not itself the Covenant of Grace is contrary to that tradition. Historically that idea was known as the “subservient covenant” view and was proposed in contrast to the above. Modern proponents of this idea, following Kline, have taken the subservient view and tried to “smoosh” it together with Westminster’s view. The OPC Report on Republication notes “[T]he idea that the Mosaic covenant is in substance or kind a ‘works’ covenant, but at the same time an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace, seems to create a hybrid position that combines elements of positions that viewed themselves as alternatives to one another.” In other words, RSC is confused on this matter. I would encourage Scott to dig deeper and read older works on covenant theology (such as John Ball). As far as I am aware, Ben does not agree with Scott here.

Regardless, what really matters is what Scripture says. On this point I have no problem affirming that the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants are, technically, two different covenants. But the important point is how they are related and how the abrogation of one affects the other. I will simply quote RSC “That temporary national covenant, which expired with the death of Christ, was the outworking of the land promises and the promise of a national people made to Abraham… [W]e can connect that aspect of the promise to Abraham to the national covenant in Moses.” Note that Scripture says Gen 17:7 was part of this same promise to Abraham and was fulfilled in the Mosaic Covenant when God dwelt in the midst of Israel as their God (Ex. 2:24-25; 6:6-7; 19:4-6; 25:8; 29:45; Lev 26:11-12; Ezek 16:8; Deut 4:32-40; 26:16-19; 29:10-13; Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:1-2). For elaboration,


4. Baptists deny that God works through means

31:20 Ben suggested that baptists deny that God works providentially through means, “like there is a hyper Calvinism where means and ends have to be disconnected so that election is totally divorced from God’s means, but no, God is using both in sync together: covenant and election.” Angela: “God works through means, through the family.”

Our Confession, just like theirs, affirms that God uses means (5.3, etc). The idea that we don’t believe that is very strange.

With regards to families, we affirm that parents can absolutely be the means that God uses to save their children. We simply deny that therefore our children are part of the Covenant of Grace by birth – just as we affirm that we may be the means God uses to save our co-worker, but we do not therefore hold that all of our co-workers are part of the Covenant of Grace.

With regards to the Covenant of Grace as means, Ben seems to just be assuming his own view and thus confusing himself about ours. We understand the Covenant of Grace to be union with Christ. Ben is viewing it primarily in terms of its ordinances and outward manifestation. Simply because we believe that only those who are united to Christ are part of the Covenant of Grace (established by the effectual call) does not mean we deny that means are involved (the general call). We simply deny that all to whom the general call goes out are members of the Covenant of Grace (see Rutherford defend that idea).


5. The Covenant of Grace was always through Christ

10:00 “It’s not just Abraham at the beginning, but it’s always been Christ at the beginning… Abraham is Christ’s seed before Christ is Abraham’s seed.”

We agree. Abraham was chosen “in Christ” before the foundations of the earth. That doesn’t mean the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Ben seems to be trying to make an argument from Galatians 3:17, but note John Brown (Scottish Presbyterian)

I apprehend the true rendering of the particle is concerning or in reference to — a meaning which the term by no means uncommonly bears in the New Testament. I shall give a few examples, — Eph. v. 32 ; Acts ii. 25 ; Heb. vii. 14 ; Luke xii. 21 ; Bom. iv. 20 ; xvi. 19 ; 2 Cor. ii. 9. The covenant in reference to Christ is just the arrangement or settlement as to justification by faith to be extended to the Gentiles through the Messiah, which was made known in the Divine declaration to Abraham. This Divine arrangement was “confirmed of God,” ratified by God in the ordinance of circumcision which was given to Abraham as a person justified in uncircumcision, and made known as a fixed appointment in the Divine declaration so often referred to. It was “confirmed before.” That is, it was a finished, ratified deed, long previously to the law.


6. Christ must precede the law (of Sinai)

~19:00 “If you say the Abrahamic is not the CoG, then you have Christ coming after the law, but superseding it and it seems to create a problem about Paul’s argument about the law and promise.”

I think Ben’s underlying logic is faulty. The author of Hebrews specifically argues that the establishment of the New Covenant (which came after the Old Covenant) makes the Old Covenant obsolete. Ben thinks such an idea (the New Covenant coming after the law but superseding it) is a problem because of Paul’s argument in Galatians, but he has simply misunderstood Paul’s argument.

Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 is not that whatever comes first supersedes what follows. Neither is his argument that the Covenant of Grace was already established 430 years prior to the law. His argument is that 430 years before the giving of the law, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of the Messiah, who would come to bless all nations by granting them eternal life. If eternal life was possible through the law of Sinai, then Christ died for no purpose (Gal 2:21). But God covenantally promised that the Messiah would come to grant eternal life, and the covenant was not annulled, therefore the Mosaic Covenant was not given for eternal life. Continuing from John Brown above

God had, in the case of Abraham, showed that justification is by believing; He had, in the revelation made to Abraham, declared materially that justification by faith was to come upon the Gentiles.

In other words, Abraham’s justification was a pre-eminent example of the ordo salutis, but the Abrahamic Covenant concerned the historia salutis. It promised that Christ would come in the flesh.

Note how John Ball explains that the Covenant of Grace was not established until Christ’s incarnation.

The Covenant of Grace is either promised or promulgated and established. Promised to the Fathers, first to Adam, and afterwards to the Patriarchs, and lastly to the people of Israel, and before their coming into the land of Canaan, and after their returne from the Babylonish captivity. Promulgated, after the fulnesse of time came.


7. How was the Covenant of Grace administered?

21:20 “I just always wonder, if we’re going to say that Old Testament believers – Adam, Abraham – if they were saved by Christ, then they were partaking of the substance of the Covenant of Grace. They were actually partaking of it. And then when I read in Pascal Denault’s book ’The Distinctives of Baptist Covenant Theology’ that the Covenant of Grace did not really begin until the New Covenant and only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, that does not make sense to me.”
Ben: “I haven’t studied in detail 1689 Federalism. I’ve read bits and pieces of it here and there but it hasn’t been something that I’ve studied in great depth. Someone on Twitter will likely correct what I’m about to say.” “Ben, you’re going to get spammed with 1689 ‘Here, read this.’” “What they would say is that the New Covenant works backwards to save the Old Testament believers just like we believe that the death of Christ is for all of people, even in the Old Testament, they would say the same thing – it works backwards – but, the question I have, and I’m sure there’s some answer out there for this, is how is it administered to them? Because it seems as though it’s not. Like, there’s no… administration of the Covenant of Grace to Old Testament believers. They just receive it— I don’t know how they receive the blessings of the Covenant of Grace.”
Angela “I’ve read a fair amount of 1689 Federalism literature… And there is language in there that it’s about promises, a list of things, that, to my ears and my reading ‘Ok, this is outward administration language.’ So, for me, what I find lacking, is a case that tells me why those things are not outward administrations of the covenant. To me, there’s significant overlap of what they say is conveying the grace – what we would call means of grace – there’s significant overlap there. But just, that is not outward administration, because reasons. So that is what I find difficult to understand.”

I appreciate Ben’s response to Tony correctly explaining that this issue is no different from the atonement. I also appreciate Angela’s answer to Ben, acknowledging that there is significant overlap in our understanding of the means of grace. Furthermore, I appreciate the acknowledgement that they do not fully understand our position. I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify.

I am not convinced that people who raise this objection have thoroughly thought it through. What we deny is that the ordinances of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are ordinances of the Covenant of Grace. Circumcision, the Passover, the sacrificial system, etc were not ordinances of the Covenant of Grace. Their objection is: then how could OT saints be saved? Implicit in this objection is the assumption that ordinances save (that saving/regenerating/justifying grace is conveyed through ordinances). I am not aware of any reformed theologian who says that baptism or the Lord’s Supper are necessary in order to be saved. If they are not, then neither was circumcision, the Passover, or the sacrificial system necessary in order to be saved in the OT. If that is the case, then what is the objection to our position?

If it is believed that ordinances are necessary to salvation, then our disagreement lies there, rather than in anything about the OT. Isaac Backus said “The work of sanctification in believers is carried on by the ordinances of baptism and the holy supper, but they are not spoken of in Scripture as the means of begetting faith in any person; for faith cometh by hearing the word of God. Rom x. 17.” Berkhof said sacraments “are not absolutely necessary unto salvation… the sacraments do not originate faith but presuppose it and are administered where faith is assumed, Acts 2:41; 16:14, 15, 30, 33; 1 Cor 11:23-32… [M]any were actually saved without the use of sacraments. Think of believers before the time of Abraham[.]” (ST 618-19) Reymond says “I would add that Paul expressly states that Abraham himself was justified by faith some years before he was circumcised (Rom. 4:9–10).” (ST) Calvin said

[C]hildren who happen to depart this life before an opportunity of immersing them in water, are not excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Now, it has been seen, that unless we admit this position, great injury is done to the covenant of God, as if in itself it were weak, whereas its effect depends not either on baptism, or on any accessaries. The sacrament is afterwards added as a kind of seal, not to give efficacy to the promise, as if in itself invalid, but merely to confirm it to us… When we cannot receive them [sacraments] from the Church, the grace of God is not so inseparably annexed to them that we cannot obtain it by faith, according to his word. (Institutes 4.16.15)

Hodge said

a fourth… characteristic of the Reformed doctrine on the sacraments… is that the grace or spiritual benefits received by believers in the use of the sacraments, may be attained without their use… [They] are not necessary means of salvation. Men may be saved without them. The benefits which they signify and which they are the means of signifying, sealing, and applying to believers, are not so tied to their use that those benefits cannot be secured without them. Sins may be forgiven, and the soul regenerated and saved, though neither sacrament has ever been received.” (ST III.XX.V)

William Cunningham said

Protestants have been accustomed to maintain the great principle, that the only thing on which the possession by men individually of the fundamental spiritual blessings of justification and sanctification is, by God’s arrangements, made necessarily and invariably dependent, is union to Jesus Christ, and that the only thing on which union to Christ may be said to be dependent, is faith in Him; so that it holds true, absolutely and universally, that wherever there is faith in Christ, or union to Him by faith, there pardon and holiness – all necessary spiritual blessings – are communicated by God and received by men, even though they have never actually partaken in any sacrament, or in any outward ordinance whatever.

Reformed theology holds that the Word (revelation) is the primary means of grace. It is through the Word that salvation comes. Reymond says “the Word does indeed take priority over the sacraments in that the Word is (1) essential to salvation while the sacraments are not, (2) engenders and strengthens faith while the sacraments only strengthen it[.]” The gospel is proclaimed and the Holy Spirit illumines the heart of the elect to believe what is proclaimed. That is how salvation is “administered” today and in the OT. Calvin said

[T]he word of God has such an inherent efficacy, that it quickens the souls of all whom he is pleased to favour with the communication of it… I refer to that special mode of communication by which the minds of the pious are both enlightened in the knowledge of God, and, in a manner, linked to him. Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs, having been united to God by this illumination of the word, I say, there cannot be the least doubt that entrance was given them into the immortal kingdom of God. (2.10.7)

We fully agree. Paul says that the gospel was preached to Abraham in the revelation that he would be the father of the Messiah (Gal 3:8). He believed that revelation of the gospel and was thus justified. In fact, look what Calvin says in his commentary on Heb 8:10.

For this is the covenant that I will make, etc. There are two main parts in this covenant; the first regards the gratuitous remission of sins; and the other, the inward renovation of the heart; there is a third which depends on the second, and that is the illumination of the mind as to the knowledge of God… But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins?… [T]he Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings… [W]hatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them. Hence it was not without reason that the Apostle, in comparing the Gospel with the Law, took away from the latter what is peculiar to the former. There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

Again, we agree.

Finally, note Berkhof’s explanation of how the CoG was “administered” prior to its establishment in Gen 17:

1. The first revelation of the covenant. The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant… [but it] certainly contains a revelation of the essence of the covenant…
Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church.

We agree with the basic idea. The Covenant of Grace was revealed prior to its formal establishment and this revelation was sufficient to save the elect. We simply push its establishment forward to the New Covenant, rather than the Abrahamic Covenant.

Our view of OT ordinances (circumcision, Passover, sacrifices, etc) is that they revealed the gospel darkly and by way of analogy (typology). The important point here is that they served a function in and of themselves independent of any typological revelation of the gospel. Circumcision devoted the recipient to priestly service to Yahweh according to the terms of Mosaic law. Passover was a remembrance of Israel’s physical redemption from slavery in Egypt. The sacrifices kept God dwelling in the midst of Israel and were necessary to cleanse Israelites from ceremonial uncleanness (see Owen on this “carnal” function in his commentary on Heb 9). All of these things helped to paint a picture of the coming Messiah and his kingdom, but they nonetheless also served a function limited to temporal blessing and curse in earthly Canaan. They had dual functions/purposes. They were not simply signs of the Covenant of Grace, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper are. Insofar as they revealed/proclaimed the gospel darkly in shadows, they were a means of salvation to the elect in the OT. In this way they “administered” the CoG. But they were not signs and ordinances of the Covenant of Grace. They were signs and ordinances of the Old Covenant.

Though differing on particulars with paedobaptists, our understanding fits squarely within the reformed system of soteriology, both in the New and the Old Testaments. I am happy to elaborate to anyone who has further questions. Please comment below.


8. Paul says circumcision was a sign of the Covenant of Grace

18:20 1689 Fed says the Abrahamic Covenant was not the CoG, but Paul says circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s faith

Paul says circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness which was to come in Christ. God promised Abraham that his offspring would bless all nations. He sealed (guaranteed) that covenant promise to Abraham by circumcision. It was thus a sign and seal of Christ’s righteousness in the historia salutis (history of salvation – see the Appendix to the 2LBC for more on this, and Sam Renihan’s comments). Abraham possessed this righteousness through faith, in advance of its accomplishment, as 1689 Federalism teaches.

14:20 baptism represents spiritual regeneration; “It’s somewhat similar – in the Old Testament there was outward circumcision, but God still called the Israelites to circumcise their hearts.”

Yes, God called Israelites to circumcise their hearts. Where does God call Christians to baptize their hearts? Baptism is a sign of union with Christ. The NT does not command Christians to unite themselves to Christ; it addresses them as those who are united to Christ.

Circumcision was not a sign of union with Christ. Neither was it a sign of regeneration or faith. Circumcision was a rite that devoted the recipient to serve Yahweh according to the terms of Mosaic Law. The rite of circumcision did not guarantee that any particular circumcised Israelite would actually serve Yahweh from the heart as Mosaic law required (Deut 6:4). It just meant that they were obligated to (Deut 10:12-16). I recommend reading Bryan Estelle’s chapter in the book The Law is Not of Faith for a very good treatment of how Lev 18:5 relates to the promise of the New Covenant in Deut 30:6.


9. All shall know me

“1689 Baptists say that Jer 31 says everyone in the New Covenant will have faith, and therefore that excludes infants because infants cannot express repentance and faith. But I’m just wondering, when we turn to Isaiah 54:13 and that’s also talking about the New Covenant and in Jeremiah, Isaiah is footnoted as belonging to that passage, connected with that passage, and it says in Isaiah 54:13 ‘All your children shall be taught by the Lord. And great shall be the peace of your children.’ So I don’t see how we can use Jeremiah 31 to exclude children.”
“’All your children will be taught by the Lord.’ Well of course they will, they’re in a covenant house! Mom and Dad take us to church every week, so of course all our children will be taught by the Lord. They will have the benefit of growing up under the things of God.”
Angela “Right, that’s pointing to our view that there’s an outward administration of the covenant and an inward, there’s a visible church and an invisible church and being a member of the visible church without possessing the substance of the covenant does carry with it real benefit.”

I think this is another instance of polemics driving theology and the interpretation of Scripture. Scott and Angela interpret Is 54:13 as a reference to parents taking their children to Sunday School – as a reference to “visible church” benefits. But that is not how Jesus interpreted Is 54:13. He said it was talking about the invisible church – that it was a reference to the effectual calling of the elect. Yes, Jer 31 is a cross-reference for Is 54:13, but so is Jn 6:45 and 1 Jn 2:20-27. Calvin notes “As to the word all, it must be limited to the elect… he fastens on the general phrase, all; because he argues from it, that all who are taught by God are effectually drawn, so as to come… Hence it follows, that there is not one of all the elect of God who shall not be a partaker of faith in Christ.” And Hodge

The Church, considered as the communion of saints, is one in faith. The Spirit of God leads his people into all truth. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto them. They are all taught of God [Is 54:13; Jer 31:31; Jn 6:45]. The anointing which they have received abideth with them, and teacheth them all things, and is truth. 1 John ii. 27. Under this teaching of the Spirit, which is promised to all believers, and which is with and by the word, they are all led to the knowledge and belief of all necessary truth.

Neither does this prophecy refer to Christ’s second coming. Jesus applied it to his first coming. Recall Calvin above (“[T]he Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ”).

Please take the time to watch this video showing how the Glory Cloud Podcast understands the “children” in OT prophecy vs how R. Scott Clark does




10. Internal/External Church Distinction

A baptist on Twitter (Nate Downey) asked the hosts “Who is the infant’s federal head, Adam or Christ? And second, can you explain how someone can be in a covenant but not have that person as a covenant head?” Scott responded by saying “It takes the baptist assumption that you only administrate baptism to someone we know who their federal head is. That’s just a way of restricting baptism to a profession of faith, which really, if you think about it, baptists have the same problem because you don’t know if you’ve ever actually seen a real baptism. How do you know that Mr. Smith who just got baptized in a cow tank, how do you know–” “Or Simon the Magician, who was his covenant head? Was it Adam or Christ when he was baptized?” “Yeah, was it Adam or Christ? When he was baptized, if you had asked them… they would say at the time of their baptism, well Christ is. So where we have to start is: We don’t know who the elect are. No Presbyterian or reformed person claims to know who the elect are. And so we administrate the sign not only to our children but to people who would come to us and say ‘I want to join this…’ And so we would administrate the sign to them too. And so at the time we would say ‘Well, yeah, your federal head is Christ.’ because if you submit to baptism, that is a sign of faith… When a person is baptized and they submit to that, that’s a show of obedience and faith and so you can only give an answer based on what you see. The same with our children. We administer to our children because they have been given to us. We’re believers and so we’re raising them that way. We’re going to teach them to pray, read the bible, catechize them. And so we baptize and there’s a hope that this will come to fruition in their life. And then maybe you have a difference of opinion on this, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with presuming that our children are real believers until they present otherwise. I have no reason to think that my 3 are not believers… And so this whole question just starts on a false face. As to the second part, how can someone be in the covenant and not have Christ as their covenant head – well, look through redemptive history. How many Israelites were there that were circumcised but they fell in the wilderness… The question’s designed as a gotcha. There’s a trap you’ve designed that I have to step in before I answer the question and no, we can’t do that. We have to start in the proper spot, and then we can answer that question.”

First, it is not our position that you only administer baptism to someone you know is federally in Christ. As pointed out several times (see here and here), we are in complete agreement with the paedobaptist who requires a credible profession of faith in order to judge in charity whether or not someone is a believer before baptizing them. Knowing for certain whether or not someone is a true believer is not our condition for baptism. Making a credible profession of faith is the requirement for us to judge in charity that they are Christians, and therefore should be baptized.

The disagreement between us is how this relates to the children of professors. We do not believe that being born to those who profess saving faith is grounds for judging in charity that an infant is a believer/united to Christ/regenerate/saved. Scott does believe that (Ben very much disagrees). I would encourage our paedobaptist brothers and sisters to get a better grasp of what it is that we believe. (see links at end of this section)

Ben “I think the phrase you just used is perfect: In the covenant but not of the covenant… It comes down to the internal/external distinction. You have to have that if you’re reformed. Bavinck says ‘The covenant of grace is one and the external and internal sides of it, though on earth they never fully coincide, may not be split apart and set side by side. Certainly there are bad branches on the vine and there’s chaff among the wheat and in a large house there are vessels of gold as well as earthenware, but we do not have the right and the power to separate the two. In the day of the harvest, God himself will do this. As long as, in the judgment of love, they walk in the way of the covenant, they are to be regarded and treated as allies. Though not of the covenant, they are in the covenant, and will someday be judged accordingly.’… It really does come down to this internal/external distinction.”

Does it really come down to the internal/external distinction? Yes and no. Yes, the baptism of infants requires a particular understanding of the internal/external church distinction. However, baptists do not reject the internal/external church distinction. We simply understand it differently than some paedobaptists (the Westminster kind). We agree with a Brakel, Charles Hodge, John Murray, Thomas Boston, Jean Claude, James Currie and others that the distinction is a matter of perspective: our fallible perspective vs. God’s infallible perspective – rather than an internal/external covenant membership distinction. False professors are judged fallibly to be members of the church/members of the Covenant of Grace when in reality they are not.

[Note that Scott misunderstood Nate’s question and thus his reply was off-topic. Nate was not addressing how we judge an individual. He was asking who the federal head of an unregenerate infant is. Ben properly understood the question.]


11. Apostasy

“I think the warning passages we see show it’s possible to be in the visible covenant community and still not be one of the elect. That’s why there are warning passages.” “Right, either what the writer of the Hebrews says about apostasy is a real thing or its not. A baptist would quote 2nd or 3rd John that they went out from us but they weren’t of us. ‘See, they weren’t Christians.’ Ok, then apostasy isn’t real… Of course you can be in the covenant, but not of the covenant.”

This seems like an odd response to me. What exactly does Scott believe that 1 John 2:19 refers to if not apostasy? Note French Reformed theologian Jean Claude

The sundry passages of Scripture concerning Hypocrites, who cloak themselves with such an outward profession, abundantly prove them not to be of Christ’s Church. 1 Joh. 2. 9… 1 Joh. 3. 10… 1 Joh. 4. 8… Jud. v. 12… Mat. 7. 23. Jesus Christ himself says, In the last day he will profess unto them, he never knew them. What colour then have we for making such members of the Church, which is Christ’s Body? But that place of St. John removes all the difficulty, 1 Joh. 2. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us, but that they might be made manifest, that they were not all of us. What a plain difference is here made between being among us, and being of us; be­ing among us, is proper for Hypocrites, that are mixed with the Faithful, and joyn in the same profession: Being with us, is sincerely and truly to be of the Church; for which something more than an outward profession is requisite.

As explain above in #10, the issue is a matter of perspective. We once judged that people who professed faith actually had faith, but upon their apostasy we now judge that they did not actually have faith. Their apostasy is from a profession of faith. We would modify Scott’s “Of course you can be in the covenant, but not of the covenant” to “Of course you can be regarded as in the covenant, but in fact not actually be in the covenant.”

We believe that Scott’s claim that apostasy is meaningless unless apostates were members of the Covenant of Grace is without basis. In The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel, John Owen says concerning apostasy passages there “is no express mention of any covenant grace or mercy in them or towards them.”


Two Age Sojourner Podcast: Reformed Libertarianism & 1689 Federalism (Substance/Administration)

Michael Beck is a Reformed Baptist pastor in New Zealand. For some background, he has a great post on TGC called How (Not) to Plant a Church. Beck has a great podcast called Two-Age Sojourner. He is heavily influenced by Meredith Kline and that is reflected in the various episodes of the podcast (including an ongoing series with Chris Caughey called Meredith Mondays). With regards to covenant theology he is a bit unique in that he rejects the “20th century RB” view that the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace and instead agrees with Kline that it was a typological covenant of works for life in the land. However, he also rejects 1689 Federalism’s view that the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Rather, the Covenant of Grace is something distinct from every “exegetical” covenant in the Bible. From my listening you could perhaps describe his view as the 20th century RB view (that the previous administrations of the CoG included infants, but the New Covenant administration does not) with Klinean republication thrown in (Michael, correct me if I’m wrong here!).

Relevant episodes of his podcast include

  • The Jeremiah 31 Linchpin (2/8/19)
  • The Subservience of the Mosaic Covenant (1/27/19)
  • Some Thoughts on 1689 Federalism (1/20/19)
  • 1689 Federalism and the Galatians Stickler (1/21/19)

I reached out to him to offer some comments on his episodes on 1689 Fed and he asked me to just come on the podcast to just work through it with him. We wound up doing two episodes as he blindsided me with questions about Reformed Libertarianism 😉 They are

  • Brandon Adams and Reformed Libertarianism (3/21/19)
  • Brandon Adams and 1689 Federalism (3/22/19)

He subsequently had a follow-up discussion with Chris Caughey wherein he asked Caughey his view of the same questions.

  • Covenant Theology and 1689 Federalism (3/25/19)

Here are my comments on the 3/25 episode with Caughey:

Confused by Exegetical/Systematic Distinction?

Just to clarify, I was not surprised or caught off guard by the idea, as if I hadn’t heard it before (Waldron makes this argument in his Exposition of the 2LBCF). Rather, I think it is a confusion. As was demonstrated in our discussion, after Pentecost Michael sees no distinction between the CoG and the NC. So the question is very simply the question of how the NC relates to the salvation of OT saints. Michael and others want to answer that question by creating a “systematic” covenant, called the Covenant of Grace, that is not mentioned directly in Scripture but is rather a logical deduction from the fact that OT saints were saved. I would simply say that conclusion flows from an untrue premise.

P1 Men were saved by the Covenant of Grace prior to Pentecost
P2 The New Covenant was not operative until Pentecost
C The Covenant of Grace is distinct from the New Covenant

I would argue that P2 is untrue (unbiblical), therefore the conclusion does not follow. The New Covenant was operative prior to Christ’s death (prior to its legal establishment). That’s why I provided the quotes at the end of the podcast from various paedobaptists, including Horton, denying P2.

The idea that the Covenant of Grace is something distinct from the covenants in the Bible arose (in my observation) from paedobaptists who did not like the idea that the Mosaic Covenant was itself the Covenant of Grace. Rather, they want to argue it was distinct from the Covenant of Grace, but it “administered” the Covenant of Grace. So that’s where this “exegetical/systematic” divide comes from. They can’t affirm the Mosaic was the CoG, while the majority reformed opinion historically was that it was, thus they had no need for the distinction as articulated by Michael (and all the modern reformed guys he’s read). That’s why I quoted Bullinger, Calvin, and Dickson all saying the Mosaic is the New is the CoG. Here is John Ball (whose work had primary influence on Westminster’s formulation):

Most divines hold the old and new Covenants to be one in substance and kind, to differ only in degrees… Some Divines hold the old Testament, even the Law, as it was given upon Mount Sinai, to be the Covenant of Grace for substance, though propounded in a manner fitting to the state of that people, time and condition of the Church…. It was so delivered as it might serve to discover sin, drive the Jews to flie to the the mercy of God revealed in Jesus: but it was given to be a rule of life to a people in covenant, directing them how to walk before God in holiness and righteousness that they might inherit the promises of grace and mercy.
A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (102)

Chris refers to this idea as “monocovenantalism.” Calling the Mosaic Covenant the Covenant of Grace is not monocovenantalism (they have used the label in that way in previous episodes as well). Monocovenantalism is the idea that the Adamic Covenant of Works was part of the single Covenant of God (which includes the Covenant of Grace). Michael seemed to dismiss the view of Bullinger, Calvin, Dickson, and Ball as some outliers (“the worst part of the reformed tradition”) who over-flatten redemptive history and are not sensitive to the changes in history. He said this is not a distinction between Kline and the reformed tradition but between Kline and a few of the worst. I want to make sure people understand that Kline rejected the majority view of the 17th century and that 1689 Federalism polemics are largely a critique of the majority view of the 17th century. As long as you think Ball’s view was “the worst part of the reformed tradition” held by a remote few, then of course you will dismiss and minimize 1689 Federalism’s criticism of it.

To be crystal clear: My interest is primarily biblical, not historical. But this discussion did not begin with Kline. He adopted language and concepts used before him (even if he used them differently). We must acknowledge and properly understand what those concepts were if we are going to have any meaningful discussion of the issues involved. We can’t hermetically seal Kline off from the broader discussion.

Gen 15?

[Note: I revised this section because Michael let me know I misunderstood Chris’ – which I did. What you see below is all updated.]

@16:15 Chris: “I would see administered as a legal term. I don’t see how you can miss the Covenant of Grace being administered – Maybe not formally or as elaborately in Genesis 3:15, but I mean, if you can miss it in Genesis 15, something’s wrong, because God is ratifying a covenant that he’s making with Abraham and Paul and James appeal to Genesis 15 to argue for our justification.”

Abraham’s justification and the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant are two separate events. The gospel was revealed to Abraham insofar as God promised that he would be the father of the promised seed of the woman who would come and bless all nations. Abraham believed that gospel revelation, and therefore he was justified. After that point God ratified the covenant, promising that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah. One of those things deals with the ordo salutis, the other deals with the historia. The ratification was that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah (historia), not that Abraham would be justified (ordo). Abraham was justified prior to the ratification. The ratification was not a means of Abraham’s justification. The ratification ceremony did not administer the Covenant of Grace to Abraham. The CoG was “administered” to Abraham prior to the ceremony when he believed the gospel that was revealed to him.

This is precisely what I would understand Paul’s point to be in Galatians 3. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Notice that it is a matter of the Word preached and believed. “18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise [that Christ would come to bless all nations].” (NET)

More Than Revelation?

Chris said the best part of reformed theology just wants to say by “administration” that real human beings were really saved by Jesus Christ prior to the incarnation and that happened by believing the promises because they didn’t have the substance of the promise yet. Michael pointed out that’s exactly what 1689 Federalism affirms (see this post). Michael said that what he and Kline mean by “administer” is something more than just revealing the gospel. He said they mean it “brings the substance through the type and shadow.”

Chris agreed that “Redemption doesn’t happen solely by revelation. I mean, there are means involved too. Both the spoken word and something like what we would call a sacrament.”

Of course means are involved. That’s the whole point of saying that types reveal the gospel. But what is the spoken word if not revelation? The spoken word is simply speaking revelation. Understanding and believing that (written or spoken) word/revelation is how people are saved. Through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (Heb 8:10-11), the elect are made to believe what is revealed, and thus they are saved through faith alone. Now, are people saved through sacraments? No, they are not. Note Isaac Backus: “The work of sanctification in believers is carried on by the ordinances of baptism and the holy supper, but they are not spoken of in Scripture as the means of begetting faith in any person; for faith cometh by hearing the word of God. Rom x. 17.” (For more, see Presbyterian vs Congregationalist vs Baptist Sacramentology)

So people are saved through revelation of the gospel, which includes the means of the Word spoken or written. Sacraments are not converting ordinances through which people are saved, though insofar as they are word pictures, they can proclaim and reveal the gospel to someone, and thereby play a role in bringing someone to saving faith.

The Blood of Bulls and Goats

Chris said that “Hebrews says the blood of bulls and goat could not take away sins, and yet, that was enough for believers under the Old Covenant before Christ had come to access the forgiveness that Christ’s blood would, in history, eventually, merit and earn for them. It’s that kernel and husk thing that you mentioned. They were accessing the real forgiveness that comes from Christ’s blood under the form of the blood of bulls and goats.” Michael: “Which we call ‘administered.’ Right?” Chris: “Yes, Christ’s blood was administered to them through the blood of bulls and goats.”

This is helpful in that it does pinpoint a difference in our views. 1689 Federalism does not believe that OT believers “accessed” Christ’s forgiveness through the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. Christ was not sacramentally present in the goats. According to 1689 Federalism and the Subservient Covenant view, Old Covenant sacrifices served an Old Covenant function separate from their function as types. God required Israelites to make sacrifices everyday and additional sacrifices on special occasions in order that God would continue to dwell in their midst and bless them temporally according to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut 28). If the sacrifices were not made, Israel would be cursed. If they were made incorrectly, the priests would be killed (and since the priests represented the people, the people would be cursed). If one became ceremonially unclean or committed certain sins, their flesh could actually be cleansed by the Old Covenant sacrifices. In short, the Old Covenant sacrifices were every bit a part of Leviticus 18:5 as the rest of Mosaic law.

Subservient view

Note that the OPC Report on Republication rightly recognized that this was the Subservient Covenant understanding.

By adding obedience to the ceremonial law to the essential condition of the covenant, the subservient covenant position gives Mosaic typology a fundamentally works-based character, rather than an evangelical one. Proponents did not deny that these various types also signified spiritual benefits, but they insisted that they only did so “secondarily” or indirectly, while their primary reference was to temporal things promised in the covenant.169

[169] Cameron put it this way: “The Sacraments, Sacrifices, and Ceremonies of the Old Testament did set forth Christ, and the Benefits by Christ; not primarily, but secondarily…but the Sacraments of the New Covenant do shew forth Christ primarily, and that clearly” (as translated by Samuel Bolton in his True Boundes, 399). Thus circumcision primarily signified the separation between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the nations and sealed to them the earthly promise. The Passover primarily signified the passing over of the destroying Angel. The sacrifices and washings primarily represented only a carnal holiness. Only secondarily did these benefits signify Christ.

See also Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 9 and Samuel Renihan’s discussion of Cameron and subservient typology in From Shadow to Substance (p. 51, etc).

Westminster view

The OPC Report continues

From a [Westminster] confessional viewpoint, the basic weakness here is that it [subservient typology] reverses the true biblical priority of Christ as the substance and primary signification of these types and shadows. According to our standards, the purpose of these various types and ordinances was to function as an aspect of the covenant of grace, being means of administering the eternal and salvific blessings procured by Christ (WCF 7.5, 8.6, 17.5). He is the “substance” of the types and ordinances (not merely their secondary referent), even as he is the substance of God’s covenant of grace (WCF 7.6), while all else remains secondary or accidental. The subservient covenant effectively reverses this in insisting that these types primarily signify temporal benefits, and only secondarily signify Christ. As John Cameron stated, the subservient covenant leads to Christ only “indirectly” whereas the covenant of grace leads to him directly. It is difficult to harmonize the idea that Christ was the “substance” of all these types and ordinances and at the same time only their secondary referent…

[A]nything that functions as an “administration” of the covenant of grace must, in fact, administer grace to those who are under it. Such it is with the other types, ceremonies, and other ordinances delivered to the Jews. The administrative aspects of the old covenant were to function as the “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates” to Israel “the benefits of redemption” (SC 88)… [T]ypology is a subset of the broader category of the administration of the covenant… According to our standards, typology is an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament, which in turn is described as the outward means of the Old Testament era for communicating grace to the elect of that era. Saving grace was not simply administered merely as a consequence or by-product of these types.275 Rather, saving grace was present by and in these types, and in this way communicated grace to believers.276 In terms of our confessional definitions, to say that something is an administration of grace means that grace is communicated by and in that thing.

[275] This seems to be the distinctive typological construction of the subservient covenant position, discussed above.

Klinean view

Thus the two views are very clearly distinguished above. Where do Klineans fit? Right smack-dab in the contradictory middle. Klineans holds to the Subservient Covenant view that the Mosaic Covenant was a typological works covenant distinct from the Covenant of Grace, but they also holds that the sacrificial system administered the Covenant of Grace sacramentally in the Westminster sense. The Report notes “[T]he idea that the Mosaic covenant is in substance or kind a “works” covenant, but at the same time an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace, seems to create a hybrid position that combines elements of positions that viewed themselves as alternatives to one another.”

Klineans attempt to accomplish this feat by separating the sacrificial system from Mosaic law. Chris said that “‘the law’ in Galatians 3 only refers to the commands, not the priestly system and the sacrificial system and all of that. That’s where you see the CoG run through the Mosaic Covenant is in the sacrificial system.” He made the same argument in 1/27/19 episode. Thus he retains Westminster’s sacramentology only by removing the sacrificial system from Mosaic law. But you cannot remove the sacrificial system from Mosaic law, from the Mosaic Covenant. In all honesty it seems very strange that that would even have to be argued. The whole thrust of Heb 7-10 is precisely that the sacrificial system was part of Mosaic law, the Mosaic Covenant. I’m happy to argue more thoroughly if someone wants to present an exegetical argument for the idea that the sacrificial system was not part of Mosaic law, the Mosaic Covenant (Chris mentioned Gal 5:21, but I think he may have meant Gal 3:20? I’m not seeing the argument, so if he would like to make it, I’d be happy to respond).


I greatly appreciate Michael’s willingness to have me on to discuss these issues. I believe it has helped narrow the discussion. I would love to continue the dialogue as there is more than needs to be clarified and pressed (per the above). Kline did not simply adopt the subservient covenant view with modifications to eschatology. Rather, he adopted one aspect of the Subservient view but tried to mesh it together with Westminster sacramentology. I believe the result is contradictory and unbiblical.

For Further Reading



Abraham not Moses?

Originally, the reformed argument for infant baptism was that the Old and the New Covenants are actually the same covenant. Calvin said “both covenants are truly one” (Institutes 2.10.2) and “As then the Law depended on that covenant which God made with his servant Abraham, it follows that God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant… God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses.” (Commentary on Jer. 31:31) Peter Lillback explains “Calvin both presents his case for paedobaptism as well as defends it against various attacks by employment of the covenant idea. His positive arguments build initially upon his already established point of the continuity of the Old and New Covenants. It is due to the continuity of the covenant with the Jews and with Christians that enables Christians to baptize their infants.”

As the disastrous consequences of that mistake have been worked out with regards to justification and our works, many reformed paedobaptists now reject this foundational view and argue instead that only the Abrahamic and New are the same covenant – but not the Old/Mosaic. R. Scott Clark says

The contrast, then, in Jeremiah 31 is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The novelty or newness of the new covenant is measured relative to Moses, relative to the national covenant made with Israel at Sinai, and not with Abraham and the covenant promise God gave to him: I will be a God to you and to your children. That promise remains intact. The promise is not Mosaic, it is not old, it is Abrahamic. (On the New Covenant)

He notes that “If our Baptist friends can turn Abraham into Moses, then they can be done with him and with the problem of continuity between the New Covenant and the Abrahamic.” Thus to answer the baptists, Clark argues “We distinguish Abraham from the old covenant because Paul does so consistently… In short, Abraham was not Moses.”

The argument has rhetorical punch, but it does not hold up under inspection. The premise seems to be Whatever is Abrahamic continues in the New.


Scripture teaches that with the coming of Christ, Old Covenant sacrifices have ceased (Heb 7:27; 10:9). But it’s important to keep in mind that this only refers to sacrifices instituted by Moses (right?). Not all sacrifices have ceased – only uniquely Mosaic sacrifices. Abraham offered animal sacrifices (so did Noah). Since Whatever is Abrahamic continues in the New, Christians today must continue to offer animal sacrifices.

“But wait,” one might object, “That’s not what we mean. We don’t mean everything Abrahamic continues in the New. Only some things.”

Ok, which things?

“Everything not Mosaic continues in the New. Animal sacrifices were Mosaic, so they don’t continue.”

Worshiping God alone, honoring your parents, not murdering or committing adultery were also Mosaic. Do they not continue?

“Of course they do. That’s not what we mean. We mean everything typological about the Mosaic Covenant does not continue into the New.”

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. So animal sacrifices do not continue, even though they were Abrahamic, because they were typological?


So the deciding factor is not whether something is Mosaic or Abrahamic, but whether or not it was typological?

“Yes. R. Scott Clark has said there are genuine connections between the Abraham and Mosaic covenants. Both are typological. Because Abraham and Moses both belong to the typological period, to that time in redemptive history before the reality, Christ and his kingdom, had come they share certain characteristics and features.”

So wherever Abraham shares certain typological aspects with Moses, those aspects expire with Moses?


Then John Glas, well said

[A]ll the earthly shadows of heavenly things to come by Christ, that were instituted from the fall, were ingrossed in this covenant, and delivered to Israel, with many others added in the law of commandments contained in ordinances. Thus sacrifices instituted at the giving of the first promise, and a holy place of worship on earth, and an altar and circumcision, were all carried into the covenant at Sinai; so that whatever was earthly in the church, typifying heavenly things to come, belongs to that covenant made with Israel, and all the earthly ordinances that were before, together with many more now appointed, were now delivered to Israel, as rudiments by which they might come to the knowledge of Christ, like children beginning to learn, and the Apostle calls them the rudiments of the world. (A Testimony of the King of Martyrs, 89-90)

Holy War

  1. God promised Abraham that He would bless those who blessed Abraham and curse those who cursed Abraham (Gen 12:3).
  2. This was fulfilled in Israel’s conquest of Canaan – a holy war (Num 24:8-9).
  3. This was thoroughly Mosaic and Abrahamic (Deu 23:3-6; 28:7).
  4. With the coming of Christ, all Abrahamic holy war has ceased (Jn 18:36).
  5. This aspect of the Abrahamic covenant was typological of the Christian’s spiritual warfare (2 Cor 10:3-6; Eph 6:10-20).

The Land

  1. God promised Abraham the land of Canaan (Gen 13:15; 17:8; 28:13; 35:12; Acts 7:5).
  2. This was fulfilled when God brought Israel out of Egypt and brought them into the promised land (Ex 23:29-32; 33:1; Deut 7:22-23; 19:1-9, cp. Josh. 20:7-8; 21:43-45; Deut 26:3; Acts 13:19).
  3. This was thoroughly Mosaic and Abrahamic (Ex 23:22).
  4. With the coming of Christ, the land of Canaan was made common (Jn 4:21).
  5. This aspect of the Abrahamic covenant was typological of the Christian’s eternal inheritance (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22; Rev 3:12; 21:2, 10; Jer 30:3; Ezk 36:24; 39:28).

Offspring As Numerous as the Stars of Heaven

  1. God promised Abraham that He would have numerous offspring – as many as the stars of heaven, the dust of the earth, and the sand of the seashore (Gen 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; 28:14; 32:12).
  2. This was fulfilled in the nation of Israel, Abraham’s offspring, which were as many as the stars of heaven, the dust of the earth, and the sand of the seashore (Ex 32:13; Num 23:10; Deut 1:10; 10:22; 1 Kings 3:8; 4:20; Is. 10:22; 48:19; Jer 15:8; Heb 11:12).
  3. This was thoroughly Mosaic and Abrahamic (Ex 32:13; Num 23:10; Deut 1:10).
  4. With the coming of Christ, physical descent from Abraham no longer matters (Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11).
  5. This aspect of the Abrahamic covenant was typological of Abraham’s spiritual offspring (Rom 4:16; 9:24-26; Gal 3:29).

Note that R. Scott Clark has said “That temporary national covenant, which expired with the death of Christ, was the outworking of the land promises and the promise of a national people made to Abraham… we can connect that aspect of the promise to Abraham to the national covenant in Moses.”

I Will be a God to You and to Your Children

  1. God promised Abraham that He would be a God to him and his offspring/children (Gen 17:7).
  2. This was fulfilled in the theocracy established in Canaan with God dwelling in the midst of the nation of Israel, Abraham’s offspring/children (Ex. 2:24-25; 6:6-7; Ezek 16:8; Deut 4:32-40; 26:16-19; 29:10-13; Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:1-2).
  3. This was thoroughly Mosaic and Abrahamic (Ex 19:4-6; 25:8; 29:45; Lev 26:11-12).
  4. With the coming of Christ, Abraham’s offspring/children are no longer God’s people (Hosea 1:9; Matt 21:41, 43; Lk 19:27).
  5. This aspect of the Abrahamic covenant was typological of God’s promise to save the elect (Is 53:14; Jn 6:45; Jer 30:22; 31:33-34; Is 44:3; Ezek 36:26-28; 37:27; Rev 21:3; 2 Cor 6:16).

The Abrahamic promise to be a God to Abraham and his children (note: not “believers and their children“) does not remain “intact” any more than these other promises do. They are each typological of a spiritual reality, but they themselves pass away at the coming of Christ.

For further reading:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hodge on the Abrahamic Covenant(s)

Charles Hodge is a great example of the double-mindedness of reformed paedobaptists who argue against a national church. When they argue against baptists, they insist that the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. But when they argue against Romanists and others who insist on a national church, they insist that the Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham’s natural offspring was temporary and typological.

Covenant of Circumcision is not the Covenant of Grace

Arguing against Episcopalians adopting a national church model to admit unbelievers, Hodge says

That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church. As union with the commonwealth of Israel was necessary to salvation then, so union with the visible Church was necessary to salvation now. And as subjection to the priesthood, and especially to the high-priest, was necessary to union with Israel then, so submission to the regular ministry, and especially to the Pope, is necessary to union with the Church now. Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such, (striking out illogically the last clause, which requires subjection to prelates, or the Pope) we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians.

The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church… The attributes, promises, prerogatives of the one, were not those of the other. [If this is true] we must admit that the true Church rejected and crucified Christ; for he was rejected by the external Israel, by the Sanhedrin… Paul avoids this fatal conclusion by denying that the external Church is, as such, the true Church, or that the promises made to the latter were made to the former.

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.

When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37)

The Visibility of the Church (1853, 1878)

Covenant of Circumcision Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

But if we’re talking about infant baptism, then things change…

Our written constitution, so to speak, dates from the father of the faithful. God made a covenant with Abraham… The covenant was the covenant of grace and the parties were Abraham and those whom Abraham represented… Infants are in this sense members of the Church, because circumcision was a sign and seal of the covenant of grace… It is said that it was the seal of the national covenant made with Abraham; that it was intended to mark the nationality of his descendants, and to secure their interest in the national promises made to the patriarch… It has already been proved that the covenant of God with Abraham in reference to Christ was the covenant of grace and that circumcision was a seal of that covenant. 1. Because no man could be a Jew without professing to embrace the covenant with Abraham which referred to Christ. The Bible does not distinguish two Abrahamic covenants… That circumcision was the badge of this covenant in its spiritual, as well as in its temporal aspect, is obvious, because the two were united as the soul and body in man… No man could be circumcised with exclusive reference to the national covenant. He could not enroll himself among the children of Abraham, and claim as one of his descendants a part of the national inheritance, without at the same time entering into covenant with God… By being a Jew, he professed the whole Jewish faith… No man was ever circumcised in obedience to the command given to Abraham who did not thereby profess faith[.]
The Church Membership of Infants (1858)


[U]nder the old economy the Church and State were identical. No man could be a member of the one without being a member of the other… If, therefore, circumcision was a sign and seal of membership in the Hebrew nation, it was a sign and seal of membership in the Hebrew Church. All this arose from the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham. In that covenant, as we have seen, were included both national and religious promisesThis is really the turning point in the controversy concerning infant church-membership.
Systematic Theology III.XX.10

Hodge cannot have his cake and eat it too. He must pick one or the other.

T. David Gordon’s Dichotomous Abrahamic Covenant

T. David Gordon notes that one Abrahamic promise (land and offspring) was fulfilled in the Old Covenant, while the other promise about one individual seed blessing all nations was fulfilled in the New Covenant.

Paul understood the covenant with Abraham to include essentially three promises: That God would give Abraham numerous descendants (“seed”), that God would give Abraham (and his seed) the land of Canaan, and that God would bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his seed. Plainly enough, the Israelites became numerous during their four hundred years in Egypt, and equally plainly, through Joshua and the judges, they inherited the land of Canaan. But they did not become the means by which all the nations/Gentiles were blessed until the calling of Paul…

[T]he “Seed” would come through whom the promise would be fulfilled and the nations would be blessed (3:19). Paul identified the “Seed” as Christ (3:16), and argued that the nations are indeed now being blessed by that Seed of Abraham, and that therefore, the temporary covenant made only with Abraham’s descendants must become obsolete and disappear…

[O]ne might argue that Paul perceived the New Covenant realities in Christ as bringing the final third of the Abrahamic promise to fruition

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 6: 1689 Federalism

In Part 1 we saw how Murray pointed out the conditionality of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New covenants were all the same, and how Shepherd built upon that to make works instrumental in our justification. In Part 2 we saw how Kline responded to these claims by arguing that Abraham’s obedience in the Abrahamic Covenant was a condition for the fulfillment of typological, redemptive historical blessings (not ordo salutis blessings). In Part 3 we saw how this related to Kline’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant as a royal grant covenant of works at the typological level. Part 4 drew out the resulting contradiction in Kline’s system – notably his belief that the Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant. Part 5 addressed a recent series on the Glory Cloud Podcast, demonstrating further contradiction in the Klinean system. In Part 6 I would like to present what I believe is the most consistent and biblical understanding of all the issues we have discussed thus far.

Only Redemptive Historical

As noted in Part 5, Kline and Bordow argue that the blessings of Gen 22:15-18 refer exclusively to the historia salutis. They refer to Abraham’s natural offspring growing numerous and inheriting the land of Canaan, as well as to the promise that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah who would come to bless all nations. Note that this second promise is not itself an ordo salutis promise (regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc). It is a promise that Christ will come. Once Christ comes, he will bless all nations through the New Covenant, from which flow the blessings of the ordo salutis (regneration, justification, sactification, glorification, etc). So this Abrahamic promise certainly relates very directly to the New Covenant, yet it is in fact distinct from it. The promise that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah is not a promise that Abraham will be born again and will have his sins forgiven through faith alone – though the two promises are certainly related. As Kline said “Salvation would not come from Abraham’s obedience. But salvation would come from Israel because of Abraham’s obedience.”

Consider the example (recognizing that all analogies fail at some point) of this wedding covenant/contract. If you click the link, you will see that it is not a marriage covenant, but a contract regarding the performance of the wedding.

This contract defines the terms and conditions under which The Salem Herbfarm and ___________________________ (hereafter referred to as the CLIENT) agree to the CLIENT’s use of The Salem Herbfarm’s facilities on __________________________ (reception/event date). This contract constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and becomes binding upon the signature of both parties. The contract may not be amended or changed unless executed in writing and signed by The Salem Herbfarm and the CLIENT.

Once signed, this covenant confirms that the wedding will take place. Once confirmed, the contract is binding and cannot be amended or changed. “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.” But the actual wedding still has to be performed, because this wedding event covenant is not the marriage union covenant, it simply promises the marriage covenant will occur. Likewise, the Abrahamic Covenant promises that the event of the Messiah will occur, but the New Covenant is the actual marriage union between the Messiah and his bride (from which eternal blessings flow).

Abraham’s New Covenant Union with Christ

“But Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham was justified through faith in the promise.” Yes, but it does not say that justification was a blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham believed God when God said a Messiah would be born from him to bless all nations. But the promise “If you believe in the Messiah, your sins will be forgiven” was a New Covenant promise. Note Michael Horton

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34)… [OT saints] were forgiven truly but only by anticipation and were not yet propitiated in history… [T]he energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.

Commenting on Hebrews 8:10, Calvin likewise said

The declaration indeed is clear, that a new covenant is made according to which God engraves his laws on our hearts, for otherwise it would be in vain and of no effect… But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins?… There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

John Frame says

Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ… [T]he efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.

New Covenant union with Christ for Old Testament saints is no different from Christ’s atonement for OT saints. They received both in anticipation of its event in history. In the same way that someone may get a cash advance on a paycheck before they receive the paycheck, because it is guaranteed, OT saints received a soteriological advance on the New Covenant, because it was guaranteed by the Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Son.

1689 Federalism

Other people in history, such as Nehemiah Coxe, have made the same observation about Abraham’s typological merit as Kline. In 1705, Congregationalist Samuel Mather said

3. If we consider Abraham as the head of the covenant to that church and people: So he is a type of Christ, the head of the second Covenant. You know God covenanted with Abraham for his seed: So he doth with Christ for all his elect. God’s promise to Abraham was to give a seed to him, and an inheritance to his seed, viz. the land of Canaan, the land of Promise: So God did promise to Jesus Christ, that he should see his seed, Isai. 53. 10, 11. and to bring them to Heaven, Heb 2. 10 – Jesus Christ is the true head of the second covenant, he engageth and undertakes for all his seed: Abraham was but a typical head thereof.

4. Abraham was a type of Christ in regard of his absolute obedience to the will of God… There was nothing so difficult, but if God require it, Abraham will do it; there is not such another example, there is not an higher instance of obedience in all of the Scripture, than in Abraham, save only in Jesus Christ, who was obedient to his Father’s will in all things, even unto death itself (Job 6:38.-8.29-10.18)

Mather noted “I confess [Abraham] is omitted by divers that have handled this subject [of typology]; for what reason I know not.” As we have seen in this series, the reason is because acknowledging Abraham as a type of Christ undoes the system of theology supporting infant baptism. Thus 17th century reformed theologians omitted him from any discussion of typology.

The implications of this are worked out in the system of theology known as 1689 Federalism. The New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace. All other post-fall covenants are distinct from, but subservient to the New Covenant. The Noahic Covenant of Common Preservation provides a platform upon which the history of salvation unfolds. The Abrahamic Covenant promises who the Messiah will come from and also develops an elaborate typological kingdom to help us understand the work of the Messiah when he did come. The Mosaic Covenant was an addendum to the Abrahamic Covenant, further elaborating the terms upon which Abraham’s offspring would receive and retain the promised land and its blessings, typologically pointing to the obedience of Christ, the true Israel. Circumcision functioned the same way in both covenants. It bound Abraham and his offspring to loyal service to Yahweh according to the terms of the covenant. Thus it is associated with the works principle (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1, 3; Rom 2:25 – see here for a longer discussion).

The Abrahamic Covenant sustained Israel’s existence until it was fulfilled. Once the land promise was fully realized under Solomon, the kingdom was split and the 10 tribes were destroyed by the Mosaic curse. Judah was spared because one remaining Abrahamic promise had not yet been fulfilled: the birth of the Messiah. This promise was narrowed from the line of Abrahamic, Isaac, and Jacob down to the line of David (in the Davidic Covenant). Thus the tribe of Judah was spared. Once this promise was fulfilled in the birth of Christ, Judah was destroyed by the Mosaic curse (AD70). Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, which is established on better promises: regeneration and the forgiveness of sins. It alone is the Covenant of Grace through which all men since the fall have been saved.

I unpack all of this in much more detail in a 5-part series on the Reformed Northwest podcast. I also highly recommend reading Samuel Renihan’s dissertation From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) to see much of this worked out in historical theology. It’s a really great work.

Here are some related blog posts:

In this series:


Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 5: Glory Cloud Podcast

I am very thankful for the Glory Cloud Podcast. It is dedicated to explaining the theology of Meredith Kline. The hosts (the first 60 or so episodes are co-hosted by Lee Irons and Chris Caughey and then Todd Bordow later replaced Lee Irons) have a strong grasp of the law/gospel distinction. It is very refreshing to hear and I am thankful for all their efforts in putting the podcast together.

This series of posts was actually prompted by a series of episodes (90-96ish) of the Glory Cloud Podcast. Hosts Chris Caughey and Todd Bordow walk through Kline’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant. Episode 93 specifically addresses the question Was the Abrahamic Covenant a Covenant of Works? They call out 1689 Federalism several times and invite baptists to interact with what they have said. So that was the motivation behind this series.

They argue that

  1. The Genesis 15 oath ceremony necessarily means that the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional.
  2. The NT confirms this in Rom 4 and Gal 3-4 because it says the Abrahamic promise is received through faith alone by grace alone apart from works.
  3. There is only one Abrahamic promise: eschatological salvation in Christ through faith alone. However, this promise is realized on two levels: the typological and anti-typological. Both are realized/received by unconditional grace through faith alone apart from works.
  4. Therefore Israel’s entrance into the land was not conditioned upon their obedience to the law but was a gracious gift received through faith alone apart from works.
  5. The Mosaic Covenant did not take effect when it was established in the wilderness but only started after Israel entered the land. At that point, remaining in the land was conditioned by the Mosaic Covenant, which they eventually broke (hence their exile).
  6. The New Covenant is a continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant of Grace – both of which are antithetical to the Old Covenant (which was of works).

Oath Ceremony

As addressed in Part 4, the analogy of Scripture is not followed on this point. Improper interpretive priority is given to the Genesis 15 ceremony – an implicit prophetic vision narrative. Assumptions about the meaning of this ceremony are used to interpret explicit, clear statements about the Abrahamic Covenant, rather than the other way around. Here are a few examples:

Imagine you’re hearing this for the first time and you’re familiar with both parties always walking through promising to do their part to fulfill the terms and how shocking it is that God walks through and promises that Abraham doesn’t have to do his half, that God is going to do it all while Abraham sleeps. (Ep. 90, 23:30)

God does not say that “Abraham doesn’t have to do his half.” That is an assumption about the meaning of the vision, not something stated in the text. As we have seen Kline taught, per Gen 22:15-18 and 26:5, that Abraham did have to do his half in order to merit the redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.

It seems to me like both passages [Gen 15:1 & 22:15-18] are episodic or episode-specific. They don’t really seem to be held up as the heart of the covenant that God is making with Abraham. It’s, “Ok, what you’ve done here is going to serve as an example of what the Messiah is eventually going to do.” But if Genesis 15:1 really did characterize the Abrahamic Covenant so that we could say, “Gosh, isn’t this a covenant of works here?” we would expect Abraham to walk those slain animals as well. But we’ve already belabored the point in a previous episode that God is the only one who walks between those halves of animals, and that says a lot about the nature of that covenant. (Ep. 93, 21:00)

Our expectations of what should or should not happen in any given situation does not get interpretive priority over explicit statements in Scripture explaining the meaning of that situation.

I just think – what is the major event associated with Abraham. What stands out? I think it’s the episode in chapter 15 with splitting the animals and God making that promise, which is pure promise. But when we ask that question of Israel it’s really Mt. Sinai and the giving of the law. So, yes, we do have this interesting verse in Genesis 26:5 but it certainly is not what characterizes the covenantal arrangement that God made with Abraham. (Ep. 92, 10:45)

Again, this is not letting Scripture interpret Scripture. What “stands out” to us in a text does not have interpretive priority over what the text states explicitly. “[W]hat characterizes the covenantal arrangement that God made with Abraham” should be determined by what God says characterizes the covenantal arrangement that He made with Abraham (the “interesting” verse that is being dismissed as irrelevant to the question).

Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4

Again, as addressed in Part 4, these passages (per Kline) contrast our eternal inheritance in Christ with Israel’s tenure in the typological land of Canaan. Therefore they do not address the question of Abraham’s works relative to the typological, redemptive historical promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Only One Abrahamic Promise?

In response, it is argued that there is only one Abrahamic promise. It is wrong to try to divide the Abrahamic Covenant up into multiple promises.

I know some don’t want to see the Covenant of Grace with Abraham and they want to simply focus on Abraham’s national election as a people. But the New Testament doesn’t let you do that. The New Testament points to Abraham’s election as an individual unto eternal salvation and all those in him – in Christ – who have the same faith as Abraham receive the same promise. So Paul doesn’t say “promises” as if there are separate promises to Abraham that don’t relate. Paul calls it all one promise. And yet there’s a promise that is symbolized in the Old Testament but then fulfilled eternally in Christ. One promise with a temporary fulfillment and then an eternal fulfillment. And that’s the way to understand these two elections – not as two separate promises but as one promise in symbolic form and then in ultimate form. (Ep. 91, 18:15)

Note, however, that co-host Todd Bordow directly contradicts himself when explaining Kline’s interpretation of Genesis 22:15-18.

So on an eternal level, Genesis 15 and the ritual is really pointing beyond the typology to what Christ will do to save Abraham and his offspring – his spiritual descendants. But here, just focusing on the typology alone, not looking past it, Abraham’s works will come into play, and they will have a typological, meritorious purpose… What God grants Abraham is to be a Christ figure in rewarding his works with the typological kingdom only. So for example, in Genesis 22, when the Lord said “Because you have done this, I will bless you and I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven,” he’s not looking ahead to the New Covenant at this point. He’s only speaking of how that will in a very temporary, typological way be fulfilled with the nation of Israel. Abraham’s descendants, his natural descendants, would be multiplied and there would be so many that they couldn’t count. And his offspring would possess the gates of his enemies throughout Old Testament episodes. He’s not talking about the church here in the New Covenant at all. So he’s speaking only on the typological level. So Kline writes – I really love this statement – “Salvation would not come from Abraham’s obedience. But salvation would come from Israel because of Abraham’s obedience.” So Israel was granted – because of Abraham’s obedience – they’re granted a temporary place in the history of salvation, but not an eternal place. Only Christ can bring about that. (Ep. 93, 21:30)

If there is only one indivisible Abrahamic promise then Bordow cannot make a distinction between New Covenant promises and typological promises in the Abrahamic Covenant. But in order to properly classify Abraham’s meritorious works, Bordow distinguishes between promises made about Abraham’s natural offspring and Abraham’s spiritual offspring. Again, that can’t be done if there is only one Abrahamic promise. Note that Kline saw multiple Abrahamic promises. “Thereupon, the Lord swore by himself that he would surely perform the full complement of covenant promises, culminating in the gospel promise of the blessing of the nations through Abraham’s seed (Gen 22:15-18).” (KP 300) Note well that Kline said the Genesis 22 covenant blessings that God swore to fulfill because of Abraham’s obedience included “the gospel promise,” which presents tremendous problems for his system.

In Galatians 3, Paul refers to “the promise” not because there is only one Abrahamic promise, but because he is referring to one specific Abrahamic promise (Gal 3:8), which brings up a crucial point: In Galatians 3:8, Paul quotes Genesis 22:18. This simply does not fit Bordow’s Klinean framework. Remember, they interpret Paul’s appeal to the Abrahamic Covenant in Galatians 3 as teaching that eternal salvation in Christ, in the ordo salutis, comes from the Abrahamic Covenant – and therefore the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. The text Paul relies on is Genesis 22:18, but Bordow says Genesis 22:18 is not talking about the ordo salutis! It is only talking about the historia salutis.

From one perspective, Kline points out, Abraham’s works demonstrate his faith. So now he’s speaking of what we call the ordo salutis… James points out from that perspective, Abraham’s obedience only demonstrate his faith. They’re not a means to obtain the promise. And James is very clear, as Paul is. But here we have another perspective, it’s the perspective of the historia salutis, over the history of salvation as it works out in the different covenants.

And so the problem is obvious. How then is this different from Israel? The text seems like Abraham is being blessed based on his own obedience. Kline’s solution is that in the historia salutis, or in what we would call typology, there is a meritorious character to Abraham’s works. Not in the ordo salutis, but in the typology of the Old Testament, God will use Abraham as a Christ figure. Therefore he will reward his works with only the typological promises. Not the eternal promises that were his in the ordo salutis. But, in the typology, which means just with national Israel in the Old Testament, just with the land of Canaan, Abraham’s work will have a means to an end. He will be sort of a federal head in a typological sense. His work will bring about the blessings for God’s people only on a typological level. And that is how Kline explains – and I think really the only way to understand this.

The “only way” to understand Genesis 22:15-18 is that the blessings are limited to the historia salutis and do not include ordo salutis blessings. If that is the case, then Paul’s appeal to Genesis 22:18 in Galatians 3 cannot mean that Paul understood the Abrahamic Covenant to include ordo salutis blessings – that is, it cannot mean that Paul saw the Abrahamic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. I believe that Kline and Bordow are correct here. I believe that the blessings of Genesis 22:15-18 are confined to the historia salutis. As Kline put it “Salvation would not come because of Abraham’s obedience, but because of Abraham’s obedience salvation would come of the Abrahamites, the Jews (John 4:22).” (KP 325)

[Side note: Bordow interprets Gen 22:17b “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” as a reference to Israel in Canaan. Note, however, that this reference is singular (“his”) not plural (“their”). This is specifically why Paul argues in Gal 3:16 that “the promise” (Gal 3:8/Gen 22:18) referred to one single offspring, not numerous offspring. For a more detailed analysis, see Galatians 3:16.]

Entrance into Canaan

Because of their misreading of Gal 3, they believe the Abrahamic Covenant, a promise covenant, promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring unconditionally: that it would be received through faith alone apart from works.

Kline’s response to that was the the promise that God would give them [Israel] the land on the typological level only is to bring them into the land and to bare seed. And so when we get to the book of Joshua when the conquest happens, it actually says at the end of Joshua that God’s promise to Israel has been fulfilled… Kline points out that there’s no promise of an unbroken continuance in the land simply by God’s promise, and there’s no promise, as Kline puts it, of a harmonious transition that when Christ comes they would still be God’s people and they would not be judged based on a promise. And so the promise only gets them to inherit the land and to have seed fill in the land, but at that point their tenure in the land is based on a national covenant of works between God and Israel… So that covenant of works is introduced once that promise is fulfilled. (Ep. 91, 25:30)

Kline said

[I]f the ground of Israel’s tenure in Canaan was their covenant obedience, their election to receive the typological kingdom in the first place was emphatically not based on any merit of theirs (cf. Deut 9:5,6). Their original reception of this kingdom, as well as their restoration to it after the loss of their national election in Babylonian exile, is repeatedly attributed to God’s remembrance of his promissory commitments of grace to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 2:24; 3:6ff.; 6:2ff.; 32:13; Deut 9:27; 10:15; Lev 26:42), pointing to the coming Messiah and the new covenant. (KP 323)

In sum, it is argued that the works principle (obedience to the law) did not take effect until after Israel entered the land – that is, the Mosaic Covenant did not take effect until after the conquest by Joshua (40 years after Mt. Sinai). Until that point, the promise-grace principle determined their inheritance of Canaan. It is argued that the reason the first generation died was because they did not have faith, whereas the second generation was given the land because they had faith. Therefore the land was inherited through faith alone apart from works.

The truth of this framework should be doubted, however, given all that we have seen above. The Abrahamic Covenant simply was not a promise-grace covenant, opposite in kind to one of works. The Klinean framework, on this point, does contain a partial (and important) truth: Abraham, a federal head, did earn the typological reward of Canaan for his descendants. However, Scripture never says that this reward was to be received by his descendants through faith alone apart from works. In fact, it says the opposite.

First of all, Scripture nowhere teaches that the Mosaic Covenant commenced or took effect only after the Israelites entered the land under Joshua’s leadership. The Mosaic Covenant was in effect from the moment the oath was sworn, when the people said “All this we will do.” That is specifically why they offered sacrifices according to Mosaic law and why the first generation experienced so many curses and eventually death (Num 14:22-23, 29-30, 33; Deut 1:35; Ps 95:10-11). As T. David Gordon notes “While the land was eventually given to the Israelites, the terms of the Sinai covenant delayed their inheritance by forty years.” The role of the Abrahamic Covenant was to preserve the people as a whole despite their disobedience to Mosaic law. While they did experience the curses of Mosaic law in the wilderness, they were not utterly destroyed (per Mosaic law) because the Abrahamic promise had not yet been fulfilled (Ex 32:10, 13; Num 14:20; Deut 9:5-8, 13-14, 19, 25, 27-28; 28:26; Jer 7:33; Ps 106:8, 23, 44-45).

Second, when we look at explicit statements about the Abrahamic Covenant, we see that its fulfillment is conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience (Gen. 17:1-2, 9, 14; 22:15-18; 26:5). But we also see that its fulfillment is conditioned upon Abraham’s offsprings’ obedience (Ex. 19:5-8; 23:20-22; Deut 4:1; 6:3, 17-18, 24-25; 7:12; 8:1-2; 11:8, 22-24; 29:13; Jer 11:5).

Ex 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”


Ex 23:20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

22 “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.


Deut 4:1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.


Deut 6:3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey… 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers 19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised… 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’


Deut 7:12 “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.

Regarding Deut 7:12, recall Kline:

The term `eqeb, “because,” used in Genesis 26:5 (and already in the original revelation to Abraham in Gen 22:18) signifies recompense, reward (cf. Ps 19:11; Prov 22:4; Isa. 5:23). This strengthens the case for understanding this as a matter of meritorious works. Moreover, Genesis 26:5 describes Abraham’s obedience in language surprising in the Genesis context, the divine demand being denoted by a series of legislative categories such as are later applied to the laws of Moses. A particularly interesting combination of such terms together with `eqeb, “in recompense for,” is found in Deuteronomy 7:12 (cf. 8:20). Quite possibly then, Genesis 26:5 employs the terminology of covenant stipulations from the Sinaitic Covenant, where it describes an arrangement governed by the meritorious works principle, to reenforce the point that Abraham’s obedience was also to be understood as having such a meritorious character and that, as such, it was the ground of the reward enjoyed by his descendants.

Deut 7:12 teaches that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise to Abraham’s descendants was conditioned upon their obedience to the law, which Kline identified as the meritorious works principle, and he said it functioned in the same manner as Abraham’s meritorious obedience. Therefore Abraham’s offspring had to obey, like Abraham, in order to enter and possess the land God swore to give them.

Deut 8:1 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.


Deut 11:8 “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess… 22 For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. 24 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea.


Deut 29:10 “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.


Jer 11:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.”

Dennis Johnson comments

On the other hand it also is true to say that Israel, though small and stubborn, is receiving the land through obedience. Moses has already drawn a connection between obedience and conquest of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 4:1. “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possesion of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” Israel is to hear and to do the Lord’s commands “that” the promised consequences might follow, namely life and possession of the land. Israel’s reception of the relative and temporal/temporary possession of life and land as a reward for relative fidelity to the law of the Lord foreshadows a covenantal principle of reciprocity that the apostle Paul will articulate in its eschatologized, absolutized form: “The one who does [God’s commands] shall live by them” (Gal 3:12). (Him We Proclaim 298)

Richard Pratt, Jr. summarizes

Abraham’s personal reception of the promises made to him in covenant were contingent on his loyalty… Despite the fact that God promised Abraham’s descendants the land, this promise did not guarantee this promise for particular individuals, families or groups… In sum, there were senses in which the covenant with Abraham was both unconditional and conditional. Abraham was promised by divine oath that in one way or another his descendants would come out of Egypt and possess the land of Canaan. But at the same time, for particular individuals, families and groups to enjoy this promise, they had to fulfill covenant obligations.

Deut 9:4-6

One passage seems to contradict this clear teaching. Kline references Deut 9:4-6

4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

It is argued that this passage teaches that the second generation entered the land not through obedience to the law but through faith alone apart from works. At first glance it certainly seems to teach that. However, note that this passage calls them a stiff-necked people (v6). That is a label for unrepentant, unbelieving people. So if this passage refers to the second generation, it must mean they were a rebellious, unbelieving people just like their parents, and that they entered the land through rebellious unbelief (which would contradict the Klinean view). I do not believe that is what the passage means. Rather, “you” is simply a reference to Israel corporately, including the first generation. This is clear from the rest of the chapter. Moses likewise uses “you” to refer to Israel corporately, including the first generation (despite the fact that they were all dead at the time), in Deut 3:26 and 4:21.

The point of Deut 9:4-6 is that Israel collectively, as a nation, deserved to be utterly destroyed according to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant that God made with them, which would include the children. But because God had sworn to fulfill his promise to Abraham (because of Abraham’s loyalty/obedience), he spared the children. This is not what the nation deserved, therefore they should not be prideful. But he spared the children to see if they would obey, unlike their parents (Deut. 8:2 “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”). This is how the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants relate. The Mosaic covenant simply elaborated upon the obedience required by the Abrahamic Covenant. But Abraham’s obedience as the federal head of the Abrahamic Covenant guaranteed that his offspring would not be utterly destroyed until they entered the land (through obedience to the law).

New Covenant = Abrahamic Covenant?

All of this provides sufficient reason to reject the claim that the Abrahamic and the New Covenant are the same covenant: the Covenant of Grace. As we will see in the next part, the Abrahamic Covenant did not include any ordo salutis blessings.

I had a chance to discuss all of these matters with Todd Bordow in the Meredith Kline Facebook group, if you are interested in reading further. After this post was published, we also discussed these issues on Twitter.

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 4: Contradiction

At this point, a tension arises in Kline’s formulation. He considers the Abrahamic Covenant a promise covenant that “connotes the principle of grace, the opposite of work,” wherein the “Inheritance of the promise was not through the works principle of the law (v.13), for that is contrary to the promise-grace-faith-forgiveness principle.” (KP 294) This holds true for Abraham at the “substratum” layer of eternal inheritance, which he receives through faith apart from works because of Christ’s work (in another covenant). However, this does not hold true for Abraham at the typological, redemptive historical level. Abraham did not receive the promised blessings at the typological, historia salutis level through faith apart from works, but rather through his works. Abraham was not made the father of the Messiah through faith apart from works, but rather through his works. How then can the Abrahamic Covenant be a pure “promise covenant” if at least some of its promises are received through the works principle?

For this reason, some Klineans have tried to argue that “Kline’s point is that though it sounds like at times Abraham is given the covenant blessings through his works, that is not the really case, for Gen. 22 occurs many years after the promise of Gen. 15.” and that a works principle “was operative in the life of Abraham, but not ‘within the Abrahamic Covenant’ itself.” But that’s simply not what Kline said, as we have seen (Abraham’s obedience was “the basis for the Lord’s bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant.” (GHHM 102), etc).

Galatians 3

They appeal to passages such as the following.

Clearly, the Abrahamic Covenant is a grace arrangement, a subdivision of the comprehensive Covenant of Grace. The apostle Paul identifies it as a covenant informed by the principle of promise, the opposite of the principle of works that was operative in the Law (Gal 3:12, 17, 18; Rom 10:4-10). According to Paul the salvation blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant are obtained through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:22). (GHHM 96)

However, note that Kline explains the contrast in Galatians is between tenure in Canaan (type) and the inheritance of the Messianic kingdom (antitype).

Most familiar of the instances of the introduction of a works principle in a premessianic redemptive economy is the Mosaic Covenant. According to the emphatically and repeatedly stated terms of this old covenant of the law, the Lord made Israel’s continuing manifestation of cultic fidelity to him the ground of their continuing tenure in Canaan. This was not then one of the covenants of grant; it was not a matter of Israel’s being given the kingdom originally in recognition of past meritorious conduct. But this case of the old covenant is relevant in the present context as another notable example of the pattern which finds the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously, yet without conflict, because the works principle is confined to a separate typological level. Paul, perceiving the works principle in the Mosaic law economy, was able to insist that this did not entail an abrogation of the promises of grace given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries earlier (Gal 3:17), precisely because the works principle applied only to the typological kingdom in Canaan and not to the inheritance of the eternal kingdom-city promised to Abraham as a gift of grace and at last to be received by Abraham and all his seed, Jew and Gentile, through faith in Christ Jesus. The pedagogical purpose of the Mosaic works arrangement was to present typologically the message that felicity and godliness will be inseparably conjoined in the heavenly kingdom, or, negatively, that the disobedient are forever cut off from the kingdom of the eschaton. (KP 237)

According to Kline, Paul is addressing “the salvation blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant” not the typological kingdom blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant. So appeal simply cannot be made to this passage to address the question of the typological kingdom/redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, for it does not speak to it.

There is, however, real contradiction in Kline’s thought here as he does argue from Galatians 3 that the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant itself is “of grace” and not “of works.” That simply cannot be reconciled with what Kline says elsewhere concerning the redemptive historical blessings granted to Abraham for his works in the Abrahamic Covenant. Kline does refer to the “double role” of Abraham “serving as the great example of justification by faith, and yet, with respect to the typological phase of the kingdom, viewed as the recipient of a divine grant based on his obedience.” (KP 239) At best it could be argued from here that the Abrahamic Covenant was mixed, partially of works, partially of grace. But that would not fit with the claim that Paul says the nature of the covenant is “of grace.”

In my opinion, Kline has simply misread Galatians 3. Paul is not at all arguing from the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. He is not making an argument from the concept of a “promise” in general. Rather, he is making an argument from a very specific promise made to Abraham: that one of his offspring would come to bless all nations (Gal 3:8). He argues that this promised blessing to all nations is not through the law. For more on this, see Gal. 3:18 – Generic Law and Promise, or Sinai and Messiah?

Oath Ceremony

In addition to arguing from Galatians 3, Kline also argues from the oath ceremony in Genesis 15 that the Abrahamic Covenant is “of grace” and a promise covenant. A basic assumption of Kline’s is that the party who swears the oath in a covenant ceremony determines the conditionality of the covenant.

In postlapsarian history, where we encounter covenants both of works and grace, the identity of the party who takes the ratification oath is an indicator of which kind of covenant it is in a particular case. It must be noted here that not all oaths of covenantal commitment function as ratification oaths. For example, the role played by the oath ritual of circumcision (Gen 17) is that of a supplementary seal added to the Abrahamic Covenant, which had been ratified by God’s oath on an earlier occasion (Gen 15). More precisely, in the situation after the Fall it is the presence or absence of a human oath of ratification that provides the clue as to the governing principle, for divine oath is at least implicit in the ratification of all divine-human covenants, whether of works or grace. If the covenant is ratified by divine oath alone, it is a covenant of grace, either saving or common. But when the covenant-making includes a human oath of ratification, as in the case of Israel’s oath in the Sinaitic Covenant (Exod 24), the arrangement is informed by the works principle. (KP 5)


The manner of the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant manifests its grace character. It is the Lord God who makes the solemn oath commitment that ratifies the covenant, guaranteeing the fulfillment of the promises. (GHHM 96)

How can this be reconciled with what Kline has said in Part 3? I don’t believe it can be. That’s why Klineans have tried to deny what Kline said regarding Abraham’s typological merit in the Abrahamic Covenant. If the Abrahamic promises, at the typological, redemptive historical level operated upon a works principle (as Kline said), the Abrahamic covenant was not a gracious promise covenant.

Kline’s error is his assumption about oath ceremonies. The rationale is circular: The Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant. God alone swore the oath in the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore God alone swearing the oath indicates whether a covenant is a promise covenant. In the Abrahamic Covenant God alone swore the oath. Therefore the Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant.

Not only did Kline make an assumption about the Genesis 15 ritual, he also made an assumption about the Genesis 17 ritual. “It must be noted here that not all oaths of covenantal commitment function as ratification oaths. For example, the role played by the oath ritual of circumcision (Gen 17) is that of a supplementary seal added to the Abrahamic Covenant, which had been ratified by God’s oath on an earlier occasion (Gen 15).” Kline’s error here is violating the rule of the analogy of Scripture. Kline allowed his interpretation of a vision (implicit) to determine his interpretation of explicit statements. “The implicit teaching passages of Scripture will shape our theology, but if we allow implicit teaching to contradict what the Bible says explicitly and directly, we will draw erroneous conclusions.” Giving these passages their proper interpretive priority we learn that both Genesis 15 and 17 are foundational components of the progressively revealed Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 15, answering Abraham’s question of how these miraculous promises could be fulfilled, represents God’s commitment to His part of the covenant. Genesis 17, on the other hand, represents Abraham’s part of the covenant (17:1; 18:19; note that it includes sanctions, Gen 17:14 cf. Ex 4:24-26). Gen 22:15-18, as we have seen, concludes the two by confirming that Abraham fulfilled his part, resulting in God swearing that His part will therefore be fulfilled, as 26:5 summarizes.

It is worth noting that in his early work By Oath Consigned, Kline did give Genesis 17 proper weight.

It is important to recall Kline’s earlier rule of thumb that you know a covenant is a law covenant whenever the vassal takes the oath, binding himself to obedience to the suzerain under threat of a curse. Since the Kline of BOC views circumcision as the vassal’s ratification oath, by this rule of thumb (as applied to Gen 17), the Abrahamic Covenant seems to be a law covenant.

Since in this covenant [Gen 17] the Suzerain is also the divine Witness, the promissory obligations which Yahweh undertakes as Suzerain are also a blessing sanction which he will honor as the divine Witness when he beholds faithfulness in the covenant servant. Another element of the treaty pattern, viz., the sanctions, is thus included here among the stipulations. Curse sanction appears too, appended to the stipulation regarding circumcision (v. 14) … In short, the transaction recorded in Genesis 17 may be identified as a covenant of the vassal type, an administration of the lordship of the covenant Giver, binding his servant to himself in consecrated service under dual sanctions, blessing and curse. Of special importance in the establishment of vassal covenants was the function of the oath. It was by an oath that the vassal expressed his incorporation within the sphere of the lord’s jurisdiction. This oath invoked the covenant sanctions, more precisely, the curse, so that curse became a synonym for oath…

This means that circumcision was the rite by which the covenant of Genesis 17 was “cut”. It means further that circumcision symbolized the oath-curse by which the Abrahamic community confessed themselves under the judicial authority and more precisely under the sword of God Almighty.

What is suggested by the broad structure of Genesis 17 is confirmed by the particulars about circumcision given in verses 9–14. Circumcision is called God’s covenant, his covenant in the flesh of his people (vv. 9 , 10 , 13). This identification of covenant with circumcision reminds us at once of the coalescence of the covenant with its oath-curse in the extra-biblical treaties. Moreover, the meaning of circumcision as symbol of the oath-curse is actually expressed in so many words in verse 14 . There the threat of the curse sanction sounds against the one who breaks the covenant by not obeying the command of circumcision: “(he) shall be cut off”. The use of the verb kārat in this specific description of the curse clearly echoes the idiom of cutting a covenant (kārat bÿrît) and it is an unmistakable allusion to the nature of the rite of circumcision. So in this, the primary passage for the interpretation of circumcision, the general and specific considerations unitedly point to the conclusion that circumcision was the sign of the oath-curse of the covenant ratification. In the cutting off of the foreskin the judgment of excision from the covenant relationship was symbolized.

The oath whose curse sanction circumcision symbolized was an oath of allegiance. It was an avowal of Yahweh as covenant Lord, a commitment in loyalty to him. As the symbolized curse which sealed this pledge of allegiance, circumcision partook of the import of the oath. It was, therefore, a sign of consecration. Hence Israel is commanded: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord” (Jer. 4:4). (BOC 40-41)

The broader import of circumcision is determined by the specific nature of that covenant of which it is declared to be a sign, and especially, since circumcision is a sanction sign, by the peculiar nature of the judgment in which that covenant issues. As for the covenant, it was a law covenant, not a simple guarantee of blessing but an administration of the lordship of God, a covenant therefore which confronted the servant with dual sanctions, curse and blessing (BOC 48).

Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned Compared with Kingdom Prologue, Lee Irons