Q&A: The Covenant of Works

The Covenant of Works

What is the covenant of works?

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Answer

The covenant of works, or what I sometimes refer to as the "Edenic covenant," is one of these debatable areas in the realm of biblical and systematic theology. I know a theologian whom I hold in high regard, Anthony Hoekema, though a Reformed theologian, would speak against the existence of the covenant of works. More recently, Michael Bird in his Evangelical Theology would also challenge the concept. Let's just say, with all due respect, I do return to the particular section of Genesis verses 15 to 17 where the Lord is, kind of, giving a word to Adam to not eat of the Tree of Life, and there I think that still we have some basic covenantal framework. For example, I do think that you have essentially two parties there, God and Adam, which a fundamental element of covenant. You do have a stipulation — now mind you, it's very simple in form, but we would expect that, I think, in Genesis, you see. But the basic stipulation is don't eat of the fruit, that there is also in the framework here a kind of promise of reward, though it's stated in an opposite direction: "God says in the day that you eat of the fruit you shall die." By implication, what is in play is that if you obey you will live. And I can't help but believe that in the particular framework of this encounter that we can also understand life to be right relation with God, and death, at least initially, to be a broken relationship with God. So, I think you have, at least in a very, very fundamental way, certain characteristics of a covenant: parties, stipulation and the involvement of consequences or rewards if indeed obedience is followed through.