Q&A: Universal Covenants of Adam and Noah

Universal Covenants of Adam and Noah

In what ways were God’s covenants with Adam and Noah more universal than later covenants?

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Answer

As you look at the Old Testament it's important to understand some of the covenants that are at work… So, you have Adam, you have Noah, then Abraham, Mosaic, and Davidic, new covenant. Okay, so that's the big sweep of them. Then some covenants are broader in scope. For example, the Davidic covenant is quite narrow because it's making a promise for a Davidic king. But if you think about what goes on with Adam in the garden — now there's a debate about whether this is actually a covenant or not, but what you clearly have is a command being given to Adam, and there are implications, consequences for him. "If you obey my commandment," he's going to be able to stay there, but if he disobeys, and he eats from the fruit, then there's going to be judgment, and the judgment is death that's going to come, and it will be exile. So, that particular command being given to Adam has widespread significance for the whole Old Testament narrative, because not only is it given to an individual Adam, but the term for Adam is also a corporate identity, because the word for humanity is also "adam." So, therefore, there is the sense of a corporate identity in individual Adam, which Genesis picks up in a number of ways. One of the ways it does is that it has the pronouns that are used with Adam move between singular and plural in Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 5:1-3. So, there's that sense of somehow individual Adam represents humanity. You also have the fact that when God says to Adam that "on the day you eat of it you will surely die," that's singular. So, it's referring to a singular Adam, yet the genealogy shows that his descendants die — "and he died… and he died… and he died…" So, that's underscoring the corporate identity of Adam and its implications for humanity. So, it impacts their story. And, of course, we also know from Adam that that narrative not only anticipates Israel's story, but it's also a type of him who was to come. Romans 5 puts it even bigger scale and says not only does it represent humanity, but he is also representing, anticipating, the work of Christ in his obedience, because he's a type of him who was to come. So, it's got enormous significance.

Answer by Dr. Carol Kaminski

Dr. Kaminski teaches Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston MA.