2 Tim 3.16-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

A Biblical Rebuttal of "The Fulfillment of the Promises of God"

Chapter 1: Introduction to Covenant Theology

A Biblical Rebuttal of:

The Fulfillment of the Promises of God,
An Explanation of Covenant Theology

by Dr. Richard Belcher, 2020.

As mentioned in the Introduction, chapters 1 through 8 in this article match the chapter titles and ordering of their respective chapters in Dr. Belcher's book. This chapter overlays chapter 1, pages 15 through 22 in the book.

 

Format Key:

  • Simple body text looks like this, this and this, and like this, this and this.
  • A quote from Scripture looks like this.
  • A quote from Dr. Belcher’s book “looks like this” [ch X, pg Y[, emphasis mine]]
  • An inline comment [looks like this.]

 

The Difficult Nature of Covenant Theology [page 15]

If anyone doubts that Covenant Theology is man-designed, Dr. Belcher makes a stunning admission beginning with the very first page of chapter 1 to confirm its human origins:

… but there is a need for a book that explains covenant theology according to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). This confession is the standard for several denominations and so it makes sense to begin with what the WCF has to say about covenant theology. The goal of this book is to explain covenant theology as it is presented in the WCF. … Covenant theology, as presented in the Westminster standards, is the starting point for understanding reformed covenant theology. This confession is the culmination of Reform thinking going back to the Reformation.” [ch 1, pg 15-16, emphasis mine]

[See Appendix: The Problems in the WCF. for details.]

The WCF is the starting point?! Since when did the Bible get replaced by a confession?! No wonder modern expressions of CT are so fraught with error and problems (as we will see)!

[I have a question for the CT who accepts/believes the statement above: What did the myriad generations of Bible-believers do until CT was codified in the 1600s? They, apparently, were doomed to theological darkness until the glory of CT broke through the darkness. Poor souls…]

To continue the demonstration with what can only be referred to as the “near-worship” of the WCF within Presbyterian denominations (for example), Dr. Belcher states:

“In addition, this confessional standard is the creed used by conservative Presbyterian denominations all over the world. Many who read this book will have taken vows to uphold the Westminster standards.” [ch 1, pg 16, emphasis mine]

[I view this as somewhat different than the typical process in a church that requires those who wish to join to agree to the contents of a given confession (usually to a greater or lesser degree). There is, however, biblical significance to the verb "vow" which renders the matter very serious. I am especially critical of this, having reviewed thoroughly the cited texts of the WCF and the WC and found them biblically defective. I wouldn’t dare "vow" to uphold the WCF!]

What?! Some Presbyterians take a sacred vow to uphold a document written by men? Talk about misplaced loyalties: no wonder the defense of CT is so infused with silliness and confusion.

I could not help but think of this text:

2 Cor 10.12
For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.

It would be no exaggeration to illustrate what I’m maintaining here by creating a hellish paraphrase of the text with this:

2 Cor 10.12 (modified!)
For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by the WCF and compare themselves with the WCF, they are without understanding.

I’m not seeking to be sarcastic here: if this is the real position of many CTs, then you may be sure that the LORD is very displeased with those who profess godliness but deny its power. (2 Tim 3.5)

The Importance of Covenant Theology [page 17]

By page 17, Dr. Belcher begins the work of defining "covenant" and defending CT. He makes the following foundational assertions:

“The central place of covenant theology in the Bible is expressed well by Packer when he calls covenant theology a hermeneutic, 'a way of reading the whole Bible that is itself part of the overall interpretation of the Bible that it undergirds.'“

“There are many concepts in Scripture that cannot be understood properly without understanding the covenant.” [ch 1, pg 17]

What Dr. Belcher did not explicitly say, but must mean nonetheless, would be the following paraphrase:

“There are many concepts in Scripture that cannot be understood properly without understanding the covenant. But, since one cannot understand the 'covenant' (whatever that is…) without the 'undergirding' of CT, the aforementioned concepts in Scripture cannot be understood.

There is simply no escaping it: CT is the lens through which the Scripture must be viewed if you are to have any hope of ever understanding the Bible. (#SARC) As he just affirmed, CT 'undergirds' the Scripture.

Stated another way: CT is man-made. Dr. Belcher continues with his praise of the necessity of CT:

Covenant is so central to the outworking of God's plan of salvation that the gospel needs the framework of covenant theology.” [ch 1, pg 18, emphasis mine]

It is significant to note that there is no hint of CT being presented or defended by the Apostle Paul in his epistles.

[Yes, I know Galatians chapter 3 where the Apostle presents the truths surrounding the Mosaic Covenant; he is, however, not defending CT!]

The point here is that since CT wouldn’t be codified/formalized until the 1600s, how was it that the Apostle Paul was so successful in the preaching of the gospel? According to Dr. Belcher, of necessity Paul's gospel would have a huge theological hole in it that wouldn’t be fixed for many centuries!

[Let’s indulge in a bit of historical speculation here. If Dr. Belcher’s assertions are correct, then we must, for example, change the narrative of Act 17, the account of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica, to accommodate the necessity of the pre-knowledge of CT by the Thessalonians before they can understand the gospel and the Apostle Paul is able to preach the gospel to them. The account would be amended to say:

Acts 1.2
And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them
, beginning with the sacred texts of CT – and only then from the Scriptures because CT ‘undergirds’ the Scripture – [was he able to explain and give them evidence] that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.

After all, Dr. Belcher maintains that ‘the gospel needs the framework of covenant theology’. Praise God that it actually doesn’t!]

 

The Definition of Covenant [page 18]

It is at this point that Dr. Belcher begins his formal definition of "covenant", at least from the perspective of CT.

“The word 'covenant' refers to a legal agreement between two parties that is ratified by certain rituals that emphasize the binding nature of the agreement. The phrase in the Old Testament that is used to establish a covenant is 'to cut a covenant'. This phrase highlights the rituals of sacrifice and oaths that are at the heart of establishing a covenant (Gen 15:7-18).” [ch 1, pg 18, emphasis mine]

For the inexperienced with Scripture, the above sounds reasonable. However, it is the beginning of overgeneralizations common to Dr. Belcher’s definition. (We'll find many!) The details of these problems are presented in Appendix: The Real Covenants in the Old Testament. Here are a few quick facts before proceeding to the next section:

 

The Covenant of Redemption [page 19]

Dr. Belcher now begins to teach CT directly, beginning with the Covenant of Redemption. (He does not attempt to prove the existence of this covenant from Scripture until page 20.)

“The Covenant of Redemption, also called the pactum salutis (a council of peace), is a pre-temporal agreement between the members of the Trinity regarding the different roles each member would perform to bring about the salvation of God's people. The Father promises to redeem an elect people. The Son promises to earn the salvation of his people by becoming a human being in order to be a mediator for them. …

The Holy Spirit applies the work of the Son to God's people through the means of grace. This covenant is foundational for the outworking of the historical covenants. …

This covenant was also the basis upon which the Covenant of Grace rested because salvation is applied to the elect based on the work of Christ.” [ch 1, pg 19, emphasis mine]

Dr. Belcher confidently presents these "truths" without a shred of Scripture proof (not here, and also not anywhere else in his book).

[The functions and relationships within the Godhead Dr. Belcher describes are real and found throughout Scripture – there is no need of a "covenant" to establish those functions and relationships. Now, concerning the so-called Covenant of Redemption’s nature:

If the Covenant of Redemption is not eternal, it implies that it had a beginning (because the members of the Trinity must have bound themselves by the covenant process at some point in eternity past). So, if it had a beginning, then there was a time when it didn’t exist. And if there was a time that it didn’t exist, how did the members of the Trinity relate to each other?

Conversely, if the Covenant of Redemption is eternal, why is there need for a covenant at all? The relationships are eternal: what could possibly be established by a covenant that didn’t already exist and for which there was no need? The LORD does not engage in frivolous and unnecessary behavior.

Is there an end to the Covenant of Redemption? When the age of eternity arrives, for example, will the covenant continue or be terminated because it is no longer needed? (After all, where is the "need" for the covenant when the goals of redemption have been accomplished?

Last of all, there is no Scripture which clearly shows that such a covenant exists. (This is admitted by the CT.) What, then, is the theological justification for teaching that it exists when it can’t be found in the pages of the Scripture? Is the Covenant Theologian so dissatisfied with the LORD’s design of the Scripture that he says, in effect,

“LORD, we believe that there is a covenant between the members of the Trinity, but your Book does not explain it very well (or, really, at all). We’ll fix that oversight by codifying Covenant Theology. Then, to make the job complete, we’ll add the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Finally, we’ll have a complete theology to teach our minions – uh, pastors and seminary students.”

Truly, CT is fraught with serious, irresolvable problems, as the remainder of this article will show.]

At the top of page 20, Dr. Belcher begins, ostensibly, the "Scripture" defense of the Covenant of Redemption he introduced on the previous page.

“The biblical basis for the Covenant of Redemption is found in passages that describe the relationship between the Father and the Son as conditioned on the obedience of the Son with the promise of reward (Joh 10.18; 12.49; 14.31; 15.10; 17.4; Phi 2.8; Heb 5.8; 10.5-10).” [ch 1, pg 20, emphasis mine]

As I mentioned above, be wary when a "theologian" drops a string of Bible references into his text; you cannot and must not assume that they are legitimate "proof texts".

[Regarding the verses referenced above, I found that a troubling 100% of them did not apply, as I now prove.]

Let’s examine each of these to determine whether they prove the Covenant of Redemption as asserted by Dr. Belcher relative to the key phrase of "promise of reward" (his assertion, not mine!):

Joh 10.18
No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.

[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text; the Lord Christ was doing what He was told to do.]

Joh 12.49
For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.

[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text; the Lord Christ was doing what He was told to do.]

Joh 14.31
but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.
[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text; the Lord Christ was doing what He was told to do.]

Joh 15.10
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text; the Lord Christ was doing what He was told to do.]

Joh 17.4
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text; the Lord Christ was doing what He was told to do.]

Phi 2.8
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text; the Lord Christ was doing what He was told to do.]

Heb 5.8
Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.

[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. The author's statement of "learned" does not imply that the Lord Christ was at any time disobedient. The Lord Christ was also fully man and so learned as any other man. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text.]

Heb 10.5-10
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;
In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.
“Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.’”
After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

[The Lord Christ keeps the Father's command. There is no hint of "reward" mentioned in the text; the Lord Christ was doing what He was told to do.]

Dr. Belcher, through these citations, proves that he is more interested in maintaining the CT narrative than in presenting solid, irrefutable Bible exposition. It is inexcusable that he cites 8 Bible texts and that none of them supports his point! This is not Bible exposition nor the legitimate use of Scripture!

[Thinking of the seminary environment, which is where Dr. Belcher is employed (AFAIK), if this was a paper being turned in for a grade, I’d have to give it an ‘F’ What is the old scholastic maxim: ‘Always check your references!’.]

There are yet more examples of his astonishing carelessness with the Scripture:

“Covenantal language of being bound by oath is used to describe this relationship (Isa 45.23 used in Phi 2.10-11; Psa 110.1,4).” [ch 1, pg 20]

Let’s examine these references now to determine whether they are legitimate proof texts for his argument:

Isa 45.23
I have sworn by Myself,
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness
And will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Phi 2.10-11
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Where is the proof that these verses describe the "relationship" of the Lord Christ to the Father, specifically, being "bound by an oath"? Nowhere! The reference in Isaiah is a solemn declaration of the LORD to Himself.

The use of the text in Philippians is applied to the Lord Christ Himself. In no way was the Lord Christ being "bound by an oath" to do something.

Rather, the oath in Isaiah is reflected in the declaration of Revelation chapter 5. A time is coming when the entire creation will declare the Lord Christ as the sovereign LORD, a truth reflected in part in Psa 110!

Rev 5.11-14
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,

“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Psa 110.1-4
The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

[Regarding the exceptionally careless eschatological interpretation of the future à la CT, how is it that a cosmos-wide declaration of Christ as LORD has not yet taken place if the Millennium began essentially 2000 years ago? The CT claims that the Lord Christ is "on the throne". But if that is true, the event detailed in Rev 5.11-14 would be impossible to miss. It must take place before the return of the Lord Christ!

Oh, right, the return of the Lord Christ is spiritual, not physical… But wait – Rev 5 does not look "spiritual", it looks very physical, an event to be seen by every created being in the cosmos (which included the earth and its people).]

Also please note that the oath of Psa 110 is that the Lord Christ has been assigned to be "a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek". This verse speaks more about function than relationship (though the latter is still true). This is not a strong text to use to prove the value of the "covenant" in CT. (#SARC)

Dr. Belcher reveals some early cracks in the foundation of the Covenant of Redemption:

“Many early reformed confessions did not explicitly refer to the Covenant of Redemption, but they contained ideas that were foundational for understanding it. This Covenant is not explicitly referred to in the WCF but many who attended the Westminster assembly affirmed it.” [ch 1, pg 20, emphasis mine]

[See Appendix: The Problems in the WCF. for details.]

Above, Dr. Belcher affirmed:

“Covenant theology, as presented in the Westminster standards, is the starting point for understanding reformed covenant theology.” [ch 1, pg 15-16]

Let’s consider this carefully. Here is a clip from a Wikipedia article:

In 1643, the English Parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines” to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the confession of faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. [emphasis mine]

So, after five years of “learned, godly and judicious Divines” meeting together, they did not explicitly assert the Covenant of Redemption! Then, Dr. Belcher tells us that nonetheless “many who attended the Westminster assembly affirmed it”. Apparently, though, it must have been the majority who had the same trouble that many have today: they couldn’t confidently assert the Covenant of Redemption in the Scriptures and therefore did not add it to their confession!

[They were wrong on CT generally, but at least they got that right!]

So, we learn that some parts of CT are not "strongly rooted in the WCF" after all. Dr. Belcher continues in his speculation by mentioning the speculation of others:

“The trinitarian Covenant of Redemption facilitated the distinction that the Covenant of Grace was made with Christ and with his elect in Him. The ideas behind it are expressed in comments concerning Christ fulfilling the stipulation of the covenant as mediator of his people (WCF 8).” [ch 1, pg 20, emphasis mine]

[See Appendix: The Problems in the WCF. for details.]

This sounds a great deal like the OT Jews and their use of the Talmud, specifically, that something beyond the Torah, Psalms and Prophets was 'needed' to understand the LORD's Word. The LORD and the Lord Christ denounced such tradition:

Isa 29.13
Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, …

Mat 15.1-3
Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Let’s spend a little time with the reference to WCF 8 Dr. Belcher mentions. The topic of WCF 8 is "Of Christ the Mediator", which contains eight assertions. For each of the assertions found in WCF 8 there is at least one legitimate, in-context Bible citation. However, Dr. Belcher's point of “Christ fulfilling the stipulation of the covenant as mediator” is not proved by the assertions of WCF 8. None of them talk about the “stipulation of the covenant”. Moreover, Dr. Belcher does not mention what those stipulations were.

[If I had to make a preliminary judgment of CT at this point in Dr. Belcher’s book, CT theologians appear to be far more concerned with the tradition of CT than they do with concern for the purity of exposition of the Scripture and the biblical accuracy of the WCF assertions.]

 

Covenant in Historical Perspective [page 20]

 Let’s review Dr. Belcher’s summary comments.

 

“The aim of this book will be to set forth standard reformed covenant theology as exemplified in the Scriptures and explained in the WCF. The first eight chapters discuss the major covenants in Scripture.” [ch 1, pg 21, emphasis mine]

Since Dr. Belcher makes the point of his use of the WCF and WC as a "necessary" companion to Scripture (remember, CT "undergirds" Scripture!), it is appropriate to evaluate this frame of reference. Approximately the first four chapters of his book rely on the WCF frequently, but present little direct use of the Bible.

There are four possible combinations of the issues introduced by Dr. Belcher’s use of the WCF, only one of which (case #1 below) is valid as a method for Bible teaching.

  1. The verses cited by the WCF statement are valid and in context;
    Dr. Belcher’s use of the WCF statement is valid and in context.

  2. The verses cited by the WCF statement are not valid.
    Dr. Belcher’s use of the WCF statement is valid and in context.

  3. The verses cited by the WCF statement are valid and in context.
    Dr. Belcher’s use of the WCF statement is not valid.

  4. The verses cited by the WCF statement are not valid.
    Dr. Belcher’s use of the WCF statement is not valid.

Only when the statement asserted by the WCF is biblical and supports the point Dr. Belcher is attempting to make will the point be biblically true. Unfortunately, this is the minority case as we will see.

[See Appendix: The Problems in the WCF. for details.]

Ostensibly, chapter 1 was supposed to be an introduction to CT; and that it was. What it wasn’t was a proper, biblical defense for the framework in the first place. Based on chapter 1, you’d have to conclude that CT is a hapless, defenseless, tradition-bound system – not anything approaching a respectable theology. 

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