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 2: The Covenant of Works 

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 2, pages 23 through 36 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.]

 

I quoted the following in my introduction:

“One of the perceived weak links of covenant theology is the Covenant of Works. Many argue that there is no evidence of a covenant between God and Adam in Genesis 1-3. Without the Covenant of Works the bi-covenantal nature of covenant theology crashes to the ground. [ch 2, pg 23, emphasis mine]

With this beginning of chapter 2, Dr. Belcher begins his formal defense of the Covenant of Works, the first half of the "bi-covenantal" system of CT.

He begins with a major, flawed assumption:

“A 'mono-covenantal' approach does not see a difference between the way God dealt with Adam before the Fall and the way God deals with human beings after the Fall.” [ch 2, pg 23]

[My interpretation of this statement is that the potential scenario which Dr. Belcher infers here is that his reader rejects the notion of the Covenant of Works but accepts the Covenant of Grace. Further, in CT’s interpretation, the LORD’s treatment of mankind pre- and post-fall can be explained only by the presence of the Covenant of Works. This assertion, of course, I strongly reject. His arguments will be handled as they occur, along with my rebuttals.]

Is there a difference between the way the LORD treated Adam and Adam's posterity before the Fall and the way He treats them after the Fall? Of course! Sin mars the relationship. Where is the need for the Covenant of Works? We’ll see how Dr. Belcher proceeds.

There are at least a pair of early problems with Dr. Belcher’s logic.

First, Dr. Belcher appears to have a real problem with Adam’s true nature/state: he misunderstands Adam’s state of innocence. (We’ll see more of this in later citations.) But in the context of the citation above, it is vital to recognize that before the Fall Adam was innocent – he had not yet sinned. Because of this innocent state Adam enjoyed complete fellowship with his Creator. After the fall, sin created a humanly impassable barrier between the LORD and Adam, Eve and Adam’s posterity.

In the second place, when Dr. Belcher refers to a "mono-covenantal’ approach as not ‘[seeing] a difference …", he references the hypothetical absence of a Covenant of Works. As I interpret his statement, if the Covenant of Works does not exist and the Covenant of Grace does, somehow the LORD can’t deal with mankind differently pre- and post-Fall? How could this possibly be true? In my view, this makes no sense; it seems like a "solution in search of a problem".

“The implications of denying the Covenant of Works can be monumental for theology because the Covenant of Works lays a foundation for other key doctrines of Scripture, including the obedience of Christ, the relationship between Adam and Christ, and the concept of Christ as a mediator. … This chapter seeks to set forth the basic teachings of Scripture and the WCF on the Covenant of Works and to show the importance of this covenant to the work of Christ and the nature of salvation.[ch 2, pg 23-24, emphasis mine]

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

So far, Dr. Belcher does not yet provide any hint of the Scriptures to prove his assertion.

 

The Evidence for the Covenant of Works [page 24]

"The word 'covenant' does not occur in Scripture until the Flood account in Genesis 6:18. If the word 'covenant' does not occur in Genesis 1-3, what is the evidence that the relationship between God and Adam is a covenant relationship? The absence of the word 'covenant' does not necessarily mean that there is no covenant in Genesis 1-3. … The key is not whether the word 'covenant' occurs in Genesis 1-3 but whether the elements of a covenant are present.[ch 2, pg 24, emphasis mine]

[It is convenient, is it not, that when clear Scripture exposition is not possible — because there is no Scripture to expound — that one may merely define the problem away with a cheap, semantic trick.]

Dr. Belcher is correct when he maintains that the word "covenant" is not present in Gen 1-3; however, he is on very shaky ground when he maintains there could be a covenant nonetheless.

[The precedent for this is the Davidic Covenant in 2 Sam 7. The LORD clearly makes a covenant with David, but it is not called a "covenant" until Psa 89.]

Is Dr. Belcher justified when asserting that Gen 1-3 is one of those places in the Scripture when the LORD makes a covenant but, for reasons not evident, He doesn’t refer to it as a covenant?

No!

A simple reading of Gen 1-3 and 2 Sam 7 more than demonstrates the difference: the former is an historical account while the latter is the making of a covenant. There simply is no meaningful overlap between the two accounts.

[As we’ll see in later sections, the CT relies on the WCF for his "doctrine" concerning the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. The WCF, in turn, relies on many Scripture texts taken out of context, primarily from copious references (and inferences) to the Law. This is a serious problem because the Law wouldn’t exist for many centuries, yet the CT and Dr. Belcher reason as if the Law was in place in Eden. It was not!]

The remainder of the reasons for this position will be presented below in the next section.

In pages 24 – 27, Dr. Belcher asserts 5 properties of biblical covenants; these are separate from one property asserted in chapter 1. This brings the total to 6.
A summary of them is:

  1. “legal agreement between two parties … ratified by … rituals”, [ch 1, pg 18]
  2. “the parties to the covenant are clearly identified”, [ch 2, pg 243]
  3. “conditions” [ch 2, pg 25]
  4. “signs”, [ch 2, pg 26]
  5. “blessings and curses” [ch 2, pg 25]
  6. “operate on the basis of a representative principle” [ch 1, pg 18]

[See Appendix: The Real Covenants of the Old Testament for a thorough rebuttal of Dr. Belcher’s use of these so-called properties when compared to the real covenants in OT Scripture, especially for the fictitious Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace.

Note, for reasons that are not important here, I renumbered the properties in the Appendix above differently than Dr. Belcher.]

The Elements of a Covenant in Genesis 1 – 3 [page 24]

“Several elements commonly associated with covenants are present in Gen 1-3.” [ch 2, pg 24]

These were summarized above (out of order from Dr. Belcher’s presentation, for the sake of the flow of the argument).

Let’s handle the most obvious item first: the title used for this section: “The Elements of the Covenant of Grace.” It is an exceptionally weak argument when the CT can’t point to some specific text in Gen 1-3 and say, "See, here it is!" It is obvious that the foundational Covenant of Works has no pedigree.

The Covenant of Works can only be inferred; it is found only in innuendo and speculation. It can be introduced only by the speculative assertion, “The Elements of the Covenant of Grace”Is this the best that Dr. Belcher and the CT can do?

Below, in the Appendix: The Real Covenants in the Old Testament, I handle each of the six properties above and show that there is only a very weak attachment between them to the fictitious Covenant of Works. In fact, there is only a very weak correlation between them and the real covenants in the OT.

“First, the parties to the covenant are clearly identified.”, [ch 2, pg 24]

There are two ways to assess the validity of this statement:

  1. are we to consider only real OT covenants, or
  2. are we to consider the real OT covenants along with the fictitious Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace?

In the first case, Dr. Belcher’s assertion is really a non-issue: of course, the parties of the covenant are clearly identified! How could it be otherwise? The LORD makes covenants with 'thin air"? The assertion is nonsense.

In the second case, we run into a large problem: the Covenant Theologian has real trouble proving either the Covenant of Works or the Covenant of Grace from Scripture. In the former case, the CT asserts that the Covenant of Works was made with Adam, but since there is no direct Scripture to prove that point, then no, the parties to the covenant are not clearly identified. The same can be said of the Covenant of Grace. So, by the CT’s own admissions, they fail the point of this property.

“Second, covenants have conditions.”
“The condition to this covenant relationship is set forth in the commandment that God gave to Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2.16-17) … This commandment with a penalty attached to it focuses on the importance of the requirement of Adam obeying God in everything. It presents Adam with a clear choice of obedience or disobedience to God, and Adam could keep this divine commandment.” [ch 2, pg 25]

Gen 2.16-17
The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Dr. Belcher is correct when he asserts that the commandment was attended with a penalty for disobedience. However, where is the proof of the Covenant of Works in the first place?

What, and where, is the covenant promise associated with Gen 2.16-17? Where is the need for these verses to be viewed as anything more than a simple command and the entire account to be regarded as anything more than history?

The CT wants to create a covenant from a command but appears to have "no comment" on the other commands of the LORD to people, that they are not "covenants".

Does this mean that we are to treat the myriad of divine commands in Exodus, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah as those commands to be regarded as "covenants"? In my view, the CT would have a difficult time rebutting this argument in any way that would not seem arbitrary. 

“Fifth, covenants have signs that point to the blessings of the covenant relationship.”
“Scholars have debated how many signs there are in Genesis 1-3, but most agree that the tree of life is a sign of the covenant. The tree of life was a pledge of the covenant of life (WCF 20), the promised reward for obedience. The fruit of this tree should not be regarded as having an innate power to prolong life. Rather, the tree symbolized life so that when Adam forfeited the promise he was kept from the sign. (Gen 3.22)” [ch 2, pg 26-27, emphasis mine]

There is so much 'in your face' error in this clip that it is difficult to know where to start. Regardless, we’ll start with Dr. Belcher’s first assertion regarding blessings, the tree of life and the WCF 20.

It is extraordinary that the CT must find it necessary to create a fictitious covenant to support the notion of blessing when Adam and Eve already had the greatest blessing possible! They lived in Eden, they were yet innocent (without sin!), and unlimited fellowship with the Almighty! How could there be any blessing greater than these?

But apparently, the CT can’t find blessings unless there is a covenant to specify those blessings, with the attendant sign that points to the blessing! (This is really getting convolved!) Dr. Belcher is so desperate to find that covenant in Gen 2.16-17 that he conflates the Tree of Life as a covenant sign to bolster this doomed theory. The text of Gen 2 does not refer to a sign of any kind, much less one that identifies the Tree of Life as a sign. This, apparently, does not even rise to the level of concern with the CT.

But, not to worry: his comment about “most agree” is footnoted. The footnote references quotes from Berkhof and Kline. (That is a pretty small "most"…)

Where does the text of Gen 2 state that the “tree of life was a pledge of the covenant of life”? The LORD granted to Adam and Eve unrestricted access to the Tree of Life from the very beginning — as the text of Gen 2 states, it was never a "pledge" of anything. It was one of innumerable gifts the LORD provided to Adam and Eve.

I found the citation of WCF 20 more interesting; the main article is entitled Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience. It has four assertions.

Dr. Belcher does not specify which of the four assertions he intended, so I took an exhaustive search approach to attempt to locate it/them. I opened a copy of the WCF PDF, then performed several word searches (below) for hits within article 20:

  • "tree of life": not found in WCF 20
  • "pledge": not found in WCF 20
  • "covenant of life": not found in the WCF at all
  • "promise": not found in WCF 20
  • "reward": not found in WCF 20
  • "obedience" is found twice, but with no connection to the Tree of Life in WCF 20

So, not only is Tree of Life not a sign of the covenant (as "proven" in WCF 20), but it is not even mentioned in the WCF 20! How is it even possible that I could view this as anything other than a deliberate lie or intentional deception for the sake of a doomed theological narrative? If not deception, then this is clear literary and theological incompetence. I find this disguising in the extreme!!

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

“Third, covenants have blessings and curses.”
“In Genesis 1:28 God blesses mankind and commands them to multiply and fill the earth, to subdue it, and to have dominion over every living thing that moves on it. God's blessings are experienced in the fulfillment of God's commands.” [ch 2, pg 25]

Remember, Dr. Belcher has not yet proven the existence of the Covenant of Works, but he attempts to argue as if he has. So, the evident and abundant blessings the LORD has granted to Adam and Eve must be the blessings (and curses) associated with a covenant, namely the Covenant of Works, and not something which the LORD provided out of His good pleasure.

[It took me a while to realize that the CT tends to argue that if a blessing is found, it is found only within the auspices of a covenant. In the case of the blessings bestowed on Adam and Eve, that covenant would be the so-called Covenant of Works.]

I’ve examined carefully the text of Gen 1.28 and I can’t find any mention of the Covenant of Works and the blessings it granted. I find only the blessing the LORD gave to Adam and Eve of His good pleasure.

Gen 1.28
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Yes, “God's blessings are experienced in the fulfillment of God's commands.”. But, as I mentioned above, the unreserved blessings enjoyed by Adam and Eve were the result of the LORD’s good pleasure as the Creator! Has Dr. Belcher never noticed the seven times repeated “God saw that it was good”? (Gen 1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31)

If Dr. Belcher wants to press the point, then since light is surely a blessing, why not find the Covenant of Works in Gen 1.1-4 instead to ensure that its blessing is covered by a covenant? (There are six more good blessings to find in Gen 1 if you can’t find it in the account of the first day!)

“Fourth, covenants operate on the basis of a representative principle so that the actions of the covenant representative impacts others who are part of the covenant relationship.”
“Adam was the covenant head of the human race and his sin negatively impacted all of his natural descendants.” [ch 1, pg 18]

In this section, Dr. Belcher appeals to Rom 5.12 (which is expected and valid), but Adam is nowhere in Rom 5 declared to be the "covenant head" of the human race any more than the Lord Christ is declared to be the "covenant head" of His people. That each is the representative of their respective peoples is beyond question. (This is standard Reformed Theology.) Moreover, this is easily proven by Paul's repeated use of the term 'one', (cf. Rom 5.12, 15 2x, 16 3x, 17 3x, 18 2x, 19 2x) referring individually both to Adam and to the Lord Christ as the representative – not covenant – heads.

[This is not merely a semantic difference. To conflate one with the other is irresponsible and theologically lazy.]

The real covenants in the OT are between the LORD and someone: between the LORD and Israel (in the case of the Mosaic Covenant), and the LORD and His elect (in the case of the New Covenant). Similarly, there are real persons/peoples specified in the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic and the New Covenant.

However, the fictitious Covenant of Works is between the LORD and Adam, and both I and Dr. Belcher agree that Adam is the representative head of the human race. So how is it, exactly, that the Lord Christ became the "proxy" covenant head of the Covenant of Works since He is not addressed in any way in Gen 2.16-17, the theoretical source of the Covenant of Works?

Let’s look at it another way: where does the Bible teach that Party 2 (the Lord Christ) can assume the covenant responsibilities of Party 1 (Adam) of a covenant (the Covenant of Works), to the extent that Party 1 is no longer a "real" part of the covenant in any way? This is never done in a real OT covenant: when the LORD made the covenant with Abram, it was made with Abram and could not be "transferred" to another! When the LORD made the covenant with David, it was with David and was not transferrable. When the LORD made the New Covenant with His elect, with His elect only. There is no magic or legal "transference" to another party.

I have yet to encounter an explanation and justification for this "party substitution" in all the study I’ve done in CT. Nor is there any hint of this fictitious process in Rom 5. In fact, I have yet to encounter even an acknowledgement of the issue by CT authors.

It is very true that there are several juxtapositions between Adam and the Lord Christ in Rom 5. But the Lord Christ is never seen as a substitute for Adam. Both stand in the comparison at the same time and in the same manner, not first Adam, then the Lord Christ!

[This supposed substitution is an example of the "literary handwaving" I refer to in Appendix: The Real Covenants in the Old Testament. The CT author merely asserts that the Lord Christ assumed the responsibilities of the Covenant of Works without a single shred of biblical proof. This is not Bible teaching; this is indoctrination of the worst sort with no regard to the holy truths of the Scripture.]

At the end of the paragraph where Dr. Belcher assumes the process of "covenant substitution" (my term) not found in the Bible, he makes another very revealing statement regarding Adam:

[I don’t know if it is endemic to CT or to Dr. Belcher specifically. He appears to have some fundamental misconception about Adam and his nature, as I deal with below.]

“If disobedience brings death, then it is reasonable to conclude that that obedience would mean life enjoyed with greater blessing. Adam was created in a state of positive holiness and was not subject to the law of death, but the possibility of sinning still existed. He did not yet enjoy life in its fullness to the highest degree possible.[ch 2, pg 26, emphasis mine]

There are at least two serious problems with Dr. Belcher’s assertion above.

1. Adam and the law of death.

Dr. Belcher states that “Adam was created in a state of positive holiness and was not subject to the law of death, but the possibility of sinning still existed.”

What, exactly, is “positive holiness”? Is there a "negative holiness" or "neutral holiness" or "active holiness" or "passive holiness"? What does the term “positive holiness” even mean?

[This is a major reason that I maintain that Adam and Eve were created innocent: they had not sinned, nor did they have a sinful nature (as we have after the fact of the fall). This is, perhaps, a subtlety, but it is an important one.]

In the beginning, at the creation of the angels – specifically Lucifer – the Bible teaches us this:

Eze 28:15
You were the anointed cherub who covers,
And I placed you there.
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked
in the midst of the stones of fire.
You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.

Lucifer was assigned an extraordinary position before the LORD; He was "the anointed cherub who covers"! Are we to believe that he was not "holy", yet had that unparalleled access to the LORD and His throne? Or, possibly, are we to believe that his holiness was some type of "second-class holiness" (my term) which the LORD overlooked? Yes, it is true that he sinned against the LORD, as did a multitude of angels. But an even larger group of angels of varying powers did not fall – but all the angelic beings must have had the same initial "holiness" imparted at their creation.

By whatever definition we may develop for Lucifer’s "holiness" it is accurate to hold that the same was imparted to Adam and Eve because the same potential of sin existed with Adam and Eve as among Lucifer and the angels. Remember also that the LORD had full fellowship with His creation: Lucifer, the angels, and Adam and Eve. There was no second-class standing (my term); all had the same access to the Creator.

Dr. Belcher correctly maintains that “the possibility of sinning still existed”; this obvious fact must be the case since the only cause of death in Gen 1-3 is sin! If Adam was to be punished by death, it could only be because of his sin against the Almighty.

[This phrase “the possibility of sinning still existed”, and the context surrounding it, appears to me to be Dr. Belcher backpedaling from an untenable position.]

Concerning Dr. Belcher’s assertion that Adam was not “subject to the laws of death”, then why did the LORD tell Adam that he was subject to death? Or was the LORD somehow mistaken when He declared the following to Adam:

Gen 2.17
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

In summary, the term “positive holiness” has no real meaning, and Dr. Belcher does not define it for us. The entire phrase and its context are a major fail for such a fundamental doctrine.

2. The nature of Adam’s ongoing life if he obeyed the LORD instead of sinning.

Dr. Belcher makes two related assertions:

  1. ” … it is reasonable to conclude that obedience would mean life enjoyed with greater blessing …”
  2. “[Adam] did not yet enjoy life in its fullness to the highest degree possible.”

This entire context is nothing but one, large speculation.

[Speculating on what the Bible does not say is always dangerous and completely indefensible – especially for one who is, presumably, many years in the faith. This section is simply another example in a long list of Dr. Belcher’s speculations in which he moves from teaching to indoctrination.]

In the first place the Bible tells us nothing of the "extended manner of life" for Adam and Eve if they had not sinned; it tells us only what did happen. (They sinned. That's all we know!)

Dr. Belcher (and Berkhof in the associated footnote 6 on page 26) assert that somehow Adam lived a life which missed something: “He did not yet enjoy life in its fullness to the highest degree possible.”

I found this assertion as irresponsible as it is unbiblical. Consider what the Bible – not CT! – says!

Gen 1.26-31
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

“… it was very good.”!! Period!!

So how does Dr. Belcher assert (along with Berkhof via the footnote) that “[Adam] did not yet enjoy life in its fullness to the highest degree possible.” Exactly what was Adam missing, Dr. Belcher!? You haven’t told us – and neither does the Scripture! What could/should the LORD have done to fill in the missing pieces of Adam’s "unfulfilled life"? Adam and Eve enjoyed living in world that we have never experienced. They had everything they needed and lacked for nothing. They had glorious, unlimited fellowship with the Almighty! And yet Dr. Belcher wants to irresponsibly assert that “[Adam] did not yet enjoy life in its fullness to the highest degree possible.”

We have now moved from indoctrination into serious error for the sake of the doomed narrative of CT!

Let’s look a little deeper into another footnote to this paragraph, footnote 5:

“5. Woolsey, … lays out the evidence from Genesis 1-3 that if Adam had been obedient, he would have experienced even greater blessings than he had before his sin. He argues on the basis of 1 Corinthians 15:45, where Paul appeals to Adam in his pre-fall and sinless condition, that even if Adam had never sinned, his pre-fall existence still needed to be transformed at some climactic point into an irreversible glorious existence. He concludes that ‘… Adam would have been rewarded with a transformed, incorruptible body if he had remained faithful” (p. 45).” [ch 2, pg 26, emphasis mine]

First of all, we note that Dr. Belcher got his "theology of Adam’s potential state of goodness" (my term) from someone named Woolsey, who cites 1 Cor 15.45 as his source. So, let’s look at 1 Cor 15.45:

1 Cor 15.45
So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

The obvious point of the Apostle’s assertion here is that Adam was made alive (passive), but it is the Lord Christ only who can impart life (active)! Isn’t that obvious? Adam could never be a “life-giving spirit.”

The text says absolutely nothing about some type of potential transformation for Adam, either before or after the fall!

[A side note: I hold to the position that Adam was not part of the elect (primarily because of the role he plays in the Apostle Paul’s exposition in Rom 5.12-21). He therefore can never be saved and will not experience the resurrection of life.

He is the antithesis of the Lord Christ!]

Will there be a climactic point in the future? Yes, it’s called the resurrection. To whom will the resurrection be applied? The LORD’s elect! However, that fact does not appear to be the nature of Dr. Belcher’s and Woolsey’s speculations.

I’m very troubled by the entire section, along with its inferences, from both Dr. Belcher and Woolsey: specifically, “but the possibility of sinning still existed”, and “Adam would have been rewarded with a transformed, incorruptible body if he had remained faithful”, respectively. Remember, both "theologians" have tacitly denigrated the state in which a pre-fall Adam lived (despite the wondrous truths of Gen 1.26-31). Was Adam capable of sinning? Of course! We know that because that’s what happened! CT is filled with speculation here: “What if”, they wonder, “Adam had remained obedient? Wouldn’t it have been necessary for Adam to undergo a transformation?”

Do you see the foolishness here, in the speculation in which Adam continues to obey the LORD? Despite Adam’s continued obedience, something needs to happen to ensure that he is/remains obedient (and therefore sinless).

Once again: the Bible does not tell us what would have happened if Adam had remained obedient! Moreover, no one has any business speculating about what might have happened, especially Woolsey with his out-of-context ramblings! I am weary of the continual "theological speculations" and "what if" games raging from the hallowed halls of CT.

This is a perfect example of allowing your theology "go to seed". Seminary student, young pastors and teachers: be taught from the Scriptures! Don’t waste time on a framework – especially CT! As I said above: it can only hurt you! Please read this entire article carefullyj for an antidote!

 

Hosea 6.7: A Reference to the Covenant of Works?

The next section in Dr. Belcher’s book is about the "controversy" over Hos 6.7:

Hos 6.7
But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;
There they have dealt treacherously against Me.

This is the only Bible text appealed to directly by the CT (as far as I've found) to support the notion of the Covenant of Works. I felt it best to devote this topic to its own Appendix, Appendix: Does Hos 6.7 Support the Covenant of Works?

 

Major Issues Related to the Covenant of Works [page 28]

The Name of the Covenant [page 28]

In one sense, it is refreshing that CT (or at least Dr. Belcher) appears to be honest about handling the controversy surrounding itself. But in another way, CT was supposedly codified in the 1600s in Westminster Abbey in the UK. I tend to think that ~400 years should be adequate to stabilize a theology – especially regarding something as simple as what its foundational components should be called!

“There are several questions that arise in discussing the Covenant of Works. The first question concerns the appropriate name for this covenant. …”, [ch 2, pg 28]

If the Covenant of Works could be found in the Scripture, then it should be relatively easy, and generally accepted, to develop a name for it; this is certainly true of the real OT covenants (Noahic, Mosaic, Davidic, Nex). In this section, Dr. Belcher tells us what Turretin says, then later what Vos says.

What I’d like to see, Dr. Belcher, is what the Scripture says. I don’t really care about Turretin or Vos.

“Some have trouble with the name Covenant of Works because of possible misunderstandings associated with the term. It gives the impression that the relationship was a commercial exchange, and that Adam was entirely left on his own.” [ch 2, pg 29-30]

I’m really not certain how the name Covenant of Works could “[give] the impression that the relationship was a commercial exchange”. This appears to be another example of a 'solution in search of a problem'.

[I’m not even sure, in this context, what “commercial exchange” even means! Does this terminology flow out of the "if Adam is obedient, he receives a blessing" type of commercial exchange? How is it that this covenant, which purports to be completely biblical, be regarded with such uncertainty and ambiguity, and employs the use of language that is far from clear?]

Dr. Belcher continues with names which have been proposed by others:

  • Edenic Covenant
  • Covenant of Creation

[I found it interesting that it is not called the Adamic Covenant, the Covenant of Adam, the Covenant with Adam or the Covenant with Adam's Posterity since the real OT covenants with people are easily named after the person/group (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic). This would have made more sense.]

These are followed by yet more speculation of how and when these terms might apply. Dr. Belcher then moves once again into the WCF 7.2, with additional comments from WLC 20 and the WSC 12 (Westminster Shorter Catechism).

First, let’s consider his assertions using the WCF 7.2.

“The Westminster standards affirm that the relationship between God and Adam is a covenant relationship. WCF 7.2 calls it a Covenant of Works with life offered upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” [ch 2, pg 30, emphasis mine]

Chapter 7 of the WCF is titled: Of God's Covenant with Man. Paragraph 2 is:

“The first covenant made with man was a Covenant of Works, 144 wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity,145 upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.146” 

Rather than expanding the numerous examples of theological carelessness in the WCF inline here, see Appendix: The Problems in the WCF.

Also, it's not important what the WCF calls it if it can't be found in Scripture!

The Role of Grace in the Covenant of Works [page 31]

“The question depends on the definition of grace and the understanding of merit. Some use the term 'grace' in a redemptive sense for the pre-fall situation, but grace, in its fullest redemptive sense of unmerited or demerited favor cannot exist before the entrance of sin into the world. … God could have required obedience without any promised reward, and the covenant relationship does not place God in mankind's debt.” [ch 2, pg 31, emphasis mine]

There are a pair of important points to unpack here. This is the first:

“… grace, in its fullest redemptive sense of unmerited or demerited favor cannot exist before the entrance of sin into the world …”

Dr. Belcher asserts that until the LORD bestowed grace Adam – after the fallthen it does not exist! Yes, I know that Dr. Belcher wants to emphasize the “redemptive sense”, that is, realized grace. But the fact of the matter is, his statement is illogical, silly, and a useless word game.

Moreover, to state that one of the immutable attributes of the Almighty "cannot exist" (!) before the sin of Adam is nothing short of heresy, in my estimation.

Dr. Belcher’s definition is man-centered: Divine grace does not exist until it interacts with man. What arrogance!

Grace is grace!! It’s not Grace 1.0 before the fall and Grace 2.0 after the fall.

Carefully consider the following text:

2 The 2.16-17
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

The context of 2 The 2 is the “man of lawlessness”. The closing statement of that chapter (vv. 16.17) is designed to grant encouragement and comfort to those saints that might have been “shaken” by events they have seen or are rumored to have occurred: “Be assured”, the Apostle says, “the Day of the Lord has not occurred, you were not abandoned.”

Where is the sin, necessary to the dispensing of the LORD’s grace, found in this text? Is the post-fall state really forefront in the Apostle’s mind? No! He is pronouncing a benediction, one that is based on grace and perfectly suited to their need as saints.

I find Dr. Belcher’s statement as ridiculous as it is offensive.

“God could have required obedience without any promised reward …”

[There should be an instant 1 day stay in Hades for any "theologian" who suggests that the LORD could have done something different from what He actually did. This is nothing short of arrogant, elitist blasphemy. The LORD does not second-guess Himself!

Dr. Belcher: you would be well advised to check Psa 115.3 and Psa 135.5-6!]

This second point is also troubling, specifically, the mention of “reward”. In fact, the LORD made no promise of any type of reward to Adam:

Gen 2.15-17
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

This is all the LORD said to Adam relative to his responsibilities in the Garden! There is no promise of reward for obedience. Remember, Adam is innocent and, so far, sinless. He is warned of the consequences of disobedience; there are no statements for what should happen for obedience. As simple as this fact is, the CT constantly misses it, seeing a reward where none exists! To put words into the LORD’s mouth is very dangerous.

If you want to point to the Tree of Life as the reward, be assured that the LORD nowhere says – or even implies – anything to that effect.

Dr. Belcher closes out this paragraph with what I consider an unexpected statement:

“God condescends to mankind and enters into a covenant relationship out of ‘grace’, defined as the favor of freely bestowing all kinds of gifts and favors, temporal and eternal, upon Adam in his condition before the Fall.[ch 2, pg 31-32, emphasis mine]

Here, the LORD "condescends to mankind and enters into a covenant relationship out of ‘grace’", whereas on the same page he just asserted that “… grace, in its fullest redemptive sense of unmerited or demerited favor cannot exist before the entrance of sin into the world …”. This certainly is a contradiction in Dr. Belcher's own assertions – and that within the space of a page!! In the venue of politics, we'd call this "gaslighting". I call it "theological gaslighting" — the most despicable kind.

This statement is footnoted (29) on page 32:

“29. See the summary of the views of Ball and Ussher in Woolsey, Covenantal Thought, pp.46,48. There can be confusion concerning the pre-fall relationship of God and Adam if the term grace is left undefined or if it is not defined properly.[ch 2, pg 32, emphasis mine]

It appears that Dr. Belcher gets his unusual ideas of grace from Woolsey. The troubling part of this admission is that the CT maintains that it becomes necessary to redefine "grace" so that it fits with the CT narrative – or at least the 'narrative of the moment'! I maintain that the LORD’s grace is immutable because He is immutable, that it remains the same before and after the fall, and that it can’t be otherwise! The CTs say (my paraphrase),

“No, that’s not correct. That definition of grace is “undefined” or “not defined properly”, and therefore does not fit with our foundational doctrine of the Covenant of Works. For our framework to be consistent, we have to change how the LORD Himself chooses to execute His grace upon Adam.”

If this isn’t an example of a warped theology, I don’t know what is. Moreover, I have not yet heard in Dr. Belcher’s chapter 2 any reason why the Covenant of Works needs to exist in the first place.

I noted an unusual statement here: how is grace “freely [bestowed] … [eternally] upon Adam before the fall"? The statement is nonsensical; how can grace be bestowed “eternally” when referencing a time, specifically, the life of Adam before the fall? Moreover, the entire statement seems like a backtrack from his earlier statement.

Since the LORD always keeps His end of any covenant He makes with man, in the mind of the CT, the supposed divine requirements in the Covenant of Works apply as well. In the following, Dr. Belcher presents a 'continuing refinement' to their definition of grace:

“Some also questioned if the concept of merit is appropriate to use in reference to Adam's obedience before the fall. … It is not possible for God to be a debtor to Adam because the intrinsic value of Adam's obedience is out of proportion to the infinite reward of life. God sovereignly bound himself to the arrangement that Adam's obedience would lead to greater life. Perfect and personal obedience is the condition required for perceiving the reward of eternal life in the Covenant of Works. If Adam would fulfill the condition of the covenant, he would merit the reward according to the terms of the Covenant. (called 'covenanted' merit). There is no problem with the concept of merit as defined in this way in the relationship to Adam's obedience.” [ch 2, pg 32, emphasis mine]

Let's first deal with the Dr. Belcher's assertion of the pre-fall Adam of "It is not possible for God to be a debtor to Adam because the intrinsic value of Adam's obedience is out of proportion to the infinite reward of life"  Dr. Belcher misses the "big picture" here. There is no Covenant of Works, but there is the LORD's clear command to Adam and Eve that they are not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moreover, there is no statement by the LORD regarding what will happen if they obey, only the consequences if they disobey. The fact is, the LORD expected obedience, and that without any promise or inference of any type of reward, including the "reward of life". There was therefore no "intrinsic value" to Adam's obedience, so there could be no inferences derived from that non-value:

Rom 4.4
Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.

If Dr. Belcher, or one of my readers, objects, please expound the verse above to show that pre-fall the principles of credit and favor would somehow be different. I'm convinced that they are not.

The clip is yet another example of the essentially unbounded ability by Dr. Belcher to speculation and "what if" games.

Again, Dr. Belcher has not proven from the Scripture even the existence of the Covenant of Works, much less its details. But let’s assume for the moment that the citation above stands on its own merit.

[One of the properties I’ve noted when reading some CT theology articles, books, etc., is the engagement of the erudite style (to implicitly indicate how well-read the author is?): “Some also questioned if the …”. Since when does that matter? Why bring up some humanistic contrary viewpoint at all? Just teach the Scripture!]

Did you notice the "greater life" note? We’re back to the fictitious "Adam had not yet received the LORD’s full blessing" rut.

Next, what does it mean to “[perceive] the reward of eternal life”?

Does this mean that Adam understood (somehow) that if he maintained his obedience that his "non-eternal" life would be transformed (somehow) into "eternal" life? There is nothing in the text that would even hint that Adam had such thoughts, much less an understanding of its details. Was Adam merely to assume that eternal life was what the LORD meant by the display of His kindness and grace? Dr. Belcher’s speculation here (again!) is unconstrained.

There are still a few questions:

  1. Where in the text of Genesis is this “arrangement” to which the LORD bound Himself?
  2. Where in the text of Genesis is the statement of the condition of “perfect and personal obedience”?

The CT has created an entire ecosystem around the Covenant of Works. Covenant Theology has worked out all/most of the details, going to great lengths to debate and justify every little detail, including redefining grace to ensure that it meets with their approval. The only detail they left out was the simple, direct, clear exposition of the text of Genesis detailing the Covenant of Works in the first place.

The Covenant of Works and the Gospel [page 33]

We now come to the last section of chapter 2. Remember, earlier Dr. Belcher maintained that:

“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]

He continues that narrative here:

“The elements of the Covenant of Works are important because they lay a foundation for the gospel. It was a probationary test for Adam to see if he would obey God and keep the terms of the covenant. When Adam broke the covenant, the probationary test came to an end, but the obligation to perfectly fulfill the terms of the covenant remained.[ch 2, pg 33, emphasis mine]

That the LORD planned the sacrifice of His Son because of the sin of Adam is a given; the gospel is the good news of that transaction. The Apostle Paul, through the inspiration of God’s Spirit, explains the representative positions of both Adam and the Lord Christ relative to the existence and scope of sin in the doctrinal dissertation of Rom 5.12-21. Note, moreover, that in Rom 5, there is no mention – and certainly no need – of a Covenant of Works. The doctrine that the Apostle expounds is beautiful and self-contained.

Was Adam under a probationary test? The Bible does not explicitly tell us that, either in Genesis or Romans. The LORD gave Adam a simple command in Gen 2.15-16; it is implicit that the LORD intended for Adam to keep His command by virtue of the simple fact that He is the One who gave it. Why does the CT seek to complicate it by adding the nonsense of Covenant of Works to it?

[I have come to understand that this is a characteristic of the CT: they think that they love and hold to the doctrines of Scripture, but in reality, all they do is to tinker with the truth. They are like engineers who always try to change an already perfect design simply because it they are not the ones who invented it.]

“If the punishment of the broken covenant is extended to all, the covenant and the law are also extended to all. The descendants of Adam are held accountable by God for what Adam did because of the special relationship that Adam had as a representative of his descendants in the Covenant of Works.[ch 2, pg 33, emphasis mine]

Dr. Belcher is correct when he maintains that Adam was the representative of mankind; this is exactly the teaching of Rom 5.12-21. But, like the OT Jews, he doesn’t leave it there: instead, he conflates Adam’s position with the party "named" in the fictitious Covenant of Works. And while doing that, they fail to recognize that actually they shamelessly hawk a religious tradition.

The Covenant of Works is simply not needed if one allows himself to be taught by the great truths in Rom 5. The Apostle’s teaching on the origin and nature of sin is perfect: the CT only fouls the waters.

I know that the context is entirely different here, but this text came to mind because it is so appropriate:

Eze 32.2
“Son of man, take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him,
‘You compared yourself to a young lion of the nations,
Yet you are like the monster in the seas;
And you burst forth in your rivers
And muddied the waters with your feet
And fouled their rivers.
’”

Dr. Belcher continues his theological charade:

“Although Adams’ obedience before the Fall would have been acceptable to God to earn life because of the Covenant of Works, Christ’s obedience is even greater because of His divine nature.” [ch 2, pg 33, emphasis mine]

Before the fall Adam stood in perfect relationship to the LORD! He did not have to earn life – he already had life. Why does the CT fail to see this simple and beautiful truth?

[My question is, of course, rhetorical. The CT needs to confound the truth because the simple direct truth of Rom 5.12-21 destroys their narrative: it teaches us concerning the representation of Adam for mankind without any need for the Covenant of Works, and that confounds the narrative of the CT.]

The Covenant of Works is not needed to understand Gen 2-3! The Apostle Paul demonstrated conclusively he didn’t need it in Rom 5.12-21, the Bible’s theological treatise on sin.

[If ever there was a need for the Covenant of Works to be part of the text of the Holy Bible, it certainly would have been included in Romans chapter 5. But, praise God, the Holy Spirit shows us that there is NO need for the theological abomination called Covenant Theology!]

“The same obligation of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience that God laid upon Adam as a federal representative by the Covenant of Works is also laid on Christ as the second man and the last Adam (1 Cor 15.45,47), who by his obedience accomplished the salvation of the elect represented by him.” [ch 2, pg 34, emphasis mine]

Dr. Belcher (and any CT that I’ve read) does not show where in the text of Gen 1-3 is the Lord Christ presented as a party to the Covenant of Works. It certainly should be the case that if the Lord Christ had such a prominent position and key role in the Covenant of Works, any serious reader of the text of Gen 1-3 would see that "truth". Again, the Apostle Paul makes no mention of the Covenant of Works in Rom 5.12-21, so no appeal to it by the CT is possible to support this “theologically Dead On Arrival” assertion.

“Those who deny the existence of the Covenant of Works also tend to argue that the pre-fall relationship between God and Adam was only of grace. This view flattens the differences between the pre fall relationship between God and Adam and their post fall relationship.” [ch 2, pg 34]

As my readers can deduce, I am no fan of Covenant Theology! But I can also assure my readers that I don’t “tend to argue that “the pre-fall relationship between God and Adam was only of grace.” I can honestly say that such a thought never entered my mind.

[Frankly, I don’t even know what it means; it sounds like something only the "theologically elite" would argue, something akin to – and just as frivolous as – how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.]

Rom 5.12-21 tells me all that I need to know about the fall and the great truths of the federal representations of Adam and the Lord Christ.

“Not everyone who denies that there is a Covenant of Works gets justification by faith wrong because they affirm certain key spiritual teachings.[ch 2, pg 35, emphasis mine]

How about that! We who deny the Covenant of Works can nonetheless get justification by faith right because we hold dear the Scripture!

Can you just hear the sneers by the CT? To the CT it is surprising that their opponents get justification by faith correct in spite of their 'ignorant' denial of the existence of a covenant that the Covenant Theologian can’t go directly to the Scripture to expound! What arrogance!

[I want to point out another not-so-small point: the CT's use of the term 'deny'. Typically, this verb is rightly used by true believers when referencing unbelievers: the latter are those who deny the truths of Scripture. The CT has appropriated this term as a tacit disparaging of those who disagree — it never occurs to them that they are the "deniers". In the realm of politics, this is what the left does when referring to the right.]

Dr. Belcher continues his theologically elitist thought:

“The Covenant of Works gives the work of Christ a rationale for why He had to come and what He had to accomplish for our salvation (Rom 5:12-21). The Covenant of Works is important, but more important is a proper understanding of the gospel, and we should rejoice when people get the gospel right even if they reject Covenant of Works.” [ch 2, pg 35, emphasis mine]

All the ‘rationale’ needed can be found in Rom 5.12-21 (which Dr. Belcher cites!). But, once again, the CT is surprised that we, the "covenant-ignorant" and "covenant-deniers", can nonetheless get the gospel right. It’s quite wonderful what a simple, direct approach to the Scripture can accomplish without the slime of Covenant Theology.

[I can confidently say that after 50+ years in the faith, I WILL NEVER ACCEPT THE ERROR OF COVENANT THEOLOGY. It is a blight on the Christian church and has been for multiple centuries. All it appears to accomplish is the establishment of a class of the theologically elite, a class of theologian who is remarkably ignorant of what the Bible actually says and supplies innumerable books and articles about what it doesn't — and never would — say.]

SolaScripturaToday Summary

Chapter 2 of The Fulfillment of the Promises of God, An Explanation of Covenant Theology was supposed to lay out the theological and biblical foundation of the Covenant of Works.

It did not!

Instead, we found

  • assumptions and inferences (some biblical, some merely logical), but no clear Scripture exposition.
  • that the CT argues from constructions that are like the construction of real OT covenants (but without the substance).
  • a highly tentative and speculative argument from Hos 6.7 (but a fail nonetheless; cf., Appendix: “Does Hos 6.7 Support the Covenant of Works? ).
  • a discussion on the issues that plague CT.
  • a fundamental misunderstanding of the great truths of Rom 5.12-21.

One of the issues not handled by Dr. Belcher is an important one: the Covenant of Works, ostensibly, handles the issue of sin. Adam and Eve had not yet sinned, they were in a state of innocence. In Dr. Belcher’s chapter 2, he proceeds from the position that the LORD made the Covenant of Works before Adam’s sin.

So how is it that the LORD made a covenant to handle something that didn’t even exist? Was this really appropriate? My readers may reply by objecting, “Yes, but the LORD knew they would sin and so provided the Covenant of Works proactively.”

No, that won’t fly. According to the CT, the Covenant of Works teaches that anyone who keeps the Law of God perfectly would have been granted eternal life, correct? However, there are two problems:

  1. The Law of God didn’t exist at that time and wouldn’t exist for about 1500 years.
  2. Though the Law didn’t exist, sin did (at that point).

In short, it was then impossible for Adam and Eve to benefit from the Covenant of Works.

That then leads to the question, since the LORD knew that Adam would sin (He has all knowledge throughout all time), the period of time during which the Covenant of Works would have been useful (that is, before the fall) was remarkably short. Why, then, did the LORD not in the first place start with the Covenant of Grace and dispense entirely with the Covenant of Works? He sure went through a lot of (ultimately) unnecessary steps. This is the definition of a "god" who is on defense, and certainly not in sovereign control. It would seem that the 'god' of CT is no better than the idols worshipped by a disobedience Israel:

Jer 10.5
“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.”

Comments powered by CComment