The Fulfillment of the Promises of God
An Explanation of Covenant Theology
by Dr. Richard Belcher, 2020
What follows is not merely another esoteric discussion of some theological viewpoint: it is a detailed evalutation, from a solid biblical perspective, of the old and venerable framework known as Covenant Theology.
I wish to expose it for what it is, namely, an unbiblical framework designed and implemented by man centuries ago. It may be termed a "framework" but is it nothing more or less than an ancient tradition.
I am unconcerned with the minutia of the various versions of the framework. The version I chose is that which is presented in the first 8 chapters of the book listed above by Dr. Richard Belcher. I tried to pick a representative apologetic of a version which could reasonably be termed common and/or well-accepted. I found nominal support for this strategy by reviewing what others recommended for apologetic books by Covenant Theologians. This book was frequently and positively mentioned.
I realize that Covenant Theology is a very old hermeneutic, having been held by many respected theologians, both ancient and current. I make no attempt to resolve this dilemma, except to say that I must get my theology from the pages of the Scripture alone rather than merely accepting a popular–but wrong–theological framework. As I attempt to reveal in this article, I believe Covenant Theology is nothing more or less than a religious tradition! I am firmly convinced that Covenant Theology would qualify as ‘tradition’ in the same sense used by the Lord Christ when he challenged the ‘theological elite’ of His day. (cf. Mat 15.1-6, Mar 7.1-13)
The strategy of this article is very simple: I accept and argue from only those Old Testament covenants which can be exposited plainly, directly and simply from what is written in the Scriptures rather than from what is written in the Westminster Confession of Faith! It should not, therefore, be surprising that I reject completely the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace since these have neither direct, nor even obvious, representation from the Scripture. As I review Dr. Belcher’s chapters on these (chapters 2 and 3, respectively), I point out where I find that the ‘covenants’ under discussion are non-existent and therefore support for them is likewise non-existent.
I will present evidence in this article that Covenant Theology regularly engages in speculation and inference when a point it attempts to make can’t be found in plain Scripture. This is a painfully obvious shortcoming of the framework and would be comical if the topic was anything other than responsible theology.
Typically "coexisting" with Covenant Theology is Reformed Theology, something with which I agree (and which I don’t believe is a framework in the same sense as Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, etc.). Moreover, Reformed Theology is the extent of any "common mind" I might have with a Covenant Theologian (and after a thorough review of Dr. Belcher’s book, I’m not sure even that is true).
Over the course of more than a year this article represents considerable effort in research, reading and Scripture study in order to be like my Thessalonian brothers from long ago who “[examined] the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so”. (Act 17.11) When it comes to Covenant Theology, what I found was nearly all not true.
The impetus for this article was simple:
I had done just enough research into Covenant Theology while writing The Problem with Interpretive Frameworks to confirm my position that Bible frameworks–Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology among them–were equally wrong because they imposed an indefensible framework over (or ‘under’ as the Covenant Theologians claim) the Bible.
The Word of God stands on its own! Any ‘system of interpretation’ is both useless and wrong.
[I know that some will object with, "Well, even if your ‘system of interpretation’ is reading the text literally, you’ve still imposed a hermeneutic."
My response is: natural language communication is ‘literal’, including the ‘literal’ understanding of symbols, metaphors, sarcasm, understatement, overstatement, hyperbole, etc., all of which occur many times in the Scripture. The LORD wrote the Scripture to be read and understood as literal communication. If that communication required a hermeneutic other than ‘literal’, then what about the ages before such a "suitable" hermeneutic was developed and became widely upheld? Were those peoples simply cut off from the ability to learn from the Scripture until CT (or Dispensational, or New Covenant) theologies came along?
The above objection is ill-conceived, lazy, silly, inconsistent and desperate.]
Nonetheless, it was prudent to thoroughly research Covenant Theology to properly dissect its major (and some minor) tenets in order to perform a rigorous critique of Dr. Belcher’s book against the Scriptures alone.
[In this article, I frequently use the abbreviation CT to designate both ‘Covenant Theology’ and ‘Covenant Theologian’. The context should be used to determine which one is intended.]
The problem was how to do this and what form it should take. There are hundreds (thousands?) of articles on the web about CT, both pro and con. Scores of books have been written on the topic and there are a great many YouTube videos posted, some helpful, some not helpful and/or questionable.
The method I chose was to find a (generally) highly recommended apologetic book on CT, then critique it. The book that I settled on was:
The Fulfillment of the Promises of God
An Explanation of Covenant Theology
by Dr. Richard Belcher.
Christian Focus Publications Ltd
Great Britain 2020
From his bio page on the RTS.Edu website we learn this:
“Dr. Belcher is the John D. and Frances M. Gwin Professor of Old Testament and the Academic Dean at both RTS Charlotte and RTS Atlanta. He is an ordained minister in the PCA and pastored an urban nondenominational church in Rochester, NY for ten years before pursuing the Ph.D. This pastoral experience in an unusual and challenging setting gives him great insight into the practical, modern issues that will be faced by future pastors studying with him at RTS. He graduated from Covenant College and received his M.Div. from Covenant Seminary. He also received an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. is from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has served as stated supply for numerous churches in the area since coming to RTS Charlotte in 1995.”
He has taught at RTS for more than 20 years.
- 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 quote from approximately 250 clips spanning 137 pages in Dr. Belcher’s book. They range in size from partial sentences to multiple paragraphs. The format I employed was to (usually) provide the citation first, then my comments below. When a phrase needed special mention, one or more sub-texts are quoted again in the body of my comments.
To make it as easy as possible for owners of Dr. Belcher’s book to follow along (that is, to correlate my article to Dr. Belcher's book), I also adopted his Table of Contents (including the page numbers) for the general organization of this article. That is, those who are familiar with the book can go directly to the section they want to review in his book and then find the same section within this article by chapter, section, subsection, and page.
[Though not the original purpose, this allows the reader to review only those sections he/she prefers without having to read through the complete article. It is quite long and by no means "a quick read". It will demand careful and directed attention by those who are willing to look at the excesses/omissions of Covenant Theology.]
I was also especially careful with the context of the citations within the book, trying to be as fair and accurate as possible. I avoided "straw man" arguments whenever I thought that my expression might tend to that interpretation of the argument being discussed.
[In some cases, which I note when needed, I was not sure of the context, or even of what Dr. Belcher was saying. Thankfully, there were only a few of these.]
Early in Dr. Belcher’s book he makes the following remarkable admission:
“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]
Consider for a moment the significance of what Dr. Belcher has just stated/admitted: unless one accepts the argument of the Covenant Theologian and his penchant for Covenant Theology, along with its foundational Covenant of Works–whose very existence is doubted by many theologians and which can’t be found directly in the Scriptures–the framework called Covenant Theology can’t sustain its own weight! In his words, "... [it] crashes to the ground."
As I researched this article, I found that Covenant Theologians typically teach confidently that the Covenant of Works exists in the Scripture and that it is a foundational "truth". The citation above shows the reality is very different.
[I appreciated this "honesty" (for lack of a better term), but it really is a "useless honesty" (again, for lack of a better term) since Covenant Theology, the Covenant of Works included, continues to be taught at several seminaries.]
CT does not teach from the Bible (exegesis), rather it is eisegesis; that is, the reading into the Scripture rather than being taught from the Scripture. CT is man-created "theology’"(an oxymoron if ever one existed!).
As I will document in this article, CT, indeed, “crashes to the ground”, as do nearly every one of Dr. Belcher’s arguments, and not merely from the multitude of questions and contradictions related to the so-called Covenant of Works and/or the Covenant of Grace. His handling of each of the 6 real OT covenants are in many places confused and contradictory.
In short, Dr. Belcher’s book teaches so much poor "theology" that I found nearly nothing with which I could agree. The very few places that I found, I acknowledged.
[Before I am accused of being a Dispensationalist or Baptist–and therefore anti-covenant–I once again challenge anyone who has read through the articles on my site to find anything which defends the Dispensational framework (or any framework, for that matter). You won’t be able to do so because my articles are not written from the perspective of any given hermeneutic. My conclusions of the lack of value of Dr. Belcher’s teachings have a biblical–not Dispensational–frame of reference.
That is not to say that you won’t find elements which are compatible with Dispensationalism in this article; these are found mostly in the chapter on the Davidic Covenant (which should surprise no one) and some in the chapter on the New Covenant.
Before you take issue with my mention above of Baptist: yes, I’m aware of Baptistic Covenant Theologians (though I don’t know the details of their unique "covenant" signature and did not study it for this review). Whatever it is, if it adheres even a little to CT, then I am opposed to it on the grounds that it is yet another useless theological framework.]
In past years I have studied Jehovah’s Witness "theology" to be able to biblically challenge the devotees which (at least used to typically) come to the house in the spring. They hold to a grain of truth deceptively hidden in a bucket of error. Unfortunately, I had the same experience reading through Dr. Belcher’s book: to say that it was an unpleasant experience which I had to force myself to complete would be an understatement. There were some days that I had to cut short my review of his book because it got so … disgusting! I truly pitied the RTS seminary students who took his CT class (assuming there was such a class), though not yet having enough Scripture experience and maturity to recognize that what Dr. Belcher was teaching was indeed ‘a grain of truth hidden in a bucket of error’ (to quote from myself).
Professors in Bible schools and seminaries can be intimidating to young students (innocently or otherwise), so students don’t usually challenge their professors. To their shame, they should if that professor teaches error. (Better yet, they should find another seminary if they are committed to the idea of "higher education".)
[See Addendum: An Example of How Seminaries Dilute the Biblical Requirements for Elders in my article on the biblical requirements of Elders.]
[Frankly, most Bible and seminary students, in my opinion, simply don’t have the necessary years of experience and Bible knowledge to "tell up from down", theologically speaking. That this must be the case can be reasonably deduced from the fact that CT still exists, and that CT Seminaries continue to attract students.]
I suspect that at least some of my readers are very disturbed by my reaction to Dr. Belcher and you therefore might be ready to give up on this article right here. I assure you; I will support every one of these claims FROM THE SCRIPTURE thoroughly in the remainder of this article!
It is vital that if you are committed to pure Scripture, you must complete this article. I point out the substantial errors of Covenant Theology throughout this article.
If you care to take issue with something I've written, you can send me an email directly to
Please: keep reading!!
If you are still a CT supporter after reading this article, then so be it: you will have been exposed to the Word of God instead of a framework parading as the Word of God! Nonetheless, it is my prayer that you will seriously consider the arguments presented in this article and as a result will move out of the CT camp into the Scripture camp. I assure you that they are not the same!
One last item before getting into the meat of this article: this Scripture came to mind as I began the task of writing this article:
1 Tim 1.6-7
For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.
The more you study CT, I hope that you’ll begin to regard at least some of its ruminations as "fruitless discussions" by men who want to be "teachers of the Law (covenant!)" but really don’t know what they’re talking about. I maintain that the parallel between current CT to the time of the Apostle is significant, especially given the linguistic games that covenant theologians play to support their "theology".
[As you read this article, I implore you to understand the following point because it explains essentially everything about how I proceeded through Dr. Belcher’s book and why it is that I came to the conclusions that I did:
The study of Covenant Theology is NOT the study of the Bible! (The same goes for the study of Dispensationalism, along with all other frameworks.)
If you are going to study the Bible, then close the CT/Dispensational/’whatever’ textbook and open your Bible! Come to the Scriptures with no preconceptions except one: the LORD said what He meant and meant what He said. Depend upon the Holy Spirit to teach you; that is, after all, why He was given to the church! Have you forgotten that!?
How could any other approach to the Scripture be useful or valid? Do you have such a low opinion of the LORD’s power to teach you His truth directly through His Word that you must first be taught a framework? Did He not give us His Spirit for that very purpose? Why then do you insist on using an intermediary, a mere, useless crutch? You may be sure that in the Great Judgment the excuse of "LORD, I simply followed the theology of Augustine or the Puritans or Berkhof or Pentecost or Walvoord or Ryrie or Chafer or Darby or …" will not be accepted! To do so would be like the laity of the early days of the Roman Church, those who were forbidden to hear the Word of the LORD except for those excerpts carefully filtered by the priests. Except in this case, you interpose an entire system of interpretation called CT.
Shame on you!
You should never need to study a theological framework unless you plan to help those still stuck in the "mental mire" of that framework to escape it. Otherwise, leave it alone–you don’t need it! It can only hurt you!
One other point: Systematic Theologies and Commentaries can be useful, but you must understand that they also have greater or lesser dependence on some theological framework. Please make sure that you understand exactly the extent of the hermeneutic bias in what you (somewhat/plan to) trust to help you understand the Scripture. For my part, Systematic Theologies are merely handy cataloguing of topically related verses that aid in Bible studies.
Your (online) concordance will serve you very well–even better!–once you learn how to use it.]
While researching for this article, I found this quote from J.I. Packer:
“WHAT IS COVENANT THEOLOGY? The straightforward, if provocative answer to that question is that it is what is nowadays called a hermeneutic -- that is, a way of reading the whole Bible that is itself part of the overall interpretation of the Bible that it undergirds. A successful hermeneutic is a consistent interpretative procedure yielding a consistent understanding of Scripture in turn confirms the propriety of the procedure itself. Covenant theology is a case in point. It is a hermeneutic that forces itself upon every thoughtful Bible-reader who gets to the place, …” [emphasis mine]
Packer, J.I., An Introduction to Covenant Theology (p. 2). Fig. Kindle Edition.
This is a stunning example of circular reasoning used to support CT:
- Read the Scripture with the predetermined interpretive bias of the CT hermeneutic (CT undergirds Scripture).
- What you read will then be consistent with CT. (Surprise!)
Of course what you read will be consistent with CT! How could it be otherwise? That is what you expected to find in your reading, and "wonder of wonders", you did!
J.I. Packer was very wrong. This is indoctrination, not Bible instruction. Moreover, we will see that very important term, "undergirds", again in this article.]
A short note about the structure of this article:
I cover only the first 8 chapters of Dr. Belcher’s book; these are the chapters which deal with the OT covenants (plus the so-called Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, neither of which can be found in the pages of the OT (as I summarize in my Appendix: The Real Covenants in the Old Testament). The remaining chapters in Dr. Belcher’s book cover different versions of CT. Since these were not germane to the purpose of my article, I left them out. My topic is the errors of CT as maintained and presented by Dr. Belcher in his first eight chapters only.
My article will be by ascending chapter of Dr. Belcher’s book. There are also 9 standalone appendices.
There is one final note: the author’s use of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger Catechism.
I had assumed that Dr. Belcher’s use of these documents was to avoid the unnecessary cataloging of "proof texts" for some point which he was currently arguing by availing himself of the "pre-aggregated" Bible text citations ("proof texts") in the WCF and/or WLC.
[Personally, I want to see "proof texts" supported from the Bible directly in the text, not some document which maybe lists the appropriate scriptures–and then again, may not! Either is a possibility if you, as the reader, don’t open the reference to check it.]
Quite often I was stunned to find that the referenced WCF and WLC sections did not support the point for which they were being cited! (In other words, they were used out-of-context! See my Appendix: The Problems in the WCF. for details.)
[One of my pet peeves regarding theology-related articles/blogs/etc., is the use of the short-form Scripture references rather than the copying of the entire Scripture verse(s) within the body of the document. The mere presence of the citations tends to lend undeserved credibility to the author, such as: "What author X says must be true. Look at the number of Bible references!" If the reader takes the time to read the cited verses (which I tend to think is the minority of the times), he/she can be very surprised to learn that the cited texts do not support the point.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the same problem exists with citation to the WCF and the WLC. Some of them support, more or less, the point being made; some of them were embarrassing misses. What I found was that a surprising majority of the Bible references buried within the referenced WCF or WC Article.Section themselves did not support the use for which Dr. Belcher cited them. This important fact would be missed by anyone not checking the WCF or WLC references directly against the Scripture.
This does not necessarily mean that the point Dr. Belcher was making was either biblical or unbiblical, only that there was a mismatch on the Westminster "side of things". I found instances of both. The evidence for this claim will be presented in later chapters and appendices.
There is another point here regarding the Bible text citation process, specifically in web-based articles: the use of hyperlinks and live hovering (since this article is presented online). If an author does not want to give up space within the body of the document for Scriptures, then he can instead place a hyperlink to one of the Bible sites to provide a dynamic click/hover of the verse text: if the mouse clicks or hovers over the reference, the verse appears in a small dialog. This is the technique (click) I use on SolaScripturaToday.org for those times that I don’t expand inline the Scripture references (which is typically rare).]
Above, I mentioned that I assumed “that Dr. Belcher’s use of these documents (WCF and WC) was to avoid the unnecessary cataloging of ‘proof texts’”. I found that this was not quite true; instead, it is closer to the truth that the CT can find direct support for the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace only in the “text” of the WCF in contrast to the text of Scripture(s) which it cites!
[I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me some time to finally realize this; I naively thought that the CT would supply the proof directly from the Bible. Moreover, I had much higher (and apparently generous) expectations of the venerable Westminster Confession of Faith cited by Dr. Belcher in chapters 2 and 3. Once I started reviewing thoroughly the statements of the confession against its Scripture citations, it became abundantly clear that the so-called Covenant of Work and the Covenant of Grace existed only in the Article.Section statements (text) of the WCF and not in the Scriptures posited as its "proof texts". It then made sense why Dr. Belcher's use of the WCF is nearly all in chapters 2 and 3 and that chapters 2 and 3 are essentially devoid of direct Bible proof.]
Please let that sink in a moment: the CT can’t point to any Bible texts to directly support his "doctrine" of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. However, the text of the WCF defends both directly.
So what gives!?
The “inconvenient truth” (to borrow a current phrase from another context) is that the Article.Sections 7.2, 7.5, 19.1, 19.2 and 25.2 from the WCF do, in fact, support CT. So what's the problem? The problem is that the “proof texts” for those Article.Sections don’t support the "doctrines" they claim to! That is, those Article.Sections are a fraud: these are the foundation of the CT’s claims to Covenant Theology! This is precisely the reason that I comment particularly in chapters 2 and 3 regarding the lack of biblical support, while in the midst of supposed WCF "proof".
[See Appendix: The Problems in the WCF. for details.]
As I said above: CT is man-made.
The article is comprised of my Introduction (this page), the first 8 chapters of Dr. Belcher's book, and 9 appendices. By design, the 8 chapters devoted to the review of Dr. Belcher's book match his chapter titles, headings and subheadings (as I stated above). This is to aid the reader of the book when cross-referencing with this article (something which I invite the reader to do).
- A Biblical Rebuttal of Dr. Richard Belcher's “The Fulfillment of the Promises of God” (this page)
- Chapter 1: Introduction to Covenant Theology [page 15]
- Chapter 2: The Covenant of Works [page 23]
- Chapter 3: The Initiation of the Covenant of Grace [page 37]
- Chapter 4: The Noahic Covenant [page 47]
- Chapter 5: The Abrahamic Covenant [page 61]
- Chapter 6: The Mosaic Covenant [page 75]
- Chapter 7: The Davidic Covenant [page 97]
- Chapter 8: The New Covenant [page 115]
- Appendix: The Heresy of Dr. Belcher's "Self-Maledictory Oath"
- Appendix: The Real Covenants in the Old Testament
- Appendix: The Protoevangelium and the Fictitious Covenant of Grace
- Appendix: “Does Hos 6.7 Support the Covenant of Works?”
- Appendix: Women Commentators Referred to by Dr. Belcher
- Appendix: The Problems in the WCF.
- Appendix: Psalms that End with its Author Uncertain of the Outcome
- Appendix: The Current and Future Kingdom of the Lord Christ
- Appendix: The Righteous Branch and the LORD Our Righteousness