The Development of the Covenant Theory -- By: Charles Fred Lincoln

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 100:397 (Jan 1943)
Article: The Development of the Covenant Theory
Author: Charles Fred Lincoln

The Development of the Covenant Theory

Charles Fred Lincoln

[Editor’s Note: This most illuminating and fundamental article will be followed in succeeding issues of Bibliotheca Sacra by an article entitled “The Biblical Covenants” and another article, “The Essential Distinction between Law and Grace.”]


The Covenant Theory is a theological principle held by some theologians which supposes (1) that before the creation of man the First and Second Persons of the Godhead entered into “a bargain,” agreement, contract, or covenant between themselves by which the Father obligated himself-(a) to prepare the Son a body for his incarnation, (b) to support him in his work while in the incarnate state, and (c) to reward him by exalting his theanthropic person and by giving him the elect as a reward for his work; on his part the Son obligated himself-(a) to submit to incarnation and (b) to assume the liabilities of the elect and suffer for them the penalty they had incurred for their sins. This covenant is called the Covenant of Redemption. (Objectors to the Covenant Theory do not deny that the truths indicated in the foregoing outline are mentioned in Scripture, but only the idea that there is any basis for teaching that taken together they form a before-time “covenant.”) The theory also assumes (2) that God made a covenant with Adam during the period of his innocency in the garden of Eden. This covenant is called the Covenant of Works. It is said to have been imposed by God upon Adam, though others indicate that Adam in representation of all his posterity accepted the conditions voluntarily. By it God put Adam under probation and it is assumed (a) that He offered him the reward of “eternal life” if he should be victorious in the test, and (b) that He threatened him with death in case he should fail under the trial. On the basis of Adam’s failure under this supposed covenant, “Federal Theology” explains the imputation of the first sin to all men. Federal Theology was finally established by the

covenant theologians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Theory further assumes-(3) that when man fell, God made another covenant with the elect, or, more technically, “with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”1 This covenant is called by the advocates of the theory: the Covenant of Grace. By it God “freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.”

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