Law Covenant -- By: Meredith G. Kline

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 27:1 (Nov 1964)
Article: Law Covenant
Author: Meredith G. Kline

Law Covenant

Meredith G. Kline

Comparing the relationship of law and gospel within the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, Gustav Wingren finds the genius of the Reformed position in the overarching status it accords to the covenant.1 He judges that in Luther law and gospel remain in tension but that in Reformed Theology a relative harmony of the two is secured under the vault of the covenant concept. For whereas on the Lutheran approach law serves only to mortify and condemn, in the Reformed view of covenant law as well as gospel has a vivifying use, since election to covenant privilege carries demand to service with it.

Reformed theologians recognize indeed that privilege brings responsibility, but they would also want to insist that the basis of law is broader and deeper than election and that the compatibility of law and gospel-promise is discernible in more than the so-called third use of the law. But Reformed Theology has of course long prized the covenant concept as an integrating structure for that which God has so diversely spoken unto men of old time and in these last days. Before the end of the sixteenth century a growing biblical insight within the movement of Covenant Theology had embraced all special revelation, pre-redemptive as well as redemptive, in the unity of a covenant framework.

It is the purpose of the present article to show that historical usage justifies the meaning that necessarily attaches to the term “covenant” when applied in the comprehensive fashion just mentioned, and further to make proposals towards a more systematically coherent formulation of the theology of the covenant.

I. Historical Usage of “Covenant”

Walther Eichrodt in his standard work on Old Testament theology (in which, as is well known, he assigns the central and unifying position in the religious thinking of the Old Testament to the concept of the covenant) calls attention to the multiformity of arrangement that was known as “covenant”. Appealing especially to the Sinaitic transactions as evidence of bilateral relationship in the covenant-union between Yahweh and Israel, Eichrodt concludes: “The idea that in ancient Israel the bᵉrīt was always and only thought of as Yahweh’s pledging of himself, to which human effort was required to make no kind of response (Kraetzschmar), can therefore be proved to be erroneous.”2 Then, after tracing the history of the covenant concept, he summarizes: “One cannot help being aware that the term has to cover two lines of thought along which the meaning has developed. The first runs from ‘covenant...

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