Current Reformed Thinking On The Nature Of The Divine Covenants -- By: O. Palmer Robertson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 40:1 (Fall 1977)
Article: Current Reformed Thinking On The Nature Of The Divine Covenants
Author: O. Palmer Robertson


Current Reformed Thinking On The Nature Of The Divine Covenants

O. Palmer Robertson

THE role of the covenants in scripture has not always held the position of prominence in critical biblical scholarship that it does at the present. Only recently has the pivotal position of the covenant concept been recognized in the widest possible circles. Yet from the perspective of the historical and theological succession of John Calvin and the reformers, “covenant theology” has been central in thought and practice.

In the light of this unbroken line of biblical and theological concern with the covenants, it is particularly significant to note the most recent probings into the concept of the covenant from a reformed perspective. These current probings are best summarized in the works of two men: John Murray and Meredith G. Kline.1 The contribution of these two men to reformed thinking on the matter of the covenants is immense indeed. Together they have led the church into a deeper level of understanding of the biblical concept of the divine covenant in Scripture. Yet divergences of judgment between the two are quite significant.

I. Areas of Agreement

In attempting to evaluate the contributions of Murray and Kline on the subject of the covenant, it may be helpful to begin by noting areas of agreement. At very significant points, Murray and Kline are agreed. Some of their agreements represent significant advancements in the comprehension of the biblical con-

cept of the covenant. Other agreements represent reinforcement of older principles already recognized. The following particulars may be noted.

First, both Murray and Kline agree that the covenant idea provides the key to understanding the unity and diversity found in Scripture. For both, it is the divine initiatives represented in the covenants of Scripture that structure biblical history. It is true that Murray does not attempt to extend the covenant concept back into the pre-fall relationship of God to man, as does Kline. Although Murray speaks of the “covenant of grace” in traditional fashion, he refrains from referring to a corresponding “covenant of works.” Yet it clearly may be said that successive covenant administrations structure redemptive history for Murray.

Secondly, both men view the covenant relationship from the perspective of federal headship. By the mediate action of a single representative head, the blessings of the covenant are secured. Murray concentrates his remarks on the personification of the covenant found in the Isaianic servant of the Lord.2 Kline, whi...

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