In my last post, I spoke metaphorically of the necessity of recognizing the characteristics attributed to ducks by Scripture, and the importance of being able to thereby identify otherwise unnamed waterfowl. If an animal looks like a duck and quacks like the same, we ought to understand that Scripture is telling us that the animal is, in fact, a duck. That is, we need to be able to read Scripture holistically and identify things in it by their description, even though they might not be directly named for us.
By way of example, Jesus called his followers fools for failing to recognize that the Messiah would suffer and then enter into glory (Luke 24:25). That prophecy was not one which was explicitly stated in Scripture; rather, it was a summary of all that the prophets said (again, Luke 24:25). If Jesus called His disciples fools for not putting the message of the prophets together and expecting the Messiah to suffer before entering into glory, I can only assume that He would call them quacks for not recognizing a duck when it is described as such.
Today’s “duck” is the term covenant and specifically the covenant of creation. Covenants occur throughout Scripture and we must understand what is meant by the term before we can determine whether or not there was one made between God and man at creation. Covenant is a word that Scripture uses; therefore it is of inestimable importance to let Scripture define what it means by it.
The Biblical Idea of Covenants
Nobody denies that covenants exist. The Old Testament word for covenant is berith (pronounced bay-reet) and the Greek word is diatheke (pronounced dee-ah-thay-kay). These words are used several times throughout the Bible. Sometimes, people covenant one with another (for example, Genesis. 21:27) and sometimes God covenants with man (like in Genesis 6:18). When men covenant together, there is often a discussion and agreement on terms. When God covenants with man, however, God as King chooses the terms Himself.
The term is used somewhat broadly in Scripture (especially the Hebrew term). Covenants are agreements made before God (as are all agreements, whether we recognize this or not), and they generally predicate on some sort of “if” statement. If party A does x, they will be blessed in some way; if they fail to do it, they will be cursed in some way. These conditions are often called the covenant stipulations. There are also consequences for faithfulness and unfaithfulness to the covenant terms; these are referred to as the blessings and the cursings of the covenant. In the case of most covenants, these elements (stipulations, blessings, and cursings) are clearly given. In others, like the covenant with Noah, they can be a bit harder to find and understand.
It’s important to note that the elements that identify and define a covenant aren’t always found in a single text. Scripture might tell us that an animal had feathers in one passage, inform us that it has a bill in another passage, and then not tell us that it quacked until the New Testament. Nevertheless, we’re expected to assemble this description and identify the duck. Beyond that, covenants aren’t magical things. They’re pretty simple things: agreements between parties with requirements and consequences. We’re claiming to see ducks, not unicorns.
A Covenant at Creation?
If we define covenant as an agreement between parties with stipulations, blessings, and cursings, it’s not difficult to see the basic elements of a covenant at creation. God charges Adam to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion, and to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam will receive God’s grace and blessing in the form of continued life for him, his wife, and his children. This is the blessing that Adam received through the Covenant of Creation (Genesis 1:28). Adam didn’t merit this blessing; that is, God didn’t owe this blessing to Adam. Rather, God had condescended to give Adam the blessing of life as long as Adam was faithful to the covenant.
Unfaithfulness to the covenant is defined as eating from the tree in the middle of the garden. Eating of this tree would break the covenant and the cursings of the covenant (simply put, death) would then follow. Genesis 1, then, reveals to us all the necessary elements to identify a covenant. But if that’s not entirely convincing, it’s okay. Other places in Scripture help to flesh this out.
Firstly, when Adam breaks this covenant in Genesis 3, the consequences are referred to as curses (Genesis 3:14–19); this is covenantal language. To further clarify this for us, Hosea refers to a covenant with Adam in Hosea 6:7: “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” (ESV). Israel followed in Adam’s footsteps and transgressed the covenant by not remaining faithful to its terms. Hosea is very clear that there was a covenant with Adam.
Guilt and Corruption: The Results of Adam’s Covenant Breaking
When Adam broke this covenant of creation, he didn’t just break it for himself. He broke it on behalf of the whole human race. Through Adam sin and death entered the world (Romans 5:12); Adam’s one trespass led to condemnation for all men and made all men sinners (Romans 5:18–19). When Adam sinned, he sinned on behalf of all men after him. Adam’s sons could not expect blessing because they were born as covenant breakers, deserving of covenant cursing.
While this sounds unfair to our modern ears, it is the way God speaks. The children of a covenant breaker are not born as blank slates; God visits the iniquity of a father on his children (Exodus 34:7, see also Achan and his family in Joshua 7). In a contractual arrangement between two companies, if the head of one company fails to complete the terms of the contract, the whole company is considered in violation of the contract. Similarly, when Adam broke covenant with God, he did this as covenant head for his whole family.
All of Adam’s descendants, then, were born as covenant breakers and worthy of death. This is often referred to as inherited guilt. Adam and all his prosperity also died at that time in another sense. He became enslaved to sin and dead to righteousness and so did all his offspring after him. Jesus tells us that anyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). This is often referred to as inherited corruption.
Because of the fall, man is “dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.” (WCF 6.3) There is not a single good part of any man. His deeds are evil, His words are evil, and they come out of the abundance of a wicked heart (Matthew 12:34). Even a man’s righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God says of man just three chapters after the fall (when Adam was likely still alive) that the imaginations and intents of man’s heart are only evil continually, even from his youth (Genesis 6:5; 8:21). Paul, being quite thorough, says that all men everywhere are evil from head to toe and that no one seeks God (Romans 3:9–18).
Now, many objections are raised at this point. They typically come in the form of “But my grandma is the nicest lady you could ever meet!” Or “I know some atheists who are more moral people than most Christians!” That’s all well and good, responds the Calvinist, but we can’t argue with Scripture from personal experience. When our experiences disagree with plain statements of Scripture, the solution is never to nullify Scripture through our experience. That’s what Eve did when she saw that the forbidden fruit looked good despite what God had said about it. Let God be found true, though every man be a liar.
I won’t refute the perceived niceness of grandmas or even atheists. However, Scripture says they are rotten to the core—even if they are good at hiding it. The deeds they do may be good for society, but they are not and cannot be done out of a genuine love for God and love for neighbor. This is the foundation of all the commands. If you’re breaking these two, it doesn’t matter which other commands you’re following; you’re still sinning. A man changing lanes at 50 miles per hour who makes sure to signal appropriately is still breaking the law if the speed limit is 35.
To be clear, most men are capable of doing deeds that appear to be good from the outside. This is an act of God’s common grace whereby he refrains from handing men over to their sin like He could. But despite outward appearances, no one seeks, fears, or loves God. Therefore everything man does is sin.
Man does not seek God (Romans 3:11) and no one can come to Jesus apart from being drawn by the Father (John 6:44). So for the Calvinist, the only thing that can bring a man to Christ and free him from his depravity is God. The traditional diagram of everyone trying to jump across a great chasm to get to God (and failing) ought to be replaced with a diagram of sinners actively fleeing God. That is what man’s heart is naturally inclined to do since the fall.
This means that everyone who goes to hell deserves to go there. The fact that no one seeks God means that nobody wants God on His terms. They might want heaven and they might want to avoid hell, sure. But no one seeks God Himself. Everyone turns to his own way. Although everyone is aware of who God is, no one gives honors Him or gives thanks to Him (Romans 1:18–21). Everyone knows that their sin is deserving punishment, yet everyone sins anyway (Romans 1:32). For this reason, God is wholly just to condemn any human being to hell. Men voluntarily do the things that earn hell and of their own nature voluntarily ignore any means God provides of escaping it.
A man might look amiable to his fellow man. But God looks at the heart and there is always an enmity with God that all men are incapable and unwilling to resolve. God Himself had to save man and He would do this through covenants. In the next few posts, we’ll be looking at those covenants —getting our ducks in order if you will.