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Covenant Theology

Covenant theology (also known as Covenantalism or Federal theology or Federalism) is a conceptual overview and interpretive framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of covenant as an organizing principle for Christian theology.


The standard description of covenant theology views the history of God's dealings with mankind in all of history, from Creation to Fall to Redemption to His second coming, under the framework of three overarching theological covenants — the covenants of redemption, of works, and of grace.

These three covenants are called theological because they are not explicitly presented as such in the Bible but are thought to be theologically implicit, describing and summarizing the wealth of Scriptural data. Within historical Reformed Christian systems of thought, covenant theology is not merely treated as a point of doctrine, neither is it treated as a central dogma. Rather, Covenant is viewed as the structure by which the biblical text organizes itself.

Covenant Theology is a framework for biblical interpretation, covenant theology stands in contrast to dispensationalism in regard to the relationship between the Old Covenant with national Israel and the New Covenant church in Christ's blood. That such a framework exists appears to be, at least, feasible since, from the earliest time of the Church, the Jewish Bible has been known as the Old Testament (or Covenant) in contrast to the Christian addition which has been known as the New Testament (or Covenant).

Covenant theology is a prominent feature in Protestant theology, especially in churches holding a Calvinist view of theology such as the Reformed churches and Presbyterian churches and, in different forms, some Methodist churches. The nature of God's covenantal relationship with his creation is not considered automatic or of necessity. Rather, God voluntarily condescends to establish the connection as a covenant, wherein the terms of the relationship are set down by God alone according to his own will.

In particular, covenant theology teaches that God established two covenants with humankind, flowing from one eternal covenant within the Trinity which deals with how the other two relate. Thus, focusing on the relationship of God and man, historic Calvinism has been bi-covenantal, reflecting the early Reformation distinction between Law and Gospel.

Covenant of Redemption

The covenant of redemption is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem his elect people from the guilt and power of sin. God appointed Christ to live a life of perfect obedience to the law and to die a penal, substitutionary, sacrificial death (see penal substitution aspect of the atonement) as the covenantal representative for all who trust in him.

Covenant of Works

The covenant of works was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam who represented all mankind as a federal head. (Romans 5:12-21) It promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam, and all mankind in Adam, broke the covenant, thus standing condemned. The covenant of works continues to function after the fall as the moral law.

Though it is not explicitly called a covenant in the opening chapters of Genesis, the comparison of the representative headship of Christ and Adam, as well as passages like Hosea 6:7 have been interpreted to support the idea. It has also been noted that Jeremiah 33:20-26 (cf. 31:35-36) compares the covenant with David to God's covenant with the day and the night and the statutes of heaven and earth which God laid down at creation. This has led some to understand all of creation as covenantal.

Covenant of Grace

The covenant of grace promises eternal life for all people who receive forgiveness of sin through Christ. He is the substitutionary covenantal representative fulfilling the covenant of works on their behalf, in both the positive requirements of righteousness and its negative penal consequences (commonly described as his active and passive obedience). It is the historical expression of the eternal covenant of redemption. Genesis 3:15, with the promise of a "seed" of the woman who would crush the serpent's head, is usually identified as the historical inauguration for the covenant of grace.

The covenant of grace became the basis for all future covenants that God made with mankind such as with Noah (Genesis 6, 9), with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), with Moses (Exodus 19-24), with David (2 Samuel 7), and finally in the New Covenant fulfilled and founded in Christ. These individual covenants are called the biblical covenants because they are explicitly described in the Bible. Under the covenantal overview of the Bible, submission to God's rule and living in accordance with his moral law (expressed concisely in the Ten Commandments) is a response to grace - never something which can earn God's acceptance (legalism). Even in his giving of the Ten Commandments, God introduces his law by reminding the Israelites that he is the one who brought them out of slavery in Egypt (grace).

The above was taken from the web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_theology

This is one of a number that provide information about the major schools of theology such as Covenant theology, Biblical theology, and Dispensational theology. I view Systematic theology not as a theology different from the above, but a way of organizing Scripture by topic to aid in understanding the major topics of the Bible.

Please do a detailed study on all of the above topics. I have broken out the concept of Replacement theology (Church replacing Israel) as a separate study (prior lesson 7 of theology) because this concept is considered by some other than only covenant theologians.