I chose to cover this part first because it was technically the first covenant, depending on how you see it. This is one covenant that O. Palmer Robertson doesn’t see as a covenant (which I will explain in a bit), so I am leaning more on Louis Berkhof’s systematic theology for more information on it. The excerpt I am utilizing can be found for free to read on Monergism’s website (linked below) and I’ll include a link for the whole thing. Berkhof’s systematic theology is my husband’s absolute favorite, so if you’re looking for one, this can be a great one. I have the kindle version, so I can’t give page numbers for where I’m reading It’s worth noting that Dr. Joel Beeke also came out with a systematic theology recently, but with it being so new, neither of us has read it. That said, it could make a great gift for the reformed theology nerds in your life (or yourself).
What is the Covenant of Redemption?
Louis Berkhof defines the Covenant of Redemption as “the agreement that was made between the Father, giving the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those whom the Father had given Him.” It is also referred to as the pactum salutis, which is Latin for the agreement of salvation and is said to have taken place before the foundations of the world.
There are many reformed theologians that do not acknowledge the Covenant of Redemption as its own covenant. Some believe it is part of the Covenant of Grace, some believe that the scriptural precedent for it taking place is shoddy at best, and still others believe it doesn’t fall into the category of a covenant because it’s just between the members of the trinity and they consider a covenant to be between God and man.
Berkof actually sees the Covenant of Redemption as part of the Covenant of Grace and he explains it this way:
The counsel of redemption is the eternal prototype of the historical covenant of grace. This accounts for the fact that many combine the two into a single covenant. The former is eternal, that is, from eternity, and the latter, temporal in the sense that it is realized in time. The former is a compact between the Father and the Son as the Surety and Head of the elect, while the latter is a compact between the triune God and the elect sinner in the Surety.
I could be sympathetic to this idea, but I, like Dr. Duncan, see the Covenant of Grace as a separate entity involving God and man and being established with Adam in the promise of the seed of the woman and having a common thread throughout scripture, which I will get into more in a few days.
Interestingly, Berkhof’s systematic has an excellent defense of the scriptural precedent of the Covenant of Redemption:
- Scripture clearly points to the fact that the plan of redemption was included in the eternal decree or counsel of God, Eph. 1:4 ff.; 3:11; II Thess. 2:13; II Tim. 1:9; Jas. 2:5; I Pet. 1:2, etc. Now we find that in the economy of redemption there is, in a sense, a division of labor: the Father is the originator, the Son the executor, and the Holy Spirit the applier. This can only be the result of a voluntary agreement among the persons of the Trinity, so that their internal relations assume the form of a covenant life. In fact, it is exactly in the trinitarian life that we find the archetype of the historical covenants, a covenant in the proper and fullest sense of the word, the parties meeting on a footing of equality, a true suntheke.
- There are passages of Scripture which not only point to the fact that the plan of God for the salvation of sinners was eternal, Eph. 1:4; 3:9,11, but also indicate that it was of the nature of a covenant. Christ speaks of promises made to Him before his advent, and repeatedly refers to a commission which He had received from the Father, John 5:30,43; 6:38-40; 17:4-12. And in Rom. 5:12-21 and I Cor. 15:22 He is clearly regarded as a representative head, that is, as the head of a covenant.
- Wherever we have the essential elements of a covenant, namely, contracting parties, a promise or promises, and a condition, there we have a covenant. In Ps. 2:7-9 the parties are mentioned and a promise is indicated. The Messianic character of this passage is guaranteed by Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5. Again, in Ps. 40:7-9, also attested as Messianic by the New Testament (Heb. 10:5-7), the Messiah expresses His readiness to do the Father’s will in becoming a sacrifice for sin. Christ repeatedly speaks of a task which the Father has entrusted to Him, John 6:38,39; 10:18; 17:4. The statement in Luke 22:29 is particularly significant: “I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me.” The verb used here is diatithemi, the word from which diatheke is derived, which means to appoint by will, testament or covenant. Moreover, in John 17:5 Christ claims a reward, and in John 17:6,9,24 (cf. also Phil. 2:9-11) He refers to His people and His future glory as a reward given Him by the Father.
- There are two Old Testament passages which connect up the idea of the covenant immediately with the Messiah, namely, Ps. 89:3, which is based on II Sam. 7:12-14, and is proved to be a Messianic passage by Heb. 1:5; and Isa. 42:6, where the person referred to is the Servant of the Lord. The connection clearly shows that this Servant is not merely Israel. Moreover, there are passages in which the Messiah speaks of God as His God, thus using covenant language, namely, Ps. 22:1, 2, and Ps. 40:8.
To address the third objection of the use of covenant, I think that is more of a semantical difference than a scriptural one, though interestingly, O. Palmer Robertson refers to the Covenant of Redemption as an “administration” of the Covenant of Grace and calls the Covenant of Grace the Covenant of Redemption, on the grounds that a covenant is between God and man.
That said, it is worth noting that the Westminster Standards only recognize two covenants: the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Keach’s catechism also only recognizes two covenants. The reason for that is likely due to not wanting to get too deep into minutiae and a desire to be moderately ecumenical so that more reformers would affirm it. To be truly reformed in covenant theology, you need at least 2 main overarching covenants. In the words of Dr. Duncan, “once you have a bicovenantal structure, you are committed to penal substitutionary atonement,” which I hope to discuss soonish through the lens of a theological errors week on atonement heresies.
Even if you don’t believe the covenant of redemption is a covenant, the concept of having a “counsel of redemption” or whatever terminology suits what you’re thinking of, there is still a scriptural precedent for God planning Jesus’ sacrifice ahead of time. Everything that has ever happened and everything that will ever happen is all part of God’s Plan A. Not only is Jesus’ sacrifice not a Plan B, but the church itself isn’t a Plan B. This was a huge game changer for me, as someone who grew up dispensational, I had always been taught that at the fall, God decided to send Jesus, but when Jews rejected him, the church became his backup plan. I know this is not something that all dispensationalists believe, but it is something that many do believe and teach. But to deny that God in eternity past planned Jesus’ sacrifice is already separating ourselves from the truth of the doctrines of grace.
Resources on the Covenant of Redemption:
- Monergism https://bit.ly/33SX4xc
- Ligonier https://bit.ly/2SS7gjf
- RTS https://bit.ly/2SPvI4X
- TGC Pactum Salutis https://bit.ly/3nM3mqw
- The Heidelblog https://bit.ly/376QMwh
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