What is Covenant Theology?
Basically a covenant is an agreement between two parties which is bound with an oath. Bible scholars have defined covenant in various ways. The word covenant is translated from the Hebrew word berith and the Greek word diathēke. The concept of a covenant is important because of the way it has impacted human history. In order for humans to get along with each other they had to make mutual agreements so they could live together successfully without tensions which could lead to violence, social disorder or war. Today we see this same concept being used in legal agreements such as contracts, business law and national treaties. Our concern about covenants in this post revolves around the covenant theology that originated from the Reformation and its impact on the development of personal liberties and Western Civilization.
In the past God made covenants with humans. In a divine covenant, God sovereignly established the relationship between him and His creatures. God's first covenant was with Adam and Eve. They were promised eternal life with Him based on the condition that they obey his command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They failed to keep their part of the covenant. This led to their loss of paradise and upset the original relationship they had with their maker. God then entered into another divine covenant with them after their fall into sinful rebellion. In this new covenant God bound Himself, by His own oath, to provide a future Messiah who would redeem mankind.
The concept of biblical covenant was developed further by theologians as they studied the Bible. They realized that God gave to mankind instruction on how we are to live before him. Following the Reformation era the covenant concept was developed in depth by the Reformed stream of church leaders who followed the theology of John Calvin. Today it is referred to as Reformed covenantal theology. The early settlers of America were the Puritans and Pilgrims who followed Calvin's theology. They implemented biblical concepts into their culture which included covenants. The first government they established is called the Mayflower Compact of 1620. This compact was based on Reformed covenantal theology.
Biblical principles of covenant theology played a major role in our nation's founding and its laws. Calvin's theology was based on the total sovereignty of God and what that means for how we are to live our lives. Calvin looked to God's revelation for the wisdom needed to live our lives in faithfulness to God. He recognized scripture revealed mankind has a fallen sinful nature. Calvin reasoned that since we are sinful and selfish by nature, people cannot be entrusted with too much power in organizational structures. He reasoned that a checks and balance system of government was needed to protect the people from sinful rulers who would likely abuse their powers. Organizations, especially churches and civil governments, needed a checks and balance system to hold leaders accountable to both God and the people they represented. These ideas were later developed further and served as the basis for our nation's constitutional republic.
Ideas have consequences. This section will cover the impact of Cavin's biblically derived ideas and their impact in the formation of our nations' government and Western civilization. Articles and book references are included for those that wish to explore this topic in more detail.