This review is a little blast from the past. I wrote this as part of the Old Testament class I took while attending Wheaton College Graduate School back in 2005. Covenant: God’s Purpose; God’s Plan was my first exposure to John Walton’s writing. He presents a nice summary of the concept of covenant as found in the Bible. It’s a quick read that is well worth your time.
Critical Review of Covenant:God’s Purpose; God’s Plan
Covenant:God’s Purpose; God’s Plan is an attempt to push towards an evangelical consensus for the covenant on the grounds of a biblical-theology approach.This being the case, Walton takes great care in citing the works of contemporary and historical theologians who have studied this important topic.In citing these works, he is careful to let the reader know which views he agrees or disagrees with and how they relate to his view.This pattern is repeated throughout the book, specifically in his treatment of the disparate views of the covenant and dispensational theologians.He also takes great care in citing the Biblical passages and at times reflecting on the definitions of the key Hebrew or Greek words found in these passages to build a proper foundation for his ideas.In this study on the purpose of the covenant, Walton hopes that his approach will offer a better understanding of the Israelites and the Bible as well as empower the reader to have a fuller knowledge of God.
The main thrust of this work is that the purpose of the covenant is to reveal God to Israel and to the nations.Certainly, the covenant is redemptive and ultimately soteric in nature, but it is most importantly revelatory.Once God is revealed, he wants to be in relationship with the people he has created.God employs the covenant as the mechanism which drives his agenda of self-revelation and the instrument of his self-revelation is Israel.
Throughout the Bible, we can see God working through his agenda of self-revelation.This agenda is accomplished through covenants.The larger covenant is comprised of two stages, the Old Testament/Covenant and the New Testament/Covenant.These two stages actually break down into four phases.In the Old Testament/Covenant there are the Abrahamic, Mosaic/Sinai and Davidic phases.In the New Testament/Covenant there is the New Covenant phase.There is continuity between these phases in that each phase continues to serve the self-revelatory purpose of God.In each of the phases there are elements of election (Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus).The phases follow in somewhat of a developmental pattern in that each new phase builds on how God revealed himself in the preceding phase.While the New Covenant shares in the characteristics of revelation and election that are seen in the preceding phases of the Old Covenant, it ushers in the something new.This new element is a program of salvation, which will allow God’s people to be in relationship with him.
During the covenant phases, there were certain aspects that were conditional and others that were not.The most important unconditional aspect is that God’s self-revelation continued regardless of the level to which his people kept their part of the covenant.This agenda of self-revelation has come to a close in the New Covenant phase, which is fully realized in the earthly work, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as unfolded in the New Testament canon.The conditional aspects of the covenant had to do with obedience at the initiation of a covenant or with respect to the benefits of a covenant.Without obedience at the outset of a covenant, the covenant would have been terminated.In the case of benefits, a lack of obedience resulted in the enjoyment of the benefits being withdrawn or withheld.However, these conditional aspects do not make the covenant itself conditional.There were also certain signs (circumcision, Sabbath, anointing, communion, baptism/repentance) of the covenant phases that pertained to an individual’s inclusion in the elect, which would obviously affect their potential for the enjoyment of the covenant benefits.However, these outwards signs did not have any particular bearing on which corporate group was elect.
One final important aspect of the covenant that must be touched upon is the idea of the elect, the “people of God”.In the Old Covenant, Israel was God’s instrument of self-revelation.On the one hand God was revealing himself to them and they in turn were chosen for the specific purpose of revealing God to the nations.In the New Covenant, their tenure as the people of God has come to an end as their revelatory role is no longer needed.The Old Covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.Under the New Covenant, the definition of the people of God is soteric and it applies to believers who have faith in Jesus Christ.Israel is welcome to participate in this New Covenant if they will respond with faithful belief in Jesus Christ.
There were a number of things that I found most insightful and helpful in this book.I really appreciated Walton’s biblical-theology approach to the topic at hand.He tried to use the best aspects of the other theologians work on the topic of covenant in formulating his own thesis.He also did a good job of using relevant biblical references to support the claims of his thesis.This biblical-theology approach could certainly be employed in investigating many other biblical topics needing further study.There is a wealth of theological insights to be taken away from this work as well.If we hold Walton’s thesis to be true, our whole perspective on the Old Testament will be shifted for the better.If the covenant as played out in the Old Testament deals primarily with God revealing himself and salvation doesn’t show up until the New Covenant phase in the New Testament, the reader of the Old Testament has much more freedom in looking solely for how God is revealing himself throughout the Old Testament.Rather than concentrate on where the soteric elements appear in the covenants of Abraham, Moses or David, we should look for the ways in which God revealed himself to the people at that time.Once we understand how God revealed himself, we should try to seek out what was the proper response to God’s revelation.It will also be important to understand how the people actually responded to God’s revelation and to note what the benefits or consequences were to their response.
The major thing that I found wanting was the neglect of the Adamic and Noachian covenants in this work.In chapter 2, Walton indicates that Genesis 1-11 sets the stage by showing why there was a need for God’s self-revelation through the covenant.In chapter 3, Walton indicates that the Noachian covenant does not contain the element of election and point of contact with the previous covenant that is found in the covenant phases that are a part of Walton’s larger covenant.I would argue that the Adamic and Noachian covenants have a place in the larger covenant.The Adamic covenant cannot have any points of contact with any previous covenants as it is the first.This being the case, this is not a suitable point for its exclusion from the larger covenant.There is most certainly an element of election in the creation narrative.God sets Adam up as his vassal representative on the earth.There are limited stipulations to God’s covenant with Adam.Adam is given charge to be fruitful and subdue the earth.He is also commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.Obedience to these stipulations will result in the benefit of life in paradise.Disobedience will result in death.In God’s response to Adam’s disobedience, we can begin to see God’s utter grace in Adam’s breaking of the covenant.God doesn’t destroy Adam and Eve, rather he allows them to continue in their charge of being fruitful and subduing the earth.The major changes are that it will be much more painful, it will be outside the garden, and they will eventually die.
A few chapters later in Genesis, we find the story of Noah.I would contend that the covenant God makes with Noah points back to the covenant he made with Adam on the basis of using the verb הקִים over כָּרַת in reference to the covenant.This is indicative of a covenant that was already in existence and needed to be ratified.(Block, Lecture Notes, P. 176)There is a sense of election in that God chooses Noah and his family from among all the peoples.If Noah chooses obedience to the covenant, he and his family will be spared.If Noah chooses disobedience to this covenant, it would result in the death of him and his family in the pending deluge.As with the story of Adam, we also see the character of God being revealed.He showed grace and mercy to Noah and his family and the animals by providing a means of escape from the coming deluge.
I think there is a strong case for the Adamic and Noachian covenants to be included within the larger definition of covenant.While, they didn’t fit well with Walton’s definition of covenant, they certainly shouldn’t be ignored.
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