Robertson's definition of covenant

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JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
O Palmer Robertson says a covenant is "a bond in blood, sovereignly administered." I really like his definition, as it relates to the Covenant of Grace. But it doesn't seem to hold up as it relates to covenants in general (the "sovereignly administered" part). And how about the Covenant of Redemption? Or the Covenant of Works? (You could argue God was promising Adam life forever in glory if he passed the test, but that's not actually in the text itself; what's forefront is the command). So, could you argue the definition remains the same for these? Would you make that argument?

Is the best way to understand Robertson's definition of covenant as actually more of a very broad definition of the Covenant of Grace?
 
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Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
Assuming "sovereignly administered" refers to a natural inequality between the parties, that part seems reasonable. That's part of the import of διαθηκη as opposed to συνθηκη.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Sophomore
Assuming "sovereignly administered" refers to a natural inequality between the parties, that part seems reasonable. That's part of the import of διαθηκη as opposed to συνθηκη.
Then Mr. Aitken's objection is sustained. Is there inequality between the Son and Father, when referring to the Covenant of Redemption? I suppose this would require a more general definition of covenant, separate definitions for the covenants between God and man, or a redefining/renaming of the covenant of redemption. The last is the position of Mr. Robertson I believe.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
Then Mr. Aitken's objection is sustained. Is there inequality between the Son and Father, when referring to the Covenant of Redemption? I suppose this would require a more general definition of covenant, separate definitions for the covenants between God and man, or a redefining/renaming of the covenant of redemption. The last is the position of Mr. Robertson I believe.
Personally I prefer "counsel of peace" (Zec. 6:13) to refer to the Covenant of Redemption. I think Cocceius employed that language.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
Also noteworthy is that in Latin, the Covenant of Redemption was a pactum (συνθηκη), but the Covenant of Grace was a foedus (διαθηκη).
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
I personally don't have an issue with the Davidic Covenant because of the unity of the Covenant of Grace. It's true that there's no blood in 2 Samuel 7 or Psalm 89. But God promises there to send the Messiah through David's line; and we know what He came to do.
 
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jwithnell

Moderator
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You seem to be taking a covenant of redemption as a priori, a position I do not recall Mr. Robertson taking.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Snowflake
I personally don't have an issue with the Davidic Covenant because of the unity of the Covenant of Grace. It's true that there's no blood in 2 Samuel 7 or Psalm 89. But God promises there to send the Messiah through David's line; and we know what He came to do.

There are many "covenants" in the Bible - between people, or that a person makes with himself, etc., that don't include the shedding of blood in the covenant-making ceremony. This fact plus the presence of a MAJOR biblical covenant (the Davidic) in which no blood is shed as part of a covenant-making ceremony significantly undermines Robertson's definition: his definition simply is not a statement that accurately reflects the totality of evidence.
 
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greenbaggins

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A covenant is an agreement with stipulations that defines either the nature of a relationship, or the nature of something coming out of a relationship. It is not the relationship itself. There are other elements that can be part of a covenant, but are not necessary or common to all. These elements would include sanctions, blood shed, meal consumed, and oath.

This is a definition that will, I believe, be flexible enough to cover all the covenants of Scripture. I have thought for many years (despite the other outstanding excellencies of Robertson's book) that his definition of covenant is too narrow. The adverb "sovereignly," for example, doesn't fit merely human covenants, of which there are several in Scripture. The adverbial phrase "in blood" doesn't cover the CoW or the pactum salutis, as has already been noticed.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I agree that Robertson's definition does not seem to apply well to all biblical covenants. I do agree with the sovereignly administered part as no biblical covenant involved man dictating to God the terms of the agreement.

Going from memory here but I think one way Ligon Duncan explained Robertson's definition in his class (he assigned Robertson's book to be read) is that the penalty of death in the covenant of works related to the "bond in blood" language. I can't remember how he explained the Davidic covenant (the closest possible connection I see is the disciplinary language in 2 Sam. 7:14 which you might be able to somehow relate to the covenant curses involving defeat by enemies and exile).
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Snowflake
A covenant is an agreement with stipulations that defines either the nature of a relationship, or the nature of something coming out of a relationship. It is not the relationship itself. There are other elements that can be part of a covenant, but are not necessary or common to all. These elements would include sanctions, blood shed, meal consumed, and oath.

This is a definition that will, I believe, be flexible enough to cover all the covenants of Scripture. I have thought for many years (despite the other outstanding excellencies of Robertson's book) that his definition of covenant is too narrow. The adverb "sovereignly," for example, doesn't fit merely human covenants, of which there are several in Scripture. The adverbial phrase "in blood" doesn't cover the CoW or the pactum salutis, as has already been noticed.
I appreciate your definition, Lane. Especially the fact that it focuses on the important aspect of a covenant as relational (this is helpful in modern discussions in which we need to distinguish between covenants and contracts).
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
John Brown of Haddington:

Q. What is a covenant?
A. It is an agreement between two or more parties upon certain terms.
Q. What is requisite to the making of a covenant?
A. That there be parties, a condition, and a promise; and also a penalty, if any of the parties be fallible.

(Questions and Answers on the Shorter Catechism, RHB, 2006, p.62)

Q. 6. What is a covenant?
A. A mutual free compact and agreement between two parties, upon express terms or conditions.

(Fisher's Catechism)

Robertson seems to be trying to make a covenant be, or sound, more grand or complicated than it is. Brown and Fisher go on to say:

Q. How could Adam be bound by this covenant, when we never read of his consenting to the terms of it?
A. Being made perfectly holy, he could not withold his consent from any terms which God proposed to him.

(Questions and Answers, p.63)

Q. 12. How does it appear that Adam gave that consent, which was necessary in a mutual covenant?
A. His silent acquiescence to the will of his sovereign Creator, implied a consent; and his consent could not be withheld, by a creature made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

(Fisher's Catechism)

It's important to remember that Adam was not entered into, nor bound by the terms of, the CoW by his creation. His creation bound him to obedience of the Law. The CoW was God's condescension to enter into a relationship with Adam (making Adam His "friend and ally" in the words of Brown). So in both covenants there is a "mutual free compact and agreement between two parties", as Fisher says: God and Adam in the CoW, God and Christ in the CoG.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
I appreciate your definition, Lane. Especially the fact that it focuses on the important aspect of a covenant as relational (this is helpful in modern discussions in which we need to distinguish between covenants and contracts).
A covenant is an agreement, and a contract is an agreement. There is some overlap there. If one wants to exclude "cold" and "mercenary" from the connotations, I will have no objections to that. Even in marriage, however, there is a contract that is signed, and that is the marriage covenant. A covenant is an agreement, and while it is connected to a relationship, it is not the relationship itself. There is no need for a covenant unless there is a goal in mind, an object to be achieved. That object can include relationship categories, but the agreement itself is not the relationship any more than the marriage contract is the same thing as the marriage.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Is the distinction between a covenant and a testament relevant here?
A testament is more along the lines of a will. Hebrews talks about the death of the testator. Now one could argue, I suppose, that such implies blood. However, not all deaths are bloody. So, Robertson's definition would have to stretch quite a ways to include that kind of death. Someone could answer that Christ's death was bloody. Yes, but I still think of testament as a usually distinct idea. WCF 7.4 indicates that there is at least a testament component to the covenant of grace. So it appears that a testament can be part of a covenant, or can describe an aspect of a covenant. And if it is sovereignly administered, then it can be a bond in blood sovereignly administered, as Robertson would say. But it seems clear that this is not always the case with regard to a testament.
 
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