Why Should Christians Know What the Adamic Covenant Is Today?

Author of Someplace to Be Somebody
Why Should Christians Know What the Adamic Covenant Is Today?

We see the word covenant in many church names, but what is a covenant? What does it mean when theologians say an Adamic covenant goes back to the Garden of Eden?

What Is a Covenant?

Theologians give varying definitions for a biblical covenant but generally agree on its key traits. As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary explains, “The preferred meaning of this Old Testament word is bond; a covenant refers to two or more parties bound together.”

However, a covenant with God has a very particular trait. Baker’s goes on to say, “God initiated, determined the elements, and confirmed his covenant with humanity. It is unilateral. Persons are recipients, not contributors; they are not expected to offer elements to the bond; they are called to accept it as offered, to keep it as demanded, and to receive the results that God, by oath, assures will not be withheld.”

So, a covenant with God is the relationship between the Creator, God, and His creation. Covenant theology describes the Bible as fitting together via God’s covenants throughout redemptive history. The covenants trace His redemptive work throughout history—including all the people, events, and ordinances recorded in the Scriptures.

Every covenant between God and man propels history forward, culminating in Jesus Christ and the new covenant bound in Him.

The first God-ordained covenant with men after He created the heavens and the earth was the Adamic covenant, which God instituted with the first human, Adam.

Where Do We See the Adamic Covenant in the Bible?

Genesis 1-3 gives us a detailed look at how the Adamic covenant came about. God created a perfect setting in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:5-8) and a perfect couple—Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:7, 16-19).

God then initiated a twofold covenant with Adam.

First, in the covenant of works (also called the covenant of nature or the covenant of life), Adam would acquire God’s blessing of eternal life if he perfectly obeyed Him (Genesis 2:16-17). God initially set Adam in the garden to “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). God also made a proviso to the covenant of works—Adam must obey to receive eternal life, by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

Second, the Adamic covenant included Adam’s work to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), thus filling the earth with more of God’s image-bearers.

Ligonier Ministries adds, “Theologians call the covenant with Adam the covenant of works because it is based on the principle of Adam's obedience. The blessing in this covenant is itself not a gift of grace that Adam does not earn. Instead, Adam must work; he must render personal and perfect obedience to the commandment in order to live.”

What Happened When the Adamic Covenant Was Broken?

Adam failed this covenant by his works when he and his wife, Eve, sinned against God by eating from the tree God forbade them to eat (Genesis 3:1-6). As soon as they sinned, however, God instituted His covenant of grace, which encompasses the Adamic and every succeeding covenant.

The covenant of grace, seen in Genesis 3:14-19, is the umbrella sheltering all the other covenants. It includes the promise of a Savior—we call this passage, Genesis 3:15, the Protoevangelium: the first announcement of the Gospel, when God promises a coming offspring (through Seth, the offspring of the woman, and ultimately in Christ) to destroy the serpentaka Satan (Revelation 20:2).  In fulfillment of the promise, Christ is “bruised” by Satan at the cross.

Did God Make the Adamic Covenant with All of Humanity?

Since Adam was the federal head of all humanity, so God made the Adamic covenant with all humanity. Adam is our representative, and his sin against God imputed that sin and its consequences on all humanity (Romans 5:12). The conditional nature of the Adamic covenant is still in effect, and we, like Adam, sin. Adam had a “probationary” period and failed the test. Our perfect obedience is mandatory, but every one of us, beginning with Adam, is sinful (Romans 3:23).

Thanks to God’s grace, however, we remain sinners, yet we are saved by grace alone when we, in repentance and faith, heed God’s call and surrender to Jesus as Savior and Lord (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8). God’s all-encompassing covenant of grace offers sinful humans life and salvation through Jesus, the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-48). Jesus’ work on the cross fulfills the first covenant of works. Because He is perfectly obedient and is our Second Adam, Christians are seen as obedient.

How Do Other Old Testament Covenants Relate to the Adamic Covenant?

Unless we “put together” the covenants correctly, we will not discern accurately the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Every covenant is centered on and culminates in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The successive covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and new) systematically show God’s redemptive plan.

As Stephen Wellum says, “The Lord God unveils how His image bearers are to live and how HE will establish His saving reign/kingdom and restore creation through the promised, obedient Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Wellum calls his view Progressive Covenantalism: the Bible presents covenants that gradually reveal our triune God’s one redemptive plan for His one people, fulfilled in Christ’s new covenant. His one people is the church (Hebrews 1:1-3; cf. Ephesians 1:9-10, 1:22-23; 3:10-11).

So, how do these later covenants build on the Adamic covenant and lead us to Christ?

Let’s look at the other major biblical covenants.

How Does the Noahic Covenant Follow the Adamic Covenant?

In the Noahic covenant, God promised Noah a coming covenant in Genesis 6:18a: “But I will establish My covenant with you.” Therefore, Noah, the righteous man, faithfully entered the ark and waited for the covenant.

Part of the covenant God made with Adam included the command, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). But men had become so corrupt, God, “regretted that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:6-8).

God shut Noah and his family in the ark for the duration of the flood. When Noah and his family exited the ark after God dried up the land, God told him to “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:17). God renewed the Adamic covenant through Noah, a New Adam in the new creation

A quick list of the covenant markers as set by God and applied to all of creation are:

  1. Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:1,7, cf. Genesis 1:28).
  2. Animals will fear man (Genesis 9:2, cf. Genesis 1:28).
  3. Animals are for food (Genesis 9:3, cf. Genesis 1:29).
  4. Meat is not to be eaten with its blood (Genesis 9:4).
  5. Lifeblood requirement (Genesis 9:5-6, cf. Genesis 4:8-24).
  6. God made humans in His image (Genesis 9:6, cf. Genesis 1:27).

God promised never again to destroy all of life with a flood of waters (Genesis 9:11). We cannot miss God’s order to create a rainbow as the sign of the covenant, a glorious spectacle we still observe today that “shouts” God’s promise to all living creatures.

How Does the Abrahamic Covenant Build on the Adamic Covenant?

The Abrahamic covenant unfolds in three distinct narratives in Scripture:

  1. Genesis 12:1-9 shows us God’s call of Abram and His promise of an upcoming covenant to Abraham. Abraham obeys, God confirms His call, and Abraham again obeys the Lord’s command.
  2. Genesis 15 states the covenant of descendants and land; in Genesis 17, the Lord God affirms the covenant with the sign of circumcision.
  3. In Genesis 22:1-18, Abraham’s faith is tested, and God confirms the covenant with Adam’s obedience.

The Abrahamic Covenant paves the way toward the Lord Jesus, the True Israel of God who fulfills all the Old Testament prophecies (2 Corinthians 1:20; Galatians 3:16; 6:14-16).

How Does the Mosaic Covenant Build on the Adamic Covenant?

The Mosaic covenant is named for Moses, the writer of the Pentateuch, who calls Exodus 19-24 “the book of the covenant” (Exodus 24:7). This section of Scripture, along with Deuteronomy, is the heart of this covenant, commonly referred to as the Law; it is God’s covenant with the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. In a broader sense, the Mosaic covenant is part of God’s covenant of grace.

Four parts define the Mosaic covenant:

  1. The exodus that God orchestrated so his people could leave Egypt. 
  2. The Exodus confirmed God’s covenant of grace.
  3. God gave the Law.
  4. God instituted sacrifices and worship for his people to follow.

Romans 3:20-24 tells us the Law reveals sin and points to Christ, the long-awaited Savior who bore the sins of every human (beginning with Adam). Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), and, as our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), He nullifies the need for further sacrifices (Hebrews 10:1-18).

How Does the Davidic Covenant Build on the Adamic Covenant?

Located in 2 Samuel 7:8-29, the Davidic covenant serves as an ideal for kingship over the nation of Israel. The covenant also forwards God’s express objectives and reasons as specified in the Mosaic covenant and previously in the Abrahamic covenant.

The Davidic covenant states God’s promise that a descendant of David will reign on the throne over God’s people. Through the promised Davidic king, God will secure the promises of descendants, land, and blessing (all the previous covenants tie into this covenant).

What New Testament Covenant Fulfills the Adamic Covenant?

The new covenant takes the biblical narrative full circle: God instituted His covenant of grace with the first created human, Adam. Even though humanity has rebelled and tried to act autonomously apart from our Creator God, God continues to care for and maintain His creation. From the first sin, God instituted His covenant of grace, which finds its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ (Son of David and Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) and the new covenant He brings. Every Old Testament covenant has found its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. It culminated in His sacrificial death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He—Prophet, Priest, and King—has instituted His kingdom for all who believe in Him.

Does Jesus’ New Covenant Change the Adamic Covenant?

Jesus’ new covenant fulfills the Adamic covenant, and Christ’s perfect work on our behalf is our redemption. God’s one, eternal plan unfolds in history through a plurality of interrelated covenants, starting with Adam and creation and culminating in Christ and the new covenant.

Christ does not change the Adamic covenant; He fulfills it.

  1. Christ fulfills all previous covenants in Himself
  2. The last days are here according to Christ’s first advent
  3. The church is part of the new covenant, receiving all of God’s covenant promises in and through Christ.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

How Does the Adamic Covenant Affect Us Today?

It’s important to remember that each covenant is ongoing and still affects humanity today. Therefore, we cannot look at each covenant independently from the others. The Bible is one unified canon reaching its culmination in the glorious return and reign of Jesus Christ in the new creation. The covenants are part of the narratives (stories) we share with others to point them to Christ. As Brian Walsh so eloquently tells us, “In the face of the dissolution of all grand stories, Christians have the audacity to proclaim, week after week, the liberating story of God's redemption of all creation. It is, we insist, the one story that actually delivers on what it promises.”

Photo Credit: “Adam and Eve in the Earthly Paradise” by Wenzel Peter, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lisa Baker 1200x1200Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.