This article is written by John Bolt, and it is entitled, “Why the Covenant of Works is a Necessary Doctrine,” subtitled, “Revisitng the Objections to a Venerable Reformed Doctrine.”
Bolt takes aim (reluctantly) at his former teacher, Anthony Hoekema, and also John Stek for challenging the doctrine of the covenant of works. Bolt’s aim is to “restate the doctrine in its classic form, then summarize Stek’s and Hoekema’s objections along with similar ones from contemporary Reformed theologians, and finally indicate my own reasons for rejecting the challenge” (pg. 172).
The first section concerns itself with the definition of the CoW. He likes WCF 7.2 as a definition: “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” Galatians 3:12, Leviticus 18:5, Romans 5:12-21, Galatians 3:10, and Genesis 2:17 are cited as proof-texts. “From this summary evidence the doctrine’s basis and purpose is clear. God’s relationship to humanity from the outset was a legatl, covenantal relationship in which obedience was demanded and to be rewarded, disobedience proscribed and under sanctioned curse and punishment: ‘Obey and live; disobey and die’” (pp. 172-173).
He notes a’Brakel’s argument for the CoW, and the points used to establish the definition: 1. God gave a law to man; 2. Adam had the promise of eternal felicity; 3. Adam accepted the promises and conditions of the covenant (pg. 174). The difficulty of establishing the third is evident. However, he uses an argument from the lesser to the greater: if sinners know that the law of God is holy, just and good, then how much more did Adam know that. There are more arguments, but that is a very striking argument, it seems to me.
Bolt addresses the especially important aspect of the CoW, which is its exegetical basis as compared to its moorings in ST: “We therefore make a serious error when we dismiss the notion of a covenant of works simply on the basis that it fails to meet the standards of modern biblical exegesis. Even if true, and the point is debatable, the case for the doctrine never depended solely on the exegesis of a few ‘proof-texts’” (pg. 175). Rather, as Muller says, the doctrine is founded on a large complex of texts, a conclusion largely in harmony with the exegetical tradition (quoted on pg. 175).
The challenge to the doctrine forms the second major part of the article. He notes Stek’s arguments about overloading the exegetical foundation. Interestingly, Stek contends that it is incorrect to define covenants as relationships, a position I also share (as does Rick Phillips and a myriad of other Reformed authors). However, Stek also says that covenant is not “the central theological category for synthetica construal of he God-humanity relationship” (quoted on pg. 176). Stek appreciates Murray’s attempts in (what I think is biblicistic) exegetical endeavors to establish a biblical definition of covenant theology.
Moving on to Hoekema, Bolt lists his objections: CoW doesn’t describe the gracious elements of the Adamic administration; it is not called a covenant, no ratification ceremony, and the word “covenant” is always used in the context of redemption (pg. 177). By way of preliminary response, he states that “It is not clear, and Hoekema does not adequately explain, why the term covenant at least should not then be used, if not covenant of works” (in the light of the doctrinal truths of Adam as federal head, the probationary command, death to all through his disobedience, and as type of Christ, pg. 178). Bolt also takes a swipe at Herman Hoeksema’s equation of covenant with election (pg. 179).
In the third section, Bolt notes that these views are characterized by biblicism. It denies good and necessary consequence. The truths that are so integral to salvation, such as Adam’s federal headship, are preserved carefully in the CoW, and are seriously endangered if no agreement was made between God and man regarding the future of mankind: “If we deny the covenant of creation with Adam we unravel the tapestry of God’s redemptive plan in Christ” (pg. 184).
One criticism I would have of the article is to be found on page 185, where he says that these things are complementary truths: law is gracious and grace is legal/forensic. I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion from the rest of his paper, which seems to be arguing in a very different direction. Maybe Bolt will be so gracious as clarify for us. A very interesting article. However, I am not convinced at all points.