This is the fourth volume in a 10-volume series called the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series. Each book looks at an aspect of God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Each volume is meant to be a primer, accessible to all people, that introduces them to a particular biblical theme while tying it to how we live and minister as Christians in God’s world. Instead of getting into the weeds like many of the NSBT volumes do, the ESBT volumes show us the fruit of the authors’ close exegesis.
Ben Gladd’s first volume looked at who the people of God are. The church, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, is the restored people of God, true Israel, because of their identification with him” (xi). Going beyond that, Brandon Crowe, professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, asks how we understand how God relates to us. How do God’s covenants and law function for Christians today? There are numerous covenants in the Old Testament. Which ones are relevant for us today? If Jesus fulfills the law, do I still need to keep it, and if so, how?
Gladd’s main concern “is to examine the nature of the people of God from Genesis to Revelation through the lens of being in God’s ‘image’” (4). I personally found this exciting because I wrote a paper back in seminary on the image of God, and it is encouraging to see how the “image” them runs throughout both testaments.
Crowe moves from Adam and Noah to Abraham and his children, Moses and Israel, David and his dynasty, the prophets, and Jesus as shown in throughout the New Testament. Throughout his book, Crowe makes four key points:
- “All people are obligated to obey their Creator.”
- “God freely entered into a covenant with humanity to offer a reward upon the condition of perfect obedience.”
- Perfect obedience to God’s law is necessary for eternal life, and only Jesus fulfilled that. “Eternal life is granted to us on the basis of Christ’s work.”
- Though we still cannot perfectly obey God’s law, it “continues to guide us in how we should live. And yet obedience is not a burden but the path of blessing” (2).
Next, Crowe defines what a covenant is: “a covenant is a binding arrangement—a contract of sorts—between two or more parties. Sometimes in the ancient world these parties were equal, but often one party was more powerful than the other” (3). While ancient Near Eastern covenants help us understand the biblical covenants, the biblical covenants differ from the ANE covenants. Crower writes, “Biblical covenants can be defined as elected (as opposed to natural) relationships of obligation, typically ratified by an oath, that include blessings and curses for disobedience” (3).
Crowe, following covenant theology, understands there to be two overarching covenants: the covenant of works—made with Adam and continues to be the covenant which all who are “in Adam” are under—and the covenant of grace—God’s plan of redemption for all those who are “in Christ” (4). Though God’s law refers to quite a few sections of the Old Testament, it is “what God requires of humanity” and is found in the law of Moses. Though those laws had a limited purpose, “the abiding requirements of God’s moral law are set forth with particular clarity in the Pentateuch” (4).
To give the big picture, to be in a covenant means you have to live under rules. If you’re going to work with a company, there are certain rules you must follow according to your work contract and the rules of your state and country. You work 40 hours, and you are paid for those hours. There are certain things you are allowed and not allowed to do. When one marries, they make a vow of monogamy. Crowe writes, “Love must have boundaries.” To be in a relationship with God requires rules/law/boundaries. His “law shows us the boundaries he has given to us and how we ought to love him” and others, those he has created besides you.
Though a covenant with Adam isn’t explicitly stated (you won’t find that word before Genesis 6:18), many scholars think God made a covenant with Adam because the concept is still present. In chapter 1, Crowe shows us how this is the case:
- God enters into a special relationship with Adam.
- Adam is told to do something (be fruitful and multiply, work and keep the garden) and told not to do something (don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).
- Covenants have consequences—rewards and blessings. If Adam and Eve disobeyed, they would die (Gen 2:17). The flip side is that if they obeyed, they “would have experienced the increasing fullness of life represented by the tree of life” (12).
- Hosea 6:7 most likely refers to a covenant with Adam.
- If Jesus is the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45) who is the covenantal head of a new humanity (Rom 5:12–21), then it makes sense that Adam was the covenantal head of the old humanity (see also Rom 5:12–21).
The covenant appears to have a universal emphasis relating to all of creation, not just God’s people. However, redemption is seen for Noah and his family are saved, and they came from the godly line of Seth, Adam’s son.
In chapter two, God makes a covenant with Abraham, but what law did Abraham have to follow? Geesis tells us many times that Abraham obeyed God and kept the way of the Lord (Gen 17:1-2; 18:17-19; 22:12, 15-18; 26:3-5). Abraham’s obedience didn’t earn his righteous standing before God; it flowed from it. Though Abraham was imperfect, he followed God instructions given to him.
In chapter 3 God first rescues his people out of Egypt and then gives them the Ten Commandments and his law. They are his people first, and as his people they should live in a particular way, living holy lives before one another and before the world around them. Chapter 4 shows us a mini-picture of what would happen when Christ came into the world. When King David (or any of Israel’s kings) sinned, “he could expect blessing for himself and the nation. Yet where he disobeys, there would be punishment” (68). the promises of the Davidic covenant meant that God would prevail, thankfully, for none of the kings were essentially good. Of course, none were perfect, but many were downright awful.
In chapter 5, the prophets called for obedience and justice. It wasn’t enough to sin and offer a sacrifice that had no heart behind it. That didn’t please God. God wanted to see people who truly repented and then turned and loved their neighbor as themselves, and thus loving God. The prophets called the people back to their covenant responsibilities while looking forward to the new covenant in which God would work in the hearts of his people. We can read these texts now and ask ourselves how much we actually want justice and mercy.
In chapters 6 and 7, the king of the kingdom comes and lives a perfect life of obedience to God. Instead of a bull, he gives his own blood as a sacrifice so that we who believe can enter into the new covenant. He teaches us to live lives of “greater righteousness” where we are actually concerned with justice, mercy, and love towards others. Jesus gives a “new command” to love one another. It is actually an old command for it is found in the Old Testament, yet it is a new command because it was “uniquely realized by Christ himself” (121). As we’ve seen throughout Scripture, “true believers bear fruit of righteousness and repentance” (122).
Chapter 8 shows us how Acts and Paul explain the Messiah and his work. In chapter 9, Hebrews through Jude shows how the new covenant looks in practice. This includes perseverance, avoiding apostasy, loving one another as God’s priesthood and temple, living holy lives, and staying alert to dangers within the covenant community. And chapter 10 shows us the consummation in Revelation.
Though I don’t find myself within the Covenant Theology camp, there is a lot to be gleaned from Crowe’s volume, many places where I want to go back and take notes for myself. Crowe does a superb job of following the lines of Scripture concerning the covenants and the law and how we should think about our covenantal relationship with God and his commands for us today.
- Series: Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 4)
- Author: Brandon D. Crowe
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (March 2, 2021)
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