by Matt Slick

A covenant is a contract or agreement between two or more parties. Covenant is how God has chosen to communicate to us, to redeem us, and to guarantee us eternal life in Jesus. These truths, revealed in the Bible, are the basis of Christianity. The Bible is a covenant document. The Old and New Testaments are really Old and New Covenants. The word, "testament," is Latin for Covenant.

There is a pattern to the covenants found in the Bible. Basically, it is as follows. The initiating party describes himself and what He has done. Then there is a list of obligations between the two (or more) parties. What follows is the section dealing with rewards and punishments that govern the keeping and breaking of the covenant. The Ten Commandments fit this pattern and are a covenant document.

Covenant is how God first decided to deal with Mankind. We know this from studying the Eternal Covenant mentioned in Heb. 13:20, "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord." In this covenant, God the Father and the Son made an agreement regarding the elect. This covenant was made before the universe was created, and it consisted of the Father promising to bring to the Son all whom the Father had given Him (John 6:39, 17:9, 24). The Son would become man (Col. 2:9, 1 Tim. 2:5), become for a while lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7), and be found under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5). The Son would die for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2, 1 Pet. 2:24), and the Father would raise the Son from the Dead (Psalm 2).

The Eternal Covenant, then, leads to the Covenant of Grace. Where the Eternal Covenant was made between the Father and the Son, the Covenant of Grace is made between God and Man. This latter covenant is where God promises to Man eternal salvation based upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The manifestation of that covenant occurs in our world in a sequence of additional covenants that God made with individuals: Adam (Gen. 2:15-17), Noah (Gen. 9:12-16), Abraham (Gen. 17), the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28), believers in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-37), etc. I present the view that there are two main covenants. However, there is disagreement as to the number of Covenants. Some say there is really only one, the Eternal Covenant, with all others falling under it. Some say two, some say three, and others four, etc. There really is no absolute answer.

Understanding Covenant is important for several reasons:

  1. We learn that God deals with Man covenantally.
  2. Since a Covenant is an agreement, it is a promise made by God. Since we can rely on God's Word for eternity, we can take great comfort in His covenant promising us eternal life in His Son.
  3. It helps us to see the Bible as a covenant document. The Old and New Testaments are Old and New Covenants.
  4. With Covenant understood as a framework through which the Bible was written, we can better understand it, God’s dealings with us through it, and our responsibilities to God as well as His to us.
  5. We can better understand the symbols used by God in covenant ratification: The Lord’s Supper and Baptism.


  1. Requirements and Promises in the Eternal Covenant
    1. The Father required of the Son that He should atone for the sins of those whom the Father had given Him (1 John 2:2, John 6:39, 10:11, 15) and should do what Adam failed to do by keeping the law (Gal. 4:4-5, 1 Pet. 2:22).
    2. This requirement included the following particulars:
      1. That He should assume human nature (John 1:1, 14, Col. 2:9).
      2. That He should place Himself under the law (Gal. 4:4-5)
      3. That He--after accomplishing forgiveness of sins and eternal life--should apply them to the elect (Rom. 5:18, 1 Cor. 15:22, 2 Cor. 5:14).
  2. The Relation of the Eternal Covenant and the Covenant of Grace
    1. The Eternal Covenant is the model for the Covenant of Grace. The former is eternal, that is, from eternity and the latter temporal in the sense that it is realized in time. The former is a compact between the Father and the Son as a surety and head of the elect, while the latter is a compact between the triune God and the elect sinner.
      1. If there had been no Eternal Covenant between the Father and the Son, there could have been no Covenant of Grace between God and sinful man.
      2. The Holy Spirit, which produces faith in the sinner, was promised to Christ by the Father, and the acceptance of the way of life through faith was guaranteed by Christ.
  3. The Covenant with Adam also known as the Covenant of Works
    1. This was a covenant made between God and Adam where Adam would have everlasting life based upon obedience to God. This apparently was possible since Adam did not have a sin nature.
      1. "The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die,’" (Gen. 2:16-17).
    2. God entered into a covenant with Adam.
      1. The promise connected to that covenant was life. The condition was perfect obedience.  Its penalty was death.
  4. The Covenant with Noah
    1. This covenant was God’s promise to Noah to never again destroy the world with a flood.  God gave the rainbow as a sign.
      1. "Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. 11 “I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 “It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth," (Gen. 9:9-17).
  5. The Covenant with Abraham
    1. God promised a land and descendants to Abraham, who was commanded to "keep" the covenant (Gen. 17:9f., 14) and was given circumcision as the sign (Gen. 15:8-18, 17:1-14).
      1. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates," (Gen. 15:18).
  6. The Covenant with Moses
    1. In the giving of the Law, the nation of Israel was constituted a holy nation and given stipulations to follow to ensure fellowship with God. The covenant was ratified by a covenant sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood (Exodus 24:4-8).
    2. Exodus 24:4-8 "Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
  7. The Covenant with David
    1. God gave a promise to David that his descendants should have an everlasting kingdom and be known as his sons.
      1. "I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations," (Psalm 89:3-4).
      2. It was through the descendants of David that Jesus was born.
  8. The New Covenant
    1. This is the new covenant of the Messianic age where the Law of God would be written upon the hearts of men.
      1. "Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah..." 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people," (Jer. 31:31, 33).
    2. It was promised in Eden
      1. "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel," (Gen. 3:15).
    3. It was proclaimed to Abraham
      1. "And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.  And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed," (Gen. 12:3).
    4. It was fulfilled in Christ
      1. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant, 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, 71 Salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, and FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US; 72 To show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High. For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS; 77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 O SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH," (Luke 1:68-79).
  9. The Covenant of Grace
    1. This may be defined as that gracious agreement between the offended God and the offending sinner in which God promises salvation through faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this by faith--promising a life of faith and obedience (John 1:12-13, 3:16, Rom. 10:9-10).
  10. Comparison of the Covenant of Works (the Adamic Covenant) and the Covenant of Grace

Covenant of Works

Covenant of Grace

God is the Creator and Lord. Established because of His love and benevolence.God is the Redeemer and Father. Established because of His mercy
Man appears simply as God’s creature--rightly related to his GodMan appears as a sinner who has perverted his ways and can only appear in union with Christ and grace.
No MediatorJesus is Mediator
Righteousness is based upon the obedience of a changeable man which is uncertain.Based on the obedience of Christ as Mediator which is absolute and certain.
The way of life is by keeping the Law.The way of life is by faith in Jesus Christ.
The covenant is partly known in nature since the law of God is written in the heart of Man.The covenant is known exclusively through special revelation: the Bible.

Just as in the covenant of works, so in the covenant of grace God is the first of the contracting parties. He takes the initiative and determines the relation in which the second party will stand to Him.

It is not easily determined who the second party is, but in general it may be said that God naturally established the covenant of grace with fallen man.

The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea and appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:21-34, Heb. 8:8-12. It is also entirely in line with the relation in which the Covenant of Grace stands to the Eternal Covenant.


This article is also available in: Español

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.