So far, we’ve addressed exegetical assumptions which lie behind covenant theology in general. These did not get us to the key differences between 1689 federalism and paedobaptist federalism, but they did help us to contrast our hermeneutics with those of Henebury’s. We have also looked, briefly, at the covenant of redemption. In the event Henebury is writing an explainer rather than a critique, his material on the covenant of redemption fell far short on what would have been considered sufficient. He dealt incompletely with his interlocutors and, in doing so, was unable to produce for his readers a clear picture of what the covenant of redemption is along with its exegetical groundwork. I want to be clear, I am not accusing Henebury of purposeful omission. It is just my honest opinion that he lacked thoroughness.
In his fourth and fifth articles he attempts to deal with the covenant of works. I will take this opportunity to address both in one. In his fourth article, he concludes by saying, “I shall continue next time by looking more at what CT’s say about the covenant of works before looking at what the Bible has to say about it.” However, in the fifth installment, there is very little interaction with Scripture. I would urge those reading both his and my posts to pay careful attention to Henebury’s appeal to Scripture, whether there is one, and whether or not such appeals offer exegetical demonstration or are simply claims about what the text says.
An Innovative Hermeneutic
This is as good a time as any to discuss what Henebury calls the “Rules of Affinity.” He calls these rules a “grid of category formulations.” This is fascinating, especially since one of Henebury’s charges against covenant theology is its inherent reliance upon deduction. It’s also interesting for the very fact that it’s apparently brand new. Where are these rules in the history of the church? In the Bible itself? Has the church missed it for 2,000 years? We should exercise extreme caution when it comes to interpretive and theological innovations. Christianity is very old. New is rare, and when something new is discovered, it’s not by a single individual. The Bible was written to the elect (plural), not an elect individual. We must do theology in community for the sake of accountability.
Henebury proposes five a priori categories for guiding the interpretive task. I will not write at length to explain these categories, but they are listed below:
C1: a doctrinal proposition based on a straightforward quotation of Scripture.
C2: a proposition based on a strong inference from the witness of several C1 passages combined, thus producing an inevitable doctrinal conclusion.
C3: a doctrinal proposition based upon a plausible inference from the shared witness of the cumulative direction of C1 and C2 texts of Scripture.
C4: a proposition based on a theological inference usually from another doctrine instead of any plain statement of Scripture.
C5: a proposition based on a theological inference which itself based on other theological inferences without reference to plain statements of Scripture.
These categories represent an a priorism in Henebury’s method which, by definition, requires deduction. An a priori category, or assumption, is that which comes prior to conclusions one may hold as a result of said assumption. Furthermore, since Henebury, I believe, has misunderstood the hermeneutical axiom of “good and necessary consequence” (or inference), his (C2) is essentially a restatement of “good and necessary consequence” as it has been historically understood. There isn’t a formal difference between (C2) and the confessional notion of inference. Regardless of this apparent inconsistency, I can appreciate our agreement on this point.
A necessary conclusion is a conclusion which follows necessarily from two or more premises. In this case, the premises would be explicit data points in Scripture necessitating a certain doctrinal conclusion not explicitly stated. This is stronger than plausibility. A plausible conclusion is one that seems reasonable and lacks compelling force. A necessary conclusion is one that follows from premises, and, given the truth of the premises, cannot be false. An example of a doctrine gleaned from good and necessary consequence is the doctrine of the Trinity—that God is one essence subsisting in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We would, hopefully, not venture to say the doctrine of the Trinity is merely plausible, but necessary for a Christian to be, well, a Christian.
My purpose is not to spend too much time here. It is only to once again point out the fact that Henebury has his own a priori assumptions he makes in drawing interpretive conclusions. This, in itself, is not wrong. Again, the question is: Does he make true assumptions? I would say that he does not, for the simple reason that biblical interpretation is not always reducible to plausible conclusions, given the laws of logic and the principle of causality. But this is not the place for a full-blown examination of the “Rules of Affinity.” Moving on.
What Is the Covenant of Works?
Quoting Brown & Keele, Henebury defines the covenant of works as follows, “God’s commitment to give Adam, and his posterity in him, eternal life for obedience or eternal death for disobedience.” He offers a secondary definition from O. Palmer Robertson:
The creation bond between God and man may be discussed in terms of its general and its focal aspects. The general aspect of the covenant of creation [aka “works”] relates to the broader responsibilities of man to his Creator. The focal aspect of the covenant…relates to the more specific responsibility of man arising from the special point of probation or testing instituted by God.
Brown & Keel’s definition is sufficient for our purposes here. In substance, all that is meant by “covenant of works” is the divine imposition of conditions upon man in the garden with blessings for obedience to those conditions and curses for failing to obey. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677/89) puts it this way, “…God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof…” (2LBCF, 6.1) While there is disagreement as to the nuances of Adam’s eschatology, the definitive core of the covenant of works concerns the above—a law, blessing for obedience, curse for disobedience. This is distinct from the new covenant (covenant of grace) which is not conditioned upon our obedience. Adam broke covenant with God, received the penalty for himself and his posterity. Christ keeps covenant with God, recevies the blessings of obedience for Himself and His posterity (those who are born again).
Is the Covenant of Works Built Upon Mere Conjecture?
While Henebury claims that all this sits upon inference after inference, this is not the case. God certainly does give Adam a law, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Gen. 2:16-17) The Hebrew term for “command” (swh) is the same term used within the context of the giving of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 19:7, “So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him.” Furthermore, God gives a blessing, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat…” “Every tree” certainly includes the tree of life. God also issues a curse in the event of disobedience, “for in the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die.” This is all that is required for a covenant of works in the garden. The curse in Genesis 3 exposes more details about what is entailed here. All men die in Adam; hence, our federal theology. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22)
Henebury does not interact with any of this. Instead, he says:
As there are zero examples of oaths taken in respect to the covenants of redemption, works, or grace in Scripture, what we have is yet another inference taken from reading the biblical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New) and supposing that the “covenants” of CT do the same thing as those clear covenants stipulate.
Of course, such a statement takes for granted his very own deduction, namely, that every covenant must include a formal oath given that some covenants in Scripture do. But where does the Bible itself require this of every covenant? We know oath-making is a feature of covenants among men, “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.” (Heb. 6:16) And we know that God has made a covenant with an oath, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath…” (Heb. 6:17) But such an oath was by way of confirmation, something wholly unnecessary for men prior to the fall. For Adam had certain knowledge of God and His will apart from any doubt. He wasn’t in a state of misery rendering him needful of a guarantee, which is the very purpose of oaths in the first place—to offer assurance to the vassal party of the Suzerain’s faithfulness.
In his fifth article, he writes, “In my view the biblical doctrine of the atonement does not require a doctrine of Christ’s ‘active obedience.’ The fact of the matter is that the Bible does not say that Christ’s perfect life atones in any way for either Adam’s sin or for our failure to live righteously.” Depending on how Henebury is using the term “atone,” this statement is disconcerting, and it shows us the consequence of failing to “get the garden right.” If Christ did not live perfectly for us under the law, all humanity is doomed. His active obedience is directly related to our right standing before God. The necessity of Christ’s perfect life lived unto God under the law is made clear in texts like Romans 5:10, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
One might be tempted here to reduce “life” to Christ’s resurrection. But Christ’s resurrection would be impossible apart from His active obedience. Furthermore, Jesus Himself says, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.” (Jn. 14:19) Here, the verb in the phrase, “Because I live,” is in the present tense. The whole of Christ’s life is here in view, including that which the disciples were then in the process of experiencing prior to His resurrection.
Philippians 2:8-9 shows us that Christ’s exaltation, of which His resurrection was a part, was the conclusive result of His active and passive obedience, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name…” Romans 5:14 explicitly compares Adam with Christ, construing the first Adam as a type, or pattern, of the one who was to come, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” But if Adam is an imperfect pattern of our Lord, then his responsibility before God anticipates the responsibility of Christ before God in the stead of Adam’s sinful posterity. And this just means that getting Adam wrong is to risk getting the gospel itself wrong.
Henebury goes on to say:
As for the biblical merits of the Covenant of Works it has to be said that they are slim. The arguments that are constructed for it out of Scripture and reason are all propounded on the basis of eisegesis. That is to say, the texts of Scripture are not being expounded to see what they say in the places where they say it, but are being located and dug-out of their contexts…
However, if Christ came as the antitypical fulfillment of the first Adam, as Romans 5:14 declares, a covenant of works appears necessary. Christ came to merit the life Adam himself failed to obtain for his posterity. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor. 15:21)
In light of the above, which is only the tip of the iceberg, I hope it can be seen that the “biblical merits of the Covenant of Works” are anything other than slim. Apart from quoting another author questioning the biblical warrant for a covenant of works in the garden, Henebury never actually interacts with any of the exegesis used in support of the covenant of works from “our side.” To claim the covenant of works is the product of “eisegesis,” Henebury at least needs to show this to be the case. He does not do this. The lack of biblical engagement gives the impression that Henebury effortlessly writes off his interlocutors simply because they disagree with his preconceived system.
 Richard Barcellos, Getting the Garden Right, (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2021).