One of the arguments used against the acceptability of Covenant Theology is that it is an invention that came from the Protestant Reformation. It is often times argued the concepts found within the system of Covenant Theology, especially the Covenant of Grace were foreign to the writers of the New Testament, and therefore cannot be true.
Though a proponent of Covenant Theology, R. Scott Clark who is a professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California does a great job of summing up the argument against Covenant Theology stating, “it was widely held that covenant theology was created in the middle of the seventeenth century by theologians such as Johannes Cocceius.”
However, it has recently come to my attention through my studies of Second Temple Judaism that this argument doesn’t stand up against history. While reading through a document written somewhere around 100 BC titled 1QS or also known as The Community Rule, I came across something quite interesting, which follows in the quote block just below:
“The master shall teach the saints to live according to the Book of the Community Rule, that they may seek God with a whole heart and soul, and do what is good and right before Him as He commanded by the hand of Moses and all His servants the prophets; that they may love all that He has chosen and hate all that He has rejected; that they may abstain from all evil and hold fast to all good; that they may practice truth, righteousness, and justice upon earth and no longer stubbornly follow a sinful heart and lustful eyes, committing all manner of evil. He shall admit into the Covenant of Grace all those who have freely devoted themselves to the observance of God’s precepts that they may be joined to the counsel of God and may live perfectly before Him in accordance with all that has been revealed concerning their appointed times, and that they may love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in God’s design, and have all the dons of darkness each according to his guilt in God’s vengeance.”
This is significant. It clearly demonstrates that the concept of the Covenant of Grace was not peculiar only to the Reformation-era as claimed by opponents of Covenant Theology.
Now, I also want to point the readers attention to a few observations about this passage and about this document that I believe are also significant.
- The writer clearly understood the Qumranic Community to be participating in the Mosaic Economy. This is clear because “the master” of this Qumranic Community were to teach the saints living within the community to do what is good and right as commanded by the hand of Moses and the prophets.
- The writer clearly referred to the Mosaic Economy as a Covenant of Grace, which means that they clearly believed they were participating in the Covenant of Grace.
- This document was penned in the Second Temple Judaic period, which is significant because this was the Judaic world that Jesus and His Apostles lived in and were familiar with. Therefore, the acceptability of the concept of the Covenant of Grace must seriously be considered. If the concept existed in the world that Jesus and His Apostles lived in, it would follow that they likely had a similar understanding until it is proven otherwise.
This is all very significant, because it means that opponents of Covenant Theology can no longer hide behind the argument that the Covenant of Grace is an invention of the Reformation. Now, could the writers of these ancient documents be wrong? Sure, and I actually believe they were to an extent. I would argue that the New Covenant Economy alone is the Covenant of Grace, and Paul is actually correcting that particular Jewish misunderstanding in some of his epistles. At least that’s my take on it. However, that’s not the point or the focus of this work. The point is that what some would refer to as the sin que non of Reformed Theology is present nearly 1,000 + years prior to when critics claim, and it’s nearly identical to what is laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter Seven. It’s now very clear: The Covenant of Grace was alive and well way before the Reformation.