Chapter 3 - Covenant of Life

10/02/2015 15:45



“’Only of one tree eat not in Eden;

(Alas the hour!)

All save one I give to thy freewill, —

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.’  

                                    — Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Eden Bower


“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.“

            — Genesis 2:15




In the first creation account, we read, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:26-27). We pass quickly over these two verses because we know what is coming in Genesis 2. We know that the male and female mentioned here will be explained in the progression of creation in chapter 2. And yet, unless we pay close attention, we may assume a little too much right from the start.

A difficulty of language here may muddle our thoughts. The “man” of Genesis 1:26 is not meant to indicate the male. The word is reflective of the generic man or, even better, mankind—even humankind. Additionally, the word “man” is translated from the Hebrew adam, which we normally think of merely as the name for the first male. But if we carefully proceed, understanding this word as the generic synonym for human, I think the focus of these creation passages will have more significant impact on our thinking. For that reason, instead of simply using the translation “man,” I am going to specify the lower-case adam as we continue in our creation discussion.

Not only is the Hebrew important and instructive in referring to us image bearers, but it is so also in referring to God. The first creation account (Genesis 1) is chronological—intent on displaying God’s power in creation. God here is called Elohim, which means God of power. In power he created the heavens and earth, flung the stars into space, and gathered oceans within their boundaries. In power God created man and woman in his image and placed them on the land to rule. As the second creation account begins in Genesis 2, verse 4, however, God’s name changes. Here we read “Lord God,” which is translated from Yahweh Elohim. Yahweh indicates existence or being. So God now presents himself as the God of power and being. This name change, of course, has meaning for the passage. The focus of Genesis 2 shifts from the creative power of God to the image of the adam, the being created.

From the beginning of this second creation the new emphasis on image stands center stage. The first obvious, even startling, revelation is that the creation order appears reversed. The adam (Hebrew for human) seems to have been created before the plants. Verses 6 and 7 of Genesis 2, when taken together, read like this: “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up . . . then the Lord God formed the adam of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the adam became a living creature.” The purpose of this passage is to examine the formation of the crown of God’s creation—his image bearers. Verse 5 tells us that ordered crops have not yet developed, because humans, whose responsibility it would be to rule over the rest of physical creation, had not yet been created. The text, then, focuses not on the chronological relation of plant life to human, but on the formation of creation’s earthly master.

Likewise a little later, it appears that the adam was created before the animals. Verses 18 through 19a read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the adam should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens. . . .” Again, this seeming reversal of chronology has little to do with chronology at all. The image bearers stand at the forefront of the account as God explains a purpose for the animals.

God shows in the formation of the image bearers principles of relational development. In the first account, we learned of relationship between the image bearers and the rest of creation: the man and woman were to enjoy perfect dominion over God’s creation. Now, in the second account, we learn first of relationship between the image bearers and God. That lesson comes through the picture of the Garden. “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed” (2:8). If we think of Eden as just the name of a place, we will miss the point.

Today names mean little. I was named Daniel, not because my parents hoped for or recognized in my character something that caused them to think, “God is his judge” (the meaning of Daniel). They simply liked the name. Two of my grandchildren are named Bjorn and Judah—one a Scandinavian name and the other Jewish, though their heritage is neither. They are simply names my son and his wife preferred in sound rather than meaning. However, in these early times, names served to characterize. Even the names of places became known for what they represented. Sodom, a word derived from a root meaning scorched or burning, relates to the frequent sulfuric fires in the area of the city. The name Enoch means dedicated. Cain gave his first son this name and then built a city, naming the city after his son, or dedicating the city to his son.

We cannot, then, simply read past the name Eden without pausing to consider its significance. Eden means pleasure. Therefore, God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of His Pleasure, and in that we note significance. Adam and Eve were created perfectly without sin. They realized the purpose for creation—to enjoy God in perfect relationship and through that relationship bring him glory. Thus, we now recognize two of the relationship blessings of God’s image bearers: perfect dominion over the rest of creation and perfect relationship with God. But God moves us along to that point in which we will see a third relationship blessing—image bearers in relation to each other.


 As the Genesis 2 story continues, God points out to us something that he, of course, had known before time began. The adam—this image of God—could not fully realize that image without exercise of one of its important elements—that of cooperative, or relational, love. God sees the adam as unfulfilled while alone (or solitary). As we discussed, to love means to give of self for another’s benefit. If there is no other, love is impossible. Knowing this, God deems it not good that the adam is a solitary being with the opportunity for extending love. This is not a new idea that God suddenly realizes. He has all along planned to make multiples of the adam so that the image reflection of love may be fully realized. And this proves to be a teaching moment for the adam—a chance to propel this adam one more step along his journey to understanding truth, goodness, and beauty. To accomplish this, God parades all the animals before the adam’s gaze to see what he would call them. The names the adam would choose were descriptors of each type of creature. God was not merely curious as to what he would call them, since our omniscient Creator already knew both the characteristics of the beasts and the names that the adam would give. Rather, God had him perform this task so that the adam would learn that among all the other creatures, there was not a single other one like him—not one that had the God image of all those relationship-building elements, and therefore not one with whom the adam could share his soul in relational satisfaction. And as soon as the last animal passed by, we find that the adam had indeed learned the lesson because 2:20b tells us, “but for the man no helper was found as his complement.”

Once the adam had realized this, God put him to sleep and from a side (or half) of him God extracted part of him and fashioned that part into another—a female. Importantly, God did not simply mold some more dirt, as he did to make the adam originally. The significance here was not only that this being would bear the image of God as well, but also that she would bear the same image the adam did. Pay close attention to this creative act. God could not have shown this sameness—this oneness—in image bearing and co-dependence if he had simply created two separate humans albeit both at once. The staggered creation and the specific development plan of taking one from the other emphasizes the oneness of the image—the unity of both being and worth—shared by this first couple. It was from a side of the adam—essentially dividing him—that God created this woman who is like him and not like the rest of creation.

 The adam then woke and recognized immediately that this one, who was another, yet even so, was from his original oneness. He recognized that she was not different from him as were the rest, but rather she was exactly as he was. It was this realization of sameness—of oneness—that caused his overawed, overcharged soul to cry out, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” She was not like the rest of creation that he would rule. She was like him! And thus, we find significance in God’s Genesis 1:26 intent, as he proclaimed, “They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” They would. Together, these two in one, in image-of-God form—they—would rule together just as God, the Three in One, ruled together.

It is important to realize that the adam is never distinguished as male or female until after God extracts the female from the adam, leaving the male. When he wakes and declares the glory of God’s work, the adam says, “This one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken from man.’” The Hebrew here for “man” is not adam (generic human) but rather ish—male. The word “woman” is the Hebrew “ishshah”—female. The significance of only now identifying sex is that this separation of his image bearer was intended for the specific interaction of the two sexes back into a unity of feeling and purpose. The very next verse in the passage points specifically to this reunification: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” What God says here, of course, cannot be describing only this particular scene because God refers to a mother and a father, both of whom these two—this male and female did not have. So verse 24 is given as a principle that God is establishing for the generations to come. The verse begins: “That is why….” In other words, the awe-inspiring unity of verse 23, realized by the male (ish) and the female (ishshah) of the adam, but also by husbands and wives of succeeding generations, is the reason for the principle of verse 24—the bonding of husbands and wives beyond other human relationship, even the anticipated close relationship of parent to child. It is a bond that returns these two, made from one, back into one. The verse describes that point in sexual embrace when mind, spirit, and body are entwined as one—even the picture of sex as one inside the other is meant to emphasize this point—this image—of unity, of two becoming one in imaging their God. They are two in one. They reflect the Three-in-One.

This, then, is the third and last of the benefits presented to the adam—these first two humans—in the Garden of God’s Pleasure. They (as one) had enjoyed perfect dominion over the rest of creation and perfect relationship with God. Now (as two), they also enjoy perfect relationship with each other. With the conclusion of this unity emphasis, God also concludes the development of his established relationships in this creation ideal. Note here something that will be discussed more fully later: there has been no hint of hierarchy of authority between the man and the woman. One was not given charge, rule, or responsibility over the other based on gender or creational order. Rather, throughout the passage, God had emphasized the unity in creation, image, and purpose that he had endowed to his crown of creation—the man and the woman, his image bearers. This understanding coalesces perfectly with Kinship Theology’s portrayal of purpose. God’s image-bearing intention and intensity pictures the love of our God communicated by God in revelation for the express purpose that his creation be just like he is in desire, satisfaction, and contentment wrapped in pure love relationship.

A Covenant with His Image Bearers

O. Palmer Robertson began his book The Christ of the Covenants this way: “What is a covenant? Asking for a definition of ‘covenant’ is something like asking for a definition of ‘mother.’”[1] And indeed, so it is. We can define mother with all its scientific certainty. Yet, Jesus cried out to Jerusalem in motherly expression, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37b). His cry had nothing to do with the technical detail identifying a mother but everything to do with a mother’s heart.

Just so do we find covenant intent in God’s designed relationship with us, although the technical language in Genesis 1 and 2 may be missing. By reviewing several examples from Scripture, we’re able to cobble together certain elements that covenants seem to have in common. We find identification of the parties, promises made, obligations for the parties, rewards or benefits for faithfulness, and judgment or punishment for a breach. We see covenant signs for remembrance, and sometimes those signs include blood, holding a hint of the life and death significance of covenant cost.

We find plenty to support our understanding of covenants and covenantal systems in Scripture. But before diving in to understand the how and the what of God’s covenantal development, we ought to pause to reflect on the why. Without naming it as such, the Bible opens with a covenant. We find the parties, God-provided promises and obligations, benefits and consequences, and life and death hanging in the balance. God established a covenant with his newly created image bearers, providing definition, terms, obligations, and the like for their relationship. But somehow that just doesn’t seem to sit well in our consideration. God, we determined earlier, created for everlasting love relationship. When envisioning the beginning of a love relationship between two people, we don’t normally imagine one of the first steps toward that bond to include drawing up a legal document defining expected commitments, obligations, and benefits. That would seem so cold and calculating and, well, unloving. Nevertheless, this is how we find God beginning relationship, and so we must discover why.

The relationship between God and humankind is not simply analogous to two people falling in love. God, after all, is God. Although creating for love, he did not create his equal. That would have been impossible. As discussed in our chapter on God, his essence includes truth, goodness, and beauty, that trio—as qualities of essence—cannot be duplicated. Creation may involve things that reflect truth, goodness, and/or beauty, but those qualities exist absolutely only in God. Furthermore, God is infinite, and the infinite cannot create the infinite as something other than himself without thus limiting himself. Those are simply philosophical truths that we need only mention and move on. God did not make his equal.

God, then, because of who he is in his essence, and we image bearers, because of who we are as intended reflectors of God’s essence, necessarily relate in a greater-than-and-lesser-than association—but not simply as that of a master and subject. The foundational love relationship purpose looks for growth in understanding. The relationship may better be described then as teacher and pupil, but necessarily without ever letting go of the love purpose for the relationship. And so God establishes a covenant to encourage unfettered love within the Creator-image bearer relationship to flourish by obligating the parties based on ability—of God, provision issued from his limitless possession of truth, goodness, and beauty, and of image bearer, absolute trust in God’s provision.

We actually hinted of these obligations and their necessity in the last chapter without identifying them in covenant terms. In creating, God gave life to his image bearers. Life is not mere animation. All of existence comes from God’s hand. Thus, when we speak of life, we are necessarily speaking of animation that is from and in God’s purposed and associated control. Life is animation that is with God. If God casts aside what he has made so that it is no longer with him, that life is gone; death results. What I’m indicating here is that interwoven in our concept of life should be the understanding that part of its definition is being with or being in relationship with God. Life is relationship with God. Death is no relationship with God.

If life, then, means relationship with God the Infinite, it becomes necessary that God the Infinite provide for his image bearers. And God demonstrates in those first chapters of Genesis how he did and would do that. God created a garden. We already discussed this Garden of His Pleasure—the Garden of Eden. But why did he need to plant a garden? God had just created the world! He had reviewed his creation and declared it all good! If the entire world was good and free from sin and fear and trouble and danger, why plant a garden? Why would Adam and Eve need to live here rather than in the perfect creation outside the garden? What did the garden symbolize?

The Garden of God’s Pleasure symbolized the caregiving provision of God. The first words of the Garden’s description are of trees “pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). Of course, in this description we recognize beauty in its pleasing appearance. We see goodness in the provision of food. And we see the hint of intellectual growth in the knowledge of good and evil. God is intent on providing for his image bearers truth, goodness, and beauty. This is the obligation he placed on himself to accomplish his goal of everlasting love relationship.

Note, however, that while truth, goodness, and beauty are provided immediately, and are recognized immediately, a circumspect route does seem to appear for their fully intended embrace. As we look at all of Old Testament revelation we see that it is progressive—that it is a stepped process of gradual and increasing development. Even in the personal development of Jesus—the sinless one—we find progressive understanding as he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). And therefore, it does makes sense that God would provide experience and instruction so that knowledge of the true, good, and beautiful could progress in his new image bearers at the speed at which he deemed them capable of absorbing that knowledge and processing it well. We even have witness of Jesus himself, in the midst of his most intense period of giving instruction—when his chosen eleven had already been with him for three years, watching, hearing, and growing—say to them, “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now” (John 16:12).

Complete understanding takes time. Therefore, God planted a Garden, and in that Garden he provided the means for understanding goodness, beauty, and also truth. But he would present them in progressive development, and so God told them, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2: 16-17). God meant for his image bearers to trust him—to wait for his instruction of truth, goodness, and beauty—and to rely on him and his provision before pushing ahead based on their own determination in claiming truth, goodness, and beauty for themselves.

This actually is a significant point of focus. The inherent favorable reception of truth, goodness, and beauty by all the world hides the fact that we actually have quite a bit of difficulty among us in denoting, describing, codifying, and concluding the definitions, characteristics, and, therefore, the understanding of what is really good, true, and beautiful. Based on this difficulty, I am going to reemphasize something we covered in a previous chapter: God, in his essence, is truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB). The point is that God does not attempt to act in TGB, he IS truth, goodness, and beauty. The very definition of these virtues is not from an outside law or existence. TGB is known by its existence as the essence of God himself. “What is truth?” Pilate asked of Jesus. Jesus did not respond, but the entire revelation of God through his written Word and spoken word and incarnated Word shouted out the response for those truly interested in hearing: God IS truth! What he has done in creating the world; what he has done in establishing all things and all knowledge; what he has done in revealing his purpose, intent, plan, and mission IS  truth. But how is this truth conveyed to us? How do we understand it? Is it by cloud-formed writing in the sky?

In contemplating God’s communication of his truth, goodness, and beauty, we find a significant difference between the Kinship Theology understanding of covenant relationship and the traditional, Reformed understanding of God’s initial covenant with his image bearers. The traditional covenantalism of Reformed theology usually calls this first covenant with Adam a Covenant of Works; however, it is also called the Covenant of Creation (e.g., O. Palmer Robertson). Whatever its name, in Reformed thought, the “focal aspect of the covenant of creation relates to the more specific responsibility of man arising from the special point of probation or testing instituted by God.”[2] In other words, God’s purpose, according to Reformed thought, for commanding Adam not to eat of the tree was purely to test his obedience as subject to master. Wayne Grudem writes, “Although the covenant that existed before the fall has been referred to by various terms (such as the Adamic Covenant, or the Covenant of Nature), the most helpful designation seems to be “covenant of works,” since participation in the blessings of the covenant clearly depended on obedience or “works” on the part of Adam and Eve.”[3]

Here then is the significance: Reformed Theology and Kinship Theology do not collide at this point in a major disjunction of fundamental doctrine. Reformed Theology understands that God is love, that God wants relationship, that God is greater than his creation, that God may impose commands on his creation, that humans do sin, and that it is through God alone and his salvific plan that humankind can ever hope for renewed relationship with God. Kinship Theology agrees to all those ideas! The difference, then, is not one of conflicting fundamental doctrines, but rather of conflicting emphases that do then lead to differences of life and relationship. Kinship Theology refuses to let go of the basic premise of God’s purpose—everlasting love relationship, which is the foundation from which God’s intent and interaction derives. Thus, commands are not seen as God’s expressions to define, establish, promote, or simply exercise his authority—as they generally are in the view of Reformed Theology. Therefore, rather than as a command simply to test obedience, Kinship Theology understands this command of God—not to eat of the tree—as a necessary one for continued relationship. The relationship must be founded on truth, goodness, and beauty, and truth, goodness, and beauty is found only in God. God expresses—reveals and communicates—his truth, goodness, and beauty through his command not to eat of the tree, warning Adam and Eve against pursuing those qualities based on their own feelings. Rather, he urges, that they trust him for the progressive instruction he would bring. But Adam and Eve choose against God’s provision, trusting in themselves. This is not, as some in Reformed circles would superficially conclude, simply a failure of obedience. The test is not simply that of slave blindly following his master’s order. This test is no test at all; it is a necessary path God has planned for his image bearers to walk as they progress in the truth, goodness, and beauty that will found their relationship. And understanding this progression—this point of the Garden command— is the heart of the significant mindset shift from Reformed Theology to Kinship Theology. Understanding Adam and Eve’s failure as a relational failure rather than simply a failure of obedience makes all the difference in the world as the rest of God’s revelation through his Word unfolds in his plan of bringing us back to him.

Once we have taken hold of this foundation—once our feet are firmly planted—once we no longer allow ourselves to ascribe to God our sin-environment’s distorted view of authority as simply control and command based on ego, we may venture out to truly discover how God was and is pursuing his purpose through the course of every event from the dawn of the first light to the light of restored relationship. God created. He created image bearers. He created for the purpose of everlasting love relationship. And in his design, he established the means whereby we could actually understand him.

That may sound crazy—us understand God? He is vastly above us. He is infinite. We could never know all he knows. Yes, all that is true. But let’s not put an unrealistic limit on our infinite God. This infinite God of ours is infinitely able to communicate himself to his limited creation to the exact level and degree which he deems we need to realize and understand him. He does so through the things he has made that surround us. He gives knowledge of himself in his creation so that we are able to recognize that he exists and so that we may be able to have relationship with him. He created multiples of us for understanding the multiple in one of God. He created an environment all around us for us to understand his dominion and control. These three relationships—us with God, us with each other, and us with the rest of creation—are means of teaching us about God even as we as image bearers live to reflect God.

[1] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 3.

[2] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 67.

[3] Wayne Grudem, “The Covenant of Works,”

[1] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 3.

[2] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 67.

[3] Wayne Grudem, “The Covenant of Works,”