Is the Abrahamic Covenant Unconditional?

Reasons why the Abrahamic Covenant is Unconditional

  1. Normally in a blood covenant the two parties would agree on the terms of the covenant, with each committing himself to the fulfillment of certain promises being covenanted, and they would walk hand in hand through the animal sacrificed pieces. In this case, Abraham fell asleep. J. Dwight Pentecost points out that this makes Abraham a “recipient” and not a “participant”.[1]
  2. “The Abrahamic Covenant is expressly declared to be eternal and therefore unconditional in numerous passages.”[2]
  3. “Except for the original condition of leaving his homeland and going to the Promised Land, the covenant is made with no conditions whatever.”[3]
  4. “The Abrahamic Covenant is confirmed repeatedly…In none of these instances are any of the added promises conditioned…”[4]
  5. No conditions were attached to the covenant.[5]
  6. The promises of the covenant were given before the act of circumcision.[6]
  7. When the covenant is confirmed by the birth of Isaac and Jacob, the promises are repeated in their original form (Genesis 17:10; 23:12-13).[7]
  8. “…the reiterations of the covenant and the partial early fulfillment of the covenant are in spite of acts of disobedience.” [8]
  9. “The New Testament declares the Abrahamic Covenant immutable (Heb. 6:13-18; cf. Gen 15:8-21). It was not only promised but solemnly confirmed by the oath of God.”[9]
  10. “The entire scriptural revelation concerning Israel and its future as contained in both the Old and New Testaments, if interpreted literally, confirms and sustains the unconditional character of the promises given to Abraham.”[10]

Reasons why the Abrahamic Covenant is Conditional

  1. “If one denies the factual accuracy of Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:2-4, or holds that it refers to a conversation not recorded in Genesis that took place in Ur whereas Gen 12:1—5 was spoken in Haran…it remains possible to argue that God uttered Gen 12:1-5 in Haran after Abraham’s obedience to YHWH’s command of Acts 7:5 to leave his country, and therefore the promises of 12:2—5 were conditioned upon his obedience to that command. In this view, 12:7 can be Hewed as a reward bestowed upon Abraham as a result of his then-completed obedience to the full command to ‘leave’ Ur and ‘go’ to the land that God would show to him.”[11]
  2. “Those who view Genesis 12 as an offer of a conditional reward will likely treat Gen 13:14-17 as a more precise delineation of a yet-to-be-earned reward…[12]
  3. Genesis 17:1-2 is God offering a covenant cutting that will occur only after Abraham meets conditions of obedience.[13]
  4. There are two covenants in chapters 15 and 17 of Genesis. Chapter 15 is unilateral and chapter 17 is bilateral, as shown in the structure “As for me…as for you…” in Genesis 17:4 and 9. “…the second covenant [is] conditioned upon the ethical command of v. 1 and the ritual command of vv. 9-14.”[14]
  5. God’s words in Genesis 22:16 “because you have done this thing” prove that the promises vocalized here were conditioned on Abraham’s obedience.[15]
  6. “The fact that Abraham makes a sacrifice [of Isaac] indicates that a covenant is being cut.”[16]
  7. “The promises of Gen 12:2-3 are given the status of covenant promises in Gen 22:17—18”[17]
  8. “Since God’s promises here [Genesis 22] are conditioned on Abraham’s obedience, since they match the promises of Genesis 12, and since Abraham’s obedience is not proven until chap. 22, they cannot have been established as covenant promises until now.”[18]
  9. “The fact that God here cuts the covenant after Abraham meets the condition of obedience proves that the covenant is conditional, and therefore it is nullifiable.”[19]
  10. Abraham separating from his land and family were conditions of the covenant.

Synthesis of My View

The conditionality of the Abrahamic Covenant is obviously a tough topic, as there are arguments for both sides.  Although I do not quite understand the explanation that there are “conditional blessings” and passages like “because you have done this thing” are hard to deal with, the stronger view to me is that the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional.

The strength of the argument hinges on a few points. The first one is the type of covenant God chose. With the blood covenant normally having both participants hold hands and agree on terms; yet God has Abraham fall asleep, appears to be a very strong statement from God that this is unconditional. Also, understanding that this covenant is literal, immutable and eternal is a strong point. This understanding and acknowledgement makes it clear that the covenant cannot change, has not changed (no matter how many times God reiterated it) and the revelation and partial fulfillment along the way all point to the unconditionality of it.

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises Throughout History, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), 58.

[2] John F. Walvwoord, “Millenial Series,” Bibliotecha Sacra, 109:38-40.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David Andrew Dean, “Covenant, Conditionality, and Consequence: New Terminology and a Case Study in the Abrahamic Covenant,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (2014): 281, accessed June 1, 2018, https://dts.on.worldcat.org/oclc/6779102480.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

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