Letham Against the Covenant of Redemption

In his The Holy Trinity, Robert Letham levels a brief criticism against the notion that Christ’s salvation was but a revelation of a covenant made between the Father and the Son and not their very shared nature. Writing against Warfield, Letham states:

By the same token, we point to the obedience of the incarnate Son in the economy of salvation, reflecting his eternal relation to the Father in loving submission, in identity of being and equality of status. The faithfulness of God also undercuts the suggestion made by Warfield—only a suggestion, for he does not pursue it—that certain aspects of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the history of salvation may have been due to a “covenant” between the persons of the Trinity by which the Son submitted himself temporarily to the Father, intending to abandon such submission upon the completion of our salvation. If this were so, the Son could not have revealed God to us.

~The Holy Trinity pg. 401

Barth levels a similar charge against Cocceius. The Covenant of Redemption construct, if allowed to remain an articulation of a new relationship that was somehow added to the natural relation between the Father and Son, does not reveal God to us in salvation.

But what could be clearer than that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s fullness? God is love, and the love of God was shown clearly in the giving of His Son to die for the life of the world.

My suggestion is that we follow Murray and others in defining covenant as not a product of the will, but rather as relationship itself. The Covenant of Redemption can be preserved by making it one reflection of the divine fellowship. God’s covenant is simply His own self-revelation finding its fulfillment in Christ. Covenant is God dwelling with man. It is Immanuel.

Jesus Christ is the covenant.


All of this talk about “simplicity” and “inseparable operations” can leave folks a little unsure as how to speak Biblically.  Surely the Bible presents the Son as doing things that the Father does not do, and just as surely, it must present the Spirit doing works that the Son does not do.  How can we reconcile this with our Trinitarian commitments?

Lewis Ayres offers up this explanation:

Closely linked to the doctrines of divine simplicity and inseparable operation is the practice of appropriation.  Appropriation is the practice of attributing to one divine person an attribute or action that is common to the Godhead and thus to all divine persons: because the persons work inseparably in the context of the divine simplicity we frequently speak about something as characteristic of a divine person although it is in fact equally true of all divine persons.  Appropriation is, for Pro-Nicenes, an important habit of Christian speech because it is central to Scripture’s own speech about the divine persons.  Appropriation is sometimes presented as an ‘Augustinian’ doctrine: in fact, Augustine’s clarity about the doctrine- which may be seen in Chapter 15- is simply the clearest statement of a common pro-Nicene principle.

~ Nicaea and Its Legacy pg. 297

We must also keep in mind the distinction between archetypal and ectypal phenomena.  What appears to us to be the work of a singular person, for it is occurring within our created world, involves all three persons in their infinity, however incomprehensible that may be.

Without the Son the Father Has Neither Existence Nor Name

Many people fear that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son implies a sort of subordination of the Son to the Father, as the Son is dependent upon the Father for his being.  However, Gregory is able to reverse this sentiment and say that the Father is dependent on the Son for his being.  To be a father, after all, is to have a son.  Gregory explains:

For he who truly believes in the One sees in the One Him Who is completely united with Him in truth, and deity, and essence, and life, and wisdom, and in all attributes whatsoever: or, if he does not see in the One Him Who is all these it is in nothing that he believes. For without the Son the Father has neither existence nor name, any more than the Powerful without the Power, or the Wise without Wisdom. For Christ is ‘the Power of God and the Wisdom of God,’ so that he who imagines he sees the One God apart from power, truth, wisdom, life, or the true light, either sees nothing at all or else assuredly that which is evil. For the withdrawal of the good attributes becomes a positing and origination of evil.

~ Against Eunomius 2.4