The Adamic Covenant


In the last post we learned that our father Adam was not only the first man, prototype, and progenitor of our race, but was also the representative head of ‘all mankind’. Adam embodied within himself both physically (seed) and Federally (in representation) all men.

Federal Theology

According to AW Pink, the Adamic Covenant is:

This primordial compact or covenant of works was that agreement into which the Lord God entered with Adam as the federal head and representative of the entire human family. It was made with him in a state of innocency, holiness, and righteousness. The terms of that covenant consisted in perfect and continuous obedience on man’s part, and the promise of confirming him in immutable holiness and happiness on God’s part. A test was given whereby his obedience or disobedience should be evidenced. That test consisted of a single positive ordinance: abstinence from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so named because so long as Adam remained dutiful and faithful, he enjoyed that inestimable “good” which issued from communion with his maker, and because as soon as he disobeyed he tasted the bitter “evil” which followed the loss of communion with Him.

This testing of Adam is referred to, by theologians, as the Covenant of Works (CoW). This is to indicate that man was able to stand in the estate in which he was created by his own effort of will. This nomenclature is to distinguish it from God’s Plan of Grace, by which no man can stand before God based on his own works, because man is already fallen and all his works are corrupt. The CoW contained within it no mediator, no repentance, no grace, no second chance – “the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die”!

Scriptural Support

Romans 5:12-19

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.


Sin entered the world by Adam and sin brings death. As sin passed from Adam to all men, death has conquered all men. This death passed onto all men, even those who didn’t commit the sin of Adam and even before the law was given at Sinai. Why? Because they were the sons of Adam and he was their representative. But, as Adam brought death to all those he represented, so Christ brought life to all those he represented. The fact of the matter is this, all men are born sinners. We sin because we are sinners. We do not become sinners when we sin. We are born sinners, enemies of God (Eph 2:3), and under his just condemnation.

Confer 1 Cor 15:22 – For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

On 1 Cor 15:22, AW Pink says,

“The language of 1 Corinthians 15:22 is unintelligible except on the supposition that both Adam and Christ sustained a representative character, …the one involved the race in guilt and ruin, and the other, by His obedience unto death, secured the justification and salvation of ell who believe in Him.”

Understanding the Federal headship of Adam is of extreme importance for the Bible student. In his work on the Divine Covenants, AW Pink says:

Adam acted not for himself alone, but he transacted for all who were to spring from him. Unless this basic fact be definitely apprehended, much that ought to be relatively clear to us will be shrouded in impenetrable mystery. Yea, we go further, and affirm that, until the federal headship of Adam and God’s covenant with him in that office be actually perceived, we are without the key to God’s dealings with the human race, we are unable to discern man’s relation to the divine law, and we appreciate not the fundamental principles upon which the atonement of Christ proceeded.

The doctrine briefly summarized:

  • There are only two representatives – Adam and Christ (the Second Adam)
  • Adam represented all men born by natural generation
  • Christ represented all those who had been given Him in eternity
  • When Adam sinned, all his posterity fell in and with him
  • All Adam’s natural posterity are born in, and are slaves to, sin
  • When Christ conquered sin and death, He acted on behalf of all those given Him from eternity
  • Christ bore away the curse of our sin (1 Cor 5:21, Gal 3:13)
  • ALL MEN either stand in Christ or fall in Adam

Adam’s Probation

When theologians refer to the testing of man in our father Adam, they refer to ‘Adam’s Probation’. This is simply another way of referencing the ‘testing/proving’ of mankind in Adam. According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, a probation is:

PROBA’TION, n. [L. probatio.] The act of proving; proof.

5. In general, trial for proof, or satisfactory evidence, or the time of trial.

Adam’s Obligation

According to Pink, man was originally constituted being subject to a three-fold law: natural, moral, and positive.

  • Natural Law– Being subject to natural law simply means that as a creature, Adam was naturally created subject to his Creator. He was created to live to the honor and glory of his Creator. Adam, in particular, was made in the very image of God, and so was uniquely designed to reproduce the righteousness and holiness of that design.EXAMPLE: Marriage (Gen 2:24). Any infraction of the divine institution of marriage is a violation of the law of nature (Rom 1:26-27).
  • Moral Law– By moral law, it is meant that man was created a moral being. It is a part of the basic fabric of every human being. Morally, men are required to love God and to love their fellow men as themselves. This is the law under which every human being is guilty before God (Rom 3:19).EXAMPLE: Violation of any of the Ten Commandments. Every man has a moral conscience and is aware of the sins of idolatry and hate in his own heart, but we suppress our guilt (read Romans 1-3). This is the moral law under which Christ was born, the guilt of which was atoned for by animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, which were types and shadows which point to Christ who would atone for the guilt of the violation of the moral law – Gal 4:4-6 (note that Paul is writing to Gentiles!).
  • Positive Law – Adam was given one single stipulation which could never have occurred to him by the light of nature or by his moral conscience. It was Sovereignly appointed by God as a test of man’s loyalty to his Creator.

These three branches of law teach man: (1) what he owes God, (2) what he owes his fellow man, and (3) what he owes himself. These laws cover every sphere in which man exists: (1) natural, (2) moral, and (3) spiritual.

What was Adam to Gain

The reformed teach that as Adam was to be rewarded with death upon failure to keep his estate (Gen 2:17), he surely must have been given eternal life had he kept it (Gal 3:12). Pink does not disagree with this per se, but he believes the inheritance of Adam would not be the heavenly paradise merited by Christ, but rather the eternal privilege to enjoy God in the Eden paradise. As proof, Pink offers Heb 8:16 which states that Christ brings a ‘new’ covenant which is “established upon better promises.” Says Pink, “The last Adam has secured, both for God and for His people, more than was lost by the defection of the first Adam.”

Objections to the Covenant of Works

The Adamic Covenant is frequently called the ‘Covenant of Works’ by theologians. They call it that because Adam had the capability, in his created nature, to keep his estate of Holiness and fellowship with God based on human effort and will. Unlike us today, Adam was capable of not sinning based on power of will.

Those that object to Federal Theology do primarily on the grounds that that exact phrase is not used in Scripture and that no formal compact between God and Adam is recorded.

Is there a Covenant to be found in Genesis 2?

Objection Stated: – “…since the word covenant is not to be found in the historical account of Genesis, therefore to speak of the Adamic covenant is naught but a theological invention.”

What does it matter if the phrase is used, if the concept is clearly found? So, our work is to see if we can find, not a phrase, but a compact between God and Adam.

AW Pink defines a covenant as “..a mutual agreement entered into by two or more parties, whereby they stand solemnly bound to each other to perform the conditions contracted for.”

In other words, there is an agreement on a stipulation and a penalty for non-compliance. Do we find these components in Genesis?

<code>Genesis 2:15-17</code>

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

  1. Contracting parties – God and Man
  2. Stipulation – not to eat from the tree
  3. Penalty – “thou shalt surely die”

It is, of course, a frequent argument that there can be no Covenant here since Adam never formally gave his consent to any such compact with God. In other words, a covenant must be made between two consenting parties, and we find no consent given by Adam. My answer to this is that not everything that transpired between God and Adam is recorded in Scripture. From Genesis 3:2 we find that Adam clearly understood the stipulation regarding the tree. In Eve’s response to the serpent, we see that she clearly understood her responsibility, also.

Did Adam consent unto God’s law? How could he not? Adam was made in conformance to God’s righteousness and fully compliant with all holiness, how could he not have given his full consent? Besides, had Adam not agreed to this arrangement, he would have sinned ignorantly or he may have pleaded his case before God. Instead, we find him left without any valid excuse other than that he was tempted by the woman whom God made. Finally, to deny Adam’s consent unto God’s law may lead one to impugn the righteousness of God. Would a just God hold Adam accountable for a violation against a prohibition which Adam did not consent to obey?

The most clear evidence that a covenant was made With Adam is the fact that his downfall brought ruin upon the entire race (Rom 5:12). Given this, it MUST be that all men were legally united to Adam in his probation, as of those that are Christ’s are united to Him in his death and resurrection.

But, Is it Fair?

A final common, and most un-humble, rejection of the CoW is that the principle of representation is not fair. We may, at times, in our sinful flesh, flatter ourselves into believing that we may have stood where Adam fell. Worse yet, we may be led to believe that we can stand now, even today, like the wicked Pelagians and Papists. In fact, God was gracious in giving us a representative who was eminently fit for the office. In fact Adam was an outstanding representation of mankind. No better person, outside of God Himself, could be supplied.

Adam was:

  • Sinless in his original estate
  • Bore no sin nature (no disobedient will) and had no example of sinful man about him
  • Made in the image of God
  • Indued with godly knowledge
  • Knew God ‘face-to-face’
  • Given dominion over all creation
  • Surrounded by beauty and loveliness (no excuse to covet)
  • He was made good (Gen 1:31)

I am none of these things. How can I begrudge the All-wise God for giving me such a well supplied representative to stand in my place? If Adam fell after a space of time, I would have fallen much sooner.

The Trees of the Garden

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

The prohibition from eating from this tree was a positive command from God. There was nothing inherently immoral in it. Had God not commanded it, it would not be sin. But, God did command it by it He tested man with respect to his loyalty to his Creator, his faith in God’s words, and his obedience. Even though Adam was righteous, he was mutable, and therefore, he was dependent on God’s sustaining grace to continue in that estate. Adams’ probation was a test of whether Adam would continue to depend on God or seek independence.

The Tree of Life – A Seal

The tree of life may be thought of as a seal – a token or symbol of God’s pledge to Adam to sustain him as long as he lives in obedience to God’s command. According to Princeton theologian AA Hodge, a seal (of a covenant) is: ‘an outward visible sign, appointed by God as a pledge of His faithfulness, and as an earnest of the blessings promised…”

Seals are used in conjunction with covenants in several places in the Scriptures:

Covenant Seal
Abrahamic Covenant Circumcision; Genesis 17:9-11 – “…it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.” Circumcision was given as a token of God’s promise to make Abraham a father of many nations.
Noahic Covenant Rainbow; Genesis 9:12-13 – “This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you…” The rainbow was given as a token of God’s promise not to destroy the earth with a flood again.
New Covenant Holy Spirit; Eph 1:13 – “…ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise…” (see also 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 4:30). The Holy Spirit was given to seal us until the day of our redemption.

The Apostle Paul helps us understand the Bible use of seals in Romans 4 –


“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircum­cised; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.”

Further, Herman Witsius, the great systematizer of Covenant Theology writes as follows concerning seals:

“It hath pleased the blessed and almighty God, in every economy of His covenants, to confirm, by some sacred symbols, the certainty of His promises and at the same time to remind man in covenant with Him of his duty” (H. Witsius).

The seal of the Adamic Covenant was the tree of life. As further proof, consider how that man was refused the tree after he violated the covenant and fell into sin. Perhaps Adam was refused so that he would not presume upon God’s grace, blessing, and continued favor after he fell. Matthew Henry, the great Puritan commentator had the following to say regarding this tree:

“It [the tree] was chiefly intended to be a sign and seal to Adam, assuring him of the continuance of life and happiness, even to immortality and everlasting bliss, through the grace and favor of his Maker, upon condition of his perseverance in his state of innocency and obedience”

(M. Henry).

If the tree of life is a seal of Adam’s covenant with God, then the fruit of this tree was a visible sign or symbol to strengthen faith and bring remembrance to God’s Promise. This is very much akin to the eating of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. Ritualists make this to be a means to confer grace, but the Scriptures intend the seal to be a symbol of our faith in God’s promise. See Romans 4:11 above, a seal is given as a token of God’s pledge that He will keep his promise and it is received by faith.

Misconceptions About the Tree of Life

Does Genesis teach that the Tree of Life had the power to impart regeneration? Some modern believers think so. In so doing, they invest the tree with a sort of sacramental power to confer the grace of God and to be a means of works-salvation. Says Pink:

God banished Adam from Eden “lest” the poor, blinded, deceived man—now open to every error—should suppose that by eating of the tree of life, he might regain what he had irrevocably lost. God banished Adam so prevent the exact error of Rome – that of sacramental ritualism.

Tree of Life Was a Foreshadowing of Christ

The tree points toward Christ. The tree was the tree of Life; and Life is only found in Christ (John 1:4, etc.). Just as wicked sinful Adam had no part in the tree of life after he was fallen (Gen 3:24); so wicked fallen men have no place in Christ at the last day, and will be eternally separated “from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thes 1:7-9). Finally, the tree points to Christ, because all seals point to Christ. Only in Christ are all the promises fulfilled – “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen.”

The Tree of Life Foreshadows Heaven


“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden…” (Genesis 2:9)


“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” (Rev 2:7)


“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. …Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. “ (Rev 22:2, 14)

What Baptists Believe

What do Baptists historically believe about the Covenant made with Adam? According to the Baptist Confession:

London Baptist Confession

Chapter 6: Of the Fall of Man, Of Sin, And of the Punishment Thereof

  • 1. Although 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, yet he did not long abide in this honour; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.
  • 2. Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.
  • 3. They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free.
  • 4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

1677 Baptist Catechism

Q15. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man, in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, He entered into a covenant of works with him, upon condition of perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.
(Gen. 2:16,17; Gal. 3:12; Rom. 5:12)

Q19. Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself but for his posterity, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in his first transgression.
(1 Cor. 15:21,22; Rom. 5:12,18,19)


In summary, we turn again to the words to AW Pink:

All the essential elements of a formal covenant between God and Adam are clearly to be seen in the Genesis record. A requirement was made – obedience; a penal sanction was attached—death as the penalty of disobedience; a reward was promised upon his obedience—confirmation in life. Adam con­sented to its terms; the whole was divinely sealed by the tree of life—so called because it was the outward sign of that life promised in the covenant, from which Adam was excluded because of his apostasy, and to which the redeemed are restored by the last Adam (Rev. 2:7). Thus Scripture presents all the prime features of a covenant as co­existing in that constitution under which our first parent was orig­inally placed.

AW Pink


3 thoughts on “The Adamic Covenant

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  2. Pingback: The Fall of Man, part 1 | Abraham's Seed

  3. Pingback: Baptist Views on the Mosaic Covenant | Abraham's Seed

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