You are hereIntroduction to Covenant Creation
Introduction to Covenant Creation
by Timothy P. Martin
and Jeff Vaughn
What Is Covenant Creation?
Preterists recognize that the “end” spoken of in prophecy is not the end of the physical world. Rather, it is the end of the old covenant, the end of the “old creation,” the passing away of “the first heaven and the first earth” (Rev. 21:1). We call this Covenant Eschatology. and Jeff Vaughn
What Is Covenant Creation?
Preterists recognize that the “end” spoken of in prophecy is not the end of the physical world. Rather, it is the end of the old covenant, the end of the “old creation,” the passing away of “the first heaven and the first earth” (Rev. 21:1). We call this Covenant Eschatology. Covenant Creation views the original “heavens and earth” which God made “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) as directly related to God’s creation of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev. 21:1).
If the “end” spoken of in prophecy is the end of the old covenant order and has nothing to do with the end of the physical universe, then we think it is time to ask some very important questions:
- Does the biblical “beginning” match the biblical “end”?
- When did God introduce the old covenant order?
- Could Genesis creation speak about the beginning of the covenant world of God’s relationship to his people rather than the beginning of the physical universe?
- Why would the Bible open with an account of the creation of the physical universe and then change subjects completely to close with prophecy of a covenant end?
Those are difficult questions, but reflect on the current scenario for a moment. Preterism is, by its very nature, the outright rejection of the belief that prophecy speaks about the end of the physical world. At the same time, Preterists have assumed Genesis creation is a literal statement about the origin of the physical world. Do you realize what that means? It means that most Preterists have viewed the central subject of creation in the “beginning” as completely different from the central subject of prophecy and the “end.”
Is it possible that Preterists have yet to explore the full implications of preterism in the first chapters of Genesis? Advocates of Covenant Creation suggest that it is time to self-consciously rethink Genesis creation according to Preterist principles.
Covenant Eschatology challenges all common eschatological views because they view the “end” in terms of the physical world. Likewise, Covenant Creation challenges all common creation views because they view the “beginning” in terms of the physical world. The principles Covenant Eschatology applies to the “end” are the same principles that Covenant Creation applies to the “beginning.” Covenant Creation and Covenant Eschatology match.
The Unity of the Biblical Story
For generations, theologians and biblical scholars of every persuasion have written about the intimate connection between the “beginning” and the “end.” Every form of futurism begins with a physical-world view of Genesis creation and then concludes logically with the belief that prophecies of the “new heaven and new earth” describe some new physical universe to come at the end of the physical world.
That is a symmetrical view of the Bible. Futurism, though far removed from the biblical context and redemptive focus of biblical prophecy, has a consistent view of the “beginning” and the “end.” Could it be that Futurism’s error regarding the “end” is ultimately rooted in its understanding of what God created “in the beginning?”
A related issue is the nature of God’s curse pronounced at the Fall in Genesis 3. The majority of evangelical Christians believe that God created a world with no pain, no suffering, and no physical death. They teach that Adam’s sin brought pain, suffering, and death on the entire physical world. Since the “end” must undo the Fall, and since mankind’s Fall brought physical pain and suffering, the “end” must terminate physical pain and suffering. The implication of this view is that God created “toothless” lions as grass-eaters, laying down and chewing the cud with the calf. Since the Fall somehow changed the lion into a dangerous meat-eater, so the “end” must bring about the salvation of the lion, restoring him to his “sinless” grass-eating, cud-chewing state (argued from Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25).
This biological view of the curse leads logically to a biological view of the redemption to come. In contrast, a covenantal view of the curse leads logically to a covenantal/spiritual redemption accomplished by Christ in the first century. Futurism and preterism part ways in Genesis based on two competing interpretations of “the death” that fell on the creation as a result of Adam’s violation of God’s command. The scope of this divide, however, is larger than the single issue of the curse. Can the nature of the curse be separated from the nature of creation? Futurism’s biological view of the curse in Genesis 3 is merely one aspect of futurism’s biological view of Genesis creation!
One strength of Preterism is it brings so many details in Scripture together in remarkable unity. There is no chaos in New Testament prophecy. It is one recurring, coherent message which reflects the theological, apologetic, and physical struggle of the real people we call the first “Christians.” The unity of the prophetic message is not limited to the New Testament. Their expectations dovetail with all of the Old Testament prophecies as well. Many of those prophecies draw from the earliest chapters of Genesis. A correct understanding of Genesis creation is crucial to Preterism.
Genesis Creation as God’s People
Covenant Creation employs a specific hermeneutic approach to Genesis creation that takes into consideration the symbolism of the elements used in the creation account. At first glance, the idea that Genesis creation is speaking about the formation of God’s people, “heavens and earth,” might seem strange. It is easy to literalize the imagery of the sea, the land, the sun, moon, and stars and assume the physical universe is the topic of conversation in Genesis.
Consider what happens when Futurists pick up prophetic texts like Matthew 24:29ff and Revelation that use creation imagery to communicate God’s covenant judgment. What? Those falling stars are not literal? The sun and moon being darkened is not a reference to the literal sky? The disappearance of the sea is not talking about the end of the oceans? Why don’t Preterists take the Bible literally!
The answer is the framework of prophecy. Clear time-statements for fulfillment require a symbolic interpretation of the apocalyptic texts. We have prior examples to rely on as well. The prophets often use prophetic-apocalyptic symbolism or “collapsing-universe” language to reference God’s judgments.
Genesis creation uses the opposite “constructing-universe” language in reference to the forming of God’s covenant relationship with Adam and Eve. They found themselves in a new (covenant) world when God created them and revealed himself to them. The symbolism of “constructing universe” in the creation account is patterned around covenant formation, just as the symbolism of “collapsing-universe” language is patterned around covenant de-creation in prophetic texts.
Why are the elements of Genesis creation symbolic? Again, the answer is the framework of Genesis creation. There are statements in the creation account that indicate the subject at hand is God’s people:
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished (Gen. 2:1 NKJV)
Preterists should note the “heavens and earth” language as well as another detail. The “host” is associated with the “the heavens and the earth.” English translations interpret this in a variety of ways, but the underlying Hebrew word for “host” is a common Hebrew word used often to reference God’s people. Israel came up out of Egypt as a “host” (Ex. 12:51)—the same Hebrew word found in Genesis 2:1. Another four examples can be found in Daniel’s prophecy regarding the persecution of God’s people in the last days (Dan. 8:10-13, 19). The subject of the creation account is the “host”—God’s army—which is a new people. Genesis 2:4 (KJV) offers another indicator: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Why is it that the “heavens and earth” involve generations? The form of this verse (“These are the generations of . . .”) is used throughout Genesis (e.g., 5:1; 6:9; 10:1, 32; 11:10). In every other instance where this form is used, the reference is to people. Genesis 2:4 references generations in conjunction with “heavens and earth” because the creation account speaks about the original formation of God’s people. Genesis creation is a symbolic statement, involving real people in real history, describing the “beginning” of God’s covenant world of friendship and relationship with His people.
The “Heavens and Earth” of the Law
Describing people with the symbolic imagery of “heaven and earth and sea” continues throughout Genesis. We see the association of all three symbolic elements of creation in the promise given to Abraham (Gen. 13:16; 15:4-6; 22:17). Joseph had a dream about the sun, moon and eleven stars (heavens) as well as another dream of shocks of wheat (earth) bowing down to him (Gen. 37:6-11; cf. Matt. 13:30, 41-43). The heavens and earth constituted the entire family of Israel.
Moses addressed Israel as heavens and earth:
Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth . . . . (Deut. 32:1 NIV)
If Moses calls Israel “heavens” and “earth,” why then would Genesis 1:1 be a description of the physical universe? Moses knew that “heavens and earth” is God’s people, formed through God’s special covenant creation. Moses makes another unique creation reference to Israel in that same passage:
In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young . . . . (Deut. 32:10-11 NIV; emphasis ours)
Consider the connection to creation as explained by David Chilton:
Moses uses two key words in this passage: waste and hover. Both of these words occur only one other time in the entire Pentateuch, and again they occur together, in Genesis 1: 2. . . . The Covenant on Sinai was a re-creation, a reorganization of the world.
What world was re-organized? Moses’ language takes us back to the “heavens and earth” of Genesis 1! Did the physical universe change at Sinai? If the revelation of the Sinai covenant could re-create and re-organize the world, then the world in focus as God’s creation could not be the physical universe.
There are many more connections between the Law and original creation in Genesis. The heavens, earth and sea aspect of tabernacle and temple architecture draw from Genesis 1. The seven feasts correspond to the seven days of creation. The typological furniture and structure of the tabernacle and temple system correspond to details described in the Garden of Eden. Genesis creation is the covenant backdrop, from the cherubim in the holy of holies guarding the place of God’s presence above the mercy-seat, to the golden lampstand with branches (cf. the tree of life in Ex. 25), to the precious memorial gemstones of the priest’s ephod (cf. Eden’s jewels in Ex. 28), to the linen garments that kept the High Priest from sweating (Ex. 28; Ezek. 44:18 cf. Gen. 3:19). The roots of the Mosaic Law go back to creation.
The “Heavens and Earth” of the Prophets
Consider how Jeremiah speaks about “heavens and earth” in the same vein as Genesis creation:
I beheld the earth and indeed it was without form, and void; And the heavens, they had no light (Jer. 4:23 NKJV)
What is Jeremiah talking about in this passage? Where does that language originate? Jeremiah speaks in the context of the impending judgment on Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC, but he uses the exact same language (Hebrew, tohu wahohu) found only in Genesis 1:2! The “heavens and earth” had, quite literally, become “without form and void” again because of wickedness in the land. Jeremiah could use that language to describe the corrupt nation because he understood that Genesis creation speaks about the formation of God’s people by covenant. Creation had become undone because God’s people had violated the covenant.
Isaiah’s prophecies also draw from the early chapters of Genesis:
Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. . . . They will not toil in vain [curse on Adam] or bear children doomed to misfortune [curse on Eve]; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. . . . The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food [curse on serpent] . . . . (Is. 65:17, 23-25 NIV; emphasis ours, cf. Gen. 3:14-19)
Notice how Isaiah uses the exact same language as Genesis 1:1. Isaiah says God will “create (bara—same Hebrew verb as Gen. 1:1) new heavens and a new earth.” Preterists recognize Isaiah 65 as background for the “new heaven and new earth” in New Testament prophecy (e.g., 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). But from where did Isaiah get the original concept of “heavens and earth”? The language of Isaiah 65 takes us back to the “beginning” in Genesis 1:1.
When Preterists highlight the link between Isaiah 65 and the end of the Bible, it is only consistent to accept the prophet’s own link back to the beginning of the Bible. If Futurists are unjustified in their attempt to change the definition of the “heavens and earth” of Isaiah 65 to a physical universe meaning in the New Testament, then Preterists are equally unjustified to force a change in the definition of “heavens and earth” from Isaiah 65 back to Gen. 1:1. The consistent language from Genesis 1:1 to Isaiah 65 to New Testament fulfillment requires a consistent interpretation.
Isaiah did not invent anything new in chapter 65. He worked, by inspiration, from the past story he already knew! The “new heaven and new earth” is the re-creation of God’s people, using symbolic animals and elements of creation, because the original “heavens and earth” is the creation of God’s people, using symbolic animals and elements of creation. Everything at the end of the story originates from the beginning through Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah 65 serves as a great bridge that spans across the pages of Scripture reaching simultaneously backwards into Genesis 1-3 and forward to Revelation 21-22.
Jesus and the Apostles on Genesis Creation
Jesus sets his eschatological teaching in the wide context of old covenant history, referencing the earliest chapters of Genesis. He claimed the judgment to come would be comprehensive. The guilt of “all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah” was to “come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35-36 NKJV). He also claimed the Great Tribulation would be “unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matt. 24:21 NIV).
Preterists are quick to understand these statements within a covenant context. That first-century generation would be held accountable for all the righteous blood spilled in covenant history, not world history. The Tribulation would be the worst distress in covenant history, not world history. This approach, if applied consistently, would mean “the beginning of the world” must be understood in the same covenant context—Covenant Creation.
Paul draws from the earliest chapters of Genesis and identified “the creation” as God’s people in a passage expounding the glory of the children of God being set free:
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Rom. 8:19-22 NKJV)
Where did Paul learn to associate “the creation” with God’s people? He certainly didn’t make this up! “The creation” is God’s people. Paul’s view of the curse matched his view of the creation. Paul’s teaching assumes Covenant Creation because the physical universe is nowhere in view when Paul mentions “the creation.”
This covenant-centered focus of creation explains how Paul could call those who believe on Jesus Christ God’s “new creation” in Galatians 6:15 and 2 Corinthians 5:17. To what does Paul appeal as his authority? He quotes Genesis 1:3:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6 NIV)
The book of Hebrews explicitly connects the beginning with the end:
… In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands, they will perish, but you remain . . . . (Heb. 1:10-11 NIV)
What God created “in the beginning” perished at the “end.” Did the physical universe pass away in AD 70? No. That fact provides a powerful demonstration that Genesis “in the beginning” creation is not a plain-literal account of the original formation of the physical universe. Hebrews 1:10-11 tells us that Genesis is about the beginning of the covenant world God made with his people, beginning with Adam and Eve.
Peter also draws a parallel between creation, flood, and consummation:
For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:5-7 NKJV)
Peter references the formation of dry land that “stood” out of water on Day 3 (Gen. 1:9-10). This world—with the exception of righteous Noah and his family who became a “new” covenant world—was destroyed by the flood, just as the then current “heavens and earth” was reserved for fire. Preterists believe the destruction of Peter’s “heavens and earth” by fire is a reference to a covenant world, not the physical universe. Peter’s 3-way comparison shows that creation and flood must be understood in the same covenant context as the fire of AD 70.
We find another example of the inescapable relationship between the beginning and end of the Bible in the final pages of Revelation:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first earth had passed away. Also there was no sea. (Rev. 21:1 NKJV)
Note how the elements listed draw from Genesis 1. That is where God created the “heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) and “the sea” (Gen. 1:9-10, 20). The immediate context before this passage describes the Great White Throne judgment of “earth and heaven” (20:11) and “sea” (20:13). John works directly from the full context of creation as he goes on to write about the holy city in Edenic imagery drawn from creation. Don Preston notes in passing that the entire creation would be destroyed at the end of the Millennium:
Notice now that in Rev. 21, the heavens and earth pass away at the end of the millennium . . . . [T]he great Day of the Lord was to occur at the time of the destruction of creation, at the judgment of Babylon, and since creation was to be destroyed at the end of the millennium, then the vindication of the martyrs, in the judgment on Babylon, was to occur at the end of the millennium. [emphasis ours]
The destruction of creation? Yes! What Genesis 1-3 does, Revelation 21-22 undoes. AD 70 marked the final end of the old covenant age, the old world of types and shadows. The entire old creation has been recreated in Christ. However, the physical heavens and earth were not destroyed and recreated in AD 70. Indeed, the biblical “end” had no bearing on the physical operation of the sun, moon, stars, and planet Earth.
Neither did the biblical “beginning.”
Preterists have made the transition to Covenant Eschatology. Now it is time to transition to Covenant Creation.
Covenant Creation: Consistent Full Preterism
Preterists recognize that no solution to debates over prophecy is possible so long as the “end” is viewed in terms of the physical universe. “Partial” solutions that view the “end” with double vision, seeing both a covenant world and the physical universe, fare no better.
Traditional debates over Genesis creation are not solvable for very the same reason. They all hinge on physical-universe assumptions about the “beginning.” “Partial” solutions that view the “beginning” with double vision, seeing both a covenant world and the physical universe, are impossible for a very simple reason. All prophecy of the “new creation” is rooted, ultimately, in Genesis creation. Genesis creation is all about the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as biblical prophecy is all about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Could it be that consistent Full Preterism begins in Genesis 1:1?
(Editor’s Note: Learn more about Covenant Creation at the upcoming 2009 Covenant Creation Conference.)
 In Biblical Apocalyptics (1898), 19th century Preterist theologian Milton S. Terry, showed how the earliest chapters of Genesis use apocalyptic language and symbolic detail similar to the prophets and the book of Revelation. He viewed creation “as truly a sevenfold revelation of a beginning as the Apocalypse of John is a mystic revelation of an end” (p. 44). We make an extended case for this prophetic-symbolic view of the creation account in Beyond Creation Science.
 Note that the imagery in Joseph’s dream has no reference to “sea.” Israel is “land” in God’s original creation of the old covenant world.
 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), p. 320.
 We present a full case for a local flood related to a covenant judgment in Beyond Creation Science, pp. 111-207.
 Don K. Preston, Who is This Babylon? (Ardmore, OK: JaDon Productions, 2006), pp. 268-269.