Kingdom through Covenant: A Review by Douglas Moo

Editors’ Note: As noted in our recent interview with authors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2012) is a groundbreaking contribution to any discussion about the intersection of exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. In 848 pages, Gentry and Wellum have made a substantial case for an independent middle path between dispensational and covenant theology—a case that demands a response.

We’ve invited three noted scholars to evaluate Gentry and Wellum’s proposal: Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary; Douglas Moo, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College outside Chicago; and Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (California). Today we hear from Moo.


Recognizing the imperative need (among evangelicals in particular) to serve the church (not the academy) by helping believers understand the Bible (not merely the Old Testament or the New Testament or Paul or Isaiah or Malachi 1), a number of scholars have recently undertaken the daunting task of writing “whole Bible” biblical theologies (e.g., Charles Scobie, Greg Beale). Kingdom through Covenant doesn’t quite fit into this genre since it is purposely selective in the topics it treats. What Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum do attempt, however, is to erect the scaffolding needed to guide the reader through the storyline of the Bible. That scaffolding is made up of six successive biblical covenants—with Adam/creation, Noah, Abraham, the Israelites, David, and the church (a covenant with the Levites is mentioned briefly but plays no role in the book). “Through” (explained as meaning both “by means of” and “in the succession of”) the covenants, God works to establish his kingdom, his glorious reign over all of creation.

In accordance with their claim that “biblical theology” must work with the categories Scripture provides, Gentry and Wellum assert that the Bible itself reveals that “covenant” is the key structuring element in the Bible. And this should be no surprise, since “covenant is intrinsic to the being of God himself” (164). At the heart of “covenant” is a relationship (which covenant regulates but does not create) characterized by “faithfulness and loyalty in love” (141).

One of the book’s more controversial claims is that the biblical covenants are a mixture of the traditional “suzerain-vassal” and “royal grant” treaty types identified in the Ancient Near Eastern world, and that they are therefore both unconditional (God guarantees their fulfillment) and conditional (their fulfillment depends on a faithful and obedient covenant partner). I think Gentry and Wellum are probably right on this latter point, both because they offer compelling biblical evidence for the point and because this twofold dimension of covenant matches a basic tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility that runs right through the Bible. I am not so sure that “covenant” is the structuring element of the biblical story, although the authors make a good case for it.

Context of Debate

Gentry and Wellum set their work in the context of the continuing debate between “covenant theology” on the one hand and “dispensationalism” on the other. An early chapter describes each movement (appropriately recognizing the various iterations of each general approach) and offers brief critique. These descriptions, though based on a rather odd and narrow selection of authors, are fair enough. Gentry and Wellum’s reading of the Bible’s covenant structure leads them to reject both of these traditional options in favor of what they call “new covenant theology” or “progressive covenantalism” (24). Neither of the traditional approaches, Gentry and Wellum claim, takes seriously enough the typological nature of Old Testament (OT) realities and their fulfillments in Christ. Specifically, picking up two of the dominant themes in the book, dispensationalists fail to see how the land promise finds its typological counterpart in Christ and the new creation, and covenant theologians don’t recognize that the mixed community of believers and unbelievers that characterizes the old covenant finds its antitype in Christ and in a purely regenerate covenant community (though I don’t understand quite how the typology in this latter case “works”). Critical to the authors’ reading of the covenants is a significant disjunction between the Old Testament covenants and the new covenant. Among other things, this disjunction means that the law (or “instruction,” as the authors prefer to call it) of the Israelite covenant doesn’t directly apply to new covenant Christians. I think Gentry and Wellum are right on this reading of the covenants and the implications for the applicability of the law. But, while it pains me to do so, I must question the argument they use to get to this conclusion.

In an early chapter, the authors contend the OT is “completely consistent” in distinguishing between the language of initiating a covenant (“cutting” a covenant) and reaffirming an existing covenant (“establishing” or “upholding” a covenant) (155). But this claim is not consistently maintained. They argue that Deut. 29:1 (English) presents the Deuteronomic covenant as a “covenant in its own right” (a covenant is “cut”) but that it also “supplements” rather than replaces the Sinai covenant (377-82). Yet when they come to the language about the new covenant in Ezek. 16:60 and 62, which speaks not of “cutting” but of “establishing” a covenant, they admit that the consistent distinction for which they earlier argue doesn’t hold here. One cannot, then, identify the new covenant as one that supersedes all others on the basis of lexicography (contra their claim on p. 512). Nor, in light of their treatment of Deut. 29:1, is it clear that the simple inauguration of a new covenant must mean that all earlier covenants are superseded. The authors may betray an awareness of this possible criticism in the careful language they choose to express the point: the “cutting” of a new covenant “automatically renders the Israelite covenant obsolete as a code or formalized agreement” (512, emphasis mine); “the covenant with Israel as a whole covenant package comes to its end and Christians are no longer under it as a covenant” (635, emphasis original). I’m not sure the qualifications in the language here overcome the logical problems in the argument.

Where Is the NT?

Gentry and Wellum are to be commended for their valiant (and certainly not wholly unsuccessful) attempt to ground a fundamental discontinuity between the new covenant and the older covenants in the OT itself. I applaud the kind of carefully theologically oriented OT interpretation that the volume gives us (although the volume is cluttered with exegesis of detailed points that don’t clearly contribute to the argument—I am unclear, for instance, about why an entire chapter is devoted to Daniel 9:27-29). Yet, at the risk of exposing my own disciplinary prejudice, I’m puzzled at the lack of any sustained exegetical argument for the point from the New Testament (NT). To be sure, the authors appeal to NT texts in the course of their discussion of the OT covenants, but there is little if any exegesis and a distressing lack of recognition of alternative viewpoints and of bibliography. The one sustained NT chapter, on Ephesians 4-6, contributes little to the key argument, while critical NT texts about “covenant” or “law” are only briefly mentioned.

In two concluding chapters, Gentry and Wellum summarize their argument and spell out some of its implications. The authors betray (not unfairly) their own ecclesiastical location by stressing that only those who truly believe belong to the new covenant and that the new covenant sign of baptism should therefore be administered only to (professing) believers. The promise of a land to Abraham and his descendants shows evidence in the OT itself of being bigger and more nuanced than a promise of the particular geography of Canaan—a point the NT makes clear by expanding the promise to include the whole creation. And, echoing an argument Greg Beale makes in his recent New Testament Biblical Theology, the significance of Christ’s active obedience for his work of atonement is supported by viewing Christ as the one who, as both human and divine, becomes the obedient covenant partner for which the OT covenants look in vain. I think each of these points is well-grounded in the larger argument of the book. (I am less certain of the argument for particular atonement, whose relevance to the key argument is not immediately obvious.)

Thanks, Peter and Stephen (if I may), for a book that I read with pleasure and profit. I learned a lot, and I think you are on the right track. If I’m disappointed at some parts of the book that appear to me to be detours from the essential argument and a failure to do genuine “whole Bible” theology by neglecting the NT, I have to admit that I (and any number of collaborators) could probably not do nearly as well as you have done.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Interesting and quite charitable review. I’m wondering what evidence is given for the merging of the two types of ANE covenants within the Biblical text instead of seeing the two types being cut and established at different points. Also, given the criticism of the “consistent” language of cutting and establishing covenants, it leaves me curious as to the treatment by Gentry and Wellum of the New covenant in Jeremiah and 2 Corinthians. I also would have liked to see a further discussion of the “pure” community of the New Testament. I see a holy community, a regenerate one, but there is still discussion of the church as a mixed body that doesn’t entirely fit. I suppose we’ll have to wait for Horton’s review for that.

  • Nick Mackison

    Great review. I particularly appreciated the point on active obedience. Very helpful indeed.

  • Luma

    Thank you for this review Professor Moo, it is very helpful. I read the book but I’m just a lay-woman, I don’t have enough theological knowledge to pick up on some of the things you picked up on. I did at one point find myself looking for a more expanded NT argument from them. I’m grateful you put into words thoughts/ideas that I kind of see but can’t articulate. Thank you again.

    I also want to tell you that I love your “Introduction to the New Testament.”

    In Christ,
    Luma Simms

  • Dane

    Incisive review.

  • Josh C

    I have not read the book . . . but it almost sounds like the authors are recognizing the failures of both CT and DT on one hand, but on the other hand are doing what they can to avoid the most obvious solution that unifies all of Scripture: covenant nomism.

  • Mark

    Helpful review.

    “I am not so sure that “covenant” is the structuring element of the biblical story, although the authors make a good case for it.” Agreed. There is a significant body of discussion about whether or not there is a biblical “center” and if so finding any agreement on what that center is. Beale’s “NT BT Theology” attempts to deal with this concern by proposing a multifaceted storyline.

    Thanks for these reviews. They should provide a useful reference while reading the book.

    • JK


      As an FYI, Gentry and Wellum are not arguing for a thematic center of the bible. Instead, they are arguing for covenant as an essential structuring device. It’s a difference between content and form (theme and structure). They argue, and I agree with them, that you can’t understand the theme(s) of the bible without understanding its structure, which is why they spend so much time explaining covenants…

  • Mark

    “Where Is the NT”? I wonder, maybe the authors aren’t fully committed to the notion of biblical revelation being progressive (biblical theology), i.e., that full-flowered NT revelation (redemptive-historical/BT hermeneutic a la Geerhardus Vos) is the best interpreter of the OT. Maybe they give greater weight to grammatico-historical at expense of redemptive-historical. I am also suspicious that full bore BT might undercut their commitment to a strong separation between OT & NT. I also wonder how much impact BT has had on the development of “progressive dispensationalism” and “New Covenant Theology.”

    • Freddy

      Hey, Mark. Just wanted to say that I took hermeneutics at SBTS with Wellum 3 years. Great class to begin with. Between that class and OT with Jim Hamilton I was drawn into the discipline of BT because of what I was learning. So, I’d say that Wellum definitely is for BT and the redemptive/historical interpretation of Scripture. Vos was referenced on many occasions and that’s where I first heard of him (I think).

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  • emilio

    On Moo’s question:
    “Specifically, picking up two of the dominant themes in the book, dispensationalists fail to see how the land promise finds its typological counterpart in Christ and the new creation, and covenant theologians don’t recognize that the mixed community of believers and unbelievers that characterizes the old covenant finds its antitype in Christ and in a purely regenerate covenant community

    (though I don’t understand quite how the typology in this latter case “works”)”

    I think the typological link is Union with Christ. It is by virtue of one’s union with Christ that God’s community is now “unmixed” etc. All in all, I think the Christocentric hermeneutic is on the right track.

    Great review, very helpful.

    • Jonathan David Anderson

      Hi Emilio,

      Professor Moo’s point is how is the following a type – antitype relationship when compared to all the other type – antitype relationships in Scripture.

      Type: Community made up of believers and unbelievers.
      Antitype: Community made up of believers only.

      The relationship just doesn’t follow. It seems to be a reading into the text from a priori assumptions.

      • Brent Parker


        Moo’s characterization of what he portrays as type-antitype relationship between a mixed community of believers finding its antitype in Christ and a purely regenerate community does not quite match what the authors in KtC actually say. So your description of type and antitype as you delineate in your post is completely wrong. Wellum and Gentry do not make that typological connection that way. Rather, as Wellum’s chapters lay out, circumcision and Israel as a nation are typological in terms of pointing to Christ and new covenant realities. Jesus is the true Israel, the church is also new Israel in the sense of being in union with Christ, the true Israelite. But since the church comprises of the people who have faith in Christ, circumcised in heart and are thus new covenant members we have a regenerate church community. Much more to this in the book as the understanding of the genealogical principle also factors significantly in this discussion.

        My suggestion to you is to actually pick-up and read Kingdom through Covenant before attributing something to the authors (in a very reductionistic way I may add) which they never claim.

        • Jonathan David Anderson

          Hi Brent,

          I have read the book, and yes you are right that may statement was reductionistic. Please let me know if you think one of these better represents their position.

          Type: Faithful covenant mediator and community made up of believers and unbelievers.
          Antitype: Faithful covenant mediator and community made up of believers only.


          Type: Covenant mediator who is physically related to the community made up of believers and unbelievers
          Antitype: Covenant mediator who is spiritually related to the community made up of believers only.


          Type: Abraham and his physical seed made up of believers and unbelievers
          Antitype: Christ and his spiritual seed made up of believers only.

          Honestly, I think my reduction still makes the same point just as much as fully articulating their position. How does a covenant that includes, as they would say, elect and non-elect typify a covenant with the elect only? I don’t think they make a persuasive case for this typology excluding infants and small children from the new covenant.

          Dr. Wellum speaks of the “four seeds” of Abraham: Natural (Ishmael), Natural/Special (Isaac), True/Unique (Jesus) and Spiritual (believers in Christ) (pg. 632-633). He doesn’t mention those who were in Abraham’s household who weren’t from his physical lineage (slaves and his 318 fighting men) so I am not certain which seed they fall under? It seems like they would be spiritual, but I don’t know since that would mean they are believers in Christ? He also doesn’t mention the Egyptians who left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea with the Hebrews in the Exodus who were ingrafted into God’s people and even were brought under the Covenant with Israel which was the Natural/Special seed mentioned above. What seed were they?

          Also, I think Moo points out well that they seem to come to their conclusion based on the position they already ascribe instead of the biblical data (his example of their inconsistent use of cut/establish a covenant) especially in dealing with the New Covenant. There are several passages of Scripture they quite in full which they do not deal with the references to “descendants, offspring, children and infants”(pgs. 454-456,461-476). Finally, Jeremiah 31 is assumed to mean what they say it means with out any serious engagement with alternative viewpoints.

          As a former Baptist and student of Dr. Wellum, I was honestly expecting to be thoroughly challenged by this book which is why I pre-ordered it on Amazon months before it was released. All I have heard for the last 6 months from my friends who go to SBTS is that this book is a game changer. I didn’t find that to be the case. I personally think this book is only going to convince the already convinced which I think is one of the main reasons it was written.

  • Brandon

    I’ve enjoyed the series of reviews on KTC thoroughly. If anyone is interested in further study on relating covenant to believer baptism, checkout my new book entitled “Waters of Promise: Finding Meaning in Believer Baptism.”

    Here’s the link to the publisher:

  • Edgar Johnston

    It would be helpful to note that ‘cut’ a covenant is used both for covenant initiation and covenant renewal. Note Ex 24:8, 34:10, 27;Deut 28:69; 29: 9-11; Josh 24:25; 2 Kgs 11:17; 23:3; 1 Chr 15:12. Deciding whether a covenant has been initiated or renewed is based on other information in the text.

  • bradybush

    It’s condescending to say that dispensationalists “fail to see” typological fulfillment of the land covenant. They see it and reject it outright.

  • Josh C

    And they reject the literal fulfillment as well: “Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” Joshua 21:45

  • Gary D. Long

    Kingdom through Covenant by Gentry and Wellum explains how God’s eternal kingdom purpose is worked out in redemptive history by means of biblical covenants. This is critical for breaking down the doctrinal walls of partition that separate Dispensational and Covenant Theology—necessary for more accurately explaining the way of God. It commences with their understanding of a pre-fall “covenant of creation” which “does not agree with all aspects of covenant theology’s “covenant of works” (610), but agrees with covenant theology that there was a covenant relationship with Adam. (This is a “legitimate” (613) and necessary distinction contrary to those who are in basic agreement with the new covenant theology but reject a pre-fall covenant.) Their work proceeds to biblically challenge the theological lynchpin of covenant theology’s “one covenant of grace” viewed as an “overarching” theological covenant (69) differently administered “through the lens of the Abrahamic Covenant” under the Old and New Covenants. This was admittedly done, according to Geerhardus Vos, when Zwingli, in 1525, and the Swiss Reformers came into “direct conflict with the Anabaptists” to defend the practice of infant baptism of covenant children by reaching “for the Old Testament [especially Gen. 17:6] and applying the federal understanding of the sacraments to the new dispensation.” (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., 236)

    The courteous reviews by the recognized biblical scholars Darrell Bock, Douglas Moo and Michael Horton clearly demonstrate that there is a wide gap, though narrowing, that remains between and within evangelical theological systems. It is interesting to see how different principles of hermeneutics come to the surface in their reviews. This is especially so with the review by Bock where the unfulfilled OT land promises are used to interpret the NT, rather than the New the Old (e.g., in Hebrew 11:8 16), and the injection of Revelation 20:4-6 wherever necessary (e.g., in Romans 11 and Luke 21:23-24) to support a presumed earthly millennium following the Second Advent and before the final consummation (e.g., Rev. 20:7-21:8). The review comments by Bock and Moo regarding particular atonement were reflective of their “modified Calvinism” soteriological understanding that has persisted since post-apostolic times; yet should be answered by accepting the express teaching of Ephesians 1:4 and John 1:13.

    I would have liked to see Kingdom through Covenant address the Law of Christ administered under the New Covenant as expressed in I Corinthians 9:21-22 and elsewhere. But enough! Kingdom through Covenant is a greatly needed pioneer work that will help clarify foundational differences between Dispensational and Covenant Theology and provide a “middle way” to help explain the way of God more accurately. It will be a required resource for the courses taught at Providence Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs, CO. Gary D. Long, Faculty President

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  • J Morgan

    Dr. Moo,

    You have blessed my heart with a clear and careful review, given in a spirit of humility and brotherly love.

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