Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Six Objections Against the Common Grace Interpretation
of Genesis 6:18 and 9:8-17

Ronald L. Cammenga

(An excerpt from "The Covenant with Noah: Common Grace or Cosmic Grace?"
 Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 40 [April 2007], no.1, pp. 14-18)


A number of weighty objections must be lodged against the view that God’s covenant with Noah was a covenant of common grace, altogether distinct both in its recipients and promises from God’s covenant of grace in Jesus Christ.

First, the account in Genesis makes plain that it is God alone who establishes the covenant. The covenant is no bargain or mutual agreement entered into by God and Noah. Repeatedly the language that is used is language that underscores divine sovereignty in the establishment of the covenant. Consistently the language that is used is “I will establish my covenant” (Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 12, 16). This is unilateral and unconditional covenant language. God alone establishes the covenant. The covenant that He establishes is His (“my”) covenant. It was not God and Noah who established the covenant, so that the covenant that was established was “their” covenant. God established the covenant, and therefore the covenant is His covenant. The very form of the Hebrew verb that is used throughout the passage, and for that matter is used throughout the Old Testament, for the establishment of the covenant emphasizes God’s sovereignty in establishing the covenant. The Hebrew verb is the Hiphil of קוםּ (qum), which in the Hiphil (the causative verbal pattern) means “to cause to stand, to establish.” The very form of the verb underscores the truth that God and God alone establishes the covenant. The covenant exists because He causes it to stand.

Second, the fact that the Genesis account speaks throughout of “my covenant” (Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 15) and “the covenant” (Gen. 9:12, 16, 17), along with the fact that “covenant” is throughout singular, implies that the covenant established with Noah is a manifestation of the one covenant of God. This is the language used throughout Scripture to refer to the covenant of grace. That this language is used in regard to God’s covenant with Noah indicates that the Noahic covenant, unique to be sure in certain features, was nevertheless as to its essential character of one piece with the covenant of grace established by God with His people in Christ.

Third, what confirms the view that the Noahic covenant is only a manifestation of the one covenant of grace is the fact that the covenant with Noah is referred to as a covenant “for perpetual generations” (Gen. 9:12) and “the everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:16). Although the covenant with Noah does certainly concern this earth and the life of God’s covenant people in the midst of this earth as they are gathered and as the covenant comes to manifestation in the history of the world, nevertheless the covenant with Noah is not essentially a temporal covenant whose benefits are limited to this earth. It is rather an everlasting covenant. Not only does that emphasize that God establishes and realizes the covenant, inasmuch as God alone is eternal, but that also underscores the truth that the blessings of the Noahic covenant are not just temporal blessings attached to earthly life. They are in reality blessings that originate in eternity past and extend to eternity future. They are nothing less, therefore, than the blessings of salvation, the spiritual salvation of God in Jesus Christ.

A fourth objection to the common grace view of the covenant with Noah is that it does not do justice to the original establishment of that covenant as recorded in Genesis 6:18. The proponents of common grace focus on the establishment of the covenant as it is recorded in Genesis 9:8-17, the account of the establishment of the covenant with Noah after the Flood. But what they fail to take into due consideration is the fact that the first establishment of God’s covenant with Noah is recorded in Genesis 6:18 before the Flood. God’s covenant with Noah after the Flood may not be divorced from His covenant established with Noah before the Flood. These, clearly, are not two different covenants, but one and the same covenant. The covenant was first established by God with Noah before the Flood, and then confirmed by God after the Flood. What Genesis 6:18 makes clear is that the Noahic covenant is not a merely temporal covenant with purely earthly benefits. Genesis 6:18 is the explanation as to why Noah and his family will not perish in the Flood. Under the just judgment of God, the wicked world of Noah’s day perished in the deluge, a just judgment of God that ended in the everlasting damnation of those ungodly. In contrast to the wicked world exposed to the awful judgment of God, stood Noah and his family. What marked the difference between that perishing world, on the one hand, and Noah and his family, on the other hand? The difference was the grace of God. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). According to that grace, God established His covenant with Noah. Clearly, the significance of God’s covenant with Noah, therefore, cannot be reduced to that which is purely temporal and earthly—not, at least, if full justice is done to the light that Genesis 6:18 sheds on God’s confirmation of the covenant in Genesis 9:8-17.

What strengthens the objection against the common grace understanding of the Noahic covenant, in the fifth place, is the subsequent reference to this history and covenant in Scripture. In three passages in the Old Testament, reference is made to God’s covenant with Noah: Isaiah 54:9-10, Jeremiah 33:20-22 and Hosea 2:18. In all three instances, the covenant with Noah is compared to God’s covenant with His elect people in Christ. In the Isaiah 54 passage, the Noahic covenant is compared to “the covenant of my peace”; in the Jeremiah passage the Noahic covenant is compared to God’s covenant with David, which covenant is ultimately with Christ, the great son of David, and all who are in Jesus Christ; in the Hosea passage the Noahic covenant is compared to God’s covenant with Israel, according to which He will break the bow and the sword of their enemies and make Israel to lie down safely. That the Noahic covenant can be compared to God’s covenant of grace in these passages of the Old Testament is possible, in the final analysis, only if the Noahic covenant itself is a manifestation of the covenant of grace.

In the sixth place, it simply is not true that the Noahic covenant is established by God with all men, elect and reprobate alike. This is at best to misread Genesis 9 and at worst deliberately to corrupt the teaching of the passage. Noah does not stand as the head of the whole human race in Genesis 9, although unquestionably the whole human race derives from him. But Noah emerges from the ark as the head of the church, the church as it was manifested in that day, the church that had been saved through the watery destruction of the Flood. He is the prophet, priest, and king of the people of God who have been delivered, not merely from, but by the Flood [I Pet. 3:20]. With the head and representative of the church, who stands therefore as a type of Christ Himself, God establishes His covenant. The whole history of Genesis 6-9 proclaims the truth, proclaims it loudly and clearly, that not all men are included in God’s covenant. The covenant, the grace and salvation of the covenant, are particular, for some only.