MAJOR BIBLE THEMES
Louis Sperry Chafer
"Bible doctrines are the bones of
revelation and the attentive Bible student must be
impressed with the New Testament emphasis on sound
doctrine (Matt. 7:28; John 7:16, 17; Acts 2:42; Rom.
6:17; Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 1:3; 4:6, 16; 6:1; 2 Tim.
3:10, 16; 4:2, 3; 2 John 1:9, 10)."
~ Dr. Louis Sperry Chafer ~
The studies presented
herein are a continuation
of Major Bible Themes which, Lord willing, will
eventually be presented
in its entirety. Major Bible Themes may serve as a wonderful outline for personal or group
Links to previous studies in the series may be found in our
pages. ~ editor
"The importance to the Bible student of a
clear understanding of these age-characterizing,
world-transforming declarations of Jehovah cannot be estimated.
The Bible discloses
the fact that it has pleased God to enter into covenants with
men. Eight of these covenants are recorded and they incorporate
the most vital facts in man's relation to God throughout the
history of the race. Each covenant represents a divine purpose
and the majority of them constitute an absolute prediction as
well as an unalterable promise as to the accomplishment of
whatever God has designed. Reckoning from the time a covenant is
made, it always anticipates the future and is intended to be a
message of assurance to those to whom it is addressed.
The covenants of God are grouped into two classiﬁcations:
1. Those that Are Conditional.
A conditional covenant is one in which God's action is made to
be contingent upon some action on the part of those to whom the
covenant is addressed. A conditional covenant guarantees that
God will do His part with absolute certainty when the human
requirements are met; it also declares with equal certainty that
He will not do according to the expectation of the covenant
should the human responsibility fail.
2. Those that Are Unconditional.
An unconditional covenant is simply a declaration on the part of
God as to what He is going to do and is made without reference
to human action, purpose, or merit. This form of covenant is
illustrated in Genesis 15:1-18. Believing fully in the promise
of Jehovah concerning a seed (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:16-22), Abraham
sought to have that promise ratiﬁed by an outward seal in
action. Thus Jehovah directed in the preparation of the bodies
of the animals to be used in this ratiﬁcation, and though it was
no doubt the custom that both parties thus entering into
covenant should walk together between the pieces of the
carcasses, God caused Abraham to become utterly inactive by a
deep sleep while He passed through alone. Since this was an
unconditional covenant in which Abraham had no responsibility,
it was ﬁtting that he should in no way appear in the ratiﬁcation
of the covenant. Jehovah had not said, So shall thy seed be, if;
but He had said, So shall thy seed be.
Since all human life is lived under some qualifying conditions
belonging to the covenants of Jehovah, and since every passage
of Scripture draws its color to some degree from the covenant
under which it belongs, the importance to the Bible student of a
clear understanding of these age-characterizing,
world-transforming declarations of Jehovah cannot be estimated.
The eight major covenants are:
1. The Covenant with Man in Eden (Gen. 1:26-31; 2:16, 17).
According to this record, God entered into a conditional
covenant with Adam in which life and blessing or death and
cursing were made to depend on the faithfulness of Adam. Human
failure followed and the terms of the covenant were executed in
2. The Covenant with Man after the Fall (Gen. 3:16-19).
This is an unconditional covenant in which God declares to man
what his lot in life will be because of his sin. There is no
appeal allowed, nor is any human responsibility involved.
3. The Covenant with Noah and His Sons (Gen. 9:1-18).
In declaring the far-reaching details concerning the course and
destiny of the human family as represented in the sons of Noah,
in faithfully promising that there would be no recurrence of the
ﬂood, and in establishing the authority of human government on
the earth, God again entered into an unconditional covenant.
However, this covenant anticipated the most minute control of
all human life and destiny and could in no case be realized
apart from the cooperative action of uncounted numbers of human
wills; yet by the terms of this covenant God is committed to
accomplish everything He has promised even to the molding and
moving of the will of each individual who makes up the countless
myriads of humanity who were to appear on the earth.
There is an insoluble mystery presented in every effort to
reconcile the facts of divine sovereignty and human choice; but
in an unconditional covenant, God is seen to be in absolute
authority over all the forces of the world as well as over every
thought and intent of the human heart. Yet in the outworking of
the covenant no human being is conscious of divine coercion or
of restraint upon his own freedom of choice.
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a
bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance
4. The Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-4; 13:14-17; 15:1-7;
In like manner, this covenant reaches on through all time and
into eternity and involves the blessedness of all the families
of the earth. It is unconditional in the most absolute sense,
being set forth in seven I wills of Jehovah, and is conﬁrmed to
Isaac (Gen. 26:24) and to Jacob (Gen. 35:12). This covenant
anticipates the sovereign will of God in Abraham's personal
blessing, in the everlasting mercy to Israel, and the coming of
the Seed which is Christ.
Again, it should be observed that in the fulﬁllment of the
Abrahamic covenant God is committed to marvelous accomplishments
which extend over the whole history of the race and into
eternity. To guarantee this, which is inﬁnitely more than merely
foreseeing what man would do, man must be moved by a sovereign
hand even to the controlling of every thought and purpose which
has any part in the fulﬁllment of this covenant. Yet in its
outworking, not one of the whole human family will be conscious
of doing other than his own free choice may prompt him to do.
The sufﬁciency of God to perform even as He has determined is
not now a question of abstract speculation. Thousands of years
of human history have witnessed a perfect fulﬁllment to the
present hour; yet in the midst of this stupendous divine
achievement man has not ceased to disbelieve in the sovereignty
of God nor to belittle God in all his thoughts. The sphere of
man's thought is limited to the circle in which his own will
seems to him to be supreme.
5. The Covenant with Moses
(Exod. 20:1 to 31:18).
In transmitting the three-fold law (the commandments, Exod.
20:1-17; the judgments, Exod. 21:1 to 24:11; and the ordinances,
Exod. 24:12 to 31:18) to Israel through Moses, Jehovah entered
into a conditional covenant with that nation. The terms of the
law may be stated in the phrase - If ye will I will, and if ye
will not I will not. In Deuteronomy 28:1-62, as in various
portions of the Old Testament, these stipulations which
condition the covenant of the law are expanded in greater detail
as to their application. Though the covenant was made to depend
on the faithfulness of Israel, Jehovah foretold their failure
and the suffering that would follow (Deut. 28:63-68). History
has only conﬁrmed the divine prediction as to their failure. It
should be noted that no child of God under grace is subject to
this hopeless conditional covenant of law works (Rom. 6:14).
6. The Covenant with Israel Concerning Their Land (Deut.
This unconditional covenant looks on to Israel's ﬁnal possession
of the land. Nothing will hinder this blessing. Even Israel
herself will be willing in the day of His power, regardless of
what the modern Jew or the foe of Zionism may be saying today.
Coming up out of Egypt, that nation came to Kadesh-Barnea where
Jehovah made it a matter of their own choice as to whether they
would at that time enter the promised land. By so much He then
put them upon a basis similar to that of a conditional covenant.
They rebelled and were turned back into the wilderness for
thirty-eight more years of wilderness wandering. Later, and
without the slightest reference to any choice on the part of
Israel, Jehovah took them into their land with a high hand. He
did not take them in against their wills, but He so controlled
their wills that they went in with songs of rejoicing. The time
is coming when that nation, though scattered over all the earth,
will be regathered into their own land to possess it forever. At
that time Israel will not limit Jehovah by her own choice in the
matter. God will regather them with sovereign power. Nor are
their wills to be coerced; for it is written that they shall
enter with songs of praise, and
everlasting joy shall be on their heads (Isa. 35:10;
51:11; 55:12; 61:3, 7). The heart-attitude of Israel toward
Jehovah in the kingdom is also anticipated in this covenant,
which attitude is fully stated under the New Covenant (Jer.
31:31-33). The ﬁnal yet future placing of Israel in her own land
is thus assured by an unconditional covenant of Jehovah which
can never be changed or broken (Jer. 23:8; Ezk. 37:21-28).
7. The Covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:4-16).
This covenant, likewise, is unconditional. By its terms David is
promised an unending royal lineage, a throne, and a kingdom, all
of which are to endure for ever. In the declaration of this
covenant, Jehovah reserves the right to interrupt the actual
reign of David's sons if chastisement is required (2 Sam. 7:14,
15; Psa. 89:20-37); but the perpetuity of the covenant cannot be
broken. As the Abrahamic covenant guaranteed to Israel an
everlasting entity as a nation (Jer. 31:36) and an everlasting
possession of the land (Gen. 13:15; 1 Chron. 16:15-18; Psa.
105:9-11), so the Davidic covenant guarantees to them an
everlasting throne (2 Sam. 7:16; Psa. 89:36), an everlasting
King (Jer. 33:21), and an everlasting kingdom (Dan. 7:14). From
the day that the covenant was made and conﬁrmed by Jehovah's
oath (Acts 2:30) to the birth of Christ, David did not lack for
a son to sit on his throne (Jer. 33:21), and Christ the Eternal
Son of God and Son of David, being the rightful heir to that
throne and the One who will yet sit on that throne (Luke
1:31-33), completes the fulﬁllment of this promise to David that
a son would sit on his throne forever.
8. The New Covenant Made in His Blood (Mark 14:24; Luke
22:20; Jer. 31:31-33; Ezk. 37:26; Heb. 8:6, 10-13; 10:16).
This, again, is an unconditional covenant and it is most
important for every child of God to recognize this fact since
this covenant forms the very basis of his own relation to God.
What may be proposed for Israel or the nations may be of
interest to the believer, but it does not directly apply to him;
but the covenant of divine grace is of inﬁnite import to all who
The New Covenant guarantees all that God proposes to do for men
on the ground of the blood of His Son. This may be seen in two
(a) That He will save, preserve, and present in Heaven conformed
to His Son, all who have believed on Christ. The fact that it is
necessary to believe on Christ in order to be saved does not
form a condition in this covenant. Believing is not a part of
the covenant, but rather is the ground of admission into its
eternal blessings. The covenant is not related to the unsaved,
but it is made with those who believe, and it promises the
faithfulness of God in their behalf. He
which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the
day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6), and every other
promise concerning the saving and keeping power of God is a part
of this covenant in grace. There is no salvation contemplated
for man in this age that does not guarantee perfect preservation
here, and a ﬁnal presentation of the saved one in glory. There
may be an issue between the Father and His child as to the daily
life, and, as in the case of David's sons, the Christian's sin
may call for the chastening hand of God; but those questions
which enter into the daily life of the believer are never made
to condition the promise of God concerning the eternal salvation
of those whom He has received in grace.
There are those who emphasize the importance and power of the
human will and who contend that both salvation and safe-keeping
must be made conditional on the cooperation of the human will.
This may seem reasonable to the human mind; but it is not
according to the revelation given in the Scriptures. In every
case God has declared unconditionally what He will do for all
those who put their trust in Him (John 5:24; 6:37; 10:28). This
is a very great undertaking which must of necessity involve the
absolute control of the very thoughts and intents of the heart;
but it is no more unreasonable than that God should declare to
Noah that his seed would follow the absolute channels which He
had decreed, or that He should declare to Abraham that He would
make of him a great nation and that of his seed Christ should be
born. In every case it is the manifestation of sovereign
authority and power. It is evident that God has given latitude
for the exercise of the human will. He appeals to the wills of
men, and men who are saved are conscious that both their
salvation and their service are according to their own deepest
We are told that God controls the will of man (John 6:44; Phil.
2:13) and at the same time appeals to and conditions His
blessing on the will of man (John 5:40; 7:17; Rom. 12:1; 1 John
The Scriptures give unquestionable emphasis to the sovereignty
of God. God has perfectly determined what will be, and His
determined purpose will be realized; for it is impossible that
God should ever be either surprised or disappointed. So, also,
there is equal emphasis in the Scriptures upon the fact that
lying between these two undiminished aspects of His sovereignty
- His eternal purpose and its perfect realization - He has
permitted sufﬁcient latitude for some exercise of the human
will. In so doing, His determined ends are in no way
jeopardized. One aspect of this truth without the other will
lead, in the one case, to fatalism, wherein there is no place
for petition in prayer, no motive for the wooing of God's love,
no ground for condemnation, no occasion for evangelistic appeal,
and no meaning to very much Scripture; in the other case it will
lead to the dethroning of God. It is reasonable to believe that
the human will may be under the control of God; but most
unreasonable to believe that the sovereignty of God is under the
control of the human will.
Those who believe are saved and safe forever because it is
according to the unconditional covenant of God.
(b) The future salvation of Israel is promised under the
unconditional New Covenant (Isa. 27:9; Ezk. 37:23; Rom. 11:26,
27). This salvation will be accomplished only on the ground of
the shed blood of Christ. Through the sacriﬁce of Christ, God is
as free to save a nation as He is free to save an individual.
Israel is represented by Christ as a treasure hid in the ﬁeld.
The ﬁeld is the world. It was Christ, we believe, who sold all
that He had that He might purchase the ﬁeld, and in order that
He might possess the treasure (Matt. 13:44).
In contemplating the eight covenants, too much emphasis cannot
be placed on the fact of the sovereignty of God as it is related
to those covenants which are unconditional, and the absolute
failure of man as it is revealed in the outworking of those
covenants which are conditional. Whatever God undertakes
unconditionally will be completed in all the perfection of His
own inﬁnite Being.
1. Into how many major
covenants has God entered with man?
2. Deﬁne a conditional covenant.
3. Deﬁne an unconditional covenant.
4. State how Genesis 15:1-18 illustrates an unconditional
5. What importance may be attached to the study of the
6. Name and describe those covenants which are conditional.
7. Name the covenants, giving Scripture references, which are
a. What did the covenant with Noah promise?
b. What does it reveal as to divine sovereignty?
a. What did the covenant with Abraham promise?
b. What does it teach as to divine sovereignty?
a. What did the covenant with David promise?
b. What does it teach as to divine sovereignty?
11. What truth is illustrated by Israel's experience at
a. Name two objectives in the New Covenant.
b. Is that covenant conditional?
c. What relation does believing on Christ sustain to the New
13. Distinguish between divine sovereignty and human choice.
14. On what basis will God be free to save the nation Israel as
promised under the New Covenant?
Themes herein presented is its first edition
(copyright 1926), is in the public domain, and may be
freely downloaded in its entirety or chapter by chapter
Information for purchase
of the revised edition by John F. Walvoord (copyright
1974) may be found at the same address.
Dr. Louis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952)
was the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and from
1924 until his death, served as the its first President
and Professor of Systematic Theology. His
ground-breaking eight volume Systematic Theology,
first published in 1947-1948,
was the first systematization of a premillennial,
dispensational interpretation of the Scriptures.
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