The biblical revelation that we encounter in Scripture is progressive; that is, there is a gradual unfolding of God’s revelation. He does not give it all to us in the book of Genesis. But as history moves through time, God gives more and more revelation of Himself and of His plan of redemption. That continuing, progressive revelation is not corrective. It is not the case that the newest revelation corrects the old; God does not need to be corrected. Rather, He augments or adds additional content to His revelation as time passes. And again, the basic structure that carries that progression is the structure of covenant.
When was the first covenant made? In theology, we find evidence of a covenant that is not reported directly in Scripture. Rather, it is deduced from certain inferences drawn from Scripture, particularly New Testament passages that deal with our understanding of the mission and the purpose and work of Jesus. A few years ago, I preached through the gospel of John, and I was reminded again how much of that book is a record of the controversies that Jesus had with the Jewish authorities of His day. Many of the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees or Jesus and the scribes had to do with His origin and the basis of His authority. And again and again in the gospel of John, Jesus said that He was sent from the Father, that He is the supreme missionary of God. A missionary is someone who is sent and authorized by the person or group that sends him. Christ constantly referred back to His origin, not to the place of His birth in Bethlehem, but to heaven, from whence He was sent to earth by the Father and authorized by the Father to speak the Father’s word.
If we understand the fact that Jesus was sent and authorized by the Father, we understand something of what went on before God created the world, before God created Adam and Eve, before there was any kind of probation in the garden of Eden. We talk in the first instance not about a covenant that God makes with us, but a covenant that was forged within the triune Godhead itself. In theological parlance, we call this the covenant of redemption. It speaks to us about an agreement that has existed from all eternity among the persons of the Godhead with regard to God’s plan of redemption.