Federal Theology

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The federal theology (Latin foedus , "covenant"; hence also: federal theology ) is a theological direction in Protestantism , especially in the 17th and 18th centuries .


The concept of the covenant is already strongly represented in Calvin's (e.g. Institutio II, 9–11) and Bullinger's works. A first systematic treatise comes from Coccejus in his work Summa doctrinae de foedere et testamento Deo (1648). Even with Zacharias Ursinus there are already beginnings of a federal theology v. a. in his posthumously published commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism , which he wrote.


The term covenant in the theology of the Reformation probably goes back to the Anabaptists , was taken up by Ulrich Zwingli and worked out into a closed draft by Heinrich Bullinger . The basic idea here is that the old covenant ( berîth ) of the Old Testament , which God made with Adam and Noah , then the Father God with Abraham and YHWH renewed with Moses , is continued in the New Testament .

For the most part, there is a division into a covenant of grace and a covenant of works that manifest themselves in the various covenants of the Old Testament. Some schools also teach a three-way division of the covenant into covenants of grace, works and redemption.

The thus created history of salvation continuity is, in the opinion of their representatives but at the same time a development. Johannes Cocceius called, for example, partially at John Calvin then, five stages in which so from the creation to Christ , the salvation fully draw God. Within Christianity, the fall of man and the end of the Mosaic belief in the law, then the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as interfaces are less controversial. The sense of an exposed and separately negotiated succession, as offered by federal theology, was, however, questioned more often. Moved into a puzzling darkness, however, many viewers now saw the second stage in the sequence of the healing-historical execution, that of an inner-trinitarian tension.

In addition to this question, the problem of an overly anthropocentrically constructed history of salvation has been emphasized. On the other hand, the adaptation of the Old Testament federal theology within an overall design of salvation history is rather appreciated - in some places, Coccejus even saw the first "Protestant eschatology since the Reformation" ( Paul Jacobs ).

Liberation from the danger of determinism (even if the tension between grace and predestination is preserved) and the attempt to resolve the conflict between election and salvation are emphasized.

Within Protestantism, the concept of federal theology served to distinguish it from the radical wing of Calvinism, but it can also be seen as an attempt to balance Lutheran orthodoxy and Pietism , whose representatives then usually tended to the side of the revival : besides those mentioned above especially Campegius Vitringa , Friedrich Adolf Lampe , Johann Heinrich Heidegger , Johann Gerhard Hasenkamp , Gottfried Menken , Christian Krafft , Samuel Collenbusch and others.

The covenant concept played a special role in Puritanism ( congregationalism ). God makes a covenant with the people he has chosen and brings them together to form a congregation. Lay people and clergy are on an equal footing. The adult male parishioners elect pastors, teachers and church elders who jointly lead the congregation and are responsible to it. In the Plymouth Colony (1620), Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628), Rhode Island ( Roger Williams ; 1636), Connecticut ( Thomas Hooker ; 1636) and other English colonies in North America, this "congregational democracy" was also applied to the Administration of the worldly affairs of the community applied. For example, the Mayflower Treaty , the constitutional basis of the Plymouth Colony, was modeled on the treaties the Puritans used to plant new churches. This also established the popularity and stability of the American model of democracy . The Pilgrim Fathers believed that this form of government was God's will.


In the judgment of the dispensationalist Charles C. Ryrie of the Dallas Theological Seminary , federal theology is a product of the post-Reformation period under the influence of the Reformers, the teachings of John Coccejus, and the Westminster Confession .

John F. Walvoord, longtime president of the Dallas Theological Seminary , criticizes the concept of covenant theology for seeing the many facets of God's purposes solely through the objective of fulfilling the covenant of grace. From the logical point of view, this is a reductionist error, because a single aspect is used as a determining element.


  • JF Gerhard Goeters : Federal Theology . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 11 (1983), pp. 246-252.
  • Ludwig Diestel : Studies on federal theology . In: Yearbooks for German Theology 10 (1865), pp. 209–276.
  • E. v. Korff: The beginnings of federal theology and its first development in Zurich and Holland , 1908.
  • Paul Jacobs : Bund IV. Federal theology, dogma-historical . In: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart , 3rd edition, Volume 1, pp. 1518ff.
  • Brian J. Lee: Johannes Cocceius and the exegetical roots of federal theology. Reformation developments in the interpretation of Hebrews 7-10. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-525-56913-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johannes Cocceius | German theologian . In: Encyclopedia Britannica . ( britannica.com [accessed August 1, 2018]).
  2. ^ Covenant theology | Protestant theology . In: Encyclopedia Britannica . ( britannica.com [accessed August 1, 2018]).
  3. ^ Covenant theology | Protestant theology . In: Encyclopedia Britannica . ( britannica.com [accessed August 1, 2018]).
  4. ^ Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States . Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1960, pp. 15-16
  5. See Robert Middlekauff: The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 . Revised and Expanded Edition. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-516247-9 , pp. 50-52
  6. Allen Weinstein, David Rubel: The Story of America: Freedom and Crisis from Settlement to Superpower . DK Publishing, New York, NY, 2002. ISBN 0-7894-8903-1 , p. 61
  7. Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States , pp. 15-16, 64 ff
  8. Martin Schmidt : Pilgrim Fathers . In Religion in Past and Present , 3rd edition, Volume V, Tübingen 1961, column 384
  9. ^ Charles C. Ryrie: Dispensationalism. Moody Publishers, Chicago 2007, ISBN 0-8024-2189-X , p. 218.
  10. ^ John F. Walvoord: The Millennial Kingdom. Dunham, Findlay OH 1959, p. 92, Quoted in: Charles C. Ryrie: Dispensationalism. Moody Publishers, Chicago 2007, ISBN 0-8024-2189-X , pp. 106f.