The Covenant Theology of Zacharias Ursinus

  • Todd Matthew Smedley

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


This study is an examination of the covenant theology of Zacharias Ursinus, which in many ways broke new ground for the development of Federal Theology in the sixteenth century with his introduction of the foedus naturale. For the first time in its development he describes the prelapsarian economy to be covenantal and thus opens the way for a bicovenantal scheme to eventually become a distinctive feature of Reformed theology.
Through a comprehensive analysis of Ursinus’ works this study seeks to show that his innovative doctrine of the covenant did not lead him to the legalism and speculative theology of which many scholars of the last several decades accuse him. The burden of this thesis is to prove that, at least as far as Ursinus is concerned, the twofold covenant of nature and grace is a theology of divine grace. Understood within the larger framework of his theological system
Ursinus’ doctrine of the covenant does not evidence a move away from sovereign grace and towards legalism nor does it originate from some overly rationalistic scholastic speculation.
Instead, it will be argued that Ursinus’ groundbreaking idea of the ‘covenant of nature’ naturally and organically emerged from his own theological system that was steeped in federalism, the law-gospel dichotomy, a thoroughgoing doctrine of double imputation and his understanding of the natural knowledge of God. Furthermore, we will argue that his bicovenantal scheme, while certainly original, was not out of accord with the preceding generation of Reformed theologians but was in keeping with the character and content of the
theological system he inherited. The perspective of this study takes a different path of interpretation than Ursinus’ critics and seeks to demonstrate that his provisional twofold covenant illuminates rather than confuses the gracious nature of the Reformed gospel that was passed down to him from the first generation Reformers.
Date of Award12 Feb 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorAndrew McGowan (Supervisor) & John Webster (Supervisor)

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