There is a variety of opinion regarding the nature of the initial relationship between God and humanity, before sin entered into that picture. One idea that floats around is the idea of a Creational Covenant, or Adamic Covenant. Although there is no direct statement “and God made a covenant with Adam” anywhere to be found in Scripture, all the signs of a covenant are present in the creation accounts of Genesis 1 & 2.
First, there is the establishment of both parties, one as the ruler (king, suzerain, etc.) and one as the vassal (local lord, petty noble, etc.). God is clearly identified as the creator in chapter 1, including the creator of Adam. Thus, God is the king to whom Adam must answer. Adam, then, is the one to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (1:26). God is the king, Adam is the vassal lord under Him.
Next, in identifying the covenant, there’s the question of stipulations – what does each party have to do in order to keep the covenant? God’s obligations are never stated, but implied. He is the creator and sustainer of all things, therefore His promise in this creation covenant is to continue to maintain life. He provided food, trees, and everything in creation, and the implied stipulation here is that God will continue to do so. He’ll never shut the lights out and forget about us, but dwell with His creation, allowing it to have a share in His eternality. The stipulation for Adam, however, is much more simply stated. In 2:16, Adam is told not to eat from the three of knowledge of good & evil, and in 1:28 Adam and Eve receive the command to multiply and to rule over creation on God’s behalf.
Third, covenants have blessings and curses associated with their stipulations. The blessing for Adam and Eve for following the stipulations are that they’ll live and reign forever; their good and perfect situation remains secure, and can’t get better; they’re already living in the presence of God! The curse, however, is death, if they eat of the tree forbidden to them.
The only major usual piece of covenant language that’s missing here is the document clause – the fact of putting the covenant into writing. This omission does not discount it from being a legitimate covenant, however, because when the Bible explicitly states that God made a covenant with Noah, there was no discernible document clause there either.
Finally, covenants are ratified by a sacrifice, typically made by the weaker party as a sign of fealty to the stronger. However, God has this quirky habit of being the one who provides the sacrifice even though He’s the stronger party in these covenants (Gen. 15, Gen. 22, I Cor. 5). In the context of creation, God made a very curious sacrifice: He gave up total rule over creation and handed it to Adam and Eve. That’s what makes this covenant so awesome – the entire universe (or at least the entire earth) is gathered into it. And because it was made by the parents of the entire human race, it has bearing upon all of to this day. This human sharing of God’s rule over creation is also an aspect of the imago Dei (image of God), but that’s a subject for another article.
Anyway, I would also argue that Adam and Even also provided a sacrifice to God in return. Refraining from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was their sacrifice. They had access to all of the other trees, but they gave up eating from that one for God; they left it to God, making it holy for Him in a special way.
Although Adam and Eve violated this covenant, it was never rescinded. Humanity still bears the stipulations of this covenant – we’re still called to be God’s vassals – rulers of creation. We’re still charged with populating the earth, although the extent to which we have “filled” the earth at this point is a subject of some debate among Christians today.
So as we proceed to discuss biblical anthropology – that is, what the Bible says about what it means to be human – this is a fundamental starting point. We are God’s vassals over creation.