There are two common objections used by those who deny a covenant of works between God and Adam.
The first objection is that the word “covenant” (Hebrew “berit”) does not appear in the creation account of Genesis 2-3. The absence of a term does not mean that the concept isn’t there. It is commonly understood that 2 Samuel 7 pertains to the Davidic covenant, yet it does not use the term “covenant” either. The word “covenant” is not used to refer to this relationship until the Psalms.
Isaiah speaks of “the everlasting covenant” which was broken by the earth’s inhabitants. I must ask, which covenant was established that affects both the earth and it’s inhabitants?
Similarly, Jeremiah refers to a “covenant with the day and a covenant with the night” in Chapter 33. Again, I ask where was this covenant spoken of prior to this? The prophet clearly says that God has a covenant with the day and the night, yet nowhere in Scripture is the word “covenant” used to speak of such a covenant prior to this passage.
Another common objection involves having the wrong idea of what constitutes as a covenant. The explicit mention of oaths and ratification ceremonies are sometimes included in the making of covenants such as the Abrahamic and Mosaic. However, in other instances there is no mention of oaths and ceremonies. The covenant between David and Jonathan has no explicit mention of oaths or ceremonies, yet it is regarded as a covenant. The same goes with God’s promise of a lasting priesthood to Phineas and his descendants mentioned in Numbers 25:12-13.
So what is a covenant. I would say it is best defined by Ligon Duncan as a binding relationship between two parties that involves both blessings and obligations.
The elements for a covenant of works are present in the opening chapters of Genesis:
The Covenant of Works:
a. Name of the Great King – “In the beginning God” Gen. 1:1
b. Historical Prologue – “created the heavens and the earth. . .” Gen. 1:1
c. Stipulations (Laws) –
i. Exclusive loyalty (=love) – implied in Gen. 2:17
ii. Specific requirements – “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Gen. 1:28 ; “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .” Gen. 2:17
d. Sanctions (Blessings and Curses) – “ . . . for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Gen. 2:17
e. Administration – The covenant was administered via the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Covenant keeping was via NOT eating of the tree’s fruit. Covenant breaking was via eating the fruit.
Adam and Christ are to be seen in a parallel relationship. Adam was a type of Christ. This can be seen in the usage of Christ being referred to as the second Adam.
There are now presently on earth, two humanities or orders of beings. The contrast is not between the sinful and the righteous but rather the old creation and the new creation.
Adam, in his original state was in a state that was designed to be temporary. It was a probationary time. He would enter into the state of life or death depending on his obedience of the command regarding the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Although Adam was sinless and morally righteous, it was not the eternal state God designed for man. It was a state of contingencies and subject to change.
The eating of the tree of life served as a sacramental sign to having entered into a state of eternal life. Eating of the tree of knowledge served as a sacramental sign of having advanced from a state of ethical immaturity to a state of ethical maturity.
Adam failed his probation and plunged his race into into death because of his disobedience while Jesus passed his probation in perfect obedience and delivered his people from death and has attained for them eternal life which Adam failed to do.
There is much more that can be addressed pertaining to this matter, but hopefully this at least provides a basic understanding of the Covenant of Works.