Theologians have different reasons for denying a Covenant of Works made with Adam. Some, like PCA Teaching Elder (and Federal Visionist) Peter Leithart, claim that God’s arrangement with Adam was the same as His arrangement with believers today. The result of this denial of a works-based covenant is that, instead of all of God’s covenants being based on grace, they all become works-based, requiring the righteousness of “covenant faithfulness” instead of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. (For more on Leithart’s denial of the Covenant of Works, and the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards, see this post.)
Others refuse to accept a Covenant of Works (or any covenant, for that matter) made with Adam, simply because they do not find the word “covenant” anywhere in Genesis 1-3. This objection is illogical, for all the necessary terms of a covenant are clearly present in these opening chapters of Scripture, even if the single word “covenant” is not to be found. To skeptics of both stripes: A.W. Pink (and R.B. Howell, and Herman Witsius) would like a word with you:
“Before entering into detail upon the nature and terms of the compact which God made with Adam, it may be well to obviate an objection which some are likely to make against the whole subject; namely, that since the word covenant is not to be found in the historical account of Genesis, therefore to speak of the Adamic covenant is naught but a theological invention. There is a certain class of people, posing as ultraorthodox, who imagine they have a reverence and respect for Holy Writ as the final court of appeal which surpasses that of their fellows. They say, Show me a passage which expressly states God made a covenant with Adam, and that will settle the matter; but until you can produce a verse with the exact term “Adamic covenant” in it, I shall believe no such thing.
“Our reason for referring to this paltry quibble is because it illustrates a very superficial approach to God’s Word which is becoming more and more prevalent in certain quarters, and which stands badly in need of being corrected. Words are only counters or signs after all (different writers use them with varying latitude, as is sometimes the case in Scripture itself); and to be unduly occupied with the shell often results in a failure to obtain the kernel within. Some Unitarians refuse to believe in the tri‑unity of God, merely because no verse can be found which categorically affirms there are “three Persons in the Godhead” or where the word Trinity is used. But what matters the absence of the mere word itself, when three distinct divine persons are clearly delineated in the Word of truth! For the same reason others repudiate the fact of the total depravity of fallen man, which is the height of absurdity when Scripture depicts him as corrupt in all the faculties of his being.