10. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ commitment to compartmentalizing each of the self-contained, distinct dispensations, the Bible presents an organic unfolding of history as the Bible traces out the flow of redemptive history, so that the New Testament speaks of “the covenants [plural] of the [singular] promise” (Eph 2:12) and uses metaphors that require the unity of redemptive history; accordingly, the New Testament people of God are one olive tree rooted in the Old Testament (Rom 11:17-24).
Response: Dispensationalists see the dispensations (Divine economies) as a biblical way of viewing the history of providence (See e.g. Renald Showers, There Really is a Difference). They believe these dispensations, or at least some of them, can be derived inductively from the Scriptures (e.g. Eph. 1:10, 3:2. cf. Jn. 1:17; Rom. 5:13; Gal. 4:1-5).
The Bible certainly stresses “the covenants [plural] of the [singular] promise” in Eph. 2:12. The covenants Paul mentions are the biblical covenants readily identifiable in Scripture (stemming from Abraham, especially the unconditional covenants), not the extra-biblical covenants (e.g. “works” and “grace”). Paul sometimes uses the singular “promise” and sometimes the plural “promises” (e.g. Rom. 9:4; 15:8). It is special pleading to make this a proof for some kind of organic unity of redemptive history. Christians do not build altars and make animal sacrifices. This blatant fact shows that there is some “disunity” in redemptive history which has to accounted for (see Hebrews). The authors are here sneaking in the covenant of grace to impose their brand of unity. Hoehner (Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 358) writes that this “is an example of theology controlling exegesis rather than exegesis controlling theology.”
This very thing – theology controlling exegesis – is put on display before the reader when the authors state; “the New Testament people of God are one olive tree rooted in the Old Testament (Rom. 11:17-24).”
The authors should have noted 11:16 which refers to the root and the BRANCHES. This might have stopped them from making the people of God “the one olive tree,” for clearly the branches, and NOT THE TREE, are the PEOPLES of God, as the passage makes plain. The branches, whether “natural” – Israel; or “wild” – Gentiles; not the root or trunk of the olive tree, correspond to the people groups. The “root and fatness of the olive tree” (vv.17-18) is neither Israel or the Gentiles, it stands either for the specific covenant with Israel quoted from Isaiah 59 (vv.26-27), or perhaps better, the promises mentioned at the beginnng of the section (9:4-5).
The authors of the 95 Theses are so controlled by their theology that they did not see that throughout Romans 11 the Apostle does not confuse (believing) Israel with (believing) Gentiles. In fact, he keeps them apart in his thought. Remember, in this section he is dealing with the question of the promises given to Israel. Gentiles have entered into these promises (specifically via the New Covenant), but they are warned in this very passage not to think that God is through with ethnic Israel (vv.18, 23-25). He is not (vv.1-2,12,15,25). “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (v.29).
Covenant theology imposes an artificial unity between the Testaments which ignores biblical distinctions. While the motives behind this are not blameworthy, any resultant distortions are, and this is true of any theological error, whether issuing from the Dispensational camp or the Covenant theology camp.