The ‘Structure’ of Biblical Covenantalism

I was thinking about how one might visualize “Biblical Covenantalism.”  Traditional Dispensationalism has its seven dispensations; Progressive Dispensationalism its four.  But BC does not regard dispensations as basic to the system.  That is to say, dispensations do not structure BC.  I have given my reasons for this before.  If I were asked to put my finger on one problem with defining a system by dispensations it would be that they are descriptive, not prescriptive.  Because they don’t prescribe anything, Dispensational-ism has few designs on being a complete Systematic Theology, and therefore, it cannot be developed into a Biblical Worldview.  That, to me, when I realized it, was fatal.

My focus is upon the identifiable covenants which God made at different points (not necessarily dispensations) which set out His program for the history of His creation.  Because they determine the future, and since they are hermeneutical fixed-points, the covenants are prescriptive.  Also, there is no doubt that the divine oaths are about as solid a foundation one could base a theology on (what could possibly be more secure than an oath of God?).  And what is a divine covenant if not God’s voice hooked up to a loud-speaker?

With all that said then, here are two ‘Pyramids’ of Biblical Covenantalism.  Number 1 is the Main Outline of Biblical History.  It includes only the major events; the ‘levels of ascent’ of God’s program if you will.  Number 2 is my understanding of covenantal structure in Scripture.  I hold that the covenants of God are the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New covenants.  The Land covenant of Deuteronomy 29-30 is a subset of the Abrahamic covenant, so I personally don’t include it.  So there are six or seven Divine covenants depending on how you count them.  The Mosaic covenant is unilateral and temporal.  It is replaced by the New covenant.  The Noahic covenant is taken up by the New covenant in its restorative promises.  The Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic covenants are literally fulfilled through being combined with the New covenant, which provides them the redemptive qualifications to be realized.  The New covenant is the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom everything in Creation finds its telos.

Both diagrams should be read from bottom to top!  

1. Main Outline of Biblical History

    New Heavens and New Earth

(God dwells on earth with His peoples: Israel, Church & Nations)

 Second Coming of Christ/Millennial Reign & Defeat of Satan

(New Covenant fulfilled – Applied to Israel/Nations; Abrahamic, Priestly, Davidic Covs. fulfilled literally via the New Covenant)

First Coming of Christ: New Covenant made; Founding of the Church

(Applied in the Church; 3rd part of Abrahamic Cov. applied)

The Founding of Israel

(From which Christ comes and through which blessing comes to the world)

The Great Flood

(Setting the “Stage” of Covenantal History)

Creation and Fall: Teleology & Eschatology

(The Mechanism of the Creation Project) 


 

2. The Covenantal Structure of the Bible

New Covenant (Jesus Christ)

[Jesus as the New Cov is the Means of realization through salvation and literal fulfillment of all the other covenants]

Priestly Covenant and Davidic Covenant

[Held within the Mosaic Covenant, but transcending it in the New Covenant] 

Mosaic Covenant

[A temporary placeholder for Israel and some covenants]

Abrahamic Covenant

[The root covenant for blessing to Israel, the Church, and the Nations realized through the New Covenant]

Noahic Covenant

[The stage-setting covenant within which covenantal history is played-out]

Covenants as Amplifications of Plain Speech

(See below)

God’s Thoughts > God’s Words > God’s Actions

(The basic hermeneutics of the Bible)

I hope these rather poor diagrams help readers better comprehend what Biblical Covenantalism is.

 

 

Advertisements

26 comments

  1. Paul:
    You seem to be approaching a conclusion to your ground-breaking work on Biblical Covenantalism. I have been richly blessed by your posts and was wondering which published work, if any, comes closest in agreement with your understanding of B.C.?

    1. Raymond,

      I have been asked this sort of question before. I don’t like answering it because I have to say No, and that sounds arrogant.

      Honestly, one would have thought someone would have cottoned on to this before me. But the fact is noone has set out this system, nor have they tried to show how it can be developed. I feel very much alone.

      There is a guy who wrote a 3 volume work in 2013 which he called “Biblical Covenantalism.” But the book is heavil concerned with second temple Judaism and N. T. Wright’s work. But I have been using the term since 2006-2007 (e.g. https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/about-us/) so I believe it to be original to me.

      I suppose I could call it ‘Theistic Covenantalism’ or ‘Divine Covenantalism,’ but neither seems like an improvement. What do you think?

      1. Stick to Biblical Covenantalism. It belongs to you. And I like it.

        Any news on the book?

      2. Thanks Alf,

        The book is getting there. I am writing the ‘Summary and Conclusions’ chapters. I have five out of six done, then I have to write the ‘Pulling it all together’ chapter and a chapter on ‘Looking ahead.’ One brief appendix on ‘The Intertestamental Period’ needs to be done. And then the fun work of bibliography and indexes. I’m working hard on it, but it just takes time. Sometimes I get a jaded with it all, but DV there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

      3. Paul:
        I think you have rightly described by “Biblical Covenantalism” the way God relates to His covenant people as revealed in all of Scripture. I have, during the past few years, come to a similar conclusion but have always tried to tie it in somehow with a moderate (neither classic or PD) dispensational viewpoint. “BC” can stand on its own without being tied necessarily to anything else.

      4. Paul,

        By any chance, have you allowed any possible opponents of BC the opportunity to critique portions of your draft? Maybe I’m over my head here but I remember hearing a Christian author recommending this process so as to build in rebuttals to go along with Biblical supports. In old west cowboy terms, “We’ll head ’em off at the pass.”

      5. Jerry,

        It’s a good idea. To be honest I don’t know anyone who would be willing to do it without getting into an argument. I have thought about asking Ed Dingess. He could do it. But I don’t want to put him under that burden. He’s a friend, and he might say yes just because of that. But this is a big book!

        However, Dan Phillips and Tony Garland are going through it, and neither will stand by without disagreeing with things I write if they think I am in error.

      6. Paul, wouldn’t it be a treat if your book comes out at the same time that Tony completes his Daniel commentary!

      7. Let’s hope Paul finishes before I get my Daniel done–I’m not yet to chapter 6 (working on an auxiliary topic: Darius the Mede) and I’ve now been at this glacial process for 11 years (and counting). Quite embarrassing really…

      8. Paul, just regarding reviewer who may disagree with your thesis, how about these two? I thought that they are no dummies and both’s theology are “very different” from yours although each in a different direction from the other. I’ve also picked these two intentionally because you have disagreed with both quite strongly in the past :

        – Michael Horton at Westminster Seminary California. (The one that hosts the White Horse Inn, and author of one Systematic Theology book). Old-Calvinist style Reformed, very covenantal

        – Randy White at Randy White Ministries and Dispensational Publishing House. He is very dispensationalist, kind of struck me as old-style Fundamental Baptist, and decidedly-not-calvinistic and Fundamentalist in any sense

      9. Joel,

        While I have a high regard for Horton’s argument for covenant theology (esp. in his ‘Covenant & Eschatology’) I see no reason to bother him with a tome that he would hardly be interested in, nor have any sympathy with. A real problem with CT’s in general is that they are just plain ignorant of DT and they are predisposed to dismiss it, for reasons I discuss in the book.

        As for Randy White, I confess that I can almost predict what he would say, and it would not be helpful. Again, many DT’s are so stuck in their ways (wearing “dispensation” lenses) that one just starts arguing about dispensations. I’ve tried this with several DT’s.
        Moreover, I have other reasons for not thinking White would be helpful. Besides, Dan Phillips and Tony Garland are looking over it and they are better scholars.

        I have it in mind to send the completed ms. to Mike Vlach and Kevin Zuber at Masters. I have pretty good connections with them and they are both gracious individuals.

  2. Way over my pay grade in scholarly understanding. But a question did arise…… I am a dispensationalist based on study from Larkin, Scofield etal. Does not the defined dispensations change with “changes” in God’s covenants and vice versa? If so, wouldn’t that bring Covenant theology and Dispensational Theology in line with each other?

    Lest I forget, thank you Paul for the blog and information.

    1. Thank you for the question Walt.

      There is no necessary connection between covenants and dispensations. Covenants, especially the unconditional ones, reflect God’s decrees, whereas dispensations do not have that character. Further, when the covenant with Phinehas or that with David were made there was no dispensational change. I think it is arguable if any disensational change occured with the covenant with Abraham in Gen. 15. The structure of Genesis stresses the call of Abraham in Genesis 11 and 12 rather than the covenant per se.

      Because there is no necessary connection between covenants and dispensations in Biblical Covenantalism, there is no reciprocal change in either, Covenants CANNOT change, which is why they are so important for hermeneutics. You speak of “defined dispensations”, but you must undrstand that BC does not accept the standard definitions of traditional (or progressive) dispensationalism, because it is not trying to structure the Bible with them, but rather to structure the Bible with God’s covenants!

      One flaw I see in classical dispensationalism (for all its qualities) is that in making dispensations a priority over covenants they end up distorting the covenants (though not as badly as covenant theology does). They also tend to get caught flat-footed on the New covenant, not really knowing how to apply it to the Church.

      Biblical Covenantalism is actuaally further from covenant theology because it does not accept covenants in Eden or with Adam, like Scofield, Chafer, Fruchtenbaum and Ice do.

      I hope that answer helps you. Let me know any other questions.

      God bless,

      Paul H

      1. John,

        Your comment about Hosea 6:7 is ridiculous and is not reflected in the various ways scholars interpret the passage. Perhaps I’m wrong? Which scholar agrees with your view? Which translation actually says it was Adam’s covenant?

        Of course, as it sits, your comment is an assertion without proof!

      2. “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.”
        ‭‭Hosea‬ ‭6:7‬ ‭ESV

    2. The Bible doesn’t teach “dispensations”. The term never occurs in scripture. It’s a system foisted onto scripture which distorts what scripture says.

      1. That comment has nothing to do with this post. Further, covenant theologians also refer to dispensations (re. eras). At least it is a way of dealing with certain historical portions of Scripture, even if it is not central. This is an assertion without proof anyway.

      2. Again, the term “dispensation” doesn’t occur in scripture. My proof is that you’re not able to present a citation from scripture to prove me wrong.

  3. Comment Removed

    John,

    This is my blog and you are a visitor. Posting such long assertions as this is simply trolling. You did not earn a PhD just to act like a troll. Now you have been the one to make the assertions against Dispensationalism. Presumably you didn’t do it because you were in the flesh and couldn’t control the urge to attack others? If you really want to help Dispensationalists see the error of their ways, I suggest you demonstrate that you can engage the arguments fairly.

    1. John,

      welcome to the blog, although I get the impression striaht away from the length of this comment that you are here to be doctrinaire rather than discuss and debate. We’ll see. I will give some attention to your arguments (which I have encountered many times), and respond. We’ll see how you do.

      You should know that I was trained at a Reformed Seminary, and that I am very familiar with Covenant Theology and replacement theology. So please give me enough respect to not make mere assertions with verses. Let’s show that we understand each other’s positions.

      I am glad at least to interact for a while with a man who is a clear replacement theologian who doesn’t mind admitting that he reinterprets the OT by the NT.

      1. That you call it “replacement theology” shows that you don’t know the theology very well and that you’ve been indoctrinated by dispensationalism. There’s really no such thing as “replacement theology” as the term implies that natural Israel was once God’s people and now they have been replaced by the church. If you understand the argument above, of course, you know that’s wrong. But I find that dispensationalists rarely understand Biblical theology as their system depends on imposing their system onto the Bible. It’s a system built on eisegesis.
        According to your bio, your education is mostly from Tyndale Theological Seminary which is an unacredited highly-doctrinaire, classically dispensational school. That’s simply not a serious educational institution.

      2. John,

        Like so many of your ilk you are ignorant of your own tradition. I wrote a series of posts addressing Replacement Theology: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/replacement-theology-is-it-wrong-to-use-the-term-pt-1/
        It does exist, and in at least 3 forms. Kendall Soulen and Mike Vlach give 4 forms. In those posts you will find many of your inferiors, like Herman Bavinck, G.K. Beale, and Bruce Waltke articulating it clearly.

        Herman Ridderbos, in his Matthew Commentary (303-304 – see that’s what citing your sources means), wrote that the Church was the “community that would REPLACE Israel as the people of God.” Read it and weep!

        As far as not knowing anything about Biblical Theology. Well, you could be right. God may have given you prophetic insight into my reading over the past 30 years. Alternatively, you could just be an angry bigot who wants to slander people out of “zeal for the Lord.”

        Not that it will make a dent, but I wrote an annotated bibliography of Biblical Theologies I have read: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/some-thoughts-on-books-on-biblical-theology/

    2. In other words, you couldn’t answer my article so you resort to suppression. That’s the only way dispensationalism can survive because any intelligent person can see the stupidity of a system that purports to explain the Bible with a system the Bible never teaches and which ignores the ways the Bible clearly teaches to interpret itself.
      By the way, I earned a legitimate PhD from serious institutions, not a bogus piece of paper from a dispensational indoctrination mill.

      1. John,

        You may have the right credentials from reputable seminaries but you bring them into disrepute. You are a credentialled troll. Your “article” was sophomoric and ill-mannered. If you had answered my question about your assertion that Hoses 6:7 referred to “Adam’s covenant” with any reasonable exegesis we might have had a dialog: you with your legitimate degrees, and me with my “indoctrination.” But you merely cited the verse, which does NOT SAY it was “Adam’s covenant.” It says Israel “like Adam” transgressed the covenant. What covenant? Adam’s? How does anyone get that from Hosea 6? Noone but you does, which is why you could not provide another scholar who agreed with you. It’s just an ignorant answer. It shows a less than rudamentary comprehension of the verse. You are blinded by your “indoctrination.”

        This was not the thread to post such a long rambling comment (which was cut and pasted anyway), which basically consisted of “Dispensationalism stinks, and here’s a bunch of verses (without critical comment) that prove I’m right.” And you tried to do this on a post that CRITIQUES Dispensationalism! You didn’t read it did you John?
        If you were not a triffler you would have commented here: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/category/contra-the-95-theses/

        But it’s too late for that. You have proved yourself to be a hit n run troll. You are the first person I have had to block. No less than 3 people warned me about you. Not that I need to fend off your ad hominem attacks, but I attended London Theological Seminary, whose course, according to Westminster Seminary, is equal to their M.Div. I was the librarian for the D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Library while I was there. It is deliberately non-accredited according to the Doctor’s wishes, which is what attracted me to it.

        Tyndale Seminary was my choice again because I personally believe accreditation to be unbiblical. As Lloyd-Jones said, “We don’t need the world to tell us how to teach the book of Romans.” I do not criticize those who disagree with my position, but for me it is a matter of conscience. Yes, I was taught by many of the leading Dispensationalists (Lightner, Couch, Fruchtenbaum, Price, Ice, etc), so I know the system. YOU clearly do not.

        If I am indoctrinated then why have I spent years constructing an alternative system to Dispensationalism? But it cuts both ways. You may be deceived enough to think that YOU are not indoctrinated, but anyone can see that you are a card-carrying supercessionist.

        You come across as an angry man who is full of his own importance. These “qualities” will not serve you well, particularly in the ministry of the Word.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s