My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 3)

Part Two

We all know that sin stops us from inheriting the kind of world God the Creator envisaged for us; a world of peace, joy, righteousness, justice, and glory, not to mention communion with the Lord Himself.

God set the world in  motion, permitting the Fall and the devastation that it has brought in its wake.  He made covenants with man; signposts and promises to the better world that He still intends to bring about:

  1. The Noahic covenant establishes this post-flood world in perpetuity until the New Heavens and New Earth are made. 
  2. The Abrahamic covenant ensures that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will always be a people before God, and that they will inherit a land (I tend to include the “Land covenant” here).  It also makes provision for God’s blessing to be spread among the other nations of the world through Israel. 
  3. The Priestly covenant promises the descendants of Phinehas (who would be Zadokites) that they would be granted an everlasting priesthood. 
  4. The Davidic covenant promises that an heir of David will always sit upon his throne.
  5. The bi-lateral Mosaic covenant binds Israel to God in a theocratic relationship based on obedience.

We may grant that each of these covenants has elements which can be explored further, but for my purpose the descriptions above will do.  I want to call attention to a startling fact.  As they stand not one of these divine covenants can be entirely fulfilled!  Their full realization is impossible.  Granted, blessing has come to the nations in the Person of Christ, an Israelite, through the Abrahamic Covenant, but it has not come to them as nations.  Furthermore, Israel is not in right relationship to God.  The dynasty of David in Israel is absent a king, and nobody can claim that the pledge to Phinehas (however difficult it may be to comprehend) is being fulfilled.  Yes, there will be no more global floods upon the earth.  But when all is said and done, there can be no transition to the New Creation from this sin-cursed old one.

Within all these great covenants and their gracious promises there is nothing that can  bring them to pass.  They have no provision for salvation built into them.  They stand as impotent in themselves as any prognostication from any false prophet in history.

Why so?  What is the problem?  The problem is and always has been “sin!”  Sin gets in the way.  Sin prevents the realization of God’s program for Creation.  So how does God deal with sin?

We all know the answer.  The answer is through faith in Jesus Christ.  Good!  Redemption is only through Him.  Jesus Christ is the means of salvation for sinners.  I might add here that the salvation of those saints who died before Christ is also wrought by or through Him, even if the content of their faith was not in a crucified Nazarene.

The New Covenant Deals with Sin

But there is a slight snag here.  I have already shown, and will show again, that the New Covenant is particularly concerned with the question of sin and salvation.  God can’t write his instruction on any mind and heart that has not first been changed (cf. Jer. 31:33).  He will have to save men if He is to sanctify them (cf. Jer. 31:34).  Further, we must ask what connection Christ’s sacrifice has to the covenants above?  Since He has come and made the way of salvation plain, what is the hold-up?  Why aren’t the unilateral covenants of God playing out now just as God promised?

Consider these verses which are usually identified with the New Covenant:

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,

And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,”
Says the LORD.

“As for Me,” says the LORD, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the LORD, “from this time and forevermore.” – Isa. 59:20-21

They are aimed at Israel, just as Jeremiah 31 is.  And the covenant mentioned in verse 21 has close affinities with Jeremiah 31:31-34.  The wording is different but the sentiment is the same.  But in Isaiah the Spirit is promised, exactly as He is in those accepted New covenant passages in Isaiah 32:15, Ezekiel 36:26-28, Joel 2:28f., and Zechariah 12:10.

Notice again that the covenant has to do with God’s Spirit, which also coincides with the arrival of the Redeemer to turn away transgression in Jacob.  According to Paul, this passage awaits fulfillment (Rom. 11:26), so it cannot be connected with the first advent.  The great promises of the other covenants are being held up, as it were, until the second advent.  They depend upon it.  When Israel receives the New Covenant the other covenants will be triggered.

An Initial Compilation

If we gather together the various elements of this passage and the work of Christ I have been discussing this is what we get:

  1. Israel as a nation needs to be saved
  2. Without Israel’s salvation the other divine covenants cannot go into full effect
  3. Salvation is wrought by Jesus Christ alone
  4. In order to receive Christ’s salvation one must believe in Him
  5. Believers receive the Holy Spirit
  6. When Israel’s sins are redeemed they receive the Spirit and are changed
  7. Christ’s salvation is connected with a covenant (e.g. Isa. 59:20-21)
  8. The salvation of Israel is connected to the New covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).

Alright, whatever the connection between Jesus Christ and the New covenant is, there is a great deal of overlap.  I might even be so bold as to assert that Christ’s work is covenantal.  But it’s all good.  These passages are for Israel!

Isaiah 42 and Matthew 12

But we are not finished.  We need to remind ourselves of what Isaiah has said in chapters 42 and 49, both of which concern Christ as “the Servant” of Yahweh.  Matthew refers Isaiah 42:1-3 to Jesus.

that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 

“Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved
 in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles,

A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;

And in His name Gentiles will trust.” – Matt. 12:17-18, 20-21

Matthew then adds, “And in His name Gentiles will trust,” which is not in the passage, at least directly.  Yet it is what Isaiah is teaching.  If we continue with Isaiah for a few more verses this will be seen:

He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Thus says God the LORD,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:

“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles – Isa. 42:4-6

The “coastlands” (‘iy) of verse 4 are almost certainly not the coast of Israel.  The term refers to habitable land; to the islands and land masses.  The “earth” (‘eretz) can and does refer to Israel, but not here.  Its repetition in verse 5, where it is set in opposition to the heavens, together with the mention of the “peoples” (‘am), means that the context demands that the whole earth is being spoken of; and this provides the way for the explicit promise to the Gentiles in verse 6.  Matthew sees this and summarizes it with “And in His name Gentiles will trust.”

The verses are about Jesus Christ.  And they are about salvation being brought to the Gentiles.  And they are about Christ being trusted by the Gentiles.  And they are about Christ being called “a covenant.”

Which covenant could Christ be?

12 thoughts on “My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 3)”

  1. The Scriptures reveal that believer’s blessings will come through the Last Will and Testament of Christ (Heb.9:15-17) and not through a covenant which the LORD promised to Israel. And the gospel does indeed employ terms which are in regard to a last will and testament. It is the ” heirs” who receive an “inheritance” from a will and the following two verses tie these things to the gospel:

    “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph.3:6).

    “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb.9:15).

    The Last Will and Testament of Christ is the Gospel of Christ and that is how believers receive spiritual blessings. T. M. Morris wrote: “Having considered Christ as the testator, let US NOW LOOK AT THE GOSPEL AS THE ‘LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF CHRIST’…There is, in every testament, provision implied or expressed that it should, with all convenient speed, be published and made known. This is necessary, that the legatees may become aware of that which has been bequeathed to them, and be in a position to put in their claim. Christ has ordained and provided that His disciples should publish His will and testament to all the children of men. We are ‘put in trust with the gospel.’ We are bound to publish the glad tidings in every direction.”

  2. You have been given some bad information, Dr. Henebury. According to the site you cited the verses at Hebrews 9:15-17 are not speaking of a Last Will and Testament. Based on his study of the Bible Richard Hiers tells another story:

    “One other feature of the law of Deuteronomy 21:15-17 is to be noted first. Verse 16 refers to the day on which a man ‘assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons.’ This verse suggests a process very much like testation, the making of a will. What Deuteronomy 21:15-17 says, in effect, is that a man may not ignore his obligation to provide his first-born son with a double portion just because he dislikes that son’s mother. Thus, this law is somewhat similar in purpose to modem statutes that prevent one spouse from ‘writing’ or ‘cutting’ the other ‘out of’ his or her will by providing that the survivor may elect a ‘spousal share’ in lieu of taking under terms of the will.” (Richard H. Hiers, Transfer of Property by Inheritance and Bequest in Biblical Law and Tradition, Accessed June 5, 2018. http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub).

    No doubt there were legal instruments which were promissory dispositions (diatheke) which provided for a transfer of property while the one who made it remained alive but that type of legal instrument would not be the same kind of diatheke (Last Will and Testament) which was not in effect until the one who made it died.

    I am not a troll. This info is included in my book entitled “Progressive Dispensationalism and the Missing Throne,” which was given a good review in the “Journal of Dispensational Theology” published by Tyndale Theological Seminary, Volume 23, No. 67, Autumn 2019.

    1. Jerry,

      1. First, I have not even mentioned Hebrews 9 in this series so far. Please comment on what I have written,

      2. I cited the context in Hebrews where diatheke is translated uniformly as “covenant” throughout the book. Moreover, the author is contrasting one covenant (Moses) with another (New).

      3. I cited two NT scholars, one of whom (G. Guthrie) is an acknowledged expert on Hebrews. His work is now accepted by the large majority of people in the field.

      4. You did not even interact with any of the arguments.

      5. Richard Hiers is/was not a NT scholar. He was a liberal OT scholar.

      6. Hiers’ piece is not even about Hebrews 9. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t mention it.

      7. The story of the Prodigal Son provides a better companion text to Hebrews 9:16-17 than Deuteronomy.

      Hence, you have a long way to go to overthrow a thesis that has not yet been mentioned in this series.

      So why bring it up? Why not comment on the article thus far? And why not bring up Hiers straight away rather than make a bald assertion based on an older commentary?

      I will get around to Hebrews 9 later in the series, but I am not going to be derailed any more by this intrusive debate.

      I’m glad your book got a decent review.

      But wait… I knew I smelled a rat. We have been around this mulberry bush before, and you ignored all my evidence back then. I will not be drawn into another fruitless exchange with you Jerry.

  3. Excuse me Dr. Henbury, but since you answered me earlier in the following way I just assumed that you would be willing to discuss the article you referenced:

    Read this: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/repost-does-diatheke-mean-last-will-and-testament-in-hebrews-916-17/

    I was merely trying to show that the expert you cited made an error when he wrote that ” A Hellenistic will was secure and valid when it was written down, witnessed and deposited, not when the testator died.”

    Richard Hiers, whom you acknowledge as being an OT scholar, cited verses from the OT to demonstrate that Last Wills and Testaments were indeed used during OT times in Israel.

    You are in error when you stated that I ignored your evidence earlier. I will address any point which you want me to address. Even though we may disagree on certain issues we are both on the same side and should always remember to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    In His grace,
    Jerry

    1. Jerry,

      Take a look at the contents of this and the previous two articles, then take a look at your first comment above. You simply ignore what I wrote because you are only interested in “proving” (for whatever reason) your position on last will and testaments. I am not writing about them in these posts. So yes, you are trolling.

      Hiers is writing about OT inheritance and bequest practices in the OT which were similar to modern day wills. But he has nothing to say about Hellenistic wills, which is what O’Brien is referring to, and what diatheke (a Greek term) can refer to. Hiers says nothing about the passage in Hebrews.

      You say that you will address any issue I raise. But that has just not been your method of operation in our transactions. You routinely ignore my arguments, just as you ignored those 7 points I gave above and the arguments in the piece I referenced. I reproduce another scholar from our last ding-dong about this very matter:

      William Lane writes,

      “There is no evidence in classical papyriological sources to substantiate that a will or testament was legally valid only when the testator died. A will became operative as soon as it was properly drafted, witnessed, and notarized. Moreover, inheritance did not occur only after the death of the testator, since it was common legal practice for an inheritance, as parental distribution
      inter vivos (“among the survivors”), to take place before death.” – Hebrews 9 – 13 WBC, 231

      Notice the point: “ONLY when the testator died.” You are missing THIS point. This is what the author of Hebrews is asserting and he would be dead wrong if he were speaking of a will. He would be right if speaking of a covenant! Remember, diatheke is the LXX word for covenant (not “promissory disposition” which is a non-technical term). That is why Hiers does not help your argument. He does not deal with that assertion in Hebrews 9, even though you claim that he does!

      I have had to erase your comments before because you refused to interact with my arguments. You have made yourself a nuisance on this site (as well as others I am informed). Quoting Eph. 4 at me is order to gain the high ground comes across as you being sanctimonious and does nothing to ingratiate you here.

      If you do not interact meaningfully with my arguments in your next comment you will no longer be welcome to comment at my blog. Enough is enough!

      1. Comment removed

        Jerry,

        You are like a broken record. These are the same arguments with the same quotes you served up previously. You again avoid the arguments you have been given to pursue your own course. I am now supposed to waste my time reasoning with someone who thinks that when the Bible speaks about the promise to Abraham it is NOT referring to the Abrahamic COVENANT. The word for covenant is berit not dabar, which is often used for “promise” in the OT. As I have said before, diatheke translates berit (covenant) in the Greek OT.

        The fact that you cannot even bring yourself to admit this plain fact (which really is basic) demonstrates that you are not worth any more of my time. I do not wish to be unpleasant, but I have been patient enough. Please go and ply your trade elsewhere!

  4. Very interested in this dialogue and in Jerry Shugart’s views. Is there a way to contact Jerry directly? Thank you.

    1. You can reach me at jerryshugart2@yahoo or you can read my view on this subject in my book “Progressive Dispensationalism and the Missing Throne” which is sold on Amazon..

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