A Third Response to Josh Sommer

Part Two

In his third critique of my series on Deciphering Covenant Theology Josh seeks to redress some issues with my treatment of the covenant of redemption. Of my views on the covenant of redemption Josh has this to say:

“That the covenant of redemption depends upon assumptions is a conclusion that does not follow from the available premises throughout the article. He never actually defines what these assumptions are, much less does he show those assumptions to be false through rational demonstration. He just asserts their presence and opines their insufficiency.”

Josh thinks that I do not prove my assertion that the theological covenants are based upon assumptions. Well, if he or anyone else could simply show me where these covenants are to be found on the pages of Scripture I will be happy to take it back. I’m not going to hold my breath. So then, as they have shall we say “slight” exegetical claims these covenants: redemption, works, and grace must perforce be assumed from other premises. I gave those premises in Parts One & Two and here too. For example, in Part three I wrote,

“The reason that CT is so deductive is because of its method of reading Scripture. Briefly put its method is to formulate doctrine from – to put it in the language of the Westminster Confession 1.6 – “good and necessary consequences”, and then go in search of texts which appear to back up those consequences. This is then called ‘exegesis.'”

You will see Josh deducing these covenants from certain questions he asks and then seeking proof-texts for his own answers.

Josh also accuses me of citing “very little from his interlocutors.” Well, in Part Three I cite seven sources a total of ten times. In Part Two I cite one source three times, including nine lines of text. In Part One I cite two sources, including a block quotation of six lines of text. My concern is not to provide a compendium of CT quotations, but to accurately portray their views with the help of references and quotes from the literature.

One People of God?

Josh thinks that the NT s explicit that there is and can be only one people of God. He says it “stands to reason that every Christian should be willing to confess a single people of God.” Ephesians 4:4 is brought out to prove this. But Ephesians is written to the Church. The Church is created “one new man” according to Ephesians 2:15. The Church has to be new because it is connected to Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11). We were baptized into the one Body (the Church) by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The Spirit was not given until after Christ was raised (Jn. 6:37; 16:7; Rom. 8:11). This means that Ephesians 4 has no relevance to OT saints, unless it can be shown that the Body of Christ existed in the OT or that the dead saints were added to the Church in heaven. Hebrews 11:39 does not say that OT saints are members of the Church. It says that OT saints did not obtain the promise. What promise? Heaven? Who would teach that OT saints aren’t in heaven? The completed Church then? Verse 40 states “that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” To what does that refer? Josh thinks it refers to all the saints from every age being one in the Church, but Hebrews does not say that. I do not want to get off on a tangent here but the “us” in Hebrews are Hebrews! Hebrew Christians you say. Well, Hebrews does not say that. Whatever “the promise” is in Hebrews 11 it is not the Church.

Josh commits what James Barr called “illegitimate totality transfer” when he says that “the Septuagint (LXX) translates the Hebrew references to Israel as an assembly to ἐκκλησίαν on several occasions.” The use of a term in one setting does not mean that it means the same as it does in another setting. Josh also fails to observe the context for Genesis 17:14 which is to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac not Ishmael (see Gen. 17:18-19). Ishmael’s seed could have been circumcised and it would have made no difference; they were outside the covenant. I will leave it there.

What About the Covenant of Redemption?

Josh thinks that in simply my pointing out that many covenant theologians question the covenant of redemption is somehow wrong. That it does not disprove whether there is one. Correct. and I never said it did. But it is worth noting that the covenant of redemption is queried even by CT’s. Then Josh says “Henebury doesn’t actually engage his interlocutors on their exegetical defense in favor of the covenant of redemption.”

As anyone who reads Part Three can see I do engage the texts which Guy Richards brings forth to prove the covenant of redemption. I shall, however, say more about his list of verses here.

Richard’s first proof-text for claiming “buying and selling” language that he will utilize to support the covenant of redemption is Acts 20:28 which refers to the Church bought by God’s (i.e. Christ’s) blood. Since that is New covenant blood according to Jesus Himself (Lk. 22:20) it has nothing to do with the covenant of redemption, works, or grace which are not spoken of in the Bible. Ditto 1 Corinthians 6:20; Ephesians 1:7, and 1 Peter 1:18. These verses which Richard tries to tie to the theological covenants are concerned with Jesus’ blood, which is New covenant blood. That is why I didn’t really interact with Richard’s “exegesis.” There isn’t any. Richard is taking a part of a New covenant doctrine and ripping it out of context to try to stick it onto the covenant of redemption. Added to this is him citing Patrick Gillespie that a covenant is essentially an agreement, which isn’t true! As I said, ” Covenant theologians tell stories.” These are assertions made without any contextual validation. Josh thinks that since I did not detain the reader with Gillespie’s misuse of Isaiah 28:15 I somehow wasn’t playing fair.

But as Josh himself shows, Richard uses Gillespie, not the Bible, as an authority for making “covenant” and “agreement” synonymous. They aren’t; especially not where it matters. “Agreement” is a necessary part of a conditional covenant such as the “covenant of death” which the leaders of Judah had made in Isaiah 28:15 (which would not be upheld – Isa. 28:.18). But “agreement” is not part of an unconditional covenant such as the New covenant or the Davidic covenant: not unless one thinks that “I agree that you pledged to do this” is what is meant by “agreement”! Gillespie is just wrong. Josh riffs off this like a point has been proven. Moreover, according to CT’s view of the theological covenants of redemption and grace, they are unconditional; which means that defining covenant as simply agreement doesn’t give the result that is needed.

Josh then takes aim at me for asking what John 6:37 has to do with a covenant. Here it is:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

He says I am guilty of the word/concept fallacy because I deny what David Dickson and Guy Richard wish to assert. But the burden of proof is not on me. I am not the one making the claim that John 6:37 is a proof for a pre-creational covenant in the Godhead! The Father gives people to the Son, and they therefore will come to the Son. Okay. Who needs a covenant? And why would the persons of the Trinity need to covenant with each other? Oh wait, a covenant is only an agreement! CT’s generally dilute the definition of covenant so that it can be used to support their covenants. I demur.

In trying to rebuff my position on Psalm 2:7 Josh resorts to typological hermeneutics. Now I agree that David is a type of Christ in some ways, but many of my readers know that I am a severe critic of typological hermeneutics because it is an the habit of choosing a typology that suits its conclusions and rejecting typologies which don’t. Josh joins Guy Richard in fishing around Psalm 2 i an attempt to link it to the covenant of redemption. He believes that Psalm 2:8 (“Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.) refers to Christ’s “sending and mission.” It doesn’t. It refers to His coming reign over the earth from Zion (Psa. 2:6, 9 cf. Rev. 19:15). He comments:

“It is this mission of Christ that warrants the language of “decretal agreement” or “covenant of redemption,” due to the sending and giving of the Son by the Father for that definitive work of salvation.”

So having concocted a pre-temporal salvation covenant out of nothing but a few verses out of context, none of which refer to a covenant, and diluting the definition of covenant down to the vapid idea of “agreement” we are now supposed to believe that the nations being given to Christ as His inheritance (see Rev. 11:15) is actually not His future earthly reign but His “mission” through the Church! And that warrants the language of the covenant of grace! Remember my quotation of myself above:

“Briefly put its method is to formulate doctrine from – to put it in the language of the Westminster Confession 1.6 – “good and necessary consequences”, and then go in search of texts which appear to back up those consequences.”

That is what Josh and his CT scholars do above. I see no exegesis in service of their theological covenants. Lastly, Josh thinks “Henebury has not allowed for an impartial presentation of covenant theology by its adherents.” Well, he is entitled to his opinion, but I do not see any proof for CT in his rebuttals. Rather, I see examples of the very deductive theologizing I warned readers of at the beginning of the series.


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