Covenant Connections in Paul (10)

Part Nine

Is the Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3?

             On a related note, some Dispensational writers have believed that the catching up of the saints is what is in view in 2 Thessalonians 2:3:

Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sinis revealed, the son of perdition.

          I shall revisit this text further on in my remarks about the future antichrist but will focus briefly on the term “falling away” (apostasia).  The word can occasionally refer to a physical separation.  However, this is definitely not its main meaning.  Hogg and Vine note that in the LXX the term has a negative connotation for rebellion or defection.[1]  But is it possible that Paul employs the word here in a positive sense to refer to the removal of the saints to “the air” as per 1 Thessalonians 4:17?  Personally, I think this is extremely doubtful.  In the first place, why would the apostle make use of the word apostasia when just a few months before he utilized the more precise term harpagesometha?  Reusing harpazo would be a clear reminder of what he had said in 1 Thessalonians 4 and would have been good pedagogy.  If one adds to this the fact that Paul had indicated that this “seizing” of the saints was a new teaching the switch from precision to ambiguity is even less comprehensible.  To me this ranks as a significant counterargument.

          More arguments against taking apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as the ‘rapture’ are simply replies to the several indecisive reasons given in its favor.  For instance, although apostasies have been commonplace in Church History it could well be that a marked falling away from sound doctrine worldwide will precede the revealing of the Man of Sin (Antichrist).  That fits just as well into the context than a rapture hypothesis (if not better – cf. Lk. 14:34).  Again, if it is said that 2 Thessalonians 3:1 refers to “the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,” it begs the question to claim that the “coming” is pretribulational in that context.[2]  It is a non sequitur

          The fact of the matter is that a fool-proof exegetical presentation of a pretribulational (or any other) ‘rapture’ is not possible.  Yes, exegetical reasons for the different viewpoints can be put forth[3], but in reality, the passages are not plain enough to arrive at dogmatic conclusions about.  The best that can be argued for is an inference to the best explanation.[4]   

The Man of Sin and the Tribulation

           Paul is primarily a church theologian.  He mentions the hopes of Israel out of understandable concern for his people and for God’s solemn word vouchsafed to them.  He believes in the Remnant and that when their blindness is removed (Rom.11:25) God will save Israel.  But the OT predicts a time of upheaval called variously “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) or “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1), after which Israel will be delivered (Jer. 30:7c; Dan. 12:1b).  If we add into this the prospect of the “little horn” of Daniel 7:21-22 and the self-exalting king of Daniel 11:36f., we can see that the OT has given us a time of tribulation that resembles Daniel’s descriptions (cf. Matt. 24:21-30), and which comes before the second advent of Jesus.  Putting the pieces of this jigsaw together it looks as though after “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25) there will be a time of peril for Israel in which an evil protagonist who will “speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High” (Dan. 7:25), will have his time.  After this, the people whom he persecuted shall inherit the kingdom (Dan. 7:27). 

          The question before us is, does the apostle Paul refer to any of this in his letters?  The answer is yes, and it is surprisingly detailed.  For Paul’s take on this we must turn again to the Thessalonian correspondence.  Let us turn first to what he has to say about the mysterious “man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:

Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God…And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 6-8.

          Now the “Day” is “the day of Christ” in verse 2.  Before the day of Christ can happen, certain intervening events have to occur.  Something called “the falling away” (apostasia) must happen.  As we have seen, some pretribulationists believe that this apostasia is the rapture.  I personally do not.  I retain the view that this “falling away” is the defection of the visible church from Christ and His Truth.  They may maintain confessional items like the deity of Christ and justification by faith, but the “hard content” (e.g., sin, sanctification, dying to self, etc.) is not pressed and a self-centered entertainment-based form of teaching replaces it, thereby preaching a false Jesus and a different gospel (2 Cor. 11:4).

          The next intervening event is the appearance of “the man of sin,” who is given another name, “son of perdition.”  This individual matches the character of the “little horn” in Daniel 7 and brings to mind John’s depiction of “the beast” in Revelation 13.  The fact that Paul simply refers to this person as “the man of sin” suggests that he expects his audience to know who he is referring to.  This is the coming great foe of Israel who goes by many names in Scripture[5].  Daniel calls him the “little horn” (Dan. 7:24-27), the willful king (Dan. 11:36), while Zechariah speaks of him as “the worthless shepherd” in Zechariah 11:15-17.[6]  Paul’s designation, “the man of sin” is most appropriate therefore.[7]  But Paul adds another name, “the son of perdition (apoleia)”, which is the exact same name that Jesus called Judas Iscariot in His prayer to the Father in John 17:12! 

          Some interpreters have thought that the two names denote the two halves of the seven-year career of the Antichrist (of which more later).  But that is mere speculation.  The structure of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 does not encourage such a division.  The “man of sin (hamartia – Majority Text) or “lawlessness” (anomia – Nestle-Aland/Tyndale House Text) appears to be the same one who “exalts himself” and sits in God’s temple proclaiming himself a deity (2 Thess. 2:4).  The fact that he is given another name (hardly unusual in the Bible) should not carry any meaning beyond what is clearly stated.

          The phrase that links this man most clearly to the sinful ruler of Daniel is of course his over-inflated ego.  Daniel says that the coming persecutor will “speak pompous words against the Most High” (Dan. 9:25a), and (as the willful king) “shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods” (Dan. 11:36).  According to Daniel 7:26-27 this person’s reign will be halted after “a time, times, and half a time” (i.e., three and a half years),[8] and the kingdom of peace is ushered in.  For Paul, the “man of sin/son of perdition” will oppose God and “sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2 Thess. 2:4). 

          What this surely means, if it means anything, is that at some time right before the Kingdom of God comes to earth a malevolent ruler will arise who will secure great power over at least the “Biblical World” and quite possible over the whole world.  He will be an intensely religious figure, but a very vocal blasphemer of Yahweh.  His hubris will be such that he will enter “the temple (naos) of God”, which for all the imaginative readings of our amillennialist friends cannot mean the church.[9]  The ecclesia as these writers very well know, is not a building one can sit in.  But the “man of sin” “sits” (intransitive verb) in the naos of God.  This denotes a temple structure, its holy place.  Is this a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem?  Very possibly.  From Jesus’ own warning in Matthew 24:15-16 we have seen that a temple is required for the “abomination of desolation” to be “set up” in.

          As startling as this is, we are confronted with a biblical truth that we should not shy away from.  A man of great wickedness will someday sit in a temple (probably in Jerusalem) and will proclaim himself to be God.  That naturally means that he will demand worship, for God can demand worship. 

          The passage goes on to refer to a “restrainer” who will be “taken out of the way” to allow this “man of sin” to be revealed “in his own (very particular) time.”  I believe this restrainer to be the Holy Spirit of God in His role within the church.  I cannot prove that, but I think it is the most natural understanding (who or what else could it be?).[10]  The restraining influence is what keeps in check “the mystery of lawlessness” which has been operating for nearly two millennia (2 Thess. 2:7).  Again, this fits the Spirit well.  The result of the restrainer’s “removal” is that this eschatological bogeyman can finally be revealed, and so, it seems, can the release of spectacular demonic powers (2 Thess. 2:9).  This is where the apostle has arrived in his warning: 

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

          The reason for the great display of evil supernatural power is, naturally enough, deception.  This deception is worldwide and therefore very believable; unless a person has the light of Scripture to interpret it by.  And the Scripture only gives its light to those who love its truth, which the masses never have.  There is an indication that the truth is being put out there: “because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” (2 Thess. 2:10).  But the truth is rejected because of the lying signs and because they “had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thess.2:10).  As with so many cases where discernment is wanting, the problem is not that the truth is not attainable, but that it contradicts what everybody else believes.  What Paul calls “the lie” in verse 11 is not easy to divine right now, but it seems to me that a man proclaiming himself to be God and pointing to great demonstrations of power as proof would fit the bill nicely.   


[1] C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians, second edition, London: Pickering & Inglis, n.d., 246.  Likewise, Robert L. Thomas, “2 Thessalonians,” EBC, Vol. 11, 321. 

[2] A post-tribulationist could claim this verse as an important text for his view against the other views.  See Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973, 113-114.

[3] See, e.g., Paul Feinberg’s arguments for tereso ek in Revelation 3:10 indicating a pretrib rapture in The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational, by Richard Reiter, General editor, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1984, 47-86. 

[4] See the articles on “Trying to Get the Rapture Right.”

[5] I shall give attention to this individual (the “Antichrist”) when we study Revelation 13. 

[6] Some writers believe that the “one who comes in his own name” in John 5:43 is a veiled reference to Antichrist.  For example, G. H. Pember, The Antichrist, Babylon, and the Coming of the Kingdom, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1888, 6.

[7] Reformed scholar Kim Riddlebarger believes that the label fits many individuals down through church history, but that it culminates in an end time villain.  He fits this into an amillennial framework.  See his The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006, 13-14.

[8] See The Words of the Covenant: Old Testament Expectation, 311-312.  I shall come back to this expression later. 

[9] See, e.g., G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 200-203.

[10] Again, the wording seems to take for granted we know what he means.  Since the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost involved convicting the world “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8), His removal from that particular role will have a negative effect upon the world.  It goes without saying that the Spirit of God can no more be absent the creation than the providence of God which He empowers.  

Deciphering Covenant Theology (27): Summation (1)

Part Twenty-Six

Covenant Theology and the Bible

In an article at TableTalk Stephen G. Myers writes,

“Covenant theology seeks to use the biblically prominent covenants to inform our knowledge of God and of His work. Specifically, covenant theology contends that God has been working throughout history to gather His people to Himself through covenantal relationship.”

There is a problem here. The three theological covenants of CT are not prominent in the Bible. Moreover, the concept of covenantal relationship ,while part of the genius of CT, can and has been explained along separate and arguably more biblically defensible lines. For the rest of the article Myers uses Scripture in service of “covenants” of which Scripture is silent. His article is packed with passages, but when analyzed in context none of them are about the theological covenants of redemption, works, and grace. Indeed, many of them are specifically about the named covenants in the Bible.

John V. Fesko has a three part series on Covenant Theology available at Monergism (and Reformed Theological Seminary). In Fesko’s skillful overview of CT he agrees that Reformed Covenant Theology has historically taught the three covenants of redemption, works, and grace. Fesko claims that these three main covenants “have a lot of other covenants nestled in them…particularly the covenant of grace.” Those covenants nestled in the covenant of grace include the Abrahamic, Davidic and New covenants. (Lecture 1 5.30+ mark). It is passing strange that the Bible never once tells us about this!

Defining “Covenant”

He believes the term “covenant” is a difficult thing to define. The biblical evidence is varied. But he does make the point that “fundamental to making a covenant is swearing an oath.” (L1 48.30+ mark). That is true, and an oath from God can be taken to the bank (Heb. 6:17). That oath is not open to novel alterations. It’s meaning is agreed upon and static.

Referencing Isaiah 28:15-18 he interchanges covenant and agreement. He says a covenant is basically an agreement (L1 14.00+). But most agreements do not require an oath, so it would be quite wrong to equate the two. And to add something I wrote elsewhere,

“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”! 

The Covenant of Redemption?

After considering Beza’s understanding of diatithemi (translated as “bestow” in Lk. 22:29 NKJV; “granted” in the NASB) as “covenant” he asks when in Christ’s ministry are we told that the Father covenants to the Son a kingdom? (L1 25-00). Here is the verse:

And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me.

It must perforce be the covenant of redemption. But wait. Why can’t it be the New covenant Kingdom connected with the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants? Zechariah 6:13 and Psalm 2:7 are the most often cited verses for this covenant, and they do concern those very things.

Fesko says that if you took away one pillar of the covenant of redemption it would still stand (L1 25.00+). He places a lot of emphasis on the sending of the Son by the Father in John’s Gospel. (L1 34.30+). But I cannot find a biblical pillar upon which to erect the covenant of redemption in the first place. The sending of the son by the Father does not require a pre-creational covenant, which would not make sense anyway since covenants presuppose the possibility of disagreement or reneging, neither of which can be predicated of the members of the Trinity.

In Psalm 105:8ff. (L1 40.20+) Fesko rightly highlights the fact that God’s covenants involve a word of command (which he then links to God’s prohibition to Adam in Gen. 2:16-17). The word “statute” in Psalm 105:10 is, says Fesko, “the same Hebrew term that the Psalmist says for decree.” (L1 42.00+). So the question is what covenant? Straightaway he goes back to Luke 22:29, “And I bestow [covenant] upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed [covenanted] one upon Me.” Now in the context of Luke 22 the covenant in question is the Davidic covenant as energized by the New covenant. Likewise, in Psalm 105 the covenant is plainly the Abrahamic covenant. Why do we need to look for another covenant?

After running through all this Fesko asks “does all of this only have roots in the sand of history? (L1 46.05+), and he answers “It has its roots ultimately all the way back here in eternity.” And this root is found in the so-called covenant of redemption. As persuasive as this seems to be coming from such a well versed professor, this is a non sequitur.

The Covenant of Works?

In beginning of his lecture on the covenant of works Fesko introduces the subject of the active obedience of Christ (L2 1.25+). Fesko believes the covenant of works is the ground upon which the cross makes sense, for before Adam sinned he was told to obey. This is where the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ comes up. But whatever one thinks of the application of Christ’s life to the believer no covenant of works is needed to explain it. All that is needed is the concept of the Fall and the Mosaic Law, especially its universal ethic.

Referring to Romans 5:14 he notes correctly that Paul uses two Greek words: “even over those who had not sinned (hamartias) according to the likeness of the transgression (parabasis) of Adam…” The second word, parabasis, can be used for the breaking of a covenant. Hence, Fesko thinks Paul is alluding to the initial breaking of the covenant of works in the Garden in the LXX (L2 37.00+), and he supports this by citing Galatians 3:19; “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions (parabasis) etc.”.

But if the Law was added because of transgressions it cannot be transgressing the covenant of works. The covenant of works was supposedly enacted at least 2,500 years before the Mosaic covenant and its Law (and 2,000 years before the Abrahamic covenant). If Paul in Galatians 3:19 has the breaking of the covenant of works in mind then it has to be admitted that it took God a very very long time to add the Law because of the transgression of the covenant of works! So Paul’s thesis would not make sense.

On Genesis 2:15 Fesko notes that the covenant name Yahweh is used (L2 23.20+). That is true. But it is also true that Yahweh was not the covenant name of God prior to the time of Moses (Exod. 6:3). When we say that Yahweh is God’s covenant name we are not claiming that it has always been synonymous with the covenant concept. It is the name that God instills with covenantal meaning, especially to Israel.

He repairs to 2nd century Jewish works for an Adamic covenant, but he only mentions Sirach 14:17 and Genesis Rabbah (he doesn’t give the reference) which quotes Hosea 6:7 making a comparison between the first man and Israel. Yes, this shows that some Jews believed that there was a covenant with Adam, but it does not show that it was the covenant of works. Moreover, these Jewish interpreters are in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to providing proof for their interpretations, and that proof is far from satisfactory.

The Covenant of Grace?

In his third lecture, which is on the covenant of grace (L3) Fesko begins by quoting the Westminster Confession 7.3. It becomes clear that he grounds this covenant upon the two covenants which supposedly go before it. He looks at Genesis 12:2-3, which says nothing about the covenant of grace. Fesko says here that God has “reversed the covenant of works” (L3 8.00+). This is because there is no longer a command to multiply but a promise that Abraham will be multiplied (L3 23.00+). But this assumes the covenant of works is in Genesis to begin with! He spends quite a long time on Genesis 12 and 15 and says that Paul’s references to these chapters show a covenantal unity in the Bible, which he equates with the unity of the covenant of grace (L3 17.02+). He then cites several New covenant passages and Romans 5:12-21. What follows in the lecture is a lot of deduction from a settled system of theological covenants. It is thin on proof for the covenant of grace.

The big problem is that the Bible presents us with its divine covenants and they are to be explained and understood within the contextual framework which the Bible itself puts forward. Introducing extra-biblical covenants and imposing them over the top of the biblical covenants will do nothing but obscure what God has said in those covenants.

Thoughts on Books I Read in 2022

These are a few thoughts on the books I read last year. I may have missed one or two but this list is pretty complete. Many of the works were read as I researched Volume Two of The Words of the Covenant. Not to knock them but rarely now am I helped by books that I already agree with. I did not include two books that I am more than halfway through: Paul: A New Covenant Jew by Pitre, Barber & Kincaid, and Peter Stuhlmacher’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament. If I do this again at the cusp of 2024 I shall give my opinion on both of them. Have a Happy and Blessed New Year!

The Messianic Theology of the New Testament – Joshua Jipp

An engaging Reformed treatment of an important theme. Clearly, I don’t agree that Jesus is on David’s throne now, but it is very important because of what it highlights.

1 Peter – Craig Keener

Keener is a very clear writer. He always provides loads of background info. Sometimes he overdoes it, but this is a very good all-round commentary.

Revelation – Buist Fanning

Fanning is an excellent commentator who packs a lot of information into a page. I wasn’t convinced by everything in this book (like his treatment of the sixth seal in Rev. 6), but found this a great way to think through Revelation. Definitely deserves to be near the top of anyone’s lists on the last book of the Bible.

Colossians and Philemon: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and TeachingAdam Copenhaver and Jeffrey D. Arthurs,

Copenhaver’s exposition is excellent. Arthurs’s homiletical notes, meh.

James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and TeachingHerbert W. Bateman & William C. Varner

The best commentary I have read this year. Great layout. Scores on all points a work like it explores. Requires a knowledge of Greek.

1 & 2 Kings: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and TeachingDavid B. Schreiner & Lee Compson

Somewhat critical from Schreiner, but still very useful all the same. For what you get preachers could do worse (though Iain Provan is better). Compson’s homiletics notes are okay I guess.

Jesus Remembered – James D. G. Dunn

Finished this off this year. I love Dunn’s writing style and the way he triggers new questions. I don’t like everything I read, but am helped by it. Great material on the Kingdom.

Beginning From Jerusalem – James D. G. Dunn

Volume 2 of Dunn’s massive Trilogy and fully up to the standard of the first. Really appreciated the way Dunn intertwines expansion and the NT writings.

The Theology of the Apostle Paul – James D. G. Dunn

Rightly regarded as an exceptional work. Brilliant thinking through Paul. A stimulating work! Dunn is so good at linking up the epistles to the central pillar of Romans.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N. T. Wright

I haven’t completed these two volumes but have read much of them. Wright doesn’t capture my imagination like Dunn does, and I haven’t gotten as much from this book as I’d hoped. This is mainly because I disagree with his dominating thesis of Israel’s exile being ended in Christ.

Paul in Fresh Perspective – N. T. Wright

Wright at his best. Some terrific essays here, even though I disagree more than I agree.

A Theology of Paul and His Letters – Douglas Moo

Good, clear, very useful, but yet not as groundbreaking as I had hoped. Relies on Dunn (above) quite a lot. I think reading Dunn first blunted my experience of this work.

Paul and the Salvation of Mankind – Johannes Munck

Since lots of scholars cite this work I thought I better read it. Liberal dogmatism at its worse, but one or two redeeming features.

The King of God’s Kingdom – David Seccombe

Backed by scholarship but written for everyone. This book explores and explains the identity of Jesus and the significance of His work in an almost devotional way. Some of his notes date him a tad, but I enjoyed this book. It deserves to be better known – and to be cheaper!

Covenant Theology: Biblical, Historical & Theological Perspectives – Waters, Reid & Muether (eds)

An excellent compendium of articles on CT from a paedo-baptist perspective. Some of the material is from other books (e.g., Belcher on the cov. of works), but this is a really good book. Stops short of being definitive but is a must for anyone wanting to understand CT.

Paul’s Theology in Context – James P. Ware

An excellent piece of work written with deference to better known scholars but which makes a solid contribution. Focusses on the themes of Creation, Incarnation, Covenant, and Kingdom. Right up my alley.

When People Are Big and God is Small – Ed Welch

A good book dealing with self-centeredness and co-dependency. I used it for a Bible Study. Added quite a bit of my own stuff but always found good jumping off points in the book.

40 Questions About Arminianism – J. Matthew Pinson

An outstanding discussion of Classical Arminianism from a very competent writer who knows theology and philosophy. All Calvinists need to read this, especially if they think Arminius and Wesley were “semi-pelagians.” I am not Arminian but was much helped by this book. It needed to be written.

40 Questions About PrayerJoseph C. Harrod

One of the very best books on Prayer I have ever read (and I’ve read of lot of them). Balanced, sober, and uplifting. A job well done.

Yeshua: The Life of the Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective (Vol. 1) – Arnold Fruchtenbaum

Finally, I was sent this book by a kind friend who wanted an opinion on it. It is the first of a massive four volume work. My intention was to review it but I felt that the review would be too negative, so I didn’t write it. Dr. Fruchtenbaum is a messianic Jewish teacher whose ministry is focused on the Jews, and this has to be kept in mind. With that said I have to report that this large book is thin on biblical exposition of its subject. It relies heavily (and questionably) upon parallels and echoes from Mishnaic/Talmudic Jewish sources, most of which stem from a time long after the times of Jesus (which is acknowledged by the author). As such the light cast from the non-inspired sources on the inspired ones is suspect. The trouble with this method is that for every assertion made on the basis of a targum another view is possible depending on the choice of source and the weight given to it (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls). Any familiarity with e.g., N. T. Wright or Peter Stuhlmacher will reveal this.

Deciphering Covenant Theology (26)

Part Twenty-Five

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

12. CT is implicitly supercessionist in its eschatology.

This final problem with Covenant Theology is vehemently denied by more and more who adopt its ideas. They will feel aggrieved by the accusation that CT teaches replacement theology. That is, CT’s today will object strongly when they are characterized as teaching that the Church has taken over the covenant blessings God gave to the nation of Israel. According to Sam Storms,

“Replacement theology would assert that God has uprooted and eternally cast aside the olive tree which is Israel and has planted, in its place, an entirely new one, the Church.  All the promises given to the former have been transferred to the latter.” – Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 195.

And here is Greg Beale:

“The notion of Christians being part of God’s Israelite family is expressed well in Galatians…Paul views Christ to be the summation of the true Israel and understands all, whether Jew or gentile, whom Jesus represents to be true Israel… The identification in Gal. 3:29 that both believing “Jew and Greek” (3:28) are “Abraham’s seed” is, then, a reference to them as the continuation of true Israel.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 671.

On some level this is understandable. Many CT’s today will say that the Church is Israel; the “new Israel” or “true Israel.” Also, many will point out, quite rightly from their perspective, that since the elect of God in all ages is the Church then saved Israelites are in the Church. This means that if the Church equates to saved Israel then Israel is the Church and vice versa. The problem enters because this way of reading the Bible contradicts the oath-sworn covenants of the Bible. Simply saying that since the Church is and always has been Israel (and Israel always has been the Church?) does not get CT off the hook. If the OT does not speak about Israel in terms that match the doctrine of the Church then huge doubt is thrown upon CT’s way of handling the OT. And if the NT says things about Israel that cannot comport with what it says about the Church then the difficulty cannot be overcome.

Then there is this passage:

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. – Matthew 21:43.

Covenant theologians have habitually interpreted the “you” from whom the kingdom is taken away as Israel, and have claimed that the “nation” bearing good fruits is the Church. Of this verse Beale gives this interpretation:

“Israel’s stewardship of God’s kingdom will be taken from it, and the gentiles will be given the stewardship.” – Ibid, 681.

He continues,

“Thus, the transferral (sic) of kingdom stewardship also includes transferral (sic) of stewardship of the new temple, centered not in an architectural sphere anymore but now Jesus and all who identify with him. Matthew 21:41, 43 say that this new form of the kingdom (and by implication of the temple) will be the gentiles, though we know that a remnant of ethnic Jewish believers will also identify with Jesus and join with the gentiles as the new form of the kingdom and temple, which is the church.” – Ibid, 681.

The chapter that this is taken from is called “The Church as the Transformed and Restored Eschatological Israel.” What one sees here is not that the Church is and always has been Israel so that one cannot replace the other. Rather, Beale straight-on says that the kingdom is transferred from Israel and given to the Gentiles. That is precisely what Storms calls “replacement theology” in the first quotation given above!

Speaking anecdotally, I have many times listened to CT friends tell me that the Church has replaced Israel, especially in my homeland in the United Kingdom. But there is no doubt that many CT’s have gone far further than simply claiming that the Church is just an expansion of Israel and therefore the covenant promises God gave to Israel are rightly theirs. For example,

“The community of believers has in all respects replaced carnal, national Israel.” – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4.667

“The Jewish nation no longer has a place as the special people of God; that place has been taken by the Christian community which fulfills God’s purpose for Israel.” – Bruce Waltke, “Kingdom Promises as Spiritual,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Testaments, ed., John S. Feinberg 275.

The hermeneutical assumptions of Covenant Theology require these kinds of statements. At the best of times, CT’s may tread carefully enough to avoid the charge of supercessionism, but oftentimes they really do teach replacement theology.

Deciphering Covenant Theology (25)

Part Twenty-Four

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

11. CT interprets the Bible from an anthropocentric rather than a Theocentric point of view.

From what has been said before about CT’s redemptive-historical hermeneutic based upon the primacy of the covenant of grace it becomes clear that although it seeks to glorify God in its overall approach, CT comes from a perspective which is man-centered. Because it casts its net around the salvation of the elect and not around God’s broader concerns with creation the point of view tends to be from the ground up, not from heaven down to earth. Although the Bible is written from our earthly starting point, it is a revelation from above and concerns the whole Plan of God in relation to His created sphere.

Furthermore, because the elect are one people of God with no distinction between Israel, the church, and the Nations, this further narrows the lens through which Scripture is understood. Everything must concern the one people of God. This is exacerbated by reading the OT in terms of the NT (especially Paul’s Gospel). The attention is on what Christ has done for us. This leaves us at the cross and empty tomb, which though vital is not the full story. In the OT messianic prophecies the first and second comings are often fused together (e.g., Isa. 9:6-7; 61:1-2; Mic. 5:2; Zech. 9:9-10; Mal. 3:1-3). This ought to alert us to the fact that the passion of Christ and His glorious resurrection are one half of a single work which is to be concluded in His reign over the creation that was gifted to Him (Col. 1:16) and His presentation of this earth back to the Father as something restored for God’s glory (1 Cor. 15:23-28), but not entirely repristinated (see Rev. 21:1 with 22:3).

An anthropocentric perspective looks at the Bible mainly in terms of what God does for humanity. A theological perspective looks at what God is doing, not just with man, but with Satan and the demons, and with the whole creation itself, within which man is a part. Hence, from a God-centered perspective there is a readiness to think in terms of a great program, or what I like to call “the Creation Project.”

Because the redemption of mankind is one aspect of the Bible story (even perhaps the main one) the other parts of the Story should also be given their due, which does not happen when the focus is on our salvation.

Just here, by the way, I should say that Dispensationalism, with its focus upon stewardships given to representative people in various epochs can fall into similar anthropocentric assumptions. The dispensations are often studied in terms of how they are carried out, with the eventual outcome being that men fail.

Part 26

Deciphering Covenant Theology (24)

Part Twenty-Three

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

10. CT reads Christ into passages where He is plainly not in view and employs Him (particularly His first coming) as the lens through which Scripture must be understood.

Covenant Theology is grounded in an overarching approach to reading Scripture as a redemptive-historical story. This entails reading the OT in light of the NT, and especially in light of the Gospel. Because of this procedure the OT is often used as a typological palette from which Christ is portrayed. What ends up happening is the OT is often treated not as a story in its own right, but as a series of types and foreshadowings of Christ. This is achieved in several ways:

One way this is done is by reading Christ into every story and narrative in the OT. C. H. Spurgeon once said that from anywhere in the Bible one should be able to get to Christ. But that assumes the whole Bible was written with that purpose in mind. However, there are many places where Christ is not present and no amount of typology can make Him present. One thinks of Judah’s fornication with Tamar his daughter-in-law in Genesis 38; Job’s suicidal complaint to God in Job 7; the idolatry of the tribe of Dan in Judges 18; or the death of the man of God in 1 Kings 13. Yes, by inverting the lessons of these stories one may get to Jesus, but the stories themselves do not refer to Him. The redemptive-historical way of interpreting Scripture that CT employs goes beyond this and stipulates that Christ. is part of the meaning of the text. It turns reading Christ into all of Scripture into a habit. Here, for example, is OT scholar Iain Duguid:

“Centrally, the Old Testament is a book about Christ, and more specifically, about his sufferings and the glories that will follow—that is, it is a book about the promise of a coming Messiah through whose sufferings God will establish his glorious, eternal kingdom.” – “Old Testament Hermeneutics,” in Seeing Christ in All of Scripture, edited by Peter A. Lillback, 17.

He continues by claiming that this is Jesus’ own meaning in Luke 24:25-27 and 44-47 (18). While Duguid agrees that few people would have understood the OT messianic prophecies before Christ, the NT does assign these prophecies to Christ as the fulfillment. But how? Don’t most of the OT messianic prophecies emphasize the earthly reign of Christ from Jerusalem on this earth (e.g., Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; Zech. 14:16-21)? Well, since Christ supposedly fulfills these predictions now we must not take them too literally. For instance:

“While God actually was manifesting his lordship through David’s line, this human monarchy was serving at the same time as a typological representation of the throne of God itself. David’s reign was intended to anticipate in shadow-form the reality of the messianic Redeemer who was to unite with the finality the throne of David with the throne of God.” – O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 249.

CT’s believe that Christ is reigning on David’s throne now; David’s throne being God’s throne. Ergo, if the Davidic King is reigning we must look for His kingdom in the spiritual realm, not as it is depicted in the OT (which was a storehouse of types and shadows of today’s fulfillment). This is the inevitable outcome of the idea of the covenant of grace. Richard Pratt Jr. admits that,

“Many evangelical Christians today find it difficult to believe that everything in Scripture after Genesis 3:15 concerns God’s kingdom administered through the unfolding of one covenant of grace.” – Reformed Theology is Covenant Theology

The covenant of grace, remember, is the non-textual “covenant” in Christ with the elect of all ages, the one people of God. CT’s also believe that saints of every age were saved by believing the same Gospel about Christ that we believe, except in shadows and types. But this view faces a wall of contrary facts regarding His name, the nature of and knowledge about crucifixion, the belief in only a general resurrection, etc.

Allied with the above is the view that the Church is in the OT. Although it is easy to find CT’s of both paedo- and credo-baptist persuasion saying that the Church began at Pentecost, what they usually mean is that the full Jew-Gentile revelation of the Church is what began, there was always only one people of God, a single elect set. I previously quoted Keele and Brown’s view that,

[God] promises to form a community of people for himself whom he will set apart from the offspring of the devil and one day rescue from the latter’s fierce hostility…This community can be traced throughout redemptive history…not by bloodline, but by those who believe in God’s promise.  As Paul says to Gentile Christians in Galatians 3:29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”  Thus, Genesis 3:15 reveals God’s first formation of his church. – Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored, 62.

The church has always existed and the covenant of grace has been active since the Fall. In Christ the people of God dwell as in a temple.

“Christ is the epitome of God’s presence of earth as God incarnate, thus continuing the true form of the old temple, which actually was a foreshadowing of Christ’s presence throughout the OT era…Likewise, Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb. 9:11) in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 632, 634.

So, interpreting the Bible this way means using Christ as the lens through which it must be understood. It is a prior decision. Messy details such as the tribes of Israel, nation states in the kingdom, Jerusalem on earth being the place of pilgrimage, Israel being the head of the nations on earth, the temple being the focal point of earthly Jerusalem, etc., can be smoothed over. Even in the Beale quote above Hebrews 9:11 has been treated this way. In Hebrews 9 the “greater and more perfect tabernacle” is the actual sanctuary in heaven of which Moses’ tabernacle was a copy (see Heb. 8:5; 9:24). Beale’s hermeneutical concerns make him misuse the text.

Part 25

The Men Who Trained Me (2)

Part 1

In the previous post I concentrated on men in England who helped me learn about the Bible and Theology.  Quite unexpectedly, in God’s providence I came to the States in 1996 to work at a Baptist Church in Fairfield, California.  That only lasted a year but I made some good friends.  I also met the future Mrs H. there!

Anyway, after leaving the church in Fairfield I started a church plant in Napa, which I pastored for over five years until the Lord made it clear that I was to go back to seminary.  After much debate, prayer and several conversations I decided to attend Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  I won’t here go into my reasons for not going to DTS or SWBTS, although I will say that I always try to live by conscience, and I have seen far too many people’s consciences seared by putting career prospects before truth.  I don’t think it is ungodly to attend either of these institutions.  Just that it would have been wrong for me. I did get a Biblical Counseling diploma from SWBTS under John Babler.

The Founder and President of Tyndale was Mal Couch.  He was a stickler for biblical languages and and a clear and persistent voice for the importance of Israel in God’s plan.  Although his health was not good at the time I was there, Couch taught through the four volumes (actually seven) of Chafer’s Systematic Theology as well as Biblical Greek.  Personally he could be kind and generous, as he was to me (although he had a ruthless streak in him).  I think he was one of the most gifted men I have ever met.  That he established Tyndale to preserve “old Dallas” shows something of his heart and dynamism.  Quite early on he noticed that I was a devotee of Cornelius Van Til’s writings, and he asked me to conduct an intensive seminar on Presuppositional Apologetics for Tyndale.  I used Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis as my main text.  The success of that venture would lead to me teaching Presuppositionalism at Tyndale (previously they had hovered between classical and cumulative approaches), and to my eventually being hired as Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics there, although I also taught Church History, Romans, Philippians and Colossians and a few other courses.  Dr Couch also appointed me his assistant Pastor at Tyndale Bible Church.  I would teach the first hour and he would take the second.  Towards the end of his time at Tyndale I found myself on the opposite side of some of Dr Couch’s decisions.  Our unfortunate disagreement caused fallout that has made me persona non grata to some (although they have never asked for my side of the story).  Dr Couch has now passed to his reward, but I will always respect him as an educator.

John Cook was the Registrar at Tyndale for most of the time I was there, both as student as a member of the staff.  A former bull rider and oil worker, an enduring memory of Dr Cook was his realism.  His frankness and thoughtfulness in dealing with students made a real impression on me.  He always had their best interests in mind.  I took Greek (more Greek!) from him and found him concerned with the utility of the language, not so much on its rigid rules.  I found this refreshing and helpful.  After I had left Tyndale John contacted me to talk over some things he had heard I had said about him.  After some context and clarification (and rebuttal) I asked his forgiveness for anything I had said that had caused him distress and we drew closer as a result.  He would occasionally email me to ask me for book recommendations or opinions of what he was reading.  He felt that the strict Dispensationalist diet he had been taught was a bit restrictive and wanted to inquire about things dispensationalists don’t usually write about.  I was only too glad to help.  One day John called me and told me he had been diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer.  Sadly, due to circumstances, the next time I saw him was at his funeral.  The cancer had done its work on him, but the Lord had renewed his soul and will one day give him a resurrected body.  I will always be grateful to God that I could attend John’s funeral just before we left Texas for California.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum came and taught a couple of intensives while I was at Tyndale.  One was a course of Systematic Theology.  I had read and been impressed by his Israelology some years previously.  Although laborious reading, it makes an important contribution to Dispensational theology and is one of the few academic works of theology that dispensationalists have put out in the last 30 years.  While I simply cannot agree with Dr Fruchtenbaum’s “Pemberisms” (crystalline earth, gap theory, etc), I enjoyed listening to him and took note of his thoughtful way of dealing with students questions.

I had several classes or conversations with Robert Lightner from which I benefited.  Lightner was an exegetical theologian, but cared deeply about the local church.  Dr Lightner was concerned for simplicity and clarity, and he helped me see that to be obtuse is not the same as being profound.  He did not come across as a theological heavyweight.  for example, when back in ’07  I tried to engage him about the “New Perspective on Paul” he said he hadn’t heard or read much on it.  That he was erudite was clear enough, but I guess he was more interested in maintaining the line between traditional Dispensationalism and the progressive brand.  He once said that he had seen a marked change in his students at DTS.  Whereas in the 1970 and 80’s graduate students already knew what they believed about eschatology, now they were all over the map.  It didn’t help matters when, upon leaving his lectures, students would then hear that view contradicted by a young professor.

For a while my family attended Victory Street Chapel in a very unfashionable part of Dallas.  There I met Zane Hodges and Robert Wilken.  Although I did not share their enthusiasm for Free Grace theology, I was impressed by Wilken’s sincerity and openness, and by Hodges’ constant emphasis on personal holiness.  For those ‘Lordship’ proponents who believe these men were antinomian, I can testify that such was not the case in their own lives.  I remember Zane Hodges telling me once that DTS started to go awry once they introduced accreditation.  In its heyday Richard Quebedeaux in The Young Evangelicals had referred to DTS as “the Harvard of Evangelicalism.”  That was before they sought accreditation!

I took an informative course on “The History of Prophecy” from Thomas Ice.  I believe I had took something else with him, but memory fails me.  I do recall him going off on bird walks occasionally. They were usually entertaining even if sometimes off subject.  Ice relied on powerpoint a lot, which sometimes slowed him down quite a lot.  But he knew his stuff and I learned a lot from him.  Inadvertently he helped me focus on the biblical covenants more than the dispensations, as I began to see more the rather loosey-goosey way that the ‘seven dispensations’ were classified and named.  I also began to see more how constricted Dispensationalism had become by concentrating almost solely on eschatology.

There have been others who have taught me (or tried to teach me): Kenneth Kitchen, J. Randall Price, Tom McCall, David Olander, etc, but I think these are the main ones.  Perhaps I will write some posts about books and authors from whom I have learned a lot?  We’ll see.

The Men Who Trained Me (Pt. 1)

I’m busy and lacking inspiration right now. Here is a piece I wrote some time ago about my training. Hope you enjoy it.

I thought I’d do something different for a change.  I seldom write anything about myself on this blog, but I had the idea of putting down a few words about the men who trained me and to whom, to one degree or another, I owe a debt.  None of them is responsible for how I turned out.  The monster was self-made. But I want to introduce you to these men:

The first man is David N. Myers M.Min., a knowledgeable Bible teacher who helped me principally by giving me good books to read.  He showed me the value of commentaries and introduced me to the six volumes of Explore the Book by J. Sidlow Baxter.  He also kindled my interest in manuscript evidence after an encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness demoralized me (when each time I tried to prove the deity of Christ from my NIV (1984), the JW just referred me to the footnotes which through the reading into question).  I borrowed from him Caspar Gregory’s Canon and Text of the New Testament, Dean Burgon’s The Revision Revised, F. W. Kenyon’s Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, F. F. Bruce’s The Books and the Parchments, and other works to help me understand what was going on.  Burgon in particular impressed me. He was very erudite, but could write clear prose.  His arguments for what he called “the Traditional Text” were more searchant (so it seemed to me) than the other scholars, who often parroted one another.  Anyway, Dave Myers was a great help in this and other areas.  Later I would read F. H. A. Scrivener’s massive Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the NT (2 vols), and the intriguing study by Harry Sturz called The Byzantine Text-type and NT Textual Criticism.  These served as balances to Bruce Metzger (whose hard to procure Chapters in the History of NT Textual Criticism is terrific), and Kurt Aland.

Unfortunately, I was also introduced to the work of controversial American Fundamentalist Peter Ruckman.  I say unfortunately, not because of his personal issues, but because for a while his sarcasm rubbed off on me.  While I still think Ruckman made some points which needed to be made, and he did make me laugh at a time I really needed to laugh, I’m afraid I came away from his books and tapes more negatively affected than edified.  Some years later I read Westcott’s Commentary on Hebrews and discovered what I had been missing.  When attending London Theological Seminary in the mid-1990’s I came across the Life of Westcott, which gave the lie to the nonsense then propagated by Gail Riplinger. She literally composed quotes from different parts of the book and cut and pasted them together to make new quotes!  Anyway, it was Dave Myers who drilled home to me the question, “what does it say?”  And in a circle of friends who looked upon non-dispensationalists with suspicion, it was he who, when I pointed to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, told me that he was a very godly man.  Funny what things stick with you.

Bernard Lambert was a former missionary to S. America and was a Baptist preacher who would fill pulpits in many Baptist churches in East Anglia, England.  For some reason Bernard, who was retired when I knew him, took a shine to me and we became friends.  Bernard was a dark-suited 5 point Calvinist bookworm with whom I spent many hours talking about books and churches.  Like me, he was a bit of a maverick who disliked the politics and brown-nosing rife within evangelicalism.  I remember him getting emotional about the ostentation he saw at a certain Reformed conference.  He thought monies gifted to an organization should not be spent that way.  Bernard is now with the Lord. I owe him much.  It was he who confronted me with the choice I had to make between remaining as a ladder-climbing Purchaser and going to Seminary.  Since I had felt the call of God to the ministry for years, I knew the road I should take.  This was confirmed when, despite all appearances, I was accepted at London Theological Seminary (who only accepted a handful of students per year).  One of my most cherished possessions is the set of The Works of John Murray (4 vols) which Bernard gave me when I was at a rather low ebb in my life.  The great thing I remember about Bernard was his belief that the people of God needed encouragement.  Through him God encouraged me.

Graham Harrison taught Systematic Theology at London Theological Seminary (LTS) when I was there in the mid 90’s.  He was a solid and rather two-dimensional Calvinist, and, having myself my own thoughts on that subject, he seemed a bit suspicious of me.  I recall him scrupulously avoiding answering my questions about New Evangelicalism; something I think is a rather important thing for a theologian to have opinions about.  Still, his erudition impressed me.

Philip Eveson was the Resident Tutor and taught Hebrew and exegesis at LTS.  He was a pious man, always cheerful and amusing. He had a pastor’s heart, and my chief impression of him was of his concern for the students.  He noticed me staying up till the early hours reading Joseph Hall’s works and old copies of the Westminster Theological Journal and asked if I would be student librarian of the D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones library.  I naturally said yes!  I kept finding Kit-Kat wrappers in the Doctor’s books.  Eveson informed me that it was sometimes hard to get the Doctor to eat anything, but that he would always eat a Kit-Kat. When I visited Mr Eveson a few years afterwards he told me that he thought I never quite understood the Five Points.  I rattled off to him a list of authors (e.g. Pink, Palmer, Gill, Warfield, Coles, Steele & Thomas, Berkhof, Owen, Boettner) and politely told him that he was mistaken, but that I believed (and still believe) that the formulation of TULIP was more deductive than inductive and that the doctrines needed reformulating. He wasn’t impressed.  But I remain convinced that the way these “doctrines of grace” are formulated is far too deductive.  So while I have Calvinistic leanings I feel little compulsion to be a card-carrying “Reformed” man.

Hywel Jones.  Dr Jones seemed to like me because I didn’t walk in lock step with most of the other students.  I read the guys I was supposed to read (like Machen, Owen, John Murray), but I would read Dispensationalists like Pentecost and Ryrie, and Arminians like Lenski, and he didn’t seem to mind.  Jones taught Homiletics and Exegesis of the Books of Matthew and Hebrews.  In the staid Calvinist institution that was LTS, where students became molded into little models of what a Reformed preacher was supposed to be (I think the august, always serious, append a mini-sermon to every prayer stereotype was overdone a bit), Dr Jones had more breadth to him.  When I received an unexpected call to a church in the United States, it was Dr Jones who told me, “You’ll have to have a very good reason to say no.”  I didn’t, so I came.

Robert Oliver, the methodical and quiet spoken pastor-scholar, taught Church History at LTS, and was my favorite lecturer; though not perhaps my favorite prof.  His lectures were always precise and well-prepared; often read out from a manuscript with occasional remarks about an incident or preacher.  He was an excellent teacher, though to me he seemed rather snobbish as a person.  He certainly appeared to have his favorites, but maybe that was just my self-conscious perspective?  That said, I don’t think I could have had a better guide to the history of the early Church than Dr Oliver.

I want to give a hat tip to Dr David Green, who was a student at LTS at the same time that I was there.  It was David who taught me about postmodernism, particularly from the perspective of Art.  He gave a superb presentation to the students on the topic, which, perhaps because of my studies in Art History I really related to.  I recall our times chatting in his room (which was next to mine) about theology, postmodernism, art, the Puritans, and life.  He was a very genial man with real depth to him.  I have a memory of him reading Oliver Heywood’s Heart’s Treasure and telling me how it was impacting him. Perhaps his memory of me will not be as sunny.  I may have mystified him, as I mystified myself.  But his example of simple piety and warm affection for souls left its mark.

Lastly I should recognize Iris, the cook at LTS.  Not only did she fatten me up, she told me all sorts of stories about Dr. Lloyd-Jones, whom she had known well.  She once described the Doctor arriving at their flat with two cases; the big one was heavy with books and the smaller one had his clothes.  She told me how he would always wear his raincoat, and could hardly be prevailed upon to part with it.  MLJ disliked the pretension of signing his own books, but he did sign Iris’s copy of The Sermon on the Mount, which I was shown.  Iris was a straight-talker, and she had to put me right more than once.

Do We Need The NT to Understand the OT?

This is something I wrote about ten years ago. I thought it could do with a rerun.

It is a common feature of discussions with some fellow believers to hear them say that the New Testament interprets the Old.  This maxim, which is almost a cliché in some circles, is seldom explained.  It is usually taken for granted.  “Surely,” we are told, “you understand how the NT throws light on passages in the OT?”  “Surely you see how NT authors point to fulfillments of OT promises?”

Naturally, we are not commending a program of hermeneutics which totally dispenses with the voice of the NT when it speaks about the OT.  The NT is the Word of God and is a continuation of the OT (which the NT calls the Word of God).  And it is upon this fact that the truth of progressive revelation is built.  What one Book or inspired author may say at one place and time is supplemented by another author.  We can tell this is going on because of the correspondence of subject-matter.  So, for instance, we can build up a pretty detailed picture of Messiah; where He will be born, from what tribe He will arise and when; what He will do, what His mission involves, etc.  We do this, of course, by giving attention to the plain meaning of the words of the inspired writers.

However, our covenant theologian friends (among others) go beyond this and tell us that Messiah-Christ pops up in all sorts of unexpected places.  Not only that, but the Church, the body of Christ, which is the fruit of His death and the resurrection (cf. Jn. 7:39; Rom. 4:25; 5:10; Col. 1:18), can also be found in the OT.  This despite clear statements to the contrary in the NT (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:19-20; 3:1-6; Col. 1:24-26).

The reason our CT friends can do this sort of thing is their maxim: “the NT is needed to interpret the Old.”  But the attentive reader will notice that I have just cited several NT passages which prove that the Church is not in the OT.  How then, can they bypass these texts and insist that the reason they find the Church in the OT is because of the NT?  I hope the answer is rather obvious.  They are not interpreting the NT correctly.  So as it turns out, the maxim really ought to be worded more accurately to: “the NT, as understood by us, is needed to interpret the OT.”  To put it another way, the NT itself is not allowed to clarify the OT.  Rather, the OT is interpreted on the basis of the highly debatable interpretations of certain groups and individuals.  Thus, it is fallible human interpretation of the NT which is read in to the OT!

Now, getting our CT brothers to face up to this fact is like planting flowers in concrete.  But there it is, and we have provided numerous examples of this is recent posts.  This throws up several interesting problems, of which I shall list but two:

1. This thesis – which is nowhere asserted in the NT – would require that any appeal to the OT to validate something in NT times, and in the NT itself, would be rendered defunct, for it presupposes that an appeal to the plain-sense of the OT text is unsatisfactory for correct comprehension of the OT.  The thesis states that the OT cannot be understood without the NT.  Hence, although the NT might validate the OT, the OT cannot be appealed to for verification of the NT.

Imagine this scenario:

Jesus: “The [OT] Scriptures testify of Me..”

Pharisees: “Where are you in the Scriptures?”

Jesus: “In types and shadows”

Pharisees: “How can anyone rightly interpret these types and shadows?”

Jesus: “By the New Testament”

Pharisees: “By the what?”

Jesus: “It won’t be written for about 50 years, and won’t be widely available for longer than that, but you need the NT to rightly interpret the [OT] Scriptures.”

Pharisees: ?!?!?!??…  So until we can read a copy of this NT I guess we can suspend judgment on your claim that the Scriptures testify of you?”

Get the picture?  The thesis begins to look absurd!  

Yes, but it could be replied that there are plain and clear statements in the OT which do not need the help of the NT.  To which we may reply, “How much of the OT can be interpreted without the NT?”  It is at that point that the cherished private NT interpretations of CT will come to the fore!  In the end we ought to find ourselves doing what we should have been doing all along; studying the passages in their context to get their meaning, and then trying to fit the results of our exegesis into the wider meaning of the Canon.  

2.  Following on from above, this maxim would mean that Christians without the NT – and there were many of them in the First Century – could not comprehend the scripture they had – the OT.  This puts Timothy in rough shape in 2 Timothy 3:15-16!

Once again the CT thesis does not hold up under scrutiny.  What is the way through the problem?  I will tell you.  It is for CT’s to stop being disingenuous and own up to the fact that to enforce their preferred view they have to resort to spiritualizing and/or allegorizing parts of both Testaments (recall what they do with Matt. 24; 2 Thess. 2; the whole of Revelation)!  Bruce Waltke is at least candid enough to admit that he spiritualizes the text.

But then we are right back into this issue of a god who says one thing in plain language, while knowing he does not mean it in the way he is leading people to understand him.  He would be, as I have called him, a “disingenuous god.”  For such a god, “the gifts and calling…are without repentance,” but not, it would seem, without equivocation.

Deciphering Covenant Theology (23)

Part Twenty-Two

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

9. Though they would consciously deny the  charge, it is undeniable that CT ‘s way of reading the Bible (as above) creates a major problem philosophically in that it strongly implies that God equivocates.  More seriously still, the manner of equivocation means that equivocation belongs to the essential nature of  the Godhead.

Imagine that several years back I promised you in writing that once I turned sixty you could have all sixty of my volumes of Systematic Theology. I have Calvin and Berkhof and Chafer and Hodge. I have Bavinck’s 4 volumes and Oden’s 3 volumes. Dabney, Griffith-Thomas, Reymond, Frame, Garrett, Horton, Ryrie, Geisler, Pannenberg, Migliore, Lewis & Demarest, Letham, McCune; you name it, I’ve probably got it. Who knows, you say to yourself, he might even throw in his sets of Berkouwer, and Barth, and Brunner, and Warfield, and Murray! Great, you think, I’ll borrow a truck.

Come the day of my sixtieth birthday you show up at my door. You are all expectant. My firm promise to you is what raised your expectancy. But you don’t receive my books. Instead, I tell you that my original promise actually had in view, not you, but all students of theology, and what I intended all along was for my theological works to be donated to a local seminary when I die. When I said “you” I meant a seminary library, and when I said “sixty” I meant “in my old age” which was code for after I am dead and gone. Question, who in this whole wide world would think that I was as good as my word? I could have told you initially what I really had in mind but for my own reasons I chose not to. Would it not be fair and accurate to label me disingenuous?

Another question: could God do this very same thing and expect the pious to just accept it because He is God? This matter struck me some time ago when I was trying to figure out how a God who wrote one thing could claim that what He said was “fulfilled” in a way that nobody could possibly have predicted given what was originally stated in writing.

Written promises are supposed to convey specific meanings. Even though it is possible to have slight misunderstandings owing to the prior assumptions of the reader such is not the case with the example I gave above. I raised your expectation about I particular gift of books and you ended up getting nothing. The problem was not that your assumptions caused you to misinterpret my words. The problem was that my words raised certain assumptions in your mind; assumptions that you had every right to believe were real!

Is God our Exemplar in keeping His word, or is He our Exemplar in changing it? And what are the ramifications of our answer? And what are we to think about statements like this?:

“Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 (my emphasis)

The word [musterion] elsewhere, when so linked with OT allusions, is used to indicate that prophecy is beginning fulfillment but in an unexpected manner in comparison to the way OT readers might have expected… – Ibid, 202.

[E]arlier expressions point to things beyond themselves that are greater than the meaning that would have been perceived by those receiving these earlier expressions.” – Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 123.

Aren’t these authors telling us something very similar to the illustration I gave above? Aren’t they saying that God made explicit promises to people which raised specific expectations in them and then “fulfilled” those promises in a totally different way than could have been understood given the words He used originally?

Here is my biggest problem with this: we call a person who employs certain language to create false impressions disingenuous. But what if God did this very thing? Would that make God disingenuous? And since God’s word are the only sure thing we have which point to His character, wouldn’t Him using deliberately misleading words logically entail that He could not be trusted? Wouldn’t it mean that faith in Him would be all but impossible since we would not really know whether our expectations of Him were to be “fulfilled” in “in an unexpected manner”?

What about this quote:

By gospel reformation Christ spiritually transforms God’s people from Hebrew Israel under the old covenant to Christian Israel under the new. – Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptist Perspective on God’s Covenants, 115

So the covenant oaths in the OT were always subject to change owing to “gospel reformation”; a contingency which could never have entered the minds of those poor benighted believers of the OT era.

How does one escape the clutches of this problem. It will not do to naively state that we have the promises of the NT to stand on because the same God who wrote the NT also wrote the OT. Nominalism, that ridiculous view that God can call black white because He is God is the only way out that I can see.

I rest my case. Ponder these things.