Gentiles and Their Connection to the New Covenant
What has proven to be a thorny issue for Dispensationalists is the relation of the Church/Gentiles to the New Covenant. Since the only explicit NC text in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (repeated in Hebrews 8) identifies only Israel and Judah as parties to the NC with God, the contention is that the Church is associated with the NC in a less direct way, or perhaps not connected at all! This brings us back to Mike Vlach’s list.
- The New Covenant will be fulfilled in the future with national Israel; the church has no relationship to the New Covenant (some classical dispensationalists)
- There are two New Covenants—one with Israel and another for the church (some traditional dispensationalists including John Walvoord)
- The New Covenant is completely fulfilled with the church; there is no future fulfillment with national Israel (Covenant Theology and some non-dispensational systems)
- The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the spiritual blessings of the covenant are applied to the church today (some traditional and revised dispensationalists)
- The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the church is an added referent to the New Covenant promises so there is a sense in which the New Covenant is being fulfilled with the church. The New Covenant has two referents—Israel and the church (some revised dispensationalists; Paul Feinberg)
- Since the New Covenant was given to Israel for the purpose of also blessing Gentiles there is literal fulfillment of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant to all believing Jews and Gentiles in this present age, while the physical/national promises await fulfillment with Jesus’ second coming when national Israel is incorporated into the New Covenant (some revised and most progressive dispensationalists)
I am not going to comment on Option 2 (Two New Covenants) other than to say it is not held by anyone today and always was a stretch. Neither am I going to say much about Option 3 (the New Covenant is fulfilled in the Church) because it is irrelevant to my objective in these posts.
Looking now at Option 4 (the Church gets the “spiritual blessings” of the NC) I have to ask, “what on earth are these spiritual blessings?” Is it salvation?! And does mean the NC is mainly about physical blessings upon Israel? But those matters are taken up in the other covenants with Israel. Let us remind ourselves of what Jeremiah 31 promises:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. – Jer. 31:33-34
This is not a promise of land or throne or great productivity. It is the promise of redemption. The New Covenant is about redemption! When redemption is mixed with the other covenants what you get is the coming Kingdom of God on earth – literally fulfilled in line with those covenants. I will come back to Option 4. Let us focus on Option 1 (The Church has no part in the NC).
Roy Beacham wrote a paper entitled “The Church Has No Legal Relationship
to or Participation in the New Covenant” which he presented under a different title at the Council for Dispensational Hermeneutics conference in 2009. I think there are several problems with his thesis as well as its central concern.
Biblical Covenants Were Not “Legal Contracts”
It is simply incongruous to parallel ANE covenants with those in the Bible, particularly those which God made. It is wrong to claim that biblical covenants were contracts, and that therefore they were primarily legal in nature – they were not. As for the first, several scholars have warned about equating the covenants of Scripture with those of the ANE (e.g. Charles H.H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, 475). To be fair, Beacham does note that John Walton is (surprisingly) against his view that covenants in the Bible are to be understood against the background of the legal practices of the ANE (see FN 6). But he does spend much time “setting the scene” for his position by citing studies of non-biblical covenants.
The trouble is that even the Land or Royal Grant and Suzerain-Vassal Treaties of certain parts of the ANE (e.g. Egypt didn’t go in for them) were not like our contracts. They were not legally binding in the sense that there was some high court that could be appealed to. Rather, they were sworn oaths, sometimes to a deity and sometimes to each other. Furthermore, they were often (not always) imposed by the more powerful party. In more garden variety situations, they were solemn oaths made between friends, or even enemies, with no judicial aspect at all. (more…)