My Book – An Update

I thought I would write something about the book I have been writing for some time now. The book is called The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology. It’s subtitle is Old Testament Expectation.

I am working with the publisher to finalize the manuscript. Lord willing it will be at the printers in the summer. Let me explain a little about what I’m trying to do in the book.

In late 2006 I completed my dissertation called ‘Method and Function in Dispensational Theology: A Theological Prolegomenon.’ As the title suggests, the work was my attempt to do something that, as far as I could tell, had not been attempted before; to write an Introduction to Method for Dispensational Systematic Theology.

To make a long story short, in working through the thesis the penny dropped that Dispensational Theology did not have a worked out understanding of methodology beyond “grammatical-historical hermeneutics.” One often hears that “Dispensationalism is a hermeneutic.” This betrays a rather shallow self-understanding (which I shall not go into here); a trait that sadly characterizes much Dispensational scholarship as it is come across in Systematics and Commentaries. One of my main aims is to show that the Biblical Covenants provide a far superior foundation for Biblical and Systematic Theology than do dispensations.

In 2007 I began tentatively writing about and teaching something I dubbed “Biblical Covenantalism.” From what I can find it appears that I have been using this term since the middle of that year. My book is a Biblical Theology of the Old Testament focusing on the Divine Covenants; the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, “Priestly,” Davidic, and of course the New. It emphasizes the role of Messiah, especially His strong association with the New Covenant. I interact with a lot of non-dispensationalists to demonstrate that my exegetical decisions and conclusions are solidly based, even if my overall outlook on “The Creation Project” that runs along the track of God’s covenants is “new.”

Here is the Table of Contents:

The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology

Volume One – Old Testament Expectation

Paul Martin Henebury



Introduction: The God of the Covenants                                                                        


1. The Creation Project and the Divine Covenants: The Trajectory of Biblical Theology  

2. The Covenants of the Bible: Where God Says It Is All Heading                                  

3. Christ as the Center: How the World is Covenantally Bound to Jesus Christ                

4. Summary                                                                                                                


5.  The Theology of the Creation Narrative                                                                   

6.  Genesis Two and Theological Decisions                                                                  

7.  The Account of the Fall                                                                                           

8.  From the First Murder to the First Covenant                                                               

9.  The Choice of One Man                                                                                          

10.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob                                                                                     

11.  Summary                                                                                                              


12.  Redemption Comes to the Fore                                                                              

13.  The Downward Spiral and the Throne of David                                                      

14.  Deterioration, Exile and Covenant Hope                                                                 

15.  Summary                                                                                                              


16.  The Wisdom Literature                                                                                          

17.  Covenant and Christology in the Psalms                                                                 

18.  Summary                                                                                                              


19.  What is a Prophet?                                                                                                

20.  The First Writing Prophets: Hosea, Amos, Micah                                                      

21.  The Book of Isaiah                                                                                                  

22.  The Book of Jeremiah                                                                                             

23.  The Book of Ezekiel                                                                                                

24.  The Book of Daniel                                                                                                 

25.  Summary                                                                                                                


26.  Haggai and Zechariah                                                                                           

27.  Covenantal Development in the Remaining Prophets                                                 

28.  Summary                                                                                                                


29.  The Big Picture of the Old Testament                                                                       

30.  The Tenacity of the Creation Project                                                                        

Appendix 1: The Intertestamental Period                                                                          

Appendix 2: The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualization                                                       

Appendix 3: The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn                                                                    


Person Index

Scripture Index   

The Words of the Covenant (Vol. 1) is to be published by Xulon Press. I’ll keep you posted.

John the Baptist and Elijah

John the Baptist Preaches the Kingdom

The Puzzle

Jesus testified of John the Baptist that, “if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Matt. 11:14). John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Lord.  Therefore, when Jesus will later speak in reference to John the Baptist, as “Elijah…come already” (Matt. 17:12-13), He is saying that John was an Elijah-figure, even though John himself had told the people that he was not Elijah (Jn. 1:21).

Because Christ was rejected for who He was, John’s Elijah-like role was also rejected.    But there is a fascinating double entendre in Jesus’ witness to John, as can best be seen if we reexamine what is said in Matthew 17:

            And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

            Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.

“But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. (Matt. 17:10-12).  

            What is interesting about the Lord’s testimony here is that He seems to give the impression that John the Baptist’s ministry ended with his martyrdom (Matt. 14:1-11), yet He also said that “Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.” (Matt. 17:11).  So what is the connection between John and Elijah?

Many scholars have argued that the fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy (of Mal. 4:5), is to be confined to John the Baptist.[1]  But their explanations of Jesus’ use of the future indicative apokathistemi in reference to John’s coming, not Elijah’s, look suspect.  That Elijah has just been seen alongside of Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8), no doubt caused the disciples to ask their question about Elijah coming first (for they saw Jesus before they saw Elijah). But this does not force us to conclude that there is no future work for Elijah to do.  The Malachi prophecy refers to Elijah coming “before the…great and dreadful [yare] day of the LORD.” (Mal. 4:5), which is certainly not a reference to Christ’s first coming![2] 

            The puzzlement over whether Elijah is still to come or whether John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi 4, enters because of the interpreter’s neglect of the separation of first and second coming prophecies.  What I have termed the “first coming hermeneutic” when applied to prophecies about the second coming, always distorts the OT.  It renders “impressionistic” interpretations of the Prophets, excluding important details, often about the land or Jerusalem or the temple. 

But there need not be any confusion for the modern reader.  John the Baptist was described as going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” (Lk. 1:17).  In 2 Kings 2:9-10 Elisha asks Elijah for a double portion of his spirit.  Just what that entailed is hard to know for sure (although Elisha is recorded as performing twice the miracles that Elijah did).  But if Elijah’s “spirit” was transferable to Elisha, why would it not also be transferable to John the Baptist?  And if so, it could be said that Elijah did come through John the Baptist (although not, it must be said, in the sense of possessing him!)[3].  It would also mean that at the very least, the question whether Elijah is to return prior to Jesus’ second coming would remain open.[4]

            Although it enjoys less than majority support, the fact is that notwithstanding John being the fulfillment of Elijah “if you will receive it,” making John the last days Elijah does not solve the problem of the second coming emphasis of Malachi 4, neither does it confront John’s own denial that he was Elijah:

             And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” – John 1:21.

Reconciling the Puzzle

There is a straightforward way to reconcile the problem.  What if John’s coming “in the spirit and power of Elijah” would have sufficed if Jesus had been received for who He was?  I recognize that this option is unpopular because it requires that a genuine offer of the kingdom was preached, and that this in turn creates a tension with the necessity of Calvary.  The suffering Servant must precede the glorified Servant. But are we on the horns of a dilemma? 

For example, there exists a parallel tension in some expressions of soteriology where the offer of the Gospel is said to be genuine to all to whom it comes, yet only the elect will believe.  If one asks how an individual can be offered salvation if they are not elected to receive it, the answer that is usually given is that no external influence is applied to the will so that a genuine offer is genuinely refused.

I have little interest in this book to engage in the debate between Calvinist and Arminian views on salvation.  I only mention it because many evangelical scholars believe in the tension, and because it is analogous to the problem before us.  Perhaps the tension between the offer of the Kingdom and the rejection and suffering of the Messiah is deliberate?  In fact, upon reflection, how else could one claim that Israel’s rejection of their promised Liberator as required by Isaiah 53 was a real rejection? 

The scenario as I understand it must go something like this:

  1. Messiah/Christ is prophesied as both coming to reign and to suffer vicariously.
  2. Logically He will suffer before He reigns.
  3. His suffering is said to include rejection and death.
  4. Therefore, the OT leaves us with a Savior who dies before He becomes King.
  5. From an OT perspective, this means that either Messiah will rise from the dead immediately after He is killed and assume the role of King of the Earth, or that there is a time gap between His resurrection and His glorious reign.
  6. If the latter, there must of necessity be two comings of Messiah; one to suffer and die, and one to conquer and rule.
  7. An alternative might be that Messiah’s reign would be spiritual and invisible rather than (or prior to) being physical, but from an OT vantage point this is not even hinted at. 
  8. If there are two comings of Messiah, then Elijah would have to be a precursor to both.

This is where John the Baptist coming “in the spirit and power of Elijah” enters in.  John is the forerunner of the first coming of Christ, and according to Matthew 17:12 he was destined to suffer; his death being alluded to.  A resurrected John could be the forerunner of the second coming, but to what point?  Elijah himself was transported up to Heaven seemingly without seeing death.[5]  He therefore would be in a good position to return in line with the expectation raised by Malachi 4.  Moreover, Revelation 11:5-7 describes an Elijah-type figure who will prophesy for three and a half years before being killed by the Beast of the Abyss. 

Leaving aside the interpretation of the book of Revelation for the present (although a futurist interpretation certainly lends credence to Christ’s statement that “Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.” – Matt. 17:11), it would seem reasonable to assume that since Malachi so emphasizes the ministry of Elijah in connection with the conquering Messiah (viz. at the second coming), then Elijah himself will indeed return to prepare the way for the future coming of King Jesus.  We therefore extend the list of points above to include the following assertions:

  • At the first coming of Messiah as the suffering Servant John the Baptist is “Elijah” coming in Elijah’s “spirit and power.”
  • At the second coming of Messiah as Conqueror and King, Elijah himself returns to prepare the way.

There is little difficulty then in accepting John the Baptist’s first coming ministry as “Elijah” who prepared the way for Messiah, who preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, but was rejected as predicted by Isaiah and Daniel.  There are two comings of Messiah, and although this is hardly seen in the OT, and was not perceived until after the Resurrection in the NT, this makes it necessary that Elijah will come to prepare the way of the victorious Messiah in the future.                  

[1] E.g., Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992, 443, Robert H. Mounce, Matthew, Peabody, MA: Hendricksen, 1991, 169, Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14 – 28, Dallas: Word Books, 1995, 499.   Cf. William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974, 326-327.   

[2] It is to be noted that Malachi refers to “the Law of Moses, My servant” immediately before mentioning Elijah (Mal. 4:4).  The last three persons spoken of by the prophet (and therefore the Prophets) are Moses, Elijah, and Yahweh (Mal. 4:3-5).  This may well have triggered the question of the disciples after seeing them together on the Mount.  

[3] I am certainly not suggesting that Elijah somehow dwelt within John.  But Elijah’s spirit (however it is understood) may have had an influence on John’s appearance and ministry.  Of course, this is just speculation.  

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992, 266.  See also Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980, 211, and the insightful treatment of Ed Glasscock, Matthew, 357-359.  Mark also refers to this incident (Mk. 9:11-13), but employs the present tense (apokathistanei), which focuses attention on John’s sufferings.  See e.g., Louis Barbieri, Mark, Chicago: Moody, 1995, 199-200.    

[5] It is unnecessary to press this point. 

John the Baptist Preaches the Kingdom

After Matthew has completed his narration of Jesus’ birth, ending at His family’s relocation in Nazareth, he plunges straight in to John the Baptist’s preaching of the Kingdom. Both the Gospels and Josephus[1] accord John the Baptist a place of honor as a highly respected (at least among the general populace) and powerful influence in Judea and Galilee in the twenties A. D.  From Luke 3:7, 15, 21, Matthew 3:5, and Mark 1:5 it is clear that he drew a lot of attention and that his impact was marked.  He even had a band of followers (Lk. 7:19; Jn. 3:25), and some of these men continued to be identified as his disciples for years.  The Apostle Paul encountered some as far afield as Ephesus in Acts 19:1-7.  John’s job was not to grant certain initiates private access to Messiah’s identity.  Rather, John introduced Jesus with a loud bang!     

John the Baptist’s preaching is chock full of OT references.  Walter Kaiser notes over fifty allusions or quotations of the OT, mainly from Isaiah, Malachi, and Jeremiah.[2]  John is a new prophet of God who has appeared on the scene after more than four centuries of silence, but he is an OT prophet in character and substance.  His ministry is announced, Elijah-like, suddenly by Matthew:   

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” – Matthew 3:1-2.    

            In contrast to Jesus, who will begin His ministry in the north, John preaches in the southern part of Israel, but in the wilderness, baptizing in the River Jordan (Matt. 3:5-6; Lk. 3:3; Jn. 1:28).  His message included moral reformation and repentance (Matt. 3:8; Lk. 3:3, 10-14), so he, like the OT prophets before him, was concerned with justice and righteousness.  But this is hardly surprising as the Kingdom of God on earth must require these things.  What reason does John give for preaching repentance?  It is the coming Kingdom of Heaven (or God), and the preparation of “He who is coming.”

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12.  

            What is striking about John the Baptist’s message is that it evokes imagery more associated with the Hebrew prophecies about what we know as the second advent.  In the OT this phenomenon arises continually.  It is something that will not go away.  In the NT, although it is only to be expected that a great deal of importance is attached to Christ’s first coming, the emphasis upon the second coming is just as strong as it is in the OT. 

            But this opinion about Matthew 3:11-12 is not accepted universally.  There are many who believe that because the baptism with the Holy Spirit occurred as a consequence of the first coming, the baptism of fire and the separation of wheat from chaff must also be looked for there.   But the language of Matthew calls to remembrance such passages as this one:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch.

But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; And you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.

You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” Says the LORD of hosts. – Malachi 4:1-3.

This prophecy pertains to the second advent, as indeed does the text from Isaiah 40 which is used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke to designate John the Baptist.  Jesus applied this scripture to John in Luke 7:27.  The Gospel of John records this passage as being upon the lips of John the Baptist when he was asked to identify himself. (Jn. 1:23).[3]  Isaiah foresees a time when Jerusalem’s “warfare is ended” and “her iniquity is pardoned” (Isa. 40:2), and when “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa 40:5).[4]  We are within a mystery here; one that must reconcile contingency with predetermination.  The offer was bona fide, but the rejection of it was certain.  We see a similar thing in Acts 3 where Peter tells the Jews that Christ will return if they repent (Acts 3:19-20).     

[1] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.116-119. 

[2] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008, 234.  Kaiser is relying on a work, John: the Baptist, Forerunner and Martyr by J. Elder Cumming. 

[3] Luke uses more of the prophecy than do the other Evangelists. 

[4] See also Isaiah 35:2.

The Preeminence of Christ in Colossians and Hebrews: An Initial Study

The Preeminence of Christ the Logos in John’s Prologue

            Along with the startling claims of John’s prologue there are other texts in the NT which convey the same essential facts.  In Colossians 1 the apostle Paul refers to Jesus this way:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. – Colossians 1:15-17.  

            And the author of Hebrews writes this:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high – Hebrews 1:1-3.

            In both of these passages – probably written before John put down his eyewitness testimony – Jesus is said to bear a relationship to creation, providence, and redemption that could only be predicated of God.  Once more, as in John, the term “God” does not refer to one Person.  For Paul in Colossians 1:15, Jesus images God, and bears a relationship to man within creation of “firstborn;” which means He has the right of inheritance. The word “firstborn” is also applied by the Apostle to a result of the resurrection of Jesus, which is His relationship to the church as its “head” or authority, united with Christians in anticipation of the new aeon. Christ has earned this right as a man, principally by the joint-act of purging our sins and defeating death.  Of who else could it be said that to be united to him results in the conquering both of sin and death? These facts alone promote the greatness of Christ far beyond the pale glory of any other human being.

Paul, the writer of Hebrews, and John all make Jesus the Christ, and the God-man; the upholder of this present world and its rightful Owner.  Paul puts it tersely and memorably this way:  

“All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:16). 

A moment’s reflection will impress upon us the truth that we are deep in the middle of the Creation Project here!  As the attributes pile up one upon another, this Figure of Jesus Christ – who He is and what He has done and will do – grows almost inexpressible.  I shall return to this later, but how is one to get ones head around all of it?  According to these three passages (viz. John 1:1-18; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:1-3, this man,

  1. Is God (Jn. 1:1).
  2. Is the Son of God (Heb. 1:2).
  3. Is the Creator with the Father (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2).
  4. Is the Sustainer of the present created order. (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).
  5. Is the one for whom everything was created in the first place. (Col. 1:16).
  6. Is the rightful inheritor of the world through His works as a man. (Col. 1:15).
  7. Is the image of God and the final revelation of God to us. (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:1, 3).
  8. Is the one who purged our sins. (Heb. 1:3).
  9. Is the one by whom we can know God and the truth about the world. (Heb. 1:3; Jn. 1:18).
  10. Is the one who can make us into children of God. (Jn. 1:12)

It is clear that this list easily makes Jesus the most significant man in Scripture.  And since the Bible is concerned with the history of mankind, it also makes Christ the most significant person in history, from start to finish.  Added to this, we must not forget to include the fact that He is designated “Christ” by all these authors[1], and all the other NT writers besides.  Hence, the Messiah of the OT is all these things.  How mighty, how irresistible, how wise He is!  Well might the prophet ask, “who can endure the day of His coming?  And who can stand when He appears?” (Mal. 3:2). 

And yet, when He does come He surprises everyone!  It is questionable whether He ever handled a sword, never mind wielded one.  He did not strike fear into His enemies.  The Roman Emperor never even heard His name.  Hardly anyone outside of Israel knew about Him; at least in His lifetime.  Surely, if Jesus Christ is all that the Scripture said He is, and if He is the preeminent man in history, the story cannot end with the report “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him”? It cannot end with an empty tomb!  The irresistible Ruler and Savior and Conqueror of Satan must be known as such in this world; which is His world!  If we are looking for a telos for creation, we must look beyond the first coming, astonishing as it was.

So, John clues us into the vital identity of Jesus in his opening lines, and then with his signs, and again with his “I am” statements.  He concludes with Thomas’s response to the risen Jesus:

“My Lord and my God!” – John 20:28. 

And then with Jesus’ answer in the following verse:

“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29.

             We today are part of the majority who have never seen Jesus.  We must rely upon testimony for what we know.  We are persuaded that the testimony to Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, though it is less than full, is yet complete enough for anyone to correctly identify Him as the divine Messiah, and to trust in Him wholeheartedly.  And when we believe the witness of Scripture to God’s Son, we are blessed for it.  Why?  For many reasons that need exploring.  But one of the main ones has to be that we are in a position to begin to comprehend the true Christological character of the Bible.  But we must arrive there in due time. 

[1] John 1:17; Colossians 1:3-4; Hebrews 3:6; 13:8, 21.  The author of Hebrews prefers to speak of Him as “the Son.”

The Preeminence of Christ the Logos in John’s Prologue

The Annunciation in Matthew (2)

            Although it is not an annunciation story, it is proper to include here some thoughts about how John begins his Gospel.  John self-consciously invokes the creation narrative, but he introduces the “only begotten Son” (Jn. 1:18), Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17), as the Logos or “Word” as a Principal in the making of the world:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. – John 1:1-3.

            Here the Logos[1] is no incidental actor in the Creation Project.  He is there at the very beginning of everything.  Before Adam, before angels, the Word was present, and He was together “with God.”  Verses 14 and 18 make it clear that “God” in the Prologue is God the Father, with the exception of the last part of John 1:1; “and the Word was God.”  In that place this Logos is apart from God but is Himself designated as deity.

            This either means there are two “Gods,” or it means that God is a plurality: one Being but with more than one “expression.”  That is, the apostle declares at the start of his Gospel that the God of the OT is at least a plurality of “Persons” in a single essence.[2]  And this Word, who John will go on to identify as “Jesus,” – although prior to His being born into the world (Jn. 1:17) – is the one through whom God (the Father) made everything. 

            This introduction of Christ forms a stark contrast to the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, although it must be said that both of those writers do include a reference to Jesus’ deity (Lk. 1:32, 35; Matt. 1:23).  The one who is born into lowly circumstances in Bethlehem, Judah, and who grows up in obscure Nazareth in Galilee, is the Creator of the land and the sea, the plants and the animals, and of human beings.  Jesus is the eternal God but He is born into time and space.  The Prologue continues:

            In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:4

            This verse makes the claim that the Logos of God is the source of the life of men.  This would be natural enough to infer since the varied concepts which the Greek term Logos represented; Word, Reason, world-constructive intelligence, etc., presuppose Life in its highest possible expression.  We must not, however, allow ourselves to associate John’s use of Logos with the purely Greek philosophical idea.  In saying that the Logos is divine and personal John knows he is going beyond Greek philosophy. 

Some scholars believe that John might have been influenced by the rabbinic term memra, which is often used in the Targum to refer to God’s word of power.  But this is disputed by many.  A. T. Lincoln argues that besides uses of memra after the time of John’s Gospel, only in a very few cases is itemployed to refer to God’s revelatory activity. Hence, it is doubtful whether John would have been well acquainted with its use in the same sense.[3]  Lindars claims there is little in common between memra and John’s Logos because memra “is a stylistic device to soften anthropomorphisms of the OT, so that ‘the word of the Lord’ is simply a synonym for ‘the Lord.’”[4]

As a matter of fact, it seems far more likely that he had in mind the dabar Yahweh or Word of God.[5]  The Hebrew term dabar could function similarly to the Greek logos.[6]  It would therefore not be a stretch for John to equate the two and fashion it in order to apply it to God’s Son, who became incarnate. 

So, John already has the Logos as the divine eternal Creator, through whom everything was made, and in whom the life of every human is based.  He is the one through whom God can be approached.  Not only that, but upon belief “in his name” (Jn. 1:12) a person may attain the inestimable honor of becoming a child of God.  A transaction occurs whereby a believer is “born… of God” (Jn. 1:13).

[1] I will use the terms Logos and Word interchangeably in this chapter because John’s use of Logos requires some explanation.  For a fuller examination, see Paul Martin Henebury, “Jesus Christ, The Logos of God: An Inquiry into the Johannine Prologue and Its Significance,” Conservative Theological Journal, 8.23 (March 2004).   

[2] I do not intend to drift into systematic theology here.  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity has been ably defended and expounded multiple times.  My purpose is to come at John’s words in a way that demonstrates the several glories of Jesus in the biblical worldview, and therefore show how He is central to how we ought to think about the world. 

[3] Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John, New York: Continuum, 2005, 95. Cf.  James M. Boice, Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1970, 161.

[4] Barnabas Lindars, The Gospel of John, NCBC, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982, 83.

[5] Ibid.  See also D. H. Johnson, “Logos,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight & I. Howard Marshall, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1992, 484.

[6] See George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC, Waco, TX: Word, 1987, 6-10.

The Annunciation in Matthew (2)

Part One

The Flight to Egypt

            Joseph is told to leave for Egypt before Herod finds the child and tries to kill it.  He and Mary take Jesus away that night “until the death of Herod.”  What Matthew does next appears interpretively strained.  He claims that Hosea 11:1 is fulfilled in this incident (Matt. 2:13-15), or at least in the return from Egypt.  But Hosea 11:1 in its original setting is speaking about Israel not its Messiah.  What is Matthew thinking?  John Sailhamer offers a convincing argument that the evangelist is connecting Hosea with Numbers 24:8; I believe he is right, but then why didn’t Matthew simply cite the book of Numbers?  After calling upon Isaiah 7:14 (Matt. 1:22-23) and Micah 5:2 (Matt. 2:6) to give plain-sense fulfillments of OT prophecy concerning Jesus, what is he doing here?  Surely, we cannot believe that he is suddenly changing tack and dispensing with literal fulfillment?  It has been suggested that Matthew is here employing a special Judaic form of interpretation.[1] But such things are easier to say than prove.    

 What Sailhamer and Chou have to offer is a recognition that Hosea 11 is forward leaning in its intention.  Sailhamer calls attention to Brevard Childs’ canonical interpretation, wherein the prophetic thrust of the book’s later composition furnishes a messianic expectation rooted in the declaration of Hosea 3:5:

Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.

Sailhamer believes that Hosea himself did intend the arrangement which Childs attributes to later compilers.  He reminds us of his oft-repeated dictum that the historical event recorded in Scripture is not the same as its significance to the writer(s).  It is the significance of the exodus within the theology of the Pentateuch that has been missed, says Sailhamer.[2]  But not by Hosea!  What the prophet is doing is exegeting the “messianic meaning” of the Torah in a way similar to Matthew.  Three of the four Pentateuchal poems (Gen. 49; Num. 24, Deut. 32) combine to point towards the coming of the Messiah.[3]  Numbers 24:8-9 and Genesis 49:9b are especially salient here.[4]  Hence,

When Matthew quoted Hosea 11:1as fulfilled in the life of Christ, he was not resorting to typological interpretation of OT events.  He was, rather, drawing the sensus literalis of the OT description of the exodus from the book of Hosea, and it in turn was drawn from Hosea’s exegesis of the sensus literalis of the Pentateuch.[5] This appears to me to be a very plausible and satisfactory explanation of the whole problem. 

Abner Chou has come to similar, though not identical conclusions about an eschatological “new exodus” and “new David” through studying the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 18) and the “second exodus” motif in the Prophets.[6]  What Chou, Glasscock, and especially Sailhamer have done is to obviate any resort to typological interpretation in Matthew 2:15.  Matthew (and Hosea?) were exegeting a theme or messianic thread. 

Two More “Fulfilment’ Issues

            We have not left Matthew 2 and we must confront two more “fulfilment issues.”  After Herod hears about Jesus being from Bethlehem, and discovers that the Magi have left, he sends soldiers there to kill all the young males under two years of age (Matt. 2:16-18).  This odious act was fully in-line with Herod’s character, particularly in his old age.  In this incident the desperate unfairness of the world is compressed.  Innocent mothers are deprived of their children because Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  God could have prevented the atrocity, but He is not obliged to intervene in the evils perpetrated upon the earth; only to judge them. 

            The killing of the infants is interpreted by Matthew by a reference to Jeremiah 31:15.  In its original context that verse nestles within a promise of future comfort for Israel (Jer. 31:7-26), although not too comfortably.  Ramah was the town north of Jerusalem where the people were gathered before being sent into exile (Jer. 40:1).  Rachel died near Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19), which is south of Jerusalem.  Again, we have to ask, what is Matthew doing?  The answer probably is to be found in the two locations involving Rachel; one near Bethlehem, and one (her tomb, 1 Sam. 10:2) near Ramah.  Rachel’s tears are the tears of the mother of Israel (see Ruth 4:11), and therefore represents the grieving women of her land.  More tribes of Israel came from Leah than Rachel, but Leah was buried to the north (near Hebron) along with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob (Gen. 49:29-32).  So, Rachel stands for the grieving mothers, both in Jeremiah and in Matthew.  Matthew’s use of the word “was fulfilled” (eplerothe) is not in the sense of a particular fulfilment of an OT prediction, but a general fulfilment of a metaphor employed by Jeremiah and applicable in the offence of Herod.

            Matthew isn’t finished yet.  In the final two verses of chapter 2 he notes that Joseph is warned by God to avoid the reign of Archelaus in Judah, and so settles north in the Galilean town of Nazareth (Matt. 2:22-23).  Matthew claims that the saying (rheo) of the prophets that ““He shall be called a Nazarene” was fulfilled.  Notice here that Matthew is gathering this from “the prophets” and not a single source.   No OT prophet contains such a passage.

            The evangelist is not being as cryptic as might at first appear.  The root of “Nazareth”[7] and “Nazarene” is netser, which is translated “Branch” in Isaiah’s great prophecy of the coming King in Isaiah 11:1.  He is making use of the wordplay.[8]  

Matthew’s “Fulfilment” Formulas: A Summary

To summarize, Matthew has employed four fulfilment quotations in his infancy narrative: Matthew 1:22-23; 2:15; 2:17-18, and 2:23.  Only the first (from Isa. 7:14) is a straightforward surface correspondence found.[9]  The other three fulfilments involve themes; metaphors to be understood.  This fits the Jewish readership for whom Matthew first wrote his Gospel, although Gentile readers might scratch their heads.  But in each case, there is some affinity between the OT passage and the fulfilment that Matthew says it points to.

[1] E.g. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Yeshua: The Life of Messiah from A Messianic Jewish Perspective, Volume 1, San Antonio, TX: Ariel, 2020, 20-21. 

[2] Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, 514-515.  His whole argument (510-521) needs to be appreciated. 

[3] Ibid, 518.

[4] Ibid, 520.

[5] 515 cf. 521. 

[6] See Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2018, 107-110.  

[7] Matthew spells the name three different ways in his account, thereby lending it a somewhat elastic form by which he might more easily refer it to the Hebrew neser and thus relate it to the “Branch” of Isaiah 11:1.  

[8] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1 – 13, 40-42 has an excellent discussion of the passage.  See also Nolland, Matthew, 128-131. 

[9] Matthew also records the chief priests and scribes’ citation of Micah 5:2 (Matt. 2:4-6).  Since it is not his own interpretation, he does not include a fulfilment formula.   

The Annunciation in Matthew (1)

Part Two

The Annunciation of Jesus’ Birth in Matthew

Matthew famously begins his Gospel with a stylized genealogy.  Placing a genealogy upfront like that bespoke a narrative rooted in the Jewish heritage.  Starting your book off with a genealogy hardly seems to us to be a great attention-grabber, but Matthew’s Gospel certainly didn’t suffer on account of it (by all accounts Matthew was the most popular Gospel in the early Church.)[1]  Certainly, this way of beginning a narrative about a person would have been more eye-catching for a Jewish reader than it is for us today. 

The genealogy is, as everyone knows, stylized.  The selectivity and pointedness of the structure of these verses would have been noticed right away by any Jew, although this would doubtless have been lost among many Gentile readers.  “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1) immediately connects not only the historical personages of Abraham and David; two of the most illustrious figures in Israel’s history, but it also links Jesus with the covenants that God made with them.  And as the list continues, some of the kings from Judah are named, and then after the Babylonian captivity, we get some of their descendants (from the line of kings), until we arrive at Jesus’ stepfather, Joseph in verse 16.  Then Matthew draws a conclusion based on the shape of the genealogy he has constructed.[2]  

Matthew has written a Gospel for his people, the Jews[3], and would have suited both curious Jews or Christian Jews, although such a remark must be followed up with a recognition of the fact that one of the principal things he is communicating to his people is God’s open hand to the Gentiles.  Matthew “clearly intends the theme of the good news for Gentiles to bracket the whole Gospel.”[4]  That the “fourteen generations” of which the author speaks are somewhat artificially arrived at tells us something about how Matthew is going to use the OT (he quotes a form of the LXX[5]).  Here he uses it to call attention to the Davidic ancestors of Jesus.  The Hebrew name “David” has a numerical value of fourteen. 

Is Matthew being deceptive?  It is certain that Jewish readers of his book would know of the omissions, and they would also be aware of the unconventional inclusion of proselyte women into a genealogy.  They would easily detect Matthew’s stylizations; and there is no doubt that he wanted them to.  Matthew 1:17 is there to confirm those very suspicions.  But it is there too to draw the readers’ attention to the Davidic ancestry of Jesus, and therefore of His claim to the throne.  This is especially brought out in the two episodes recorded on chapter 2:1-12, but also in the angel’s declaration that “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21); “His people[6]” being a way of speaking which Luke employs three times to refer to Israel (Lk. 1:68, 77; 7:16).  That the David/Jesus link was at the forefront of the author’s mind seems clear also from the lack of any interest in the Maccabean period.[7]   Hence, Jesus’ lineage through Joseph made Him the rightful heir to the covenant promises to David.

The first “fulfillment formula” in this Gospel has to do with the virgin conception:

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:22-23.

What Mathew does with this quotation from Isaiah 7:14 is to show first that Isaiah was referring to a virgin birth, but he also employs the birth of Jesus as a literal fulfillment of the prophet.  As we shall see, this is not the only sense of fulfillment that Matthew uses. 

The second chapter opens with the visit of the Magi, “wise men from the East,” who followed a star to Bethlehem, and who somehow knew that the king of the Jews had been born.  Significantly, they also knew that this king was divine, for on no other accounting could their “worship” of Him be explained (Matt. 2:1-2).  The Holy Spirit leaves us with tantalizingly little information about these men, who would have been accompanied by a notable retinue.  In my opinion the sanest understanding of the star is that it was supernatural and probably angelic (cf. Rev. 9:1).  Stars in nature do not move and stand over buildings (Matt. 2:9).  Therefore, it is pointless trying to associate this star with a celestial body.[8] 

One thing is for sure; the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem caused a big stir.  Enough of a stir that King Herod himself was disturbed by the commotion: so much so that he “gathered all the chief priests and scribes” and had them tell him “where the Christ was to be born.” (Matt. 2:4).  These were the “upper echelon of the priestly order[9],” showing perhaps the perturbation of Herod.  What is interesting about this enquiry is that aside from the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-18, Herod’s question is the first mention of the “Christ” in the Gospel.  But the visitors did not refer to Him as the Christ, only as the king.  Hence, here we have Herod, an Idumean who was learned in Jewish religion, tying together the titles of Christ and king (or at least Matthew does so).  This again shows how alive the expectation of prophetic truth was at this time; and it is even more heightened by the quotation of Micah 5:2 by the religious leaders (Matt. 2:6).  The use of the verse as a proof text is straightforward enough, and it gave the impatient Herod the information he wanted: Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, Judah.[10]   

[1] See e.g., John W. Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke.

[2] By saying this I am not claiming that the descendants of Joseph listed here are fictitious; only that Matthew has deliberately omitted certain names while including those of four women. 

[3] Hagner says, “There is…little in the Gospel that is effectively explained as finding its raison d’etre in a supposed gentile readership.” Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1 – 13, Dallas: Word Books, 1993, WBC, lxv.

[4] J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 341.

[5] “Of the twenty formal quotations peculiar to Mt, seven are Septuagintal. Seven are non-Septuagintal. In six there is a mixture of Septuagintal and non-Septuagintal” – Robert H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967, 149. 

[6] Recall that this is spoken to Joseph, whom the angel addressed as “son of David” (Matt. 1:20).  In Matthew, all nine occasions the phrase is used (twice in Matt. 20:30-31) the focus is upon Jesus’ lineage.  This is even true of Matthew 1:20 where the angel is speaking to Joseph, since the message is about Jesus.  

[7] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005, 85

[8] David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, NCBC, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982, 83

[9] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 112.

[10] As the Magi were “divinely warned” after seeing the child (Matt. 2:12), it may not be a stretch to surmise that they were likewise supernaturally informed about the birth of Christ. 

The Annunciation in Luke (2)

Part One

As one comes to Luke’s second chapter the census is mentioned, but only because it furnishes the reason for Joseph and his family to go south to Bethlehem, the town of David’s birth (Lk. 2:4-5), while also giving the location for the extraordinary vision of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20.  That event is also filled with covenant expectation.  Notable is that the angel announced, “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Lk. 2:10).  The coming of the Savior was not only for Israel, but was for the Gentiles too, just as the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:3) and the New covenant (Isa. 49:6) predicted.  Luke is sensitive to the fact that the divine-human encounter, who’s intent is described in Luke 2:14, is understood from the shepherd’s standpoint.  Some of them may have been tracked down by him some sixty years later.  Whether that occurred or not he wants his readers to understand that “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” (Lk. 2:20).  What the angel told them they would find in “the city of David” was exactly what they did find.    

In the next story, we are told by Luke that Simeon was “waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (Lk. 2:25).  As far as Simeon was concerned Jesus was to have a dual role:

For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. – Luke 2:30-32.

This dual role distinguished Israel from the Gentiles but spoke of salvation to both.  The subject being about salvation meant that Simeon was alluding to the New covenant, which is the only biblical covenant which is about salvation.  Certainly, one is reminded of Isaiah 42:6b: “I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles.”  Not so coincidentally, it recalls Isaiah 49:6:

Indeed He says,
‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ 

As I have shown before, Isaiah 42 and 49 both assert the fact that the Servant (Messiah) will be made “as a covenant to the people.” (Isa. 42:6; 49:8).  This is New covenant territory.  I am not saying that Simeon is citing these two texts.  He may have had them in mind, but they do convey his meaning in Luke 2:32.  His private words to Mary were probably troubling to hear:

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against. – Luke 2:34. 

Such words may have come as confusing in light of everything that had been said to her before.  How could her Son the future King, heir to the everlasting throne of David (cf. Lk. 1:32-33), become “a sign which will be spoke against”? (Lk. 2:34).  That He would be the cause of “the fall and rising of many in Israel” would not have been very surprising, but surely most people would see Him for who He was?  That at least is what Jesus’ mother could be forgiven for thinking.  There is the cryptic response to the news that the shepherds were spreading after their visit.  Luke 2:19 records “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Matthew Henry has a wise comment on the passage.  He says that just as Mary had trusted God with her reputation when carrying the child, she now quietly trusted God for what would happen in the future.  Notwithstanding, there is an air of foreboding in Simeon’s remark.

After the meeting with Simeon another elderly saint, Anna, was moved to speak (Lk. 2:36-38).  Luke does not give us her exact words, but they appear to have been centered on Jerusalem and its deliverance (cf. Isa. 62:11-12).  Mark Kinzer notices,

Since the hope for Jerusalem’s redemption resounds at the beginning of the Gospel, but is not in fact attained in the course of the events recounted in Luke’s two volumes, attentive readers recognize that Luke’s story is incomplete.[1]

This sense of incompleteness in Luke’s eschatology is seen again in Luke 13:34-35 and Acts 1:6.

There is no doubt that Luke has set us upon a clear heading, which is in-line with OT eschatological expectations.  When crossing over from the Prophets to the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel there is barely a bump in the road.  What about the other birth narrative in Matthew?

[1] Mark S. Kinzer, “Zionism in Luke – Acts,” in The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, edited by Gerald R. McDermott, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016, 151.

The Annunciation in Luke (1)

The annunciation passages in Matthew and Luke are our first introduction to the way the Holy Spirit will pick up the threads of the OT and join them with the new revelation that came with the advent of Jesus Christ. We start with those passages where angels announce the birth of the Savior.  I am going to begin with Luke’s account, and move on to Matthew’s Gospel.  Even John could be considered since his account, although it skips the birth of Christ, does emphasize His preexistence and His priority within the Creation Project.  But we will come to that in time.  Let us then turn to Luke and study his narrative.

            In Luke 1:5 we see that Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias the priest is advanced in years.  We find Zacharias burning incense to God in the Temple (Lk. 1:9).  Notice how Luke tells us that the angel was standing to the right of the altar of incense (Lk. 1:11).  This little detail is an indication of the kind of accuracy that was sought by the best ancient historians.  If at all possible they would seek out eyewitnesses to the things they were writing about.  

            The announcement begins in verse 13, which concerns God’s answer to the prayers of Zacharias and Elizabeth about a child.  This child was to be great (hence the angel), and he will “be filled with the Holy Spirit” from infancy (Lk. 1:15).  This mention of the Holy Spirit should not be missed, for it certainly would not have been missed by Zacharias, being as it was, firmly associated with special divine empowerment for a God-appointed task.   This son, John, will turn many of the children of Israel to their Lord, going in the spirit and power of Elijah.  Here we have a quotation of an OT text (Mal. 4), which is a prophecy of the latter-day ministry of Elijah.  This announcement does not say that John is Elijah, but that he comes in “the spirit and power of Elijah.”[1]  He comes “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Lk. 1:17), which is taken from the last verse of our OT (Mal. 4:6). 

            Because Zacharias expresses doubt about the angel’s words, he is stricken dumb for a season.  The angel introduces himself as none other than Gabriel (meaning “man of God” ).  Gabriel is one of only two angels named in the Scriptures, the other being Michael.  It was Gabriel who had spoken to Daniel centuries earlier (Dan. 8:16; 9:21).  Notice that it was necessary for Zacharias to take Gabriel’s words in faith at face value.  He wasn’t to spiritualize the words he was to believe what was said.  Because he doubted, he became a sign.  What would he be a sign of?  Disbelief it seems.   

The Annunciation of Jesus’ Birth in Luke

Next, we are told of Gabriel’s visit to Nazareth[2] “in the sixth month” to appear to Joseph’s house (Lk. 1:26).  There is a lot of continuity with OT expectation in Gabriel’s words to Mary.  The first point of continuity has been debated, which is the fact that Mary is a virgin.  There is no doubt that the Greek term parthenos does indeed mean “virgin.”  Since the Holy Spirit used this term twice (Luke 1:27), and Matthew expressly links the announcement to Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 (Matt. 1:23), we know that the almah of Isaiah means “virgin” not “maiden.”  But further, we know that the one whom Isaiah was predicting is about to come into the world. 

Another point of continuity between the OT and the annunciation to Mary is how Gabriel loaded his announcement with Davidic covenantal terminology: “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk. 1:32-33).  Joseph would surely have expressed his Davidic lineage to Mary, not to mention to the Son whom he would call his own.[3]  These words of the angel would only have been understood in one way.  Hence, the Davidic covenant is raised right off the bat. Whatever one thinks happens after the resurrection of Joseph’s Son, nobody at the birth of Jesus is taking God’s words in any way but literally.  Whatever happens after that, we will let unfold as it is revealed.  Whatever happens after that, we will let unfold as it is revealed.  Luke 1:38 records that, “Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”  Did she really have in mind a set of types and thematic structures and not the covenant pledges as delivered to her?  Next, we read of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39-45), and Elizabeth’s words:

“Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” – Luke 1:45.

“She who believed” is Mary. What Mary believed were the Davidic promises that were conveyed to her, which words Elizabeth apparently thought would be fulfilled to the letter.  What follows is the ‘Magnificat.’

And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.

And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,

as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” – Luke 1:46-55 My italics.

Again, from the words of Mary it is quite clear that she is thinking in covenantal terms.  She mentions her nation Israel (Lk. 1:54), calling to mind the Servant Songs of Isaiah.[4]  She also calls to mind the covenant with Abraham and his descendants (Lk. 1:55).  According to her words, the promises of the Abrahamic covenant to Israel are “forever.” 

            We are not yet out of the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and we are in the middle of covenant expectation.  The next witness to God’s oaths is Zachariah.  Upon agreeing with his wife that his son would be named “John”, which demonstrated his belief in what Gabriel had said, his tongue was loosed and he began to extol God.  What he said echoed the words of Mary.  He spoke of both the Davidic (Lk. 1:69), and the Abrahamic covenants.  Zachariah said that God would,

remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. – Luke 1:72-75.

            The words of Zachariah recall several OT themes: deliverance, safety, and consecration.  He too is powerfully influenced by the covenants of God and what they say about his people Israel.  The oath of God to which Zachariah is alluding is not a word-for-word quotation of anything in Genesis, but rather a valid inference from the Abrahamic covenant.  The “we” who he has in mind here is not the Church, it is connected with “our father Abraham.”  Zachariah began his inspired paen with, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” (Lk. 1:68-69).  He is referring to the nation of Israel.  Moreover, he like Mary connects the covenants with Abraham and David.  

[1] In the Gospel of John, the Baptist explicitly says he is not Elijah (Jn. 1:21). 

[2] Many critics of the NT have tried to assert that Nazareth did not exist at this time, but this is an error.

[3] Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity, 101. 

[4] The Servant Songs (Isa.49:1–7; 50:4–9; and 52:13–53:12), refer both to Israel as a nation and to the Messiah.  Mary is thinking here of the former. 

Two Testaments, But One Bible

When we cross over from the OT into the NT we might think that we ought to expect a very clear continuity.  After all the OT, particularly the covenants and the Prophets have led us to expect a great future for the nation of Israel.  Even though that people had gone and done their own thing, we would think that God would stick with His covenants and promises to that nation and bring them to Himself.  We would also expect to see the arrival of the Messiah, the One whom Israel was expecting.  Israel would finally have peace and prosperity under the protection of their Christ.  They would be able to trust in Him to reign over them, and they could look to Him for blessing and guidance.

            And as we enter the NT through the doors of the Synoptic Gospels this picture doesn’t seem to be upset; this indeed is the track that we appear to be on.  Matthew, of course, starts off with a genealogy of the King[1], and includes a number of announcements in the early chapters of his biographical narrative that encourage the reader to believe that with the coming into the world of Jesus, the promised Kingdom was “at hand.”  Likewise, in Luke’s Gospel in the early chapters there is a very heavy emphasis on the King.  Yet when we get to the end of these Gospels, the ground seems to have shifted under our feet.  No longer are we primed to think that the Kingdom is just around the corner.  Jesus is rejected and murdered, after being resurrected in glory and ascending to Heaven God seems to work in a new way, through a fairly innocuous yet strong band of Jesus’ former disciples and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.[2]  We move into the time of the Church and the formation of the Body of Christ, the Pauline literature which focuses mainly on the “new man” the Church, which is composed of both Jew and Gentile, although the further away we move from the time of Christ the more Gentile dominated the Church becomes, so that by the end of the NT (and the first Century A.D.) the complexion of the people of God looks very different than what one would have expected after studying the Law and the Prophets. 

            The focus of the NT from the Acts of the Apostles on has gone away from the nation of Israel and has moved onto the Church.  No more, we might be tempted to believe, is the focus of God where it was in the OT covenants: no more are the writers of the new Scripture concerned with things like land and kingship and national prosperity – distinguishing marks of Israel’s covenants, instead the emphasis shifts toward a multiethnic group of Jews and Gentiles – the Ecclesia or Church. 

            What has happened?  The answer to that question depends upon who you read and who you listen to.  The answer comes back from one quarter that God may have moved unexpectantly from what He said in the OT covenants, but He still moved in continuity with those covenants, or at least not in contradiction of them properly understood.  God has now realized what He predicted in the OT, but He has realized it in an unforeseen way in Jesus Christ and through the Church, so that the OT expectations of land and throne and temple were not the actual concrete things that Yahweh had in mind when He made those covenants; they were in fact types and shadows of the realities uncovered for us in the latter NT.  These are seen as greater realities than what was expected.  Another set of experts will say that tell us that this Church has always existed, first as believers in OT Israel, and now in this Gentile/Jew people group.  In other words, the Church has always existed, only now it has been expanded beyond Israel.  Both of these outlooks take the position that the Church is now the “true Israel,” because the Church is “in Christ” and Jesus Christ is the real Israel. 

            We shall look at the proposals of these schools of interpretation.  They deserve a respectful hearing.  But I think it will become clear that not only do they not take the covenant agenda of the OT seriously, but they fail to understand what is going on in the NT as well; at least as concerns the Big Picture.[3]

            A larger problem with these approaches is a little more sensitive to explain, and may savor of impoliteness.  However, I see no way around the issue other than to face it head on.  The problem that looms in front of us (or ought to) is that the covenant making God of the OT; the God who hates covenant-breakers, is seen as a God who simply does not mean what He says even when He swears by Himself to do something.  You see, the trouble is not that the God who over and over again raises particular expectations in His covenants is not believed, it is that this God who supposedly fulfils these oaths in totally unforeseen and unforeseeable ways in the NT is telling us to believe Him now.  But what exactly are the pious to believe?  What expectations, raised by the wording of the NT, are fixed as to their meaning and which expectations may undergo radical unforeseeable transformation in the eschaton?

            How are these experts going to assure us that they have it right when they employ spiritualization, typology, and such to reinterpret the OT covenants, and seem happy to use the same tools on any unyielding prophecy in the NT?  I spent much time in the previous book trying to prove that God’s covenants do not and in fact cannot change; a plain fact that the NT itself is at pains to underscore (See Gal. 3:15; Heb. 6:13-18).

              It is worth it here to remind ourselves of Yahweh’s own final presentation of Himself in the OT.  After the prediction of the coming of the “Messenger of the covenant” (Mal. 3:1-2), who comes to “purify the sons of Levi” (Mal. 3:3), so that they offer righteous offerings to God on behalf of Israel (Mal. 3:3-4), when God comes in judgment (Mal. 3:2, 5), what do we read on the back of these promises?

“For I am the LORD, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” – Malachi 3:6

The hope of the realization of these things is squarely based upon the character of God.  In sum, because He does not change, and He it is who speaks thus to Israel, the nation has survived and will survive.  The “change” (shanah) in God is not possible, ergo a change in His covenant promises is not possible.  There can be no un-prespecified “transformation” of the oaths of Yahweh. 

[1] Matthew divides his genealogy into three distinct periods: Abraham to David, David to the Exile, and the Exile to Jesus.  The reason this is worth mentioning is because here an inspired writer sets out several epochs, none of which comport with the traditional dispensations of Dispensationalists.  

[2] The sense of expectation lingers until at least Acts 2 and 3. 

[3] The Big Picture is, of course, Creation.  We are all prone to overlook the obvious, and the most obvious fact about us is that we live within God’s created order.  It is impossible for us to think without reference to it.  The Lord is at work in creation and every other concept in the Bible pays its dues to it.  This grand “theme” of Creation is what in Volume One I called ‘The Creation Project.’