Biblical Covenantalism

The Noahic Covenant and the Interpretation of Scripture

In his Commentary on the Book of Genesis the Reformer John Calvin notices that a reason for God’s covenant promise to Noah was to encourage him in the hard task of obedience in the building of the Ark. By way of application he writes,

For then do we freely embrace the commands of God, when a promise is attached to them, which teaches us that we shall not spend our strength for nought…It is especially necessary that the faithful shall be confirmed by the word of God, lest they faint in the midst of their course; to the end that they may certainly be assured that they are not beating the air, as they say; but that, acquiescing in the promise given them, and being sure of success, they follow God who calls them. – John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of Genesis, Vol. I, 258

Calvin is right to fasten on the encouragements to faith of a divine covenant (though interestingly, Calvin interpreted Genesis 2:17, a common proof-text for the “covenant of works”, negatively as requiring meritorious works and not faith.  (See Daniel P. Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 181-182).  But note that his application is on target only if God’s promise means what it says; otherwise faith can find no assurance in what God said. It is a moot point, or ought to be. But it is routinely overlooked in biblical and systematic theology. Covenants become malleable in the hands of many writers. It is our opinion that this contributes in a major way to the disagreements between scholars over just where the biblical covenants function in God’s program.

We might ask, ‘How many people take Genesis 9:11, which include the terms of the covenant with Noah, typologically or spiritually or allegorically?’ The answer would be, ‘nobody.’ And that simple answer is very significant, because it means that this first covenant is interpreted uniformly in what we call a “literal” way. The words of verse 11 mean what they say:

The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” – Genesis 8:21-22

If this is compared with what God said to Himself in 9:11 we see a close correspondence:

I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth. – Genesis 9:11

This again shows that there is agreement between God’s thoughts (“the LORD said to Himself”) and God’s words in the covenant oath. This brings a certain welcome rigidity to what God says in His covenant. There are over sixty ancient Near Eastern covenants or treaties which have been discovered, and the terms all mean what they say (not that we take our lead from extra-biblical sources). In point of fact, many of these treaties specify in the clearest terms the cruciality of the words in the covenant oath, explicitly saying that the words themselves are inviolate.

To give just two examples taken from a reliable and accessible resource (The following are from Readings From the Ancient Near East, eds. Bill T. Arnold & Bryan E. Beyer, 97-98): From the first part of the second millennium B.C. there is a covenant between two brothers, Abban and Yarimlim pertaining to lands which includes the line,

Abba-AN is under oath to Yarimlim, and also he cut the neck of a lamb. He swore: I shall never give back what I gave you.

The central core of the oath which Abban made to Yarimlim is plain and clear. It cannot suffer typological or symbolical transfiguration into some other thing. Although this covenant is conditioned upon Yarimlim’s fidelity to Abban, the oath binds his successors, and therefore cannot undergo any alteration of meaning without being made void.

In another example (14th century B.C.), Hittite king Suppilulima makes a treaty with Mattiwaza, king of Mitanni, witnessed by a host of gods on both sides. It includes the warning:

If he breaks it or causes anyone else to change the wording of the tablet…, If you, Mattiwaza, the prince, and you the sons of the Hurri country do not fulfill the words of this treaty, may the gods, the lords of the oath, blot you out…

What is noteworthy about this is that the wording, and so the meaning of the wording, is sacrosanct. It is not open to reinterpretation, and the pantheon of gods is called upon to ensure against such a thing. This is standard procedure for ANE covenants, in fact, for all covenants. The reason for it is because the oaths must be unambiguous and must mean what they say. I might go further and say that the choice of words as conveyors of accurate meaning is a sine qua non of covenants and treaties.

Going back to the Bible, the well known example in Joshua 9 where the Gibeonites fooled Joshua and the elders into making a covenant with them makes this point well. As Golding correctly says,

When the Israelites discovered how they had been deluded, they were furious, but could not go back on their oath, which had been solemnly sworn with God as witness (v.19). – Peter Golding, Covenant Theology, 70 (My emphasis)

In like manner, the covenant cut by Laban with Jacob in Genesis 31:44-54 makes the same point. The pile of stones (31:46) acted as “a witness” (31:48, 52) to the terms of the covenant (31:52):

This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. – Genesis 31:52

If after striking this agreement Laban would have rose up, strode past the heap and knocked Jacob to the ground, only one of two understandings of his actions would be possible. Either Laban would be knowingly violating the words he just agreed to keep, or, he would have dishonestly and disingenuously made an oath which he knew whose words he knew full well he would not keep. Either way he would have broken his bond. (more…)


Is the Covenant with Noah a Recapitulation of a Previous Covenant? (2)

Part One

The second argument, that there are covenantal elements in the Creation narratives, is somewhat dependent upon the first for its advocacy.  Nobody denies that there is a repetition of parts of the Creation mandate in Genesis 9.  But such a repetition was necessary seeing that God had just wiped out every living thing from the map.  That necessity doesn’t extend however, to requiring a covenant given to Adam in the Garden.  And we are not justified in drawing an inference that the earlier use of the words were thereby covenantal simply because their repetition to Noah was in a covenantal setting.  One wonders how the Lord was to warn our Adam about taking from the forbidden tree without including some of the language which would later be used in covenants.  Covenants often included prohibitions and warnings.  They were necessarily made by or with human parties.  In that sense, all prohibitions are formulaic and “covenantal”(speaking anachronistically), but that does not turn them into covenants.     Again we sense a lack of control in the understanding of the function of a Divine covenant.

However, this belief in a pre-Noahic covenant just might be supplemented by Hosea 6, even though it must be admitted that the all-important substance of that particular “covenant” remains anyone’s guess.  Attempts to designate Genesis 2:16-18 as the oath are exegetically specious.  All one can properly bring out of the text is what is there: a prohibition and a dire warning.  That is it.  So one is left with a vacuous covenant with no identifiable solemn oath.  Not much to go on for the exegete, but rich pickings for a pious theologically charged imagination that wants to find light in between Scripture’s gaps!

As for the third argument put forth by defenders of a pre-Noahic covenant; the mention of “Adam” in Hosea 6:7, we are unmoved.  Although studies by Warfield and others lend some superficial credence to the notion, there remain too many problems and unanswered questions that plague it.  The immediate context favors a location (Tell ed-Damiyeh?).[12]  Concerning the identification of it with the person Adam, McKenzie comments:

modern scholars are nearly unanimous in rejecting this understanding.  For one thing, there is no mention anywhere else in the Bible, including Genesis 2-3, of a covenant between God and Adam… Furthermore, the word “there” in the second line of the verse suggests that Adam may be a place name, and this possibility is strengthened by the places mentioned in subsequent verses – Gilead (v.8) and Shechem (v.9).[13]

Duane Garrett thinks there is a deliberate wordplay between the man Adam and the place of transgression, the town of Adam in area of Gilead.[14]  But we must repeat the fact that even if the exegetical case for the person Adam were in the future universally accepted, we would still be none the wiser as to what the covenant actually entailed.  We would certainly not be constrained to embrace a “covenant of works”, a “covenant of grace”, a “Creation covenant” etc., an Adamic covenant’, etc., on such flimsy internal evidence.[15].  Plus, we would not be one step further to knowing what the putative covenant said.  Better then, not to assert anything.

While not everyone will agree with my conclusions, and while respect is owed to those whose opinions differ, I believe the arguments for a covenant prior to the Noahic covenant fall short of being convincing and rely upon inferences brought to the text.  More important is the glaring fact that there is just not enough scriptural data to provide content for these pretender covenants.

Personally, I could wish that I could confidently detect a true covenant in Genesis 1, or Genesis 1-2, or Genesis 2–3.  I am, after all, attempting to show that the biblical covenants contain both the telos and the eschatos of the Creation Project as set out in the pages of Scripture.  But I fear that any attempt to ground my scheme upon a covenant without a defining oath would be to make it, in fact, groundless. And so I am content to connect the covenants with Noah, Abraham, David, etc., with the already noted correspondence between God’s speech and His actions and to treat Divine covenants as intensifications of this motif.

I conclude, then, that for all the assertions of a pre-Noahic covenant notwithstanding, there is little or nothing to show for it but the personal judgments of good men who pour their own meanings into an empty vessel.  The biblical record remains unchanged.  The first covenant in the Bible of which we can speak meaningfully is the covenant God made with Noah after “the world that then was perished.”


[12] Ibid, 164-165.  He cites Craig Bartholomew’s note about marriage being an example of a covenant before the Fall.  I shall return to this, but will just say here that marriage is not a Divine-human relationship.  Furthermore, both Proverbs 2:17 and Malachi 2:14 refer to the encroachments of sin within marriages.  It might be argued that the covenantal aspects of marriage became necessary only after the entrance of sin.  We have argued that the essence of a covenant is to insure obedience of one or both of the parties involved.  This would be unnecessary prior to Genesis 3.

[13] Even Gentry, when rightly speaking of “the covenant with Noah [creating] a firm stage of history where God can work out his plan for rescuing his fallen world” (Ibid, 175), tacitly agrees that this is indeed the principle purpose of the covenant; namely, no more flood guarantees the uniformity of nature and a linear flow of history.  It does not then appear to be necessary to for God to bind himself to Creation this way before the Flood.

[14] See J. Glen Taylor, ‘Hosea’, ZIBBC, Vol. 5, 28

[15] Steven L. McKenzie, Covenant, 22-23.  Earlier he notes that, “The Assyrians probably had a covenant affirming Israel’s vassalhood, against which they rebelled.” – Ibid, 8.  He gives Hosea 12:1; 10:4, and 6:7 as possible references.

[16] Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, NAC 19A, 162-163

[17] Walter C. Kaiser rightly refers to these as “hypothetical” covenants.  See his The Promise-Plan of God, 26.


Is the Covenant with Noah a Recapitulation of a Previous Covenant? (1)

More material from the “big book”.

There need not be much dissension from the view that Genesis 6:18 may refer to a previous understanding of covenant on Noah’s part.[1]  It could equally mean that the covenant was “in God’s mind” before the waters came and He chose out Noah.[2]  In either case the interpretation stresses the gracious (hen) movement of God towards Noah (6:8).

But could it, indeed, should it, be construed as a reference to a “Creation covenant,” instituted in Genesis 1?  If the instructions given to Adam and Eve are repeated to Noah, doesn’t this show that, as Jeffrey Niehaus has it, “the Noahic or recreation covenant with the Adamic one” should be seen “as one legal package”?[3]  That is a big question.  It assumes, in fact, that the “Adamic” or “Creation covenant” is unambiguously self-evident like the Noahic covenant.  But that position requires a good deal of reinforcement if it is to withstand scrutiny.

So what evidence is there of an existing covenant in the first three chapters of Genesis?  I have already alluded to the fact that the evidence is “spotty”.  But it would be of some benefit to examine it a little more closely.  Not uncommonly those who see covenants in the opening chapters of the Bible do not take much space proving it.  But some arguments have been put forth deserve attention.

  1. the language of establishing not “cutting” the covenant.
  2. the repetition of parts of the Creation mandate.
  3. the reference in Hosea 6:7 to “Adam” breaking the covenant.

The first argument, and the best in my estimation, concerns the Hebrew expression used in regards to the Noahic covenant.  Merrill concludes that “Genesis 1:26-28 is at least a truncated example of a royal grant document.”[4]  It may be, but where are its specific terms?  Where is the oath which God supposedly made?  It certainly had nothing to do with a global flood.  Yet the flood is at the heart of the covenant oath God made with Noah as His witness.  In other words, without the assurance that God would not again visit the earth with such a deluge, there would be no reason to even mention the covenant!  To move from that position backwards to the first two chapters of the book in order to find a “Creation covenant” (or other), looks like moving far beyond the evidence readily discernible in the oath of the Noahic covenant.

Niehaus says that the elements of covenant (which he says stems from an “idea” in God), are present in the Creation chapters (Gen. 1 & 2).  So, even though the oath is not found there, the presence of a covenant is assured.[5]  Very well, but without knowing what the oath is we have no way of knowing for sure what the covenant was about.  Once more, Gamble, in his impressive book, thinks that “The reordering of the world after the Flood was a covenantal recapitulation.”[6]  But he gives no solid evidence for this assertion.

Perhaps the best defense of this position is found in the work of Gentry and Wellum called Kingdom through Covenant.  Building on the work of Australian scholar William Dumbrell, whose basic ideas he defends[7], Gentry asserts, and I think proves, that the deliberate choice to use heqim berit (“to establish a covenant”), rather than what would become the normal expression, karat berit (“to cut a covenant”), indicates that God was already committed to this covenant prior to Genesis 6.[8]   This does not mean they support the idea that Genesis 6 and 9 refer to covenant renewal.  Rather, the claim seems to be that God’s pre-existing commitment to His creation is now expressed in the initiation of a promised covenant.

In summary, based on the expression heqim berit, linguistic usage alone demonstrates that when God says he is confirming or establishing his covenant with Noah, he is saying that his commitment initiated previously at creation to care for and preserve, provide for and rule over all he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he gave to Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants.  This can be substantiated and further supported by noting the parallels between Noah and Adam, and between the covenant terms given to Noah and the ordinances given to Adam and his family.[9]

Gentry goes on to detail the parallels he has mentioned, but the existence of parallels, which it must be admitted, are hardly avoidable, do not require the presence of a covenant. (more…)


My Materials on Biblical Covenantalism

I have been asked to put my stuff on Biblical Covenantalism in one place.  These are the main posts which, I think, define and expound the concept and indicate where I am going with it.  I hope placing them together helps out.

The Main Articles, the ‘Book’, and the Videos: 

Biblical Covenants and Normative Hermeneutics 1, 2

Explaining why the Biblical Covenants provide a hermeneutics for the Bible.

Dispensationalism & Biblical Covenantalism: What’s in a Name? (link)

A comparison of the perspectives.  This Synopsis was written for the same post.

Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path 1, 2

My ideas about how standard Dispensational theology could be profitably redirected and strengthened by downplaying the importance of Divine economies and conferring primary authority to the Biblical Covenants.  The article builds on an earlier one called What is a “Dispensationalist Theology?” 

Covenants: Clarity, Ambiguity & Faith 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  – This six part article was designed to clarify some points made in an earlier piece called On the Biblical Covenants 

The Parameters of Meaning: 4a, 4b

Even though this comes from a series (yet unfinished – I’m working on it) which covers more than the covenants, this one is concerned directly with the boundaries which the covenants set for proper interpretation.



The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism

This is not the “big book” I am working on, but it outlines the centrality of Jesus Christ to the system.  I am trying to edit and revise it in my spare (ha!) time.

Chapter 1a, 1b, 1c;

Chapter 2a, 2b, 2c;

Chapter 3a, 3b;

Chapter 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d;

Chapter 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d;

Chapter 6a, 6b;

Conclusion 7a, 7b



1 & 2 

3 & 4;

5 & 6

These are six video presentations where I present a fairly detailed overview of Biblical Covenantalism as I conceive of it.

Other subjects dealt with along these lines:

The Forgotten Covenant 1, 2, 3, 4

About the covenant with Phinehas.  I realize that some scholars see a covenant with Aaron which is unrelated to that which was made with Phinehas, but I see no reason to multiply covenants needlessly. They amount to the same thing.

What is Progressive Revelation? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 

This article seeks to define progressive revelation sensibly by taking seriously the meanings of “progressive” and “revelation”, and rescue the idea from the abuse it must suffer at the hands of prevaricating theological dogmas.

Has the Davidic Covenant Been Initially Realized in the Church? (link)

This piece is my attempt to deal with questions pertaining to Acts 2

Does Diatheke Mean “Last Will and Testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17? (link)

I argue that the Greek term often translated as “testament” in this place ought to be rendered “covenant” along with all other uses in Hebrews.

My TELOS Lectures on Biblical Theology, which I have nearly finished uploading under the title “Biblical Covenantalism” will be added to this list soon.

Okay, there it all is.  Have fun!

Descending to Demonism: From Cain to the Sons of God

The scenes from the story of Cain and Abel, up until the “sons of God”, and the global Flood cover a period of perhaps two thousand years.  Genesis 4 properly belongs with the previous three chapters.  It begins and ends with namings; the naming of Cain (“acquired”, or “brought forth”), and the naming of Seth (“granted [substitute]”), and then Seth’s naming of Enosh (“frailty”).  In the beginning of this chapter we find two brothers, Cain and Abel, who are worshipping God (Yahweh).  Their offerings come from the different spheres of their activity.  Cain is a farmer and so he brings the produce of the ground.  Abel is a shepherd, and so he brings a choice lamb from his flock.

The narrative is not detailed, but the Lord’s opinion of Cain’s offering was one of disapproval.  The problem was not external; it was not with the offering.  Those who teach that because the earth is cursed the gift of Cain was inappropriate forget that Abel’s lamb ate from the produce of the cursed ground.  No, Cain’s problem was in his approach to God.  In his lack of faith (implied in Heb. 11:4), his offering was not truly an offering.  Cain refused to rectify his worship and he became the first murderer.  He does not murder a stranger for riches.  He slays his own brother, Abel.  Why did he do this?  Because Abel’s offering had been accepted by the Lord and Cain had been “burning” (charah) toward his brother.  He was filled with religious envy.  The first murder was religiously motivated.  He is then depicted as admitting (not really confessing) his guilt (but not before lying about it), and he ends up going out “east of Eden” and building a city which he names after his son Enoch.  It is of interest that in the Bible only one city is viewed in a positive light: Jerusalem – and that not always!  Secondly, the Bible appears to approve of history moving from East to West, and to disapprove of movement from West to East.  Adam and Eve travel East (3:24), as does Cain (4:16), and the people who came to Shinar and built a tower (11:2), and Lot chose the goodlands to the East when he and Abram separated (13:11).

One thing which Cain forfeited by his murderous deed was the right (if we may so speak of it at this venture) of the firstborn.  T. D. Alexander observes that, “For killing his brother Abel, Cain, the first-born, is passed over in favour of Seth, the third-born.”[1]

Cain’s lineage is given up until verses 23-24, which records Lamech’s bragging about the murder of a young man.  Thus, although there are accomplishments: city building (if such can be said to be an accomplishment), animal breeding, music, and metallurgy, the genealogy begins and ends with two murderers.  In Cain’s line Lamech occupies the seventh position; a position of honor[2].  The Adamic genealogy in the next chapter places the godly Enoch in that position.  So what we are given is a picture of expansion in various spheres.  But along with this growth of creativity there is a greater opportunity for independence to be reinforced, and for sin to produce death.

The fifth chapter is a death chapter.  The names in Adam’s genealogy are of men who lived, by our standards, an immense amount of years.  But they all died (save Enoch, who was taken – Gen. 5:22).  If you are like me you would like to know why Enoch was taken and why we are told that he was.  Some might tell us that there is a typological teaching hidden in there.[3]  They may be right, but I find I cannot get any help from the Bible (Heb. 11:5 merely repeats the fact).  But he is the only person other than (possibly) Elijah who did not see death.[4]  Even the Son of God had to die!

But even in a chapter where the refrain “and he died” is constant there is hope.  Genesis 5:1b-3 declares,

In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

As well as telling us that this is Seth’s line, these verses use the same words about Seth that were used of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-27, although in reverse.  Seth is in Adam’s likeness (demuth) and image (selem), and is therefore in God’s likeness and image.  This means that even fallen mankind has intrinsic worth above what his deeds testify to.  It is well to recall this fact when pondering God’s actions in the flood.  This is why God’s promise of a victorious Seed in Genesis 3:15 carries with it a hope for man.

Since chapter 5 concerns Seth’s line and not that of Cain, it is scarcely credible to associate what comes next with the Sethites.  Explanations of the sons of God in the first part of chapter 6 which resort to making them into sons of Cain, while at the same time turning “the daughters of men” into daughters of Seth, are making the text say something it is clearly at pains not to say.  It used to be that one was hard pressed to find an evangelical who was prepared to identify the “sons of God” with fallen angels.  It was easy enough to find liberals who had little trouble with the identification (they simply had trouble believing it!).  Thankfully the situation has changed[5].  Now we find evangelical scholars who are more comfortable with the designation.[6]  This is important, if only because it is in places like this where we feel pressured to come up with an alternative interpretation of what the text appears to be saying.  Such a maneuver, especially when made by those who elsewhere plead for grammatical-historical interpretation, hardly helps the case for plain-sense hermeneutics.  As enigmatic as the passage may be, all the scriptural evidence points to the bene ha elohim[7] being either demonic angels or demonized humans.[8]   (more…)


Trying to Get the Rapture Right (12)

Part Eleven

This is the final part of this exploratory series on the rapture of the Church.  It’s main purpose has been to show that none of the competing positions on the “taking out” of the saints merits more than an “inference to the best explanation.”  Within the Rules of Affinity this would be a C3.  I have looked at posttribulationism and midtribulationism in the last post; here I shall look at the prewrath and pretribulational views.


This view is of very recent vintage, but for all that it has articulated its position well and has won many advocates.  In my opinion this position mounts some serious challenges for the other approaches.  It deserves to be taken seriously.

The arguments in favor of prewrath rapturism are quite impressive taken as a whole.  Examined individually less so.  PreWrathers, as Postmils, have the psychological advantage of having the rapture and the Second Coming coincide.  But the edge might seem to be lost by having the Lord zip back off to glory for the wrath to get meted out on the Earth.  Although they explain the logic of the wrath (from the first trumpet, through the bowls of wrath and the Battle of Armageddon) coming on the earth-dwellers after the Second Coming/Rapture, the posttribulational option looks less complicated.

I do think they have an argument for claiming that the wrath of God is restricted to the end of the seven year period.  Many pre-trib replies to this are not always satisfying.  But it suffices me at least to read that the “horsemen” released in the first four seals come forth only after Christ opens each one.  In Revelation 6:1-8 (the first four seals), the sequence is, the Lamb breaks the seal, then a living creature invites John to witness the result.  We also see what appears to be Divine empowerment and permission in, for example, Revelation 6:2 (“a crown was given to him”), 6:4 (“it was granted to [him] to take peace from the earth,…and there was given to him a great sword”), and 6:6 where a voice (from the throne?) issues directions to the rider on the black horse.  Even though the word “wrath” isn’t used until the end of the chapter (the sixth seal), certainly all this calamity wrought by the riders stems directly, not from the Antichrist, but from God Himself.  Is that not God’s wrath?  Yes, I know the wrath of 6:16-17 is connected with Christ specifically, but 14:19 with 19:15 with Isaiah 63:1-6 persuade me that the sixth seal is about the Second Advent.

Another attraction of PreWrath is the use of Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and Luke 21 alongside of 1 Thessalonians 4. Hart’s pretrib exegesis manages this, but the PreWrath view is more natural.  Still, I can’t get over the fact that the Olivet Discourse is so Israel-directed (Pt.8).  And if that is so then I think it is hard not to have both the Church and Israel raptured at the same time.  PreWrath advocates may be just fine with that, but this underlines even more the conflation of Israel and the Church within the Tribulation.  (Are they two distinct entities, or one – the Church?)  I see Israel there clearly enough (Pt.9), but not the Church (Pt.10).  Plus, as I pointed out, if Christians are in the Tribulation under Antichrist, then they will be tempted to take the mark and even worship the beast to save their lives (as Christian’s compromised during Diocletian’s persecution).  That raises the specter of Christians losing their salvation according to Revelation 14:9-11.

It would be wrong to accuse the PreWrath position of merging Israel with the Church, since many would stop short of doing this.  But mixing the two programs of God together in the Tribulation makes it hard to avoid making the two into one body of believers.

Their interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 seems plausible (Pt.7).  But this demands a more static and technical sense be given to the “Day of the Lord”; values which I have shown to run contrary to the biblical data on the varied usage of the phrase (Pts 6 & 7).  In Part 6 we also saw that Armageddon and the final days of the Seventieth Week just prior to Christ’s return appear to be what is indicated by the “Day of the Lord” as used in Joel 3:14-16 (cf. Rev. 19:15).

Further, Daniel 12:1 with 12:6-7 measures the “Great Tribulation” coming upon Israel as “a time, times, and half a time”, or three and a half years.  Since this period starts at the mid-point in the Seventieth Week (Pt. 5), and is terminated by the Second Coming (see Dan. 7:20-25), there is just no room for the PreWrath teaching.

For these and other reasons I think the PreWrath view is finally implausible, although it deserves a C3 as a solid attempt at the rapture question. (more…)


Trying to Get the Rapture Right (11)

Part Ten

As I bring this series to a close, I want to provide some summaries of the various rapture positions, along with a few pros and cons.  Of course, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I understand that much more could be said in support of each position.  Still, my main goal has been to come at the doctrine from a slightly different angle and to present the theological issues which arise.


The posttrib position is that the church goes through the Tribulation.  Proponents of this view rightly call attention to what they see as a natural correspondence between the Second Coming of Jesus and the rapture of the Church.  Christ only comes once, they say, and it makes no sense to seek out any other event slotted into God’s calendar seven years before that great event.

Passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and John 14:1-3 do not refer explicitly to the timing of the rapture, and it is understandable that posttribulationists think that the burden of proof would be on those who want to separate the rapture and the Second Coming.  Also, while I hesitate to call Matthew 24:40-41 a rapture passage, I have said that (accepting it as an end trib passage), in light of Revelation 14 it has something going for it.

For me, the strongest verses for postribulationism are those in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.  These words are spoken to the church, and yet they imply that the saints are awaiting the revealing (apokalypsis) of the Lord in terms very reminiscent of advent passages like Isaiah 63 (cf. Rev. 14:19-20), Malachi 3:2 and 4:1. I admit that of all the texts appealed to by posttribulationists, 2 Thessalonians 1 gives me the most trouble.

Using the Rules of Affinity we might display it like this:

Proposition: “The church remains on earth until the Second Coming (viz. post-trib rapture)”

Text: “and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” – 2 Thess. 1:7

On the face of it this looks like at least a C2 (an inevitable conclusion).  But the “Rules” only function properly when the context is verified.  And the context does not mention the rapture at all.  This means that the rapture view must still be studied via other pertinent verses.  The “Rules” would have to be brought in there and the conclusions may effect the “inevitability” of the result above.

The way I interpret it is that the comforting of the saints happens before the Second Advent on whichever view is taken, so these verses are not standalone verses which settle the wider argument.  What this means is that, like it or not, posttrib advocates must cast their nets wider to draw in specific rapture texts and fit them into their scenario.  While I am happy to admit that beginning with this passage the preponderance of evidence is with the post-tribulational position, I think it begins to weaken when other texts come fully into view.

Some problems for posttribulationism are, firstly, (and circumstantially) that one might expect the three main verses (1 Thess.4; 1 Cor. 15, and Jn. 14) to make reference to the Tribulation, but none of them do, which seems unusual, especially since this period of time does receive emphasis at various points within Scripture.

Second, as noted in Part 2, the ignorance of the rapture doctrine in 1 Thessalonians 4 compared to the knowledge of the Day of the Lord (1 Thess.5) indicates that they are not the same thing.  All one can say is that the one comes before the other, but more data is needed to try to understand when.

Another problem is what has been seen as the “yo-yo” effect of the church being caught up and coming right back down.  This looks pointless and appears to flatly contradict John 14:3.  One might get from under this by claiming that the “coming again” (erchomai) of which the Lord speaks is His coming to a saint at death, but I can not accept that as an explanation.

Fourthly, the fact that the church appears to be absent from the chapters in the Book of Revelation which refer to the Tribulation (i.e. Rev. 6-18), which appears to coincide with Daniel’s Seventieth Week (See Parts 4, 5, & 6) throws suspicion upon a posttrib scenario, especially when it is accepted that this period has national Israel squarely in mind.

In the fifth place, this position conflates national Israel with the Church and thus violates OT covenants with Israel, and has to do interpretive gymnastics with several crucial NT texts (e.g. Acts 1:3, 6-7; Rom. 11:24-27).

When we come to the interpretation of Daniel 9:24 things become even more suspect.  The transgression (of Israel in the context) is certainly not finished, and and an end of sins has not occurred.  Everlasting righteousness has not in any way arrived, and “the Holy Place” (not Messiah) has not been anointed.  Even if one spiritualizes the other prophecies in the verse, and ignores the introductory clause, it won’t work.  How could the stoning of Stephen or the armies of Titus be interpreted as a fulfillment of any of the six prophecies in this verse?

Finally, the teaching on Imminency must be faced (Part 8), along with the problem that all alternatives to pretribulationism must deal with, and that is the fact that once in the Tribulation and its troubles, however they are allocated according to mid, prewrath, or posttrib perspectives, people will know the year when Christ is coming back.  That surely goes against Matthew 24:36.  But the Church is instructed to watch for Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 1:9-10), which would be an exercise in futility if the rapture were not imminent, since signs and events do precede the Second Advent.

Still, posttribulationism does have enough data to pull together a hypothesis which can claim some scriptural support and is thus a C3. (more…)


Trying to Get the Rapture Right (10)

Part Nine

This installment may be thought of as a digression, but I think it belongs to the overall argument.

Imagine a world where the removal of the saints from Planet Earth happened but no one had the foggiest idea of when that might be.  If the NT alluded to such a thing there would still be some hope that we just may be the ones to get called up.  The doctrine of the rapture would still be a “sure thing”, it just wouldn’t be very concrete in our minds. Well, as a matter of fact, as a starting place for considering the rapture this isn’t that bad; there are far worse ones.  A “worse” one would be the dogmatic insistence that the catching away of the Church as pretribulational is a dead-cert.  Another would be the blithe notion that the rapture occurs when Jesus returns to earth and any theories to the contrary are speculative fancies.

What we want when faced with studying the rapture is a method which casts its procedural net over all the relevant scriptures and tries to incorporate its results within the boundaries of more readily identifiable doctrines.  Taking fundamental and necessary (C1 & C2) biblical truths as a baseline, the various snippets of prophetic teaching which intersect what can be known about the rapture must be weighed and set within the most comfortable theological context: a context from which many objections can be answered, and the number of those that can’t are at least reduced.  This comes down to ones best choice among competing explanations (a C3).

In these posts I have put quite a bit of weight on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9.  A full exegesis of that passage (9:24-27) is beyond the scope of this series, and what persuades me may not persuade others.  One reason for this is the amount of work I have put into studying the biblical covenants and how they connect with the Return of Christ and His kingdom.  This is an important theme of Daniel 2, 7, 9 and 12, and it connects with many other elements in the Prophets.  (Chapters 2, 7 and 12 all concern events just before or at the final culminative kingdom of Christ (on earth!), so it is more than likely that chapter 9 does too).

Before bringing this series to an end with two summary posts I ask the reader’s forbearance once more as I again make an argument from this future time period. I have also tried to show that there exists a correspondence between the 70th week, especially from its halfway (3 1/2 year) point, and what is known as the Great Tribulation.  An obvious point of contact is the “time, times and half a time” formula found in both Daniel and Revelation.  In Matthew 24:8 our Lord speaks about “the beginning of sorrows”; an expression even prewrathers like Marvin Rosenthal believe refers to the first part of the Seventieth Week, even if he does not associate it with the “Tribulation” as such (nor the “wrath of God” for that matter), which he thinks comes after.  So it is pretty much agreed upon by all except those who try to squeeze it into the first century that the 70th week lies ahead of us.  However, a major difference surfaces between the pretrib position and mid, post and prewrath views concerning what I would see as an incongruity with God dealing with Israel and the Church in the 70th week.  As I have said before, in my reading of Scripture this period is determined on Israel (with whom God is not explicitly dealing right now), not the Church.  Moreover, it centers on Jerusalem and the temple.

The “Temple” and “Abomination” in the Seventieth Week

Daniel 9:26 stipulates that Messiah will be “cut off” after 69 of the 70 weeks.  The next verse says that “He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering”.  Some hold that this refers to the finality of the cross-work of Christ, which effectively made the sacrificial system redundant.  But this “positive spin” on the text has some problems.  For one thing the context (v.26) refers to “the people of the prince who shall come” destroying the city (Jerusalem), and the sanctuary (the Temple), which is hard to think of positively.  These two connected entities – Jerusalem and the temple – are featured heavily in the chapter (9:12, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27).  In the book Kingdom through Covenant, Peter Gentry tries to vindicate the “positive” interpretation, although he admits to difficulties.  I have the bad manners to quote myself in my review of that work:

To put it in a nutshell, the authors believe that the six items listed in Daniel 9:24 were all fulfilled in Christ at the first advent (541, 553-554 – though they admit “anoint the most holy person” is abnormal, typology again steps in to help).  “Messiah the Prince” or “Leader” of 9:25 is equated with “the prince [or leader] who shall come” of verse 26 even though it appears that he comes after “Messiah is cut off.”  From chapter 7:8, 23-25 the antichrist arises from the fourth kingdom (the Roman empire), seemingly just prior to the second coming (7:13-14 with 7:21-22).  This prepares the reader for “the people of the prince who is to come” who “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (9:26).  Two questions loom before us if we follow Gentry’s and Wellum’s interpretation.  The first concerns the fact that the “he” of verse 26b causes the sacrifice and offering to cease “in the middle of the [seventieth] week.”  If this refers to Jesus then it also refers to His crucifixion.  That would leave three and a half years of the seventieth week left to fulfill.  This is generally where those who don’t like a second coming context will jump thirty-five or so years into the future and see fulfillment in Titus’s armies in A.D. 70.  Gentry admits the “people” who destroy city and sanctuary do “appear to be enemy armies” (560), so he has to read two peoples into the context: the Jews who “destroyed” the city metaphorically circa A.D. 30, and the Romans who adopted a more literal method in A.D. 70!  (more…)


Christ as the Center of Scripture – Videos 5 & 6

Parts Three and Four

Here are the fifth and sixth videos of my TELOS Conference presentations of Biblical Covenantalism. These presentations cover the pivotal role of the Lord Jesus Christ in “the Creation Project” set out in God’s Word; especially in His Covenants:



I hope that these six presentations elucidate my approach more clearly for some visitors to this blog.