Covenant Connections in Paul (10)

Part Nine

Is the Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3?

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

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

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

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

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

The Man of Sin and the Tribulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deciphering Covenant Theology (27): Summation (1)

Part Twenty-Six

Covenant Theology and the Bible

In an article at TableTalk Stephen G. Myers writes,

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

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

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

Defining “Covenant”

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

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

“Agreement” is a necessary part of a conditional covenant such as the “covenant of death” which the leaders of Judah had made in Isaiah 28:15 (which would not be upheld – Isa. 28:.18). But “agreement” is not part of an unconditional covenant such as the New covenant or the Davidic covenant: not unless one thinks that “I agree that you pledged to do this” is what is meant by “agreement”! 

The Covenant of Redemption?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Covenant of Works?

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

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

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

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

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

The Covenant of Grace?

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

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

Deciphering Covenant Theology (26)

Part Twenty-Five

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

12. CT is implicitly supercessionist in its eschatology.

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

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

And here is Greg Beale:

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

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

Then there is this passage:

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

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

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

He continues,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deciphering Covenant Theology (25)

Part Twenty-Four

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 26

Deciphering Covenant Theology (24)

Part Twenty-Three

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 25

Do We Need The NT to Understand the OT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine this scenario:

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

Pharisees: “Where are you in the Scriptures?”

Jesus: “In types and shadows”

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

Jesus: “By the New Testament”

Pharisees: “By the what?”

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

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

Get the picture?  The thesis begins to look absurd!  

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

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

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

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

Deciphering Covenant Theology (23)

Part Twenty-Two

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about this quote:

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

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

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

I rest my case. Ponder these things.

Deciphering Covenant Theology (22)

Part Twenty One

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

8. CT thus interprets the Bible with different rules of hermeneutics depending on the aforementioned presuppositions.

Covenant theologians will often display a varied array of hermeneutical practices, sometimes in the same passage. This is because the theological covenants require conformity to their dictates. The conformity includes the OT being interpreted on the basis of a particular understanding of the NT; a first coming hermeneutic when dealing with most prophetic texts; one people of God throughout Scripture; hence no national future for Israel in the kingdom; the covenants of God that can be found easily in Scripture must be subsumed beneath the covenant of grace (particularly); and those same covenants can be morphed out of recognition by their “fulfillment” in the Church.

We should remind ourselves that J. I. Packer said that Covenant Theology is a hermeneutic or way of reading the Bible. Others have said the same, but my focus here is how CT’s understand this (although I might say that Progressive Covenantalists employ the same hermeneutics, more or less as CT’s do).

Here is a sample:

“Jesus came to establish a spiritual kingdom that could be entered immediately by submitting to the rule of Jesus through faith in Him…Jesus defines His kingdom as operating differently than the kingdoms of the world by bearing witness to the truth (Jn. 18:36-37). The present, spiritual reality of the kingdom means, according to the parables, that the kingdom begins small, is hidden in the way it works, and can be rejected by people. Yet Christ reigns now as King as He sits at the right hand of the Father…governing the world for the sake of His people (Eph. 1:22). The promises of the Davidic covenant are fulfilled in Christ… who occupies the throne of David.” – Richard P. Belcher, Jr., The Fulfillment of the Promises of God, 130.

I give this as a sample of CT interpretation. CT’s believe that Jesus is reigning right now on David’s throne. His position is helped by his connection with the parables, especially the parables of the kingdom, which include the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” (e.g., Matt. 13:24, 31, etc.).

In response I would point out that the NT nowhere states that Jesus is reigning now. Neither does it say that Jesus is sitting on a throne presently. In fact, as Belcher alludes to, the Bible says that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. 1 Peter 3:22 says Christ is “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 12:2 is clearer. It says that Christ is now “at the right hand of the throne of God.” See also Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1. These passages all agree that Christ is not seated upon the throne in heaven but at the right hand of the throne. But what about Revelation 3:21? Here it is:

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

This verse is not saying that Jesus is sitting on the same throne with the Father. It is not a dual throne. If such were true then all the overcomers would also sit on it. It is not a massively multi-seated throne. The last part of the verse is best interpreted as Christ sitting next to God’s throne. But neither is one throne referred to in the verse. There is “My Father’s throne” and there is “My throne.” To fail to admit this is to have interpretive blinkers on. As Robert Thomas says, “to merge them into one is to ignore the obvious.” – Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1 – 7: An Exegetical Commentary, 325.

The parables of the kingdom and the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” must be interpreted in context. In Matthew 13:36-43 the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is explained. Jesus says that at the end of this age,

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness…Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! – Matthew 13:41, 43.

It appears that when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom He will first remove the wicked and then the righteous will enter in. This agrees with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46 which begins with the words, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. (Matt. 25:31), which indicates that the sorting does not happen until after Jesus has returned. Hence, Jesus’ own testimony is that He will not sit upon His throne until the second coming! The words “the kingdom of heaven is like” therefore do not refer to the inaugurated kingdom but the progress towards it.

Belcher uses Ephesians 1:22 to claim that Christ as King is reigning now at the right hand of the Father. But no one reigned from beside the throne (i.e. “the right hand of the throne”). They reigned from the throne. Ephesians 1 is speaking about Jesus in relation to the Church, of which He is Head, but it says nothing about the throne of David. Belcher, as CT’s generally, is conflating the data to fit his theology. David’s throne was and will be in Jerusalem, not heaven.

But Belcher provides more support from O. Palmer Robertson.

In a footnote (130 n. 28) Belcher cites Robertson using 1 Chronicles 29:22 (though I think he means v. 23) as proving ” a convergence of the throne of David” with God’s throne:

Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him. – 1 Chronicles 29:23.

According to O. Palmer Robertson this text shows that the throne of David that Solomon rules from is the throne of Yahweh. But this simply untenable as God’s throne is in heaven (Psa. 11:4; 103:19) not on earth. In 1 Chronicles 29 “the throne of Yahweh” does not refer to God’s own throne but to the throne established by God for the Davidide line. Robertson claims the opposite: “The throne of David’s descendants is nothing more than the throne of God itself.” – The Christ of the Covenants, 250.

Except it isn’t. This is because Robertson also holds that, “David’s line anticipated in shadow-form the eternal character of the eternal reign of Christ,” – Ibid, 249. So Solomon’s throne was called “the throne of Yahweh” for the sake of typology! But not any typology, but a typology which meets the redemptive-historical requirements of CT. CT needs the two thrones, the throne of David and the throne of God to be the same, and 1 Chronicles 29:22-23 is their proof-text.

Returning to Belcher, he believes that 1 Chronicles 29:22 (23) may be linked to Isaiah 9:6. But Isaiah 9:6-7 is a prophesy which includes within it both advents. In the quotation below I have underlined the part of the prophesy that accords with the first coming.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. – Isaiah 9:6-7

Here is a clear prediction in which CT’s want to take the underlined part literally and everything else spiritually, so that it can be incorporated into the first advent “spiritual kingdom” they say is ruling the world now. In other words, they use two hermeneutical methods to interpret a single prophecy. Thus, whatever hermeneutic is needed; literal, spiritual, typological, symbolical, will be employed by CT’s depending on what fits the requirements of the system.

May I add another quick example? In his popular book A Case for Amillennialism Kim Riddlebarger, when wrapping up his chapter on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks declares,

“The final three-and-one-half years of the seventieth week as interpreted by John is symbolic of the church on earth during the entire time of its existence.  It also is a reference to the tribulation depicted in Daniel.” – Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, 156.  

So the great majority of the seventy weeks of years are literal, but the very last three-and-a-half years are nearly two thousand years long and counting? He further believes that the “covenant” that is made “for one week” in Daniel 9:27 is of all things the covenant of grace! One has to wonder what hermeneutical system is making him arrive at these conclusions. What are its rules and where do they come from?

Part 23

Covenant Connections in Paul (9)

Part Eight

The Transformation of Our Bodies

The mention of the transformation of our bodies calls to mind the mystery of 1 Corinthians 15:50-52:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.  Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

The language of transformation is linked to the kingdom of God in this text.  Paul says that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit this kingdom – a kingdom that is in the future.  What does he mean by this?  This is to say that our present earthly frame is not prepared for the glories in heaven.  As Schreiner puts it, “The bodily flesh of this age is subject to weakness and death…our corruptible earthly body cannot enter the future kingdom.”[1] 

            The apostle tells us that we shall all be changed, that is, we shall become incorruptible and glorious.  And this transformation will happen in an instant.  It will occur “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52).  I wish he had elaborated a little more on the trumpet!  Which “trump” is he referring to?  The book of Revelation refers to seven trumpets which are blown by angels, with the seventh recorded cryptically in Revelation 10:5-7 and finally blown in Revelation 11:15.  There is a sense of finality that comes with this blowing, but is this what Paul had in mind when he wrote about “the last trump” some forty years earlier?  I think this is doubtful.  Trumpets were used to get people’s attention and to summon them (e.g., Exod. 19:13, 16, 19; Lev. 25:9; Neh. 4:20).  Sometimes the trumpet raised the alarm (Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6; Zeph. 3:16).  Jesus Himself taught that a trumpet would be blown when the angels were sent to gather up the saints at his second coming (Matt. 24:30-31), which may be synonymous with the seventh trumpet of Revelation, although to me that appears doubtful.[2] 

            It seems better to think of “the last trumpet” as the final blast in a succession of trumpet calls which precede the transformation of our bodies, although there is no way of nailing it down more than that.  For Paul then the coming of Christ is the time of our appropriation of the glory of the resurrection that Christ has procured for us.  The next question that arises is whether 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 is connected with the “snatching up” (harpazo) described in 1 Thessalonians 4:12-18.  Here is the part of the passage which describes the “rapture:”

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.

            I am approaching the text as neutrally as I can, which means that I am not as concerned with when it will occur but what will occur and its connection, if any, with the change described by Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians 15. 

            The first thing that I have to point out is the rather obvious fact that this passage nowhere pinpoints the timing of the harpazo.  This is not the reason Paul wrote the words.  Some writers have referred to inscriptions on the tombs of famous men of the past where harpazo is used as a euphemism for death; thus, they were “snatched up” by death.[3]  That cannot be the meaning here because the living are contrasted with those who have “fallen asleep” and both will be caught up together (1 Thess. 4:15-17).  The link between this passage and 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 is the trumpet that is blown (1 Thess. 4:16).  At the blast of this trumpet things happen to the saints; they are transformed and glorified.  And this change is one reason why I believe the snatching up of the saints cannot be post-tribulational, for then who would go into the millennial kingdom, have children and grow old as per Isaiah 11, 65, and Zechariah 8?  Glorified people will not procreate nor age.  It therefore looks like the “rapture” of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and the corresponding transformation of 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 must occur before the second advent.  This brings the rapture back to either pre- or mid-tribulational or “prewrath.”  I will investigate the timing of this event later, but I do want to address one “pretrib” text which is occasionally used.                              


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, Downers Grove, IVP, 2001, 142.  “The resurrection will involve somatic existence, although not fleshly existence. ‘Flesh and blood,’ that is, our present fleshly bodies, cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).” – George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983, 465.

[2] See the exposition of Revelation 11 later in this volume. 

[3] E.g., Constantine R. Campbell, Paul and the Hope of Glory, 112-113.

A Fourth Response to Josh Sommer

Part Three

In addressing Josh’s fourth post reacting to my Deciphering Covenant Theology series I am up-to-date with him so far. Josh’s main concern is with the covenant of works, which I critiqued in Parts Four and Five. But he also takes brief aim at my Rules of Affinity which I referred to in one of the posts. But he shows a severe lack of concentration in saying that they constitute “five a priori categories.” If they did then he would be right in claiming that I was employing my own form of deductive inference.

Are the Rules of Affinity Deductive?

But if one examines the Rules of Affinity it ought to be crystal clear that that are necessarily a posteriori or inductive. By the very nature of the case the “Rules” cannot be applied until the biblical passage is set out. It then compares the passage with external uses of the passage to see if they match up. A quick example may help: If I claim that the Bible supports gay relations and use as my proof-text David’s grieving words about Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:26 it would look something like this:

TEXT

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Surpassing the love of women

PROPOSITION

David’s love for Jonathan was so deep that it must have resulted in homosexual relations between them.

Well, this is not what the verse actually says. It has nothing direct to say about sexual orientation. Therefore , there is no C1 (direct) relationship between the text and the proposition. Neither is there an inevitable conclusion that must be made from the text that David was gay, so no C2. What about the best inference? Is the text at all inferring that David and Jonathan were lovers? No, so no C3. And as the “Rules” recommend that no doctrine be formulated with anything less than a C3 connection between text and what is said about the text the case is closed. 2 Samuel 1:26 says that Jonathan was “very pleasant,” that is, kind and considerate to David. Their friendship was years long and their bond of friendship was close. Some men have known bonds of friendship with other men that went beyond even their relationship with their wives. Think, for example, of police partners and the level of trust and commitment that is created by working together in high-stress conditions. The “homosexual” is being read into the passage and the Rules of Affinity help ferret it out.

Josh also claims that my C2 category “is essentially a restatement of ‘good and necessary consequence’ as it has been historically understood.” But this is not true at all. A C2 comes about only if the link between the text or texts lead inevitably to a conclusion; something that could never be claimed for the theological covenants of CT. That is why I designated the covenant of grace as a C4, which is a statement which is founded on no clear or plain statement of Scripture.

So What About the Covenant of Works?

Josh starts off his defense of the covenant of works by stating,

“In substance, all that is meant by “covenant of works” is the divine imposition of conditions upon man in the garden with blessings for obedience to those conditions and curses for failing to obey.”

And I reply with, “and just where in Genesis 2 is there any mention of blessings for obedience? There are none. Furthermore, you see once more the loosening of the definition of covenant as though it is the same as a promise or agreement. Genesis 2:16-17 records God’s word to Adam that he could eat from any of the trees in the garden except for just one:

“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:17.

There is no agreement. There is no oath. There is a prohibition and a consequence for disobedience, but a prohibition and a consequence do not constitute a covenant. What has to be done is for “covenant” to be made to mean something like “promise and warning” when there is no affirmative promise in the chapter. CT’s identify the absent promise with the gift of having access to all the other trees. Often the insinuation is that this was a temporary arrangement conditioned on whether Adam could pass the test (for some unstated period of time) of not eating from the forbidden tree. Again, this is not in the text, although a generous critic might allow that the concept of probation is a reasonable inference.

To introduce a bit of exegesis into the argument Josh comments:

“The Hebrew term for “command” (swh) is the same term used within the context of the giving of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 19:7.”

True enough, but no covenant is made in Exodus 19. And even when the commands are put into a covenant frame in Exodus 24, the inclusion is made explicit. There is no explicit or implicit requirement in Genesis 2 for God’s “command” to be understood as covenantal. God can command without entering into a covenant can He not? It is therefore the duty of the person who claims a covenant to be able to prove a covenant. One cannot simply cite Genesis 2:16-17 and think that it is “all that is required for a covenant of works in the garden.”

Covenants Without Oaths?

Josh then tries to establish the existence of covenants in the Bible without oaths. I’m sorry to say that his reasoning here is not very impressive. While he is an intelligent man the system he is defending puts him up against the wall. The fact that in every place where a covenant is made in Scripture an oath is present isn’t enough for him. His position is that of asking “where does the Bible itself require this of every covenant?” He needs to study Paul Williamson’s Sealed with an Oath and rethink his position. Williamson states that the oath is the sine qua non of a biblical covenant.

Next Josh challenges my view that the active obedience of Christ is not atoning. I do not deny that Christ lived a sinless life and that the merits of that life are reckoned to me. But I do have a problem with that life being included with the death of Christ as an atonement for my sin. Again, Josh’s attempt to reason scripturally to his conclusion is pretty tortuous. But I will let the interested reader peruse his argument for himself.

Risking the Gospel Message

Finally, Josh quotes Romans 5:14 and reasons thus:

“But if Adam is an imperfect pattern of our Lord, then his responsibility before God anticipates the responsibility of Christ before God in the stead of Adam’s sinful posterity. And this just means that getting Adam wrong is to risk getting the gospel itself wrong…if Christ came as the antitypical fulfillment of the first Adam, as Romans 5:14 declares, a covenant of works appears necessary. Christ came to merit the life Adam himself failed to obtain for his posterity.”

What he’s getting at here is that our hope was predicated on Adam’s merit. Since Adam fell we fell with him. This is Federal Theology in which Adam is the federal head of the human race. This is related to the Transmission of the Soul (See here etc.) and the question of guilt, which I shall not get into here. Now just because a person does not agree that the active obedience of Christ is part of the atonement does not at all mean that the Gospel is at risk. The proclamation of the Gospel in Acts and the Epistles is absent any mention of this idea.

But it is clear that Josh is reading Federalism into his conclusion. Yet nowhere in Genesis 2 or 3 are we informed that Adam was tasked to obtain merit for us. Josh is deducing this from his Covenant Theology. From what I can see he has much work to do to establish the biblical credentials of the theological covenants that undergird the whole system. With due respect to him I have not seen any persuasive arguments for Covenant Theology in his efforts thus far.