Deciphering Covenant Theology (28): Summation (2)

Part Twenty-Seven

In this post I want to share some thoughts about the mindset of CT’s. I do not at all say anything here in disrespect of CT’s. This is only some observations of my own. It is important to go back and read what I have already reported about the deductive nature of CT. You may be helped by my critique of Baptist CT Josh Somner to get some illustration of this.

The Bible and Logical Inference

I have stated several times that Covenant Theology as a system relies to a great extent on deductive reasoning from premises which may or may not be derived from Scripture. From the covenants of redemption, works and grace, to the idea of Federalism, to the reduction of the definition of a biblical covenant to an “agreement”, to the one people of God concept, to the hermeneutical switcheroos that are performed to prevent the prophetic witness of the Bible from declaring what it seems to be at pains to declare. In all of this a way of thinking is involved.

Text Correspondence

Only the Bible is the Word of God. Only its words were premeditated by God and presented to us, His creature, for us to heed and work through. This means that in order to depend upon those words, one must know what those words mean; what their intent was. In order to do that (I believe) there must be a close correspondence between the inspired text and the interpretation thereof. If I may illustrate it roughly, one should read what God says and then seek to formulate ones doctrine step by step (as it were). If the inspired text is represented as a _ hyphen, and theological formulation is represented by a – hyphen, the process of building a theology ought to look like this: _-_-_-_-_-. Or if we replace the hyphens with arrows the upward arrows represent formulations made from the text (I don’t know how to do this on WordPress). Hence, one would see a series of upward arrows in a line. Now, if we add a horizontal arrow left to right across the tops of the upward arrows we would represent an approach in which doctrines are derived from the text discretely and drawn together after the fact. What CT does is to introduce downward arrows. These would stand for having a doctrine in-hand and then going (down) to the Bible for a proof-text to try to establish it in the Bible. This is somewhat of a broad-brush statement, but what CT theology does is to get a doctrinal premise and then join it to another premise and then go and look for a text or two to back them up. One sees a “If this, then that” process. The doctrine is already there before the search is made. This is rooted in our most basic operational autonomy.

The Default Setting of Sinners: Independence

I have stated before my belief that the Fall of man installed within us all a strong penchant for independent thinking. I have written in another place:

“Since that day humanity has been locked into a state of creaturely independence, and our eyes have taken in and we have “known” all the false knowledge which comes with the autonomy of reason. The rest of the Bible will display it on a continual loop, but the early chapters of Genesis present the classic examples: Cain’s murder of his brother and his attempt to deceive God (Gen. 4:9); Lamech’s boast (Gen. 4:23-24); the humanism of Babel (Gen. 11:3-4); Abram’s attempt to get an heir through Hagar (Gen. 16:1-3), etc. Caiaphas’s rationalizing of Jesus’ death is another good example (Jn. 11:50; 18:14), as is the disciples’ wrong interpretation of Jesus’ words about John the Disciple in John 21:21-23. When we reason independently, we will often see what we want to see, and what we want to see is not always friends with the truth… Why stop to notice this? Because it has everything to do with how we interpret the Bible. My contention is that there is safety only when we seek to reduce the number of theological inferences we have to make as we listen to the text; especially those inferences which have no plain and clear scriptural statements behind them. The greatest hindrance to correct interpretation is “myself.” I need to constantly retrain myself to ask ‘what does this passage say in its context?’” – The Words of the Covenant: Old Testament Expectation, 103.

So a CT may reason that as God is triune the agreements between the three Persons may be said to be covenantal. As what God does in time concerns His creatures then any decree of God is perforce covenantal. The words of instruction spoken to Adam in Eden are construed as a covenant, as are the words after the Fall. Since the post-Fall covenant is the instantiation of God’s pre-creative decree (covenant) then that covenant – the covenant of grace – covers all God’s predetermined elect resulting in one people of God. The actual divine covenants in the OT can be subsumed within the larger category of the covenant of grace. Any prophetic language which appears to contradict this can be dealt with in one of two ways: 1. the function of a prophet can be altered so that his main role is not to predict the future but to preach to his contemporaries. 2. the prophecies which endanger the one-people-of-God concept can be handled by making them types and shadows of the real which is revealed properly later in the NT. If any NT prophecies threaten to upset the apple cart they can be managed by a first coming hermeneutic which reduces those predictions down to spiritual realities. It is all held together by rigorous logic, story-telling, and proof-texts treated with a special hermeneutic – the hermeneutic of Covenant Theology.

The Wrong Questions

I’m going to get in the weeds here for a bit, but I hope it is worth it. Although certainly not limited to CT’s, it is worth studying the way they often argue with those who disagree with them. You will notice if you engage these brethren long enough (and I have attended CT-teaching schools, churches and conferences aplenty) that they argue not by direct appeal to the Scriptures, but by a certain mode of questioning: “Do you mean to say…?”, “But wouldn’t that deny the doctrine of…?”, “What if…?” There is nothing wrong with this form of questioning, unless it is used to bring the conversation away from the text of Scripture and on to the level of common reasoning. When this is done it is relatively easy to undermine a scriptural argument with a logical one. “Ah,” I hear you say, “isn’t he saying that Scripture and logic are at odds?” Of course that is not what I just said. I am claiming that orienting an argument about the Bible and Theology around logic without reference to what the Bible says is a good way to never settle that discussion with the Bible.

No lesser person than Cornelius Van Til, a CT himself, has warned us about the independent use of our reason. Although he was usually referring to the way unsaved people think, he stated that the apparatus of reasoning may function well, but it was always set wrong, and so would never produce the right result; the unsaved reason would not submit itself to the revelation of God. But Van Til also believed that there were forms of Christian thinking which did the same thing. Hence, my theory of creaturely independence relies on Van Til’s insight. But let my point not get lost. I am saying that CT is a mainly deductive inferential system (and, by way, this spills over into certain Reformed formulations of e.g., limited atonement). The logic is guided by the requirements of the system itself. It can be brilliant, but is it really representative of what the Bible is saying?

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.

Part 27

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

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

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:


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


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.

Deciphering Covenant Theology (21)

Part Twenty

Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology

7. By allowing their interpretations of the NT to have veto over the plain sense of the OT this outlook creates massive discontinuities between the wording of the two Testaments.  This is all done for the sake of a contrived continuity demanded by the one-people of God concept of the Covenant of Grace.

It has been common for both Covenant Theologians and Dispensationalists to categorize the former as a continuity system and the latter as a discontinuity system. And to some extent this is so. Dispensationalism can be seen as a discontinuity system in the sense that it claims that the Church of the NT is not Israel. CT teaches that the Church and Israel, at least believing Israel, are the same group under the umbrella of the covenant of grace. There is one people of God; ergo, there is continuity in the saints of the two Testaments.

But the objection to CT framed above accuses it as creating “massive discontinuities.” Those discontinuities are hermeneutical in nature before they are anything else. Hence, the much vaunted “continuity” of CT once more comes about as a result of deductions from its own premises. But it does not and cannot come about as a result of believing what the text of Scripture says, particularly in it’s own covenants. I locate the source of this hermeneutical discontinuity in the way CT deals with the NT. At the risk of coming across as dogmatic, I would insist that theological continuity take second place to hermeneutical continuity.

When one takes care to read the Infancy Narratives of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke it ought to be clear that there is a huge emphasis upon the prophetic expectation generated by the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants of the OT (cf. Matt. 1:17). This can easily be seen be a close reading of the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary (Lk. 1:32-33), and to Joseph (Matt. 1:20-23). Then there are the recorded speeches of Mary (Lk. 1:46-55), Zacharias (Lk. 1:67-79), Simeon (Lk. 2:25-35), and Anna (Lk. 2:36-38). Every one of these witnesses displays a covenantal continuity with the OT. Then we get to the Temptation story, and once again we see the covenants taken seriously (Lk. 4:5-7). I could go on to talk about Matthew 19:28/Lk. 22:30, or Mark 13/Matthew 24. In Acts 1:6 the disciples ask Jesus specifically about restoring the kingdom to Israel. They do this despite having been instructed by the risen Christ specifically about the kingdom (Acts 1:3)! Towards the close of the Book of Acts Paul is still concerned about the “promise [to] our twelve tribes,” which they “hope to attain,” and for which cause he is standing before Agrippa (Acts 26:7). In a word, what we see is interpretive continuity.

Forcing Theological Continuity on to NT Texts

CT, along with NCT cum Progressive Covenantalism and some other approaches, sees a continuum between OT Israel and the NT Church in that the saints in both are seen to be one people under the covenant of grace. Although perhaps overstating it somewhat Merkle observes that, “Covenant theology understands all the biblical covenants as different expressions of the one covenant of grace.” (Benjamin L. Merkle, Discontinuity to Continuity, 15). That being so, there is no room for covenant fulfillment that distinguishes Israel from the Church.

The way this appears in exegesis is that the Infancy Narratives are not taken to be setting up the trajectory of the NT, but at best to be a record of Jewish belief before Christ Himself reinterprets the expectations in His teachings. Taking another example, the statement in Luke 19:11 that the Parable of the Talents was for the explicit reason of disabusing the disciples “because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.” When one adds this teaching to the question about the kingdom being restored to Israel in Acts 1:6 and Jesus’ answer that it was not for the disciples to know the “when” of the kingdom (Acts 1:7), how can one state that,

“Acts 1:8 affirms what will be an ongoing and progressive fulfillment of the OT kingdom and Israel’s restoration, which had already begun establishment in Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this light, the apostles’ question in 1:6 may also reveal an incorrect eschatological presupposition.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 139.

But the disciples had just been taught about the kingdom by the King Himself! Are we really to believe they entertained “an eschatological presupposition.”?

Should We Think About Israel and the Church in Terms of Discontinuity?

I also think it is wrong to talk about the discontinuity between Israel and the Church until we have appreciated the roles that both have within the wider covenantal program of God. Both “peoples” have a place within the Abrahamic covenant: Israel in terms of natural descendants and land, the Church in terms of the blessing upon the nations both through Abraham’s Seed Jesus Christ and our faith-participation in Him (Gal. 3:16-29). And if we are paying attention we can see that both the Church right now and the remnant of Israel in the future are parties to the New covenant in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:25; Rom. 11:25-29). Furthermore, we must not forget that both entities play an implicit and strategic part in the Creation Project itself as it unfurls in history. It is therefore a mistake to refer to the Church as a “parenthesis” because those leave the impression that a new thought has been interjected into a sentence which could stand alone without it. It is better to think of God’s Creation Project as containing several strands or programs which go into operation at different times in the history of the fallen world. The plan for Israel begins after the confusion of languages and separation of nations (Gen. 10 – 11). The plan for the Church begins after Israel’s rejection of Jesus’ ministry (Acts 2). Since God has unfinished business with Israel the plan to save the nation is taken up after the Church is complete (Rom. 11:25-29). I believe that it is better to think in terms of these programs within the one Project that God has for Creation. The Church is not in any sense “Plan B”, it is Plan 1b. There’s a big difference!

Part 22

Deciphering Covenant Theology (20)

Part Nineteen

6. By assuming, without sufficient warrant, that the New Testament must be used to [re]interpret the Old Testament, CT in practice denies to the OT its own perspicuity, its own integrity as inspired revelation, and creates a “canon within a canon.”  To paraphrase George Orwell, in CT “all Scripture is inspired, but some Scripture [the NT] is more inspired than others [the OT]”.

The actual covenants of God which are recorded in the Old Testament dictate, or ought to dictate, the course of the prophetic narrative. This covenant story raises definite expectations which build to a crescendo by the close of the OT canon. The momentum that has been built up requires us to look very carefully at the NT for signs of continuation of covenant themes. This is something we get, especially in the Synoptic Gospels.

But Covenant Theology is one of those approaches to reading the Bible that effectively negates the covenant expectation that was accumulated in the OT. Instead, CT begins its understanding of Scripture in the NT. I have commented that the NT themes that are concentrated on by CT are the cross and resurrection. But I need to qualify that statement. CT emphasizes the cross and resurrection mainly as they are expounded in Paul. Paul’s theological explanation of these joint themes and their application to the Christian Church is the main thing. This in turn is done by use of the Adam or Christ dichotomy of e.g., Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22. Either you are in Christ in the covenant of grace or in Adam and under the covenant of works; the cross and resurrection making the transition possible. From this starting point everything in the OT must be passed through this NT grid.

“Both Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians believe that the New Testament takes priority in how the Old Testament is fulfilled in it.” – Richard P. Belcher, Jr., The Fulfillment of the Promises of God, 208.

“[T]he one problem we have in the interpretation of the Bible is the failure to interpret the texts by the definitive event of the gospel.  This has its outworking in both directions.  What went before Christ in the Old Testament, as well as what comes after him, thus finding its meaning in him.  So the Old Testament must be understood in its relationship to the gospel event.  What that relationship is can only be determined from the witness of the New Testament itself.” – Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 50.

I must stress a most important matter here. The priority that is given to the NT is not what many interpreters would say is the correct interpretation of the NT. So what is happening is that a certain view of the NT is being foisted on the OT and the OT covenant expectation is not permitted to have a say in how the picture is to look. When that is done it becomes easy to say things such as this:

“[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.” – Ibid, 123.

If we return to the Belcher quotation above we can see how this plays out. Belcher says that “the New Testament takes priority in how the Old Testament is fulfilled in it.” But I want to straight away challenge that statement. For instance, what if the OT is not being fulfilled in the NT but is yet to be fulfilled? Well, if that “yet to be fulfilled” happens to cut across what CT will permit then it will usually be made to be “fulfilled” in the NT. So CT Kevin DeYoung asks, ““Without a systematic theology how can you begin to know what to do with the eschatology of Ezekiel…?” And I answer,

‘Your systematic theology, which includes your eschatology, must be constructed from reading Ezekiel, along with all the other books of the Bible to see what it says. The eschatology of Ezekiel cannot be ascertained from outside of Ezekiel, but one can compare what Ezekiel writes with what other Prophets write and you will see a covenantally patterned eschatology emerge. Moreover, that eschatology will be arrived at before the NT is consulted. Why? Because, quite simply, Ezekiel is found in the OT!’

The problem a “a canon within the canon” may arise in different settings. In Theology a canon within the canon refers to the prioritizing of certain books above other books for doctrinal or interpretive purposes. While all Scripture is equally inspired it is not all equally treated. CT’s insistence that the NT (well, especially the Pauline Writings) are necessary for understanding “how the Old Testament is fulfilled” creates a canon within the canon. And this in turn logically places the OT, which is three quarters of the Bible, at a lower level of authority than the NT. “Authority” is muted when the speaker’s words are not taken at face value but reinterpreted on the basis of another authority. Again, I must qualify that statement because whenever portions of the NT, like the Infancy Narratives or the Olivet Discourse or the Book of Revelation link up with the covenant expectations of the OT they too are reinterpreted to agree with what Paul (chiefly) is thought to be teaching, which is “Covenant Theology.”

It ought to dawn upon people that if the OT cannot be properly understood on its own terms that it must therefore be unclear in some important sense. Full clarity can be given to the OT only by the NT, it is not something that the OT itself possesses as an inherent property. Thus, the greater portion of the Holy Scriptures, especially the covenants and prophecies, do not possess the virtue of perspicuity. Not only that, but some large sections of the NT seemingly don’t possess it either! This is not to say that the NT does not clarify certain things written in the OT with further revelation. It is to say that any further revelation given by the NT will not force the OT to be reinterpreted so that the original words are given meanings that they just do not bear.

I could go on to speak about how the NT writers’ appealing to the OT for authority is thereby torpedoed but I will leave that for my reader to ponder.

Finally, it should not go unnoticed that the title of DeYoung’s article (cited above) is tellingly “Your Theological System Should Tell You How To Exegete.” That confirms my contention throughout these posts that CT is fundamentally a deductive way of interpreting Scripture. It is also why Dispensationalists should not adopt the position that they can simply worry about eschatology and ecclesiology and fetch their doctrines of God, man, and salvation from the Reformed CT camp. The methodology of CT does not comport with Dispensationalist hermeneutics. Hence, if Dispensationalists want to arrive where CT’s arrive on systematic theology they will have to get there by using a method which better comports with what they claim to be doing when interpreting the Bible, not using a method which deduces its interpretations from its theology.

Part 21