The Men Who Trained Me (Pt. 1)

I’m busy and lacking inspiration right now. Here is a piece I wrote some time ago about my training. Hope you enjoy it.

I thought I’d do something different for a change.  I seldom write anything about myself on this blog, but I had the idea of putting down a few words about the men who trained me and to whom, to one degree or another, I owe a debt.  None of them is responsible for how I turned out.  The monster was self-made. But I want to introduce you to these men:

The first man is David N. Myers M.Min., a knowledgeable Bible teacher who helped me principally by giving me good books to read.  He showed me the value of commentaries and introduced me to the six volumes of Explore the Book by J. Sidlow Baxter.  He also kindled my interest in manuscript evidence after an encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness demoralized me (when each time I tried to prove the deity of Christ from my NIV (1984), the JW just referred me to the footnotes which through the reading into question).  I borrowed from him Caspar Gregory’s Canon and Text of the New Testament, Dean Burgon’s The Revision Revised, F. W. Kenyon’s Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, F. F. Bruce’s The Books and the Parchments, and other works to help me understand what was going on.  Burgon in particular impressed me. He was very erudite, but could write clear prose.  His arguments for what he called “the Traditional Text” were more searchant (so it seemed to me) than the other scholars, who often parroted one another.  Anyway, Dave Myers was a great help in this and other areas.  Later I would read F. H. A. Scrivener’s massive Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the NT (2 vols), and the intriguing study by Harry Sturz called The Byzantine Text-type and NT Textual Criticism.  These served as balances to Bruce Metzger (whose hard to procure Chapters in the History of NT Textual Criticism is terrific), and Kurt Aland.

Unfortunately, I was also introduced to the work of controversial American Fundamentalist Peter Ruckman.  I say unfortunately, not because of his personal issues, but because for a while his sarcasm rubbed off on me.  While I still think Ruckman made some points which needed to be made, and he did make me laugh at a time I really needed to laugh, I’m afraid I came away from his books and tapes more negatively affected than edified.  Some years later I read Westcott’s Commentary on Hebrews and discovered what I had been missing.  When attending London Theological Seminary in the mid-1990’s I came across the Life of Westcott, which gave the lie to the nonsense then propagated by Gail Riplinger. She literally composed quotes from different parts of the book and cut and pasted them together to make new quotes!  Anyway, it was Dave Myers who drilled home to me the question, “what does it say?”  And in a circle of friends who looked upon non-dispensationalists with suspicion, it was he who, when I pointed to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, told me that he was a very godly man.  Funny what things stick with you.

Bernard Lambert was a former missionary to S. America and was a Baptist preacher who would fill pulpits in many Baptist churches in East Anglia, England.  For some reason Bernard, who was retired when I knew him, took a shine to me and we became friends.  Bernard was a dark-suited 5 point Calvinist bookworm with whom I spent many hours talking about books and churches.  Like me, he was a bit of a maverick who disliked the politics and brown-nosing rife within evangelicalism.  I remember him getting emotional about the ostentation he saw at a certain Reformed conference.  He thought monies gifted to an organization should not be spent that way.  Bernard is now with the Lord. I owe him much.  It was he who confronted me with the choice I had to make between remaining as a ladder-climbing Purchaser and going to Seminary.  Since I had felt the call of God to the ministry for years, I knew the road I should take.  This was confirmed when, despite all appearances, I was accepted at London Theological Seminary (who only accepted a handful of students per year).  One of my most cherished possessions is the set of The Works of John Murray (4 vols) which Bernard gave me when I was at a rather low ebb in my life.  The great thing I remember about Bernard was his belief that the people of God needed encouragement.  Through him God encouraged me.

Graham Harrison taught Systematic Theology at London Theological Seminary (LTS) when I was there in the mid 90’s.  He was a solid and rather two-dimensional Calvinist, and, having myself my own thoughts on that subject, he seemed a bit suspicious of me.  I recall him scrupulously avoiding answering my questions about New Evangelicalism; something I think is a rather important thing for a theologian to have opinions about.  Still, his erudition impressed me.

Philip Eveson was the Resident Tutor and taught Hebrew and exegesis at LTS.  He was a pious man, always cheerful and amusing. He had a pastor’s heart, and my chief impression of him was of his concern for the students.  He noticed me staying up till the early hours reading Joseph Hall’s works and old copies of the Westminster Theological Journal and asked if I would be student librarian of the D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones library.  I naturally said yes!  I kept finding Kit-Kat wrappers in the Doctor’s books.  Eveson informed me that it was sometimes hard to get the Doctor to eat anything, but that he would always eat a Kit-Kat. When I visited Mr Eveson a few years afterwards he told me that he thought I never quite understood the Five Points.  I rattled off to him a list of authors (e.g. Pink, Palmer, Gill, Warfield, Coles, Steele & Thomas, Berkhof, Owen, Boettner) and politely told him that he was mistaken, but that I believed (and still believe) that the formulation of TULIP was more deductive than inductive and that the doctrines needed reformulating. He wasn’t impressed.  But I remain convinced that the way these “doctrines of grace” are formulated is far too deductive.  So while I have Calvinistic leanings I feel little compulsion to be a card-carrying “Reformed” man.

Hywel Jones.  Dr Jones seemed to like me because I didn’t walk in lock step with most of the other students.  I read the guys I was supposed to read (like Machen, Owen, John Murray), but I would read Dispensationalists like Pentecost and Ryrie, and Arminians like Lenski, and he didn’t seem to mind.  Jones taught Homiletics and Exegesis of the Books of Matthew and Hebrews.  In the staid Calvinist institution that was LTS, where students became molded into little models of what a Reformed preacher was supposed to be (I think the august, always serious, append a mini-sermon to every prayer stereotype was overdone a bit), Dr Jones had more breadth to him.  When I received an unexpected call to a church in the United States, it was Dr Jones who told me, “You’ll have to have a very good reason to say no.”  I didn’t, so I came.

Robert Oliver, the methodical and quiet spoken pastor-scholar, taught Church History at LTS, and was my favorite lecturer; though not perhaps my favorite prof.  His lectures were always precise and well-prepared; often read out from a manuscript with occasional remarks about an incident or preacher.  He was an excellent teacher, though to me he seemed rather snobbish as a person.  He certainly appeared to have his favorites, but maybe that was just my self-conscious perspective?  That said, I don’t think I could have had a better guide to the history of the early Church than Dr Oliver.

I want to give a hat tip to Dr David Green, who was a student at LTS at the same time that I was there.  It was David who taught me about postmodernism, particularly from the perspective of Art.  He gave a superb presentation to the students on the topic, which, perhaps because of my studies in Art History I really related to.  I recall our times chatting in his room (which was next to mine) about theology, postmodernism, art, the Puritans, and life.  He was a very genial man with real depth to him.  I have a memory of him reading Oliver Heywood’s Heart’s Treasure and telling me how it was impacting him. Perhaps his memory of me will not be as sunny.  I may have mystified him, as I mystified myself.  But his example of simple piety and warm affection for souls left its mark.

Lastly I should recognize Iris, the cook at LTS.  Not only did she fatten me up, she told me all sorts of stories about Dr. Lloyd-Jones, whom she had known well.  She once described the Doctor arriving at their flat with two cases; the big one was heavy with books and the smaller one had his clothes.  She told me how he would always wear his raincoat, and could hardly be prevailed upon to part with it.  MLJ disliked the pretension of signing his own books, but he did sign Iris’s copy of The Sermon on the Mount, which I was shown.  Iris was a straight-talker, and she had to put me right more than once.

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.

Short Review: Commentary on 1 & 2 Kings by David Schreiner & Lee Compson

Review of David B. Schreiner & Lee Compson, 1 & 2 Kings: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2022, hdbk, 315 pages.

This commentary on the books of First and Second Kings combines exposition with homiletics. This way of doing things was popular in the 19th century (think Lange or the Pulpit Commentaries). As with many of these commentaries, the homiletic portions are often of little use (ironically, one of the best of the bunch is Bahr’s exposition of 1 & 2 Kings in Lange’s Commentary).

I’m going to say something about the homiletic portions here and then concentrate on the exposition. After the usual orienting pages, the volume begins with roughly twenty pages of overview of preaching passages from 1 & 2 Kings (13-31). These have enough content to be helpful for a preacher to consider without being too lengthy. Mercifully, no preaching outlines are supplied here, although they are given under the “Preaching and Teaching Strategies” throughout the book.

Skimming through the preaching portions in the book I couldn’t find very much of value. Whether reading the “Exegetical & Theological Synthesis,” the one sentence “Preaching Idea,” the “Contemporary Connections,” or the “Creativity” sections I’m afraid I find them uninspiring. This could be just me of course, but I don’t think so. In any case, I couldn’t recommend the work for this feature; although, to be fair there are one or two good suggestions (e.g. 213), plus some thought-provoking one-liners such as “Details determine if our worship flourishes or fails.” (114).

What of the exposition? Well, I think overall it is well done. David Schreiner thinks the books of Kings were likely the work of multiple authors (41). His introduction is well done. Perhaps the space given to Kings as part of the Deuteronomistic History is more than what most preachers need, but may have something to do with Schreiner’s quite critical stance (e.g., 42-48, 55, 64). Most of his authorities are critical scholars.

Reading through Schreiner’s contribution I must say that he is a fluent writer who doesn’t waste his readers time. He packs a lot of information and relevant data into his writing. His exegetical studies are good, as are his background insets. He does a good job of reading the texts within their historical settings, and he does not explain away the miraculous elements.

Theologically he is also helpful. As an example, I agree with Schreiner that 1 Kings 11 “is arguably one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament.” (152). He has a keen eye for theological development. I have to say that I benefitted from Schreiner’s commentary and that this book, which comes with a fairly thrifty price tag, is worth the money. The book contains many helpful panels which provide information on places, charts, scholarly conclusions, names, archaeological evidence etc.

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:


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

A Third Response to Josh Sommer

Part Two

In his third critique of my series on Deciphering Covenant Theology Josh seeks to redress some issues with my treatment of the covenant of redemption. Of my views on the covenant of redemption Josh has this to say:

“That the covenant of redemption depends upon assumptions is a conclusion that does not follow from the available premises throughout the article. He never actually defines what these assumptions are, much less does he show those assumptions to be false through rational demonstration. He just asserts their presence and opines their insufficiency.”

Josh thinks that I do not prove my assertion that the theological covenants are based upon assumptions. Well, if he or anyone else could simply show me where these covenants are to be found on the pages of Scripture I will be happy to take it back. I’m not going to hold my breath. So then, as they have shall we say “slight” exegetical claims these covenants: redemption, works, and grace must perforce be assumed from other premises. I gave those premises in Parts One & Two and here too. For example, in Part three I wrote,

“The reason that CT is so deductive is because of its method of reading Scripture. Briefly put its method is to formulate doctrine from – to put it in the language of the Westminster Confession 1.6 – “good and necessary consequences”, and then go in search of texts which appear to back up those consequences. This is then called ‘exegesis.'”

You will see Josh deducing these covenants from certain questions he asks and then seeking proof-texts for his own answers.

Josh also accuses me of citing “very little from his interlocutors.” Well, in Part Three I cite seven sources a total of ten times. In Part Two I cite one source three times, including nine lines of text. In Part One I cite two sources, including a block quotation of six lines of text. My concern is not to provide a compendium of CT quotations, but to accurately portray their views with the help of references and quotes from the literature.

One People of God?

Josh thinks that the NT s explicit that there is and can be only one people of God. He says it “stands to reason that every Christian should be willing to confess a single people of God.” Ephesians 4:4 is brought out to prove this. But Ephesians is written to the Church. The Church is created “one new man” according to Ephesians 2:15. The Church has to be new because it is connected to Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11). We were baptized into the one Body (the Church) by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The Spirit was not given until after Christ was raised (Jn. 6:37; 16:7; Rom. 8:11). This means that Ephesians 4 has no relevance to OT saints, unless it can be shown that the Body of Christ existed in the OT or that the dead saints were added to the Church in heaven. Hebrews 11:39 does not say that OT saints are members of the Church. It says that OT saints did not obtain the promise. What promise? Heaven? Who would teach that OT saints aren’t in heaven? The completed Church then? Verse 40 states “that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” To what does that refer? Josh thinks it refers to all the saints from every age being one in the Church, but Hebrews does not say that. I do not want to get off on a tangent here but the “us” in Hebrews are Hebrews! Hebrew Christians you say. Well, Hebrews does not say that. Whatever “the promise” is in Hebrews 11 it is not the Church.

Josh commits what James Barr called “illegitimate totality transfer” when he says that “the Septuagint (LXX) translates the Hebrew references to Israel as an assembly to ἐκκλησίαν on several occasions.” The use of a term in one setting does not mean that it means the same as it does in another setting. Josh also fails to observe the context for Genesis 17:14 which is to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac not Ishmael (see Gen. 17:18-19). Ishmael’s seed could have been circumcised and it would have made no difference; they were outside the covenant. I will leave it there.

What About the Covenant of Redemption?

Josh thinks that in simply my pointing out that many covenant theologians question the covenant of redemption is somehow wrong. That it does not disprove whether there is one. Correct. and I never said it did. But it is worth noting that the covenant of redemption is queried even by CT’s. Then Josh says “Henebury doesn’t actually engage his interlocutors on their exegetical defense in favor of the covenant of redemption.”

As anyone who reads Part Three can see I do engage the texts which Guy Richards brings forth to prove the covenant of redemption. I shall, however, say more about his list of verses here.

Richard’s first proof-text for claiming “buying and selling” language that he will utilize to support the covenant of redemption is Acts 20:28 which refers to the Church bought by God’s (i.e. Christ’s) blood. Since that is New covenant blood according to Jesus Himself (Lk. 22:20) it has nothing to do with the covenant of redemption, works, or grace which are not spoken of in the Bible. Ditto 1 Corinthians 6:20; Ephesians 1:7, and 1 Peter 1:18. These verses which Richard tries to tie to the theological covenants are concerned with Jesus’ blood, which is New covenant blood. That is why I didn’t really interact with Richard’s “exegesis.” There isn’t any. Richard is taking a part of a New covenant doctrine and ripping it out of context to try to stick it onto the covenant of redemption. Added to this is him citing Patrick Gillespie that a covenant is essentially an agreement, which isn’t true! As I said, ” Covenant theologians tell stories.” These are assertions made without any contextual validation. Josh thinks that since I did not detain the reader with Gillespie’s misuse of Isaiah 28:15 I somehow wasn’t playing fair.

But as Josh himself shows, Richard uses Gillespie, not the Bible, as an authority for making “covenant” and “agreement” synonymous. They aren’t; especially not where it matters. “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”! Gillespie is just wrong. Josh riffs off this like a point has been proven. Moreover, according to CT’s view of the theological covenants of redemption and grace, they are unconditional; which means that defining covenant as simply agreement doesn’t give the result that is needed.

Josh then takes aim at me for asking what John 6:37 has to do with a covenant. Here it is:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

He says I am guilty of the word/concept fallacy because I deny what David Dickson and Guy Richard wish to assert. But the burden of proof is not on me. I am not the one making the claim that John 6:37 is a proof for a pre-creational covenant in the Godhead! The Father gives people to the Son, and they therefore will come to the Son. Okay. Who needs a covenant? And why would the persons of the Trinity need to covenant with each other? Oh wait, a covenant is only an agreement! CT’s generally dilute the definition of covenant so that it can be used to support their covenants. I demur.

In trying to rebuff my position on Psalm 2:7 Josh resorts to typological hermeneutics. Now I agree that David is a type of Christ in some ways, but many of my readers know that I am a severe critic of typological hermeneutics because it is an the habit of choosing a typology that suits its conclusions and rejecting typologies which don’t. Josh joins Guy Richard in fishing around Psalm 2 i an attempt to link it to the covenant of redemption. He believes that Psalm 2:8 (“Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.) refers to Christ’s “sending and mission.” It doesn’t. It refers to His coming reign over the earth from Zion (Psa. 2:6, 9 cf. Rev. 19:15). He comments:

“It is this mission of Christ that warrants the language of “decretal agreement” or “covenant of redemption,” due to the sending and giving of the Son by the Father for that definitive work of salvation.”

So having concocted a pre-temporal salvation covenant out of nothing but a few verses out of context, none of which refer to a covenant, and diluting the definition of covenant down to the vapid idea of “agreement” we are now supposed to believe that the nations being given to Christ as His inheritance (see Rev. 11:15) is actually not His future earthly reign but His “mission” through the Church! And that warrants the language of the covenant of grace! Remember my quotation of myself above:

“Briefly put its method is to formulate doctrine from – to put it in the language of the Westminster Confession 1.6 – “good and necessary consequences”, and then go in search of texts which appear to back up those consequences.”

That is what Josh and his CT scholars do above. I see no exegesis in service of their theological covenants. Lastly, Josh thinks “Henebury has not allowed for an impartial presentation of covenant theology by its adherents.” Well, he is entitled to his opinion, but I do not see any proof for CT in his rebuttals. Rather, I see examples of the very deductive theologizing I warned readers of at the beginning of the series.