The Enigmatic Book of Hebrews (Pt. 1)

This piece and its follow ups are taken from my upcoming book (DV) ‘The Words of the Covenant, Volume 2: New Testament Continuation.’

Although it contains many precious and ascertainable truths, the epistle to the Hebrews is the most elusive book in the NT.  For such a weighty NT book to be anonymous is surprising.  However, that aside, what I want to do in my treatment of this letter (or perhaps it is better to call it a sermon) is to first try to set out its basic emphases and its Christian teaching.  After that I want to look at how the author incorporates the covenants.  Finally, and somewhat controversially, I will ask about the distinctively Jewish flavor of Hebrews before facing the famous warning passages head-on and asking whether they can be reconciled with Pauline theology.[1]

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am certainly not saying that the NT contradicts itself.  What I am saying is that when one permits each NT author to say what he says sometimes it becomes necessary to ensure that one is not trying to fit square pegs into round holes.  This is apparent when the Gospels are compared to Paul’s epistles; say when Matthew 10 is compared with Galatians 3, or when John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ cross-less and resurrection-less “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23. Cf. Matt. 3:2) is examined alongside of Paul’s gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  The reader must understand the contextual differences if he is not to run into difficulty with one or both of these texts.  If he does not look well to what he is doing, he will find that he will be forced to add Pauline doctrine into the early chapters of the Gospels in order to fill out John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ messages.  But once that is done, he will have to stay quiet about the ignorance of the disciples in Mark 9:31-32; 16:14 and Luke 18:31-34 (cf. John 2:19-22),[2] or the fact that the Holy Spirit was not given to believers in Jesus until after His ascension (Jn. 7:37-39).  We even run into this phenomenon in the transitional book of Acts where in Acts 2 baptism seems necessary in order for the Spirit to be received (Acts 2:38).[3]  This doesn’t sit well with Paul’s distancing of baptism from the essence of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 1:17. 

In a similar way we must face anomalies between Paul and the author of Hebrews.  The author of Hebrews writes in a fashion much more consistent with classical standards of the time.  His arguments are very carefully structured and precise, not like the occasional nature of Paul’s correspondence with their frequent digressions.  Hebrews is, in the words of Harold Attridge,

the most elegant and sophisticated, and perhaps the most enigmatic, text of first-century Christianity…Its argumentation is subtle; its language refined; its imagery rich and evocative.[4]  

Whoever wrote this work knew what they wanted to say and how to say it.  Another difference from Paul is to be seen, for example, when the apostle’s doctrine of eternal security is set alongside Hebrews’ warning passages.  I will have to do some explaining of the various approaches to these passages in the literature, but at the risk of sounding a little high-minded none of them in my opinion adequately deal with all the details found in the paraenesis (i.e., warning, exhortation) passages, especially the major ones in Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39, and 12:14-29.  As we will see, these warnings go way beyond divine saber-rattling.

Hebrews is notable for its “constant alternation of instructional and hortatory passages”[5] and its negation of the cultic aspects of the Mosaic covenant.[6]  The warning passages play a major role in the exhortatory power of the message.  There is a “rest” to enter (Heb. 4); a future that is as yet open-ended in the sense that many of the promises are still ahead. 

Why “to the Hebrews”?

          Without entering into the text-critical questions surrounding the book, we should note its title (which is found in the Greek manuscripts).  What is one to make of this post-ascension (circa 64 A.D.) work being directed to “the Hebrews” and not to Christians generally?  I grant that the vast majority of scholars hold that “Hebrews” is not its title.  I do not believe that.  To think that an ancient document like this began life without a title is too much for me to swallow.  The book has always been known as “Hebrews” and not as anything else.  Besides, the contents of the work is plainly Jew-focused.  We are all aware of the contrasts in the epistle between the “old [Mosaic] covenant” and the “New covenant” (e.g., Heb. 9:15), and between the Levite High Priesthood and the Melchizedekian High Priesthood (Heb. 7).  But there is also a contrast between “Mount Sinai” and “Mount Zion” (Heb. 12:18-24), and there is mention of entering into rest and its comparison with the Canaanite conquest (Heb. 3:18, 4:1-11), and of the Sabbath (Heb. 4:4); the contrast between the two “houses”; those of Moses and Jesus (Heb. 3:1-6).  Then there are the two sanctuaries (Heb. 8:2, 5), and the two High Priestly sacrifices (Heb. 9:6-28).  When one sits back and really reflects on these things the Israelite flavor of the book comes into prominence and needs to be taken seriously.         

Stranger still, what about those continuous warning passages scattered throughout the book?  Although many attempts have been made to dampen the wording, none of them are successful.  Why such stark language about “an evil heart of unbelief” causing a fissure between them and God?  Is it possible for a true Christian to depart “from the living God” (Heb. 3:12)?  How is it that a person can find themselves in a position where there is “no place for repentance” (Heb 12:17)?  The nature of Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-31 needs to be attended to with eyes that will see what the writer is really saying and not through the eyes of Paul.  The author of Hebrews has been shown to leave nothing to chance, but to be a very deliberate and skillful communicator.  Let the chips fall where they may, both authors are equally inspired, and neither ought to be read through the other.

          Mention of the author of Hebrews, whoever he may be, brings up another puzzle:  this writer has left us a complex and carefully crafted piece of work in good Greek and with a worked out structural dynamic.  He knows what he wants to say, and he says it.  The Catholic scholar Albert Vanhoye, who is one of the go-to scholars on the book, stated, “the author of the Epistle has structured his work with great care and has made use of fixed literary devices to indicate what he has done.”[7]  This intentionality of the author has to be kept in the mind of the reader of his book as it is read.  If we won’t face that fact, then we cannot say that we have done him justice; nor indeed the Holy Spirit who inspired the words.

Then there is the particular “flavor” of the book.  It is more “Jewish” than it is ecclesial, more homiletical than epistolary, more parenetic or hortatory than didactic.  Decker agrees with Vanhoye, Guthrie, and Lane that the main thrust of the book is hortatory (that is, it is an extended exhortation).  He writes:

“This means that the exhortations (warning passages) are the primary thrust of the book.  The expository sections serve as the doctrinal foundations for those warnings.”[8]

Thus, the difficulties with which the Christian interpreter is presented by the warning passages must be faced head-on, not folded awkwardly to fit onto a Pauline shelf. 

But also, Hebrews is prophetic.  As I hope to show, it would not be out of place (aside from the obvious teaching about Jesus) settling in with one of the Minor Prophets with its repeated rallying calls for perseverance and its eschatological bent.

For these reasons I have called the book an enigma.  There is a way into it that will not be found through Pauline assumptions, even if there are many affinities in the doctrine of the two authors.  Like in most things, the issue is not the similarities but in the differences.  As always, the devil is in the details.  Therefore, as uncomfortable as it may be to stare at the chapters without calling Paul in to help, I shall be looking at Hebrews on its own as I expound the main covenantal teaching of the letter.

[1] Let me state that I am aware of the work of Ben Witherington III  and his essay “The Influence of Galatians on Hebrews,” New Testament Studies, Vol. 37, 1 (Jan. 1991), 146-152.  Interesting as this paper is, it does not materially impact my discussion here. 

[2] In Matthew 16:20 Jesus “commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.”  That would have made preaching Paul’s Gospel pretty hard to say the least. 

[3] I appreciate the efforts of those who wish to say that the Spirit is given upon repentance and baptism is included with repentance, but the verse does imply that “remission of sins” was not offered without baptism.    

[4] Harold W. Attridge, Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philadelphia, Hermeneia, Fortress, 1989, 1.

[5] Peter Stuhlmacher, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, 528.

[6] It does not negate the moral aspects. 

[7] Rodney J. Decker, “The Intentional Structure of Hebrews,” in Journal of Ministry and Theology, 04:2 (Fall, 2000), 98.  As a good introduction to these matters, I recommend Decker’s article.  As with all Decker’s work it maintains high standards of scholarship with faithful adherence to Scripture.  

[8] Ibid, 104.

Covenant Connections in Paul (11)

Part Ten

The Olive Tree Metaphor in Romans 11

          Some passages of Scripture have suffered under the myosis of its interpreters more than most.  At the forefront of these abused passages is surely Romans 11:16-29.  For sure, there is a bit of deciphering of Paul’s language to do, but all in all I think the apostle’s thrust is easy to grasp.  The problem with so many interpretations of the verses, especially by those who like to employ the NT to interpret the OT, is that they tend to read their theology into the passage while ignoring the details.  Here is one example:

Paul’s metaphor of the two olive trees (Rom. 11:16-24) also reflects this same perception: olive shoots from a wild olive tree, that is, Gentiles, are being grafted into the cultivated olive tree, that is, Israel, from which latter tree many natural branches, that is, Jews, had been broken off. This tree, Paul says, has a “holy root” (the patriarchs; see Rom. 11:28). Clearly, Paul envisions saved Gentile Christians as “grafted shoots” in the true “Israel of faith.[1]

Perhaps a good approach to the Olive Tree passage is to break them down into manageable portions.

For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.  And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. – Romans 11:16-18.

          Paul mixes his metaphors in verse 16.  The first figure links the quality of the “lump” (or whole dough) to the quality of its firstfruits (or sample).  Then he turns to the root (rhiza i.e., of a tree – Matt. 3:10) and its branches.  The health of the branches will depend on the health of the root or stock of the tree.  Romans 11:17 refers to branches “broken off” from the tree (which by inference is a tended tree in a garden cf. Rom. 11:24). This refers to Israelites.[2]  Then it refers to “you, being a wild olive tree” being grafted in among them.  The “you” refers to Gentile Christians.  The kind of tree is now identified; the “Jewish” tree and the “wild” tree are olive trees, although it is only the wild branches of the wild olive tree that serve Paul’s purpose.  Notice also that the “root” is now “the root and fatness of the olive tree,” ergo, the roots and trunk.  The Gentiles are not to boast since they as branches are supported by the trunk (v.18). 

Then the apostle imagines a question (v.19):

          You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 

To which he responds:

Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.  Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness.  Otherwise you also will be cut off.  And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 

For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? – Romans 11:19-24.  

          Paul’s retort is that faith is the key to inclusion in the olive tree (“Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith.” – Rom. 11:20).  Therefore, as a group, the Gentiles must continue in belief because if they (as a group) don’t, they too will be broken off (Rom. 11:21-22).  Furthermore, God is able to graft the Jews back in again (Rom. 11:24).  Now this re-grafting of “Israel” is the predicted restoration of the nation under the auspices of the New covenant as will become clear.

Romans 11:24 signals the end of the Olive Tree metaphor, but it leaves unanswered the identity of the “root and fatness of the olive tree.”  What is it? It cannot be Israel because it is represented by the natural branches that remain (i.e., Christian Jews).[3]  It cannot be the Gentile Christians because they are represented by the wild branches.  It cannot be “the people of God” since they comprise the two kinds of branches, and such an interpretation stops the apostle’s argument prematurely.[4]  By reading slowly and carefully we can discount therefore any interpretation that equates the olive tree with either Israel or the church.

What else is left?  Let us keep reading:     

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until [achri] the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;

For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”– Romans 11:25-27.

          Paul comes to the crux of his argument in these verses.  In Romans 11:25 he refers to a “mystery”, which is described as the partial blindness of (please take note) Israel until something called “the fullness of the Gentiles” has been consummated.  The preposition “until” (achri) is important here. It points to a change in direction or a terminous. This terminous must occur before Israel’s blindness departs. The term “mystery” (musterion) refers here to something that could not be discovered[5] from the OT since the Israel/Church relation is not found there. 

But what of “the fullness of the Gentiles”?  I and many others link this period to “the Times of the Gentiles” mentioned by Jesus in Luke’s eschatological discourse (Lk. 21:24 which see).  It is the final part of those “Times.” I will only say here that “the fullness of the Gentiles” as a phrase, fits logically into Paul’s argument about the coming restoration of Israel (see Rom. 11:1-2, 11-12, 15, 23-24, 28-29).  The “fullness of the Gentiles” is the termination of God’s mission to the Gentiles through the Church, after which He will again turn to His covenant nation.  Hence, in Romans 11:26a he declares, “And so all Israel will be saved.”

Now that the apostle has brought us around to the salvation of Israel, we should know that we are on New covenant ground.  As Williamson observes,

When covenant is next explicitly mentioned (Rom. 11:27) in this important discussion of Israel’s place in God’s plan of salvation, it is not the covenants generally, but the new covenant that is brought into focus.[6]

This is so because in Jeremiah 31:31-34 it is made clear that future Israel is to be saved via the New covenant.  But Paul does not go to Jeremiah 31 to establish his teaching.  Instead, he repairs to Isaiah 59:20-21 and 27:9 for support.[7]  The Isaiah 59 reference notably highlights the role of the Spirit coming upon the people (Isa. 59:21).  The link to Isaiah 27:9 is not as obvious, but that text too sits within a restoration context.  What is clear is that the “covenant” spoken of in Isaiah 59:21 and connected with the Spirit is the New covenant.  Williamson observes,    

When covenant is next explicitly mentioned (Rom. 11:27) in this important discussion of Israel’s place in God’s plan of salvation, it is not the covenants generally, but the new covenant that is brought into focus.[8]

          He is quite right.  Isaiah 59:20-21 (and 27:9) are New covenant passages, and in the Olive Tree illustration and its application in Romans 11 he rests the weight of his argument upon the New covenant. The New covenant is then the root and fatness of the tree, since it is the main subject of these verses and the only thing that is left to identify with the stock of the Olive Tree. Also, it is the only way of access to salvation (“When I take away their sins” – v. 27b).  And since Jesus Christ’s blood is the blood of the New covenant (1 Cor. 11:25), and He Himself mediates it (Heb. 9:15), this implies a messianic understanding of the Olive Tree.[9] 

          The passage continues,

Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  – Romans 11:28-29.

          I have included these verses because they contribute to the overall understanding of the apostle’s theme.  The “gospel” here is of course the one that Paul has been expounding in the epistle (e.g., Rom. 1:15-17; 2:16; 15:16-20).  Paul calls Israel “elect” on account of “the fathers.”  By this term Paul has in mind the Jewish saints of the Hebrew Bible: e.g., Acts 13:17; 1 Cor. 10:1 (the Exodus generation); Acts 24:14 (Moses and the Prophets); Acts 26:6-7; Rom. 9:5; 15:8 (the Patriarchs); Acts 28:25 (hearers of the Prophets).  In other words, the people of Israel are elect, although not all (Rom. 9:6). 

Paul is referring to the remnant who will compose “all Israel” (of Rom. 11:26a).[10]  Israel’s election is incomprehensible outside of the covenants that Yahweh made with them.  God remembers what He has sworn to do, and He will perform it because He has sworn it.  If that sentence verges on a tautology, I gladly keep it there to ward off any independent temptation to assert that God does not mean what He says.  Paul makes his feelings clear about the matter by emphatically affirming “the gifts and calling of God are (ametamelaytos)” or “irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29); that is, “not to be repented of.”  God has not and will not change His mind about His covenants etc. (cf. Rom. 11:4-5; Gal. 3:17).  His saints ought to learn that lesson and interpret their Bibles accordingly.[11] 

          Paul speaks of Israel’s “calling” in Romans 11:29.  What is Israel’s calling?  Surely it is expressed in Exodus 19:5-6?  They are called to be “a special treasure to Me above all people.” (Exod. 19:5; Isa. 43:3-4; Zech. 2:8).  They are to be (re)married to Yahweh (see Hos. 2. Cf. Isa. 54:5-6).  This calling cannot be reconfigured and applied to the church as the “New Israel.”  At least not without bringing God’s words under suspicion, which is not an option. 

          The attentive reader of Romans 11 will see that the solution to this “reversal” problem is supplied by the apostle himself in Romans 11:12 and 15:

Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!… if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

          By “life from the dead” we are not to understand the resurrection, since that is secured by Christ not Israel.  Rather, because “the regeneration” as Jesus calls it in Matthew 19:28, starts in the environs of Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 33:15-16; Zech. 14:8. Acts 1:11 with 3:21), Israel is the first place affected by this regeneration.  Hence, the “fullness” of Israel is nothing less than their becoming “the head and not the tail” (Deut. 28:14; Isa. 46:13; Zeph. 3:20).        

          The whole section (Romans 9 – 11) closes with Paul’s doxology extolling the wisdom of the divine plan for the ages.  When Romans 11:33 asks rhetorically, “ How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out?” it is not saying that God’s way of communicating with men is an unsolvable riddle, or that some secret interpretive key (maybe a specific kind of typology?) only recently uncovered now lies in the hands of a handful of knowing scholars.  It is an exclamation of the great and unfathomable wisdom of God from before the earth was formed, which is still operating and guiding history to its predetermined and preinterpreted telos.  It is praising the Creation Project.

[1] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Second Edition, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002, 526-527.

[2] In Paul’s time there were still a lot of Jews who made up the Church.  It serves his purpose therefore to say “some” of the natural branches were broken off.  In our day Gentiles overwhelmingly make up the majority of the Church.  That being the case we can rightly say that the “natural branches” (see v.24) represent the remnant of Israel (cf. v.26).  

[3] A recent work which promotes this view says, “Ethnic Israel have pulled away from theological Israel and the Gentiles have been called into Israel…” – Chris Bruno, Jared Compton, and Kevin McFadden, Biblical Theology According to the Apostles, 140. 

[4] As e.g., Thomas R. Schreiner, Covenant, 110-111.

[5] Musterion does not always bear this meaning.  In Ephesians 5:32 it simply means something hard to comprehend.  CF. also Eph. 1:9.  

[6] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, 189.

[7] See here Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, NIGNTC, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016, 898-900.  Also, W. S. Campbell, “Covenant and New Covenant,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993, 181. 

[8] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, 189.  Walter Kaiser says that Romans 11:27 clearly references Jeremiah 31:31-34.  See Walter C. Kaiser, “Kingdom Promises as Spiritual and National,” in Continuity and Discontinuity, edited by John S. Feinberg, 302. 

[9] Some have argued that the root and trunk of the olive tree is the covenants (plural), but that is not where Paul lands.  Others insist that the Abrahamic covenant is indicated since there are provisions in it for Israel and the Church. But the Abrahamic covenant is not a salvation covenant.  Rather, it is a promissory covenant which relies on the saving work of God. No, the texts Paul cites refer to the New covenant.

[10] See the discussion in Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, 252-256.

[11] A useful cautionary article here is Robert Dean, “A Critique of O. Palmer Robertson’s Interpretation of Romans 11,” available at

Review of ‘Paul, A New Covenant Jew’ by Pitre, Barber, & Kincaid

A review of Brant Pitre, Michael P. Barber, and John A. Kincaid, Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology, Grnd Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019, 310 pages, pbk.

Over the past several years I have been reading many books on Paul and Pauline Theology in preparation for writing the NT companion volume of my Biblical Theology. This book is written by three Roman Catholic scholars who are widely read in the discipline. The reason I was attracted to this book is twofold: First, because one of the authors, Brant Pitre, wrote an excellent conservative apologetic work called The Case for Jesus, which I reviewed here, and strongly recommend. I knew that Pitre was an engaging and informative scholar. The second reason I took up the present book was it’s title. As anyone familiar with my work over the years will know, I have decided opinions about the Church’s relationship to the New covenant in Christ. There seems to me to be a “blindness in part” over many Dispensationalists concerning the New covenant. Perhaps reading a book like this might broaden their horizons?

This book comes highly recommended by many NT specialists (including Craig Keener, who is no slouch). Although it includes many interactions with Roman Catholic scholarship, predominently it cites leading Protestant thinkers. Since it does this it is a very good introduction of recent scholarship on Paul, if nothing else.

But there is something else. Paul, A New Covenant Jew is a bold and thought-provoking exploration of Paul’s theology in converation with many of the leading Pauline thinkers of today, including N. T. Wright, James Dunn, Douglas Campbell, Richard Hays, and Michael Gorman. Before my reader groans or shrugs his shoulders at those names I want to remind you that it is important to know what these men teach, and that some of the things they write are of real value. (If a Dispensationalist is tempted to leave at this point may I detain him long enough to say that if he is wanting a solid Dispensational study of Paul’s theology he is going to come up short!).

This work on Paul begins with a lively introduction which sets the stage well. They inform the reader that their study relies mainly on the seven universally accepted letters of the apostle, not because they hold that view, but for methodological purposes (6). This choice, while unfortunate, does not hamper them too much as refernce to the other six letters only expands upon the work found here. They begin by asking what kind of Jew Paul was. After summarizing several competing positions they offer their own:

“To be specific: the concept of the ‘new covenant,’ taken directly from the Jewish scriptures (Jer. 31:31-34), has within itself the power to account for elements of both continuity (“covenant”) and discontinuity (“new”) with Judiasm in Paul’s theology.” – 39 emphasis theirs.

I quite agree. I came to the same conclusion in my study of the covenants in the OT. Put simply, the New covenant in Jesus Christ is the super-covenant of the Bible because by it and through it the other unilateral covenants of God will be (literally) fulfilled. On pages 39 to 46 the authors provide an extensive analysis of 2 Corinthinans 3, where, among other things, Paul directly refers to himself and his helpers as “ministers of the New covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6). They rightly state that this definition of their ministry is crucial for a proper comprehension of Paul’s theology. They note, along with others like Hays and Gorman, that Paul clearly alludes to Jeremiah 31, which is the only place in the OT where the name “new covenant” is used (40), and also leans heavily on Ezekiel 36:26-27 (42). And this in an epistle directed to Gentiles. They also argue that Romans 11:25f. also alludes to Jeremiah 31 (56-57). The author’s eschatology makes them interpret the “olive tree” of Romans 11 as Israel, to whom the Gentiles are added through the New covenant (59, 62). I agree that the New covenant is uppermost in Paul’s mind in these verses, but I disagree with their understanding of the olive tree, which corresponds much better with the New covenant itself.

From pages 48 to 54 there is a dicussion of Paul’s teaching on the Law. Here the authors outline the New Perspective, wherein the phrase “works of the law” signifies those peculiarly Jewish observances like circumcision which they prized. I am far from convinced that the New Perspective scholars are right. In my opinion they have too static a view of the term “law” and the implications of their position carry them too far from imputation and forensic justification. Pitre and co conclude that although there is something to the New Perspective it wrongly limits “the works of the law” to Jews, and therefore misreads the phrase.

Chapter 2 is a lengthy discussion of “Paul and Apocalyptic.” The authors believe that there is an apocalyptic side to Paul’s theology, but as with so many discussions of this topic, quite what the word means remains vague enough to make it apply to most situations. They place a lot of emphasis on 2 Cor. 5:17 nd the passing away of “the present cosmos” in Christ (72-73), but I am unpersuaded by their treatment. The chapter as a whole is the least impressive in the book. I do think there is something to their “two-world’s cosmology” (using the two Jerusalem’s in Gal. 4), but I don’t see this as apocalyptic (86-89).

The third chapter is a generally excellent study of Paul’s Christology. They correctly place emphasis on Jesus’s messianic credentials, including the importance of understanding “Christos” as a title or honorific not a surname (96-99), and the way the name “Son of God” has strong messianic connotations (101-109). They also highlight the importance of the Shema to Paul’s understanding of Christ (115-121, cf. 194).

Chapter Four discusses “The Cross and Atonement.” They begin by saying that “covenantal logic is crucial for understanding the apostle’s discussion of the cross (130). My understanding of what this means differs from the authors who highlight covenant infidelity as the problem (131). In my view the Gentiles were not under covenant until they were brought near in Christ (Eph. 2:11-13). This is another reason why the New covenant is necessary for the Church. True, the Abrahamic covenant provided for the nations to be blessed, but it never furnished the means of that blessing. Thus, Paul works within a New covenant understanding of salvation.

While talking about the notion of “gift” attention is given to John Barclay’s work (e.g., Paul and the Gift) in which a certain reciprocity is present in the ancient conception of gift-giving (134-136). I do not like the direction these Roman Catholic scholars go with this, but I do believe Barclay has underscored an important dynamic between justification and sanctification which helps us comprehend Paul’s imperatives. There follows an enlightening treatment of Phillipians 2:5-11 and 2 Corinthians 8:9 (137-140) which stresses Christ’s crosswork as an illustratuion of His divine self-giving nature. The cross was a sacrifice, which means it had covenant implications (140-144, 159). This shows that Dispensationalists who will not relate the Church to the New covenant are left without a covenantal association for the sacrificial work of the cross as applied to Gentiles.

It is in their chapter on justification (ch.6) that many none Catholic readers will find strong disagreements with the authors. They make a case for moral transformation being part and parcel of our justification. This is not the place for examining the case for heart transformation as being provided through justification. I believe they confuse justification and sanctification even though I allow that what Protestants call positional sanctification is very closely related to our justified status. Here I think it is imperative to define progressive sanctification and contrast it with positional sanctification. In brief, a sinner is justified by faith in Christ and is acquitted and declared righteous by God. However, upon that declaration the sinner is given the Spirit and becomes a “new creature” in Christ. This occurs at the moment of justification, so that the two are inseparable. There cannot be one without the other. It is essential, however, that any “infused righteousness” (the RC term) be understood as Christ is us and not us made better. It is a real righteousness, but it is derived from Christ through the Spirit.

Does this result in the idea that our righteousness is merely extrinsic righteousness (179ff.)? and does this sit well with the promise of a new heart through the New covenant? The authors say “yes”; I would say “no” as long as one allows that we are to “work out” our salvation (Phil. 1:16) in the sense that we must avail ourselves of the Spirit’s help to live righteously. Sometimes the book seems to put sanctification before justification (206-207).

Further on in the chapter they examine the debated translation of pistis Christou ,coming down on both sides of the divide; they believe Paul had both the subjective genitive (faithfulness of Christ) and the objective genitive (faith in Christ) in mind (186-188). For this reviewer the issue is more smoke than fire. The deliberate juridical framing of justification in Paul (e.g., Rom. 3:20ff) make the objective view far more favorable.

The last main chapter deals with “The Lord’s Supper and the New Creation.” Clearly, there is going to be a clash on what the eucharist is and does, but their linking it with the eschaton is highly suggestive. A short summary of the main conclusions of the three authors finishes off the book.

For my money this was an excellent read. While it’s clever argumentation and skillful writing style will dazzle the unwary, I still think that this book is a very fine addition to Pauline scholarship. For such as myself, concerned greatly with the covenants, I learned much and had many conclusions corroborated.

A Challenge to the Pre-Trib Rapture? (Pt.2)

Part One

If we take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 we can try and track what the apostle is teaching:

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. – 4:13

Paul’s concern is that the embattled believers at Thessalonica are not unaware of a certain doctrine concerning those saints who have passed since it will give them hope.

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. – 4:14

Those who are said to “sleep” are of course those believers who have died. They are with Jesus even though their bodies lie in the dust. These people (their souls) will accompany Jesus when He comes.

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. – 4:15

When this event occurs there will not be any two or three stage rendezvous with Christ, but all who have died and all who are alive at that time will be included in what happens when the Lord returns.

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. – 4:16

The Lord will come from heaven in great acclamation and those who have died in Christ (i.e., those Christians who are “asleep”) will rise. That is to say, their bodies will rise so that all the saints will be embodied souls together.

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. – 4:17

Those who have not died but who are “alive” will be snatched up (harpazo) at the same time as those whose bodies have been raised. All will “meet the Lord in the air” not upon earth. This meeting brings the Lord and His saints together from thereon in.

Notice that nowhere in these verses are we told when this snatching up will occur. Will it happen at the second coming of Christ to the earth as depicted in Matthew 24:29-31 and Revelation 19:11-16? That is possible from this context. If so this “rapture” will be at the end of the Tribulation. Might it happen before the Tribulation? Again, that is possible. Clearly we need more information. Does the wider context helps us?

Pretribulationists have pointed to what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:1:

But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.

Paul then refers to the Day of the Lord and its decidedly unpleasant effects on those who endure it (1 Thess. 5:1-2). He then admonishes the saints to look expectantly, hoping for the day of final salvation (1 Thess. 5:4-8).

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10.

It is important to pay attention to comparisons and contrasts here. As far as comparisons go we see the same emphases on hope and togetherness for the living and the dead as we saw in chapter 4. But we see something different too. Look at these two sentences:

A. But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. – 1 Thess. 4:13.

B. But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. – 1 Thess. 5:1.

Who cannot see the difference? In ‘A’ the Apostle was informing them of something they did not know, but in ‘B’ he was reminding them of something they already knew! This means that the two sentences could not be referring to the same thing!

Again, no time-indicator is present, but clearly our antenor’s need to be up. This is where 1 Thess. 5:9-10 come in:

C. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10.

Please note the “togetherness” language, which combined with the reference to waking and sleeping calls us back to 4:17. So, either Paul was using these terms (e.g., “together”, “asleep”) to refer to different matters, or he was using them univocally to speak about the same thing, and that thing would have to be the new information in 4:13-17 as opposed to the old information in 5:1ff.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 tells us that “God has not appointed us to wrath” and that wrath is equated with “the Day of the Lord” in 5:2-4. I and pre-tribulationists generally attribute this “Day” to be the coming Tribulation. We may interpret this then as asserting that we are not appointed to the Day of the Lord. to me at least, this is an indicator of the strong possibility of a pre-tribulational rapture.

Now Jerry’s view is as follows (in his words):

So it is Christ and specifically our being in Him that makes us worthy, and one being worthy to be resurrected was Jesus’ requirement this age of which He spoke. So when Paul states in 1Thess. 4 that the dead “in Christ” will rise first and then the Rapture is taught to occur; is it not that proclamation, which if heard would end the discussion on the Rapture’s timing? 

I have told Jerry that he is not easy to understand. But in my dissection of his main points in Part One I included two quotations from Jerry as points 3 and 4 of his argument. Here they are again:

  1. “Anyone who has died in Christ must be raised or resurrected before there will be a Rapture.”
  2. “We further know that there are many who will die “in Christ” as saved individuals during the Great Tribulation; therefore the Rapture must await their resurrection”

Reviewing these quotes one can see that Jerry assumes that those in the Tribulation are “in Christ” (along with every saint in both Testaments). But this cannot be substantiated from the Scriptures. The phrase “in Christ” always refers to Christians in the Church. Consider these two passages.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10.

In the first we see that to be “in Christ” involves the new birth. Without at all questioning the salvation of OT saints no one can show that their salvation resulted in this change. In the second passage we see that those “in Christ” will do good works (doubtless because they have been changed). Again, Jerry’s attempt to freight OT saints into the Body of Christ post-mortem cannot work with this verse. If being “in Christ” is to be applied to believers before the inception of the Church then it has to be an assumption not an exegetical conclusion. And the same is true for Tribulation saints, IF the Church is removed before the “Day of the Lord”.

To sum up; Jerry assumes that every believer from every age is “in Christ” even though the phrase is always used for Christians in the NT Church. As it is used in connection with the Church it is an extrapolation on Jerry’s part to try to wrap it around OT saints. But OT saints knew they would be resurrected though they were never “in Christ” (e.g., Job 19:25-26). The contrasts between 1 Thess. 4:13-17 and 5:1-10 lead me to conclude that Paul is talking about separate things, with the former being a reference to the rapture (or catching out) of Christians prior to the Tribulation.

Can I absolutely prove a pre-trib rapture? No, but I don’t need to. Jerry seems quite adamant that he has a solid argument for a post-trib rapture and I believe I have demonstrated that his contention also falls short of a clear proof. In my opinion a pre-trib rapture is the best interpretation of the biblical data. I may be wrong of course, but Jerry’s objection fails to move me any closer to abandoning my hope.

I want to thank Jerry for his civil way of disagreeing with me.

A Challenge to the Pre-Trib Rapture? (Pt. 1)

I have received the following objection to the Pre-Trib Rapture from a brother named Jerry Parks. Jerry is a good man who blogs here. He states his argument thus (I have brought together his main assertions from several comments etc.):

“Paul makes clear in his discussion of the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 that it is being in Christ that is the only means to the resurrection of which Paul is speaking. Specifically he says: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (KJV).”

“Paul plainly states that no one will see a resurrection to life eternal without being in Christ, and that anyone who has died in Christ must be raised or resurrected before there will be a Rapture.”

“How are we to interpret the apostle’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:22 that “in Christ all shall be made alive”? I don’t think it is difficult. Paul is writing to the Church, so he is speaking about the Church.”

This then seems to be the bricks and mortar of Jerry’s objection. Let me break it down as I understand it:

  1. One has to be in Christ in order to be resurrected
  2. The dead in Christ rise first and then we get the rapture
  3. “Anyone who has died in Christ must be raised or resurrected before there will be a Rapture.”
  4. “We further know that there are many who will die “in Christ” as saved individuals during the Great Tribulation; therefore the Rapture must await their resurrection”
  5. Ergo, a post-trib rapture.

The first thing to note is that according to this objection a person must be in Christ to be resurrected. But what does it mean to be in Christ? Does it mean in Christ’s Body, the Church? The objection states that the rapture only occurs after every saint (presumably from all ages) has been resurrected. At that time they are all “snatched out” of the world. And so we arrive at a post-tribulation rapture.

This objection separates the resurrection from the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4. It precludes any pre-trib rapture since this view posits Church saints being glorified and brought up to heaven after meeting Christ in the air, but it allows for many to be saved in the seven-year tribulation, many of whom will be martyred but resurrected in the Millennial Kingdom. That is to say, pretribulationists do not have a problem with saints in the Church being resurrected seven years before the resurrection of martyred saints at Christ’s return. But does Jerry’s argument have purchase?

A key assumption at work here seems to be that the Church has always existed, since according to Paul to be “in Christ” equates to being in the Church which is His Body (Col. 1:24; Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-13). If every saint from every age is in Christ it follows that they are in the Church.

I find a number of problems with this view. Firstly, the Church is espoused to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27, 32), and will be married to Him (Rev. 21:9-10). Israel, on the other hand, is said to be married to Yahweh (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:14; Hos. 2:14-20), even though Israel played the harlot. The Church is not a harlot. So what needs to be done before this first assertion is accepted is to prove that the Church (i.e. those said to be “in Christ”) is in the OT. If this cannot be proven then the assertion is in trouble at the starting gate.

But adding to the problem of equating those “In Christ” with the Church of all ages is the fact that the NT very definitely teaches that the Christian Ekklesia (Church) is a post-resurrection phenomenon. It did not exist before the resurrection of Jesus. We can verify this in at least two ways; A. The Church is said to be “new”, a “mystery”, and future from the perspective of Christ’s ministry. B. Those “in Christ” are connected to His resurrection life. Let me explain:

A. After stating that Gentile believers have been “brought near” by Christ’s blood (Eph. 2:13), Paul asserts that “the middle wall of separation” between Jews and Gentiles has been “broken down” at the cross so that Christ has created “in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” (see Eph. 2:14-15). The context is unavoidable. The Body of Christ is “post-resurrectional,” and therefore the “new man”, the Church, cannot be in existence prior to the cross and resurrection. But also, although there might be some wiggle-room in Paul’s language about the Church as a “mystery” not before revealed (in Ephesians 3:3-6), there is no ambiguity at all in Colossians 1:26, – unless one wishes to dispute the fact that “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27) does not require us to be “in Christ,” which would in any case defang Jerry’s argument, but would fly in the face of Paul’s mention of “His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24).

When one includes alongside these substantial reasons the fact that Christ referred to the Church as future in Matthew 16:18 argument looks in real trouble. If being “in Christ” refers to being in Christ’s resurrected body, which is the Church, then there is no such thing as the Church in the OT and therefore not every saint is in the Church. QED.

B. Perhaps even more destructive to Jerry’s thesis is that fact, so often ignored, that the Church is connected through the Spirit to Christ’s resurrection life. This is Paul’s point in Romans 6:4-11. It is augmented in Ephesians 1:15-23 and 2:4-6, 10. OT saints are not said to be linked to the resurrection of Christ in this way.

Before looking at 1 Thessalonians 4 I want to zoom in on the fourth premise of Jerry’s argument as I have reconstructed it. He says, “We further know that there are many who will die “in Christ” as saved individuals during the Great Tribulation.”

What needs to be fleshed out here? Obviously, the claim to “know” that Tribulation saints will be “in Christ” in Paul’s sense. My response is that Jerry does not “know” this, he assumes it. In fact, he is guilty of begging the question here since pre-tribulationists deny this very thing. Hence, what needs to be done is to provide clear proof for the statement. This ought to include reasons why Revelation does not mention the Church in its central (Tribulational) section, as well as the difficulty of finding the Church in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mk. 13; Lk. 21). .

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?

Covenant Connections in Paul (10)

Part Nine

Is the Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3?

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

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

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

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

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

The Man of Sin and the Tribulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deciphering Covenant Theology (27): Summation (1)

Part Twenty-Six

Covenant Theology and the Bible

In an article at TableTalk Stephen G. Myers writes,

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

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

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

Defining “Covenant”

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

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

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

The Covenant of Redemption?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Covenant of Works?

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

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

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

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

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

The Covenant of Grace?

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

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

Thoughts on Books I Read in 2022

These are a few thoughts on the books I read last year. I may have missed one or two but this list is pretty complete. Many of the works were read as I researched Volume Two of The Words of the Covenant. Not to knock them but rarely now am I helped by books that I already agree with. I did not include two books that I am more than halfway through: Paul: A New Covenant Jew by Pitre, Barber & Kincaid, and Peter Stuhlmacher’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament. If I do this again at the cusp of 2024 I shall give my opinion on both of them. Have a Happy and Blessed New Year!

The Messianic Theology of the New Testament – Joshua Jipp

An engaging Reformed treatment of an important theme. Clearly, I don’t agree that Jesus is on David’s throne now, but it is very important because of what it highlights.

1 Peter – Craig Keener

Keener is a very clear writer. He always provides loads of background info. Sometimes he overdoes it, but this is a very good all-round commentary.

Revelation – Buist Fanning

Fanning is an excellent commentator who packs a lot of information into a page. I wasn’t convinced by everything in this book (like his treatment of the sixth seal in Rev. 6), but found this a great way to think through Revelation. Definitely deserves to be near the top of anyone’s lists on the last book of the Bible.

Colossians and Philemon: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and TeachingAdam Copenhaver and Jeffrey D. Arthurs,

Copenhaver’s exposition is excellent. Arthurs’s homiletical notes, meh.

James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and TeachingHerbert W. Bateman & William C. Varner

The best commentary I have read this year. Great layout. Scores on all points a work like it explores. Requires a knowledge of Greek.

1 & 2 Kings: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and TeachingDavid B. Schreiner & Lee Compson

Somewhat critical from Schreiner, but still very useful all the same. For what you get preachers could do worse (though Iain Provan is better). Compson’s homiletics notes are okay I guess.

Jesus Remembered – James D. G. Dunn

Finished this off this year. I love Dunn’s writing style and the way he triggers new questions. I don’t like everything I read, but am helped by it. Great material on the Kingdom.

Beginning From Jerusalem – James D. G. Dunn

Volume 2 of Dunn’s massive Trilogy and fully up to the standard of the first. Really appreciated the way Dunn intertwines expansion and the NT writings.

The Theology of the Apostle Paul – James D. G. Dunn

Rightly regarded as an exceptional work. Brilliant thinking through Paul. A stimulating work! Dunn is so good at linking up the epistles to the central pillar of Romans.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N. T. Wright

I haven’t completed these two volumes but have read much of them. Wright doesn’t capture my imagination like Dunn does, and I haven’t gotten as much from this book as I’d hoped. This is mainly because I disagree with his dominating thesis of Israel’s exile being ended in Christ.

Paul in Fresh Perspective – N. T. Wright

Wright at his best. Some terrific essays here, even though I disagree more than I agree.

A Theology of Paul and His Letters – Douglas Moo

Good, clear, very useful, but yet not as groundbreaking as I had hoped. Relies on Dunn (above) quite a lot. I think reading Dunn first blunted my experience of this work.

Paul and the Salvation of Mankind – Johannes Munck

Since lots of scholars cite this work I thought I better read it. Liberal dogmatism at its worse, but one or two redeeming features.

The King of God’s Kingdom – David Seccombe

Backed by scholarship but written for everyone. This book explores and explains the identity of Jesus and the significance of His work in an almost devotional way. Some of his notes date him a tad, but I enjoyed this book. It deserves to be better known – and to be cheaper!

Covenant Theology: Biblical, Historical & Theological Perspectives – Waters, Reid & Muether (eds)

An excellent compendium of articles on CT from a paedo-baptist perspective. Some of the material is from other books (e.g., Belcher on the cov. of works), but this is a really good book. Stops short of being definitive but is a must for anyone wanting to understand CT.

Paul’s Theology in Context – James P. Ware

An excellent piece of work written with deference to better known scholars but which makes a solid contribution. Focusses on the themes of Creation, Incarnation, Covenant, and Kingdom. Right up my alley.

When People Are Big and God is Small – Ed Welch

A good book dealing with self-centeredness and co-dependency. I used it for a Bible Study. Added quite a bit of my own stuff but always found good jumping off points in the book.

40 Questions About Arminianism – J. Matthew Pinson

An outstanding discussion of Classical Arminianism from a very competent writer who knows theology and philosophy. All Calvinists need to read this, especially if they think Arminius and Wesley were “semi-pelagians.” I am not Arminian but was much helped by this book. It needed to be written.

40 Questions About PrayerJoseph C. Harrod

One of the very best books on Prayer I have ever read (and I’ve read of lot of them). Balanced, sober, and uplifting. A job well done.

Yeshua: The Life of the Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective (Vol. 1) – Arnold Fruchtenbaum

Finally, I was sent this book by a kind friend who wanted an opinion on it. It is the first of a massive four volume work. My intention was to review it but I felt that the review would be too negative, so I didn’t write it. Dr. Fruchtenbaum is a messianic Jewish teacher whose ministry is focused on the Jews, and this has to be kept in mind. With that said I have to report that this large book is thin on biblical exposition of its subject. It relies heavily (and questionably) upon parallels and echoes from Mishnaic/Talmudic Jewish sources, most of which stem from a time long after the times of Jesus (which is acknowledged by the author). As such the light cast from the non-inspired sources on the inspired ones is suspect. The trouble with this method is that for every assertion made on the basis of a targum another view is possible depending on the choice of source and the weight given to it (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls). Any familiarity with e.g., N. T. Wright or Peter Stuhlmacher will reveal this.

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