Progressive Revelation

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 2)

Part One

When we examine the clear New Covenant passage in Jeremiah 31:31ff, we might ask what the main promise of that covenant is.  It is not difficult to ascertain.  The New Covenant in the chapter concerns an internal or spiritual change in the elect of Israel.

 I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. – Jer. 31:33b

For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. – Jer. 31:34c

Because of this inward transformation; this “new birth,” Israel will be right with God, and they shall therefore be qualified to receive the long-standing blessings of the Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic Covenants.

So “salvation” is the key ingredient.  God will save His people.  In Jeremiah 31 His people is Israel.  The Gentiles are not mentioned, and neither (naturally) is the Church.

Is Jeremiah 31 the only New Covenant Passage?

If Jeremiah 31 is the only New Covenant passage in the OT then clearly the New Covenant is for Israel alone and it’s a wrap.  But who believes this?  No one.  There are other texts in the OT which have been identified with the New Covenant by all parties.  For instance, David Fredrickson (“Which Are the New Covenant Passages in the Old Testament?” – Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics 2019, 34) cites the following:  Deut. 30:1-6; Isa. 32:9-20; 59:15b-21; Jer. 32:36:44; Ezek. 16:53-63; 36:22-38; 37:21-28; Joel 2:28–3:8; Zech. 12:6-14.  On page 32 he also includes what he says are overlaps between NC texts and Messianic texts.  These are Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 59:15-21; Ezek. 37:21-28.

I am not saying that I agree entirely with these identifications.  I think there are more passages that Fredricksen should have included (e.g. are we ready to say that Isa. 53 does not pertain to the NC?).  But what his selection highlights is the aspect of spiritual renewal and cleansing, with the Spirit’s role prominent in several places.  And if Isaiah 42 and 49 are NC passages, then we find there clear statements that Christ’s redemptive work includes the Gentiles (Isa. 42:1, 6; 49: 6 – these scriptures will be revisited later in this article because I believe they have been largely ignored in the discussion).

Other writers put their fingers on NC words.  J. Dwight Pentecost basically agrees with the above passages (minus Deut. 30 which he links to the “Palestinian” Covenant) and adds Isaiah 55:3; 61:8; Hos. 2:18-20; Mic. 7:18-20, and Zech. 9:10 (Thy Kingdom Come, 164-172).

Again, I believe there are more passages which should be added.  But let’s just take a quick look at some of these texts:

The end of Ezekiel 16, particularly verses 60-63, are identified by Fredrickson and Pentecost as New Covenant verses (Fredrickson often gives the verses before a passage).  The prophet says,

And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done, says the Lord GOD. – Ezek. 16:62-63

The central promise in this prophecy of a future regathering of Israel is the promise of atonement.  None of the other covenants of God promise atonement.  But this does match the New Covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:34.  If we look at Isaiah 32 what do we find?  It begins with a Messianic prediction:

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
And princes will rule with justice. – Isa. 32:1

And its final verses speak of the coming of the Holy Spirit effecting men and nature, with emphasis placed upon the ubiquity of righteousness (Isa. 32:15f.).  There is no mention of “covenant” in Isaiah 32 (and I’ll throw Zech. 12 in here), so what marks it out as a New Covenant chapter?  The answer is the work of righteousness brought about by the Holy Spirit.  These elements (viz. the Spirit and salvific righteousness) are even more clearly displayed in Isaiah 59:16-21, whose final verse reads:

“As for Me,” says the LORD, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the LORD, “from this time and forevermore.” – Isa. 59:21

The New Covenant is all about Salvation

The New Covenant is all about salvation unto righteous standing with God through the renewing work of the Spirit.  This matches the author of Hebrews’ argument about Christ’s New Covenant work:

Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. – Heb. 9:12 (cf. Heb. 10:15-18)

Redemption, salvation, the provision of righteousness by the imparting of a new nature by the Spirit; that is what the New Covenant is about.  Therefore, it seems to me that one cannot simply restrict ones vision to the salvation of Israel when considering the NC.  This seems especially true for several important reasons which we shall need to explore:

  1. If Isaiah 42 and 49 include NC passages then the Gentiles are spoken of in a New Covenant context.
  2. If there are passages which refer to God’s salvation reaching out to the Gentiles, and the NC is all about salvation, how is it that the Gentiles will be saved by another means than the one God used for Israel? 
  3. If Israel is God’s chosen vessel to witness to the Nations (e.g. Zech. 8:13, 22-23; Mic. 4:2; cf. Gen. 12:3) it seems logical that in testifying about Messiah they will speak of His New Covenant work.
  4. If there are passages designated by all parties within Dispensationalism as NC passages which refer to the Gentiles how can the Gentiles not be included in the NC?

Consider these prophecies:

The LORD has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.

So shall He sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths at Him;
For what had not been told them they shall see,
And what they had not heard they shall consider.

These come from Isaiah 52:10 and 15.  Verse 15 comes within the great prophecy about the Suffering Servant which we usually locate in Isaiah 53, but which actually starts in Isaiah 52:13!  If a person is going to restrict the New Covenant to Israel on the basis of Jeremiah 31:31-34 he is going to have to do a lot of untangling of these kinds of verses.  In striving to do this he might just find that he has gotten himself stuck even faster.

Another thought: Just because there are passages which speak about the NC for Israel does not necessarily mean that it should be restricted to Israel.  Or does it?  There is more work to do.

 

 

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 1)

I have been thinking for a while that it might be a good idea to write about the New Covenant.  Although there seems to be little confusion about it in the minds of Jeremiah, Paul, or the author of Hebrews, it has become something of a bugbear among Dispensationalists.  In this series I want to interact a little with their issues, but I also want to provide my understanding of the New Covenant, which, as it happens, adds one more alternative to the dizzying list already occupying the thought of many good men and women.   

Introduction

The New Covenant has given Dispensationalists all kinds of headaches.  Taken as a generality, they seem unable to come to a consensus about this extremely important teaching of the Bible.  In a helpful way, Mike Vlach has set forth six different ways the NC has been understood by Dispensationalists broadly:

  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled in the future with national Israel; the church has no relationship to the New Covenant (some classical dispensationalists)
  2. There are two New Covenants—one with Israel and another for the church (some traditional dispensationalists including John Walvoord)
  1. The New Covenant is completely fulfilled with the church; there is no future fulfillment with national Israel (Covenant Theology and some non-dispensational systems)
  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the spiritual blessings of the covenant are applied to the church today (some traditional and revised dispensationalists)
  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the church is an added referent to the New Covenant promises so there is a sense in which the New Covenant is being fulfilled with the churchThe New Covenant has two referents—Israel and the church (some revised dispensationalists; Paul Feinberg)
  1. Since the New Covenant was given to Israel for the purpose of also blessing Gentiles there is literal fulfillment of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant to all believing Jews and Gentiles in this present age, while the physical/national promises await fulfillment with Jesus’ second coming when national Israel is incorporated into the New Covenant (some revised and most progressive dispensationalists)

Vlach says he holds to the sixth option, which, along with the fifth, is, I think the most theologically defensible position among the six for a Dispensationalist to hold; especially one who doesn’t wish to be seen as a theological troglodyte by his Reformed peers.  Saying this does not of course mean that the other positions are wrong; only that they encourage more head-scratching among onlookers.  Doesn’t the Apostle tell the Church to observe the institution of the New Covenant?

In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” – 1 Cor. 11:25

Moreover, contrary to those Covenant Theologians who talk about “progressive revelation” but who mean by it that revelation changes dramatically as the centuries go by, don’t Dispensationalists actually mean that revelation can be augmented without morphing into something else?  They do indeed.  And yet they their wires crossed on the New Covenant.  Why is this?

Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8  

A lot of the trouble arises because the prophet Jeremiah, in what could be called the locus classicus of the New Covenant, did not see the need to include the Gentiles within his prophecy.  He says there that

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” – Jer. 31:31-34. 

It’s a glorious passage, and it is definitely aimed at future Israel.  Surely then, we should all say together that the New Covenant is for Israel alone?  Adding fuel to this fire is the Book of Hebrews.  The writer of that book has a golden opportunity to set the record straight and tell us if we in the Church are New Covenant people.  He does not; at least in so many words.  He is content rather to cite Jeremiah in what turns out to be the longest OT citation in the NT.  Fait accompli?  It looks that way to some.

But Paul (and Jesus)

But then there are those places in the NT where we are given reason to pause.  I have already quoted Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.  But all he is doing there is quoting Jesus’ own formula in the Upper Room in Luke 22:19-20.  “Yes,” comes the reply, “and He was instituting it with Jewish disciples.”  But…those same disciples were to become the foundation of the Church, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:20).

So what is to be done?  I believe a thorough look at the “New Covenant passages” of the OT is the first order of business.  What we need to decide is whether Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the last word on the New Covenant, or whether it fits within a much broader New Covenant revelation.  That is where we will begin…

 

King & Kingdom in Genesis?

This was written as an Excursus for a chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

I am well aware of the view held by many respected scholars who believe that “the Kingdom of God” is the main theme of the Bible.[1]  But it must be admitted that it has not been an overarching theme of Genesis, and therefore of the first several thousand years of history.  Though it may be rightly intimated from the image of God of Genesis 1:26-27, and the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28f., that man was to rule over the world for His Maker[2], the idea of a kingdom of God had not yet taken clear shape in the biblical text, especially from the time of the Fall.[3]  What we see, rather, is the story of fallen humanity moving away from their Creator and His program, and a providential counter-movement through Noah to Abram finalizing at some future point in a coming potentate from Judah.  Hence, the kingdom theme emerges very gradually from the Hebrew narrative.  Surely a more prominent theme has been the figure of the coming “Deliverer King”[4] who is promised at the beginning and the end of the Book (Gen. 3:15; 49:8-10).

I am prepared to accept this thesis about the important status of the kingdom of God, but only if one allows certain objections to have their full weight.  The fact is that there are several reasons which militate against this opinion, and it withstands them only on the strength of the totality of the Bible’s broader teaching about the Messiah, seen mainly through the prophetic writings in both Testaments.  Let me unpack these objections below.

Firstly, one cannot brush over the fact that the Book of Genesis places little or no direct emphasis on the kingdom of God, and it is only through making the term do several chores at once that an argument from Genesis can be made.  By “kingdom of God” are we to mean the universal rule of God over all He has made?  If so then I respectfully point out that we are asserting a truism about providence which hardly requires an argument[5]: God is going to be God!  Of course, what can be said about God in this sense cannot be said of man.

Secondly, we might agree with “the recent scholarly consensus [which] largely contends that the kingdom, while present in some sense, nevertheless still awaits a future consummation at the second coming of Jesus Christ, although the kingdom came in provisional fashion at his first advent.”[6]  That is how many people view it, but it requires us to read Genesis, and in fact the Old Testament, with the New Testament already in hand; something which my method here does not permit me to do.

Thirdly, if we define the kingdom of God as God’s reign over the earth and mankind in fellowship with us as vice-regents, we shall have to admit that such a kingdom is eschatological; that it is the goal of the Bible’s eschatology.  Hence, teleology and eschatology move towards the realization of the kingdom of God.  It has not been manifested yet in history.  As Saucy observed,

God’s kingly rule is brought to the earth through the mediation of the kingdom of the Messiah… This pervasive mediatorial kingdom program, ultimately fulfilled through the reign of Christ, is the theme of Scripture and the unifying principle of all aspects of God’s work in history.[7] 

With this I agree, and here the realization of the kingdom of God and the Creation Project are virtually synonymous.  Here one encounters the “mediatorial” idea where God entrusts aspects of the nascent kingdom of God to chosen vessels (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.).  I think this view has been successfully championed by men like Peters, McClain, Pentecost, Saucy, and Vlach.  But in my opinion the actual kingdom of God, understood as “the earthly kingdom of Messiah” is proleptic; that is, seen in advance of its materialization.  It is anticipated more than it is perceived.  The Law of Moses and the throne of David provide concrete yet imperfect instances, not so much of Messiah’s kingdom, but rather of intensified illustrations of God’s universal reign in a fallen world.  Understood this way it is rightly called “mediatorial.”

We find a theocracy, but not the one ushered in at the end of history by “he who comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10).[8]  If we wish to look for such a kingdom where God’s blessings are mediated to the nations, we will have to wait.    However one sees it, “the earthly kingdom” will always suffer from contingency until the prophesied Messiah comes to rule.[9]

This is why I prefer to think of the arrival of the coming King as the telos of the Bible. It is the King who brings about the realization of the Kingdom of God.  For example, in the time of Jesus, as we shall see, the kingdom was thought of mainly in terms of the future, not the present.  The same is true in the Prophets, as I hope to show.  The mediatorial kingdom view prior to the advent is at best a shadow of the actual kingdom of Messiah.[10]  The consummation of the mediatorial kingdom will be when it is “brought into conformity with God’s Universal Kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24, 28).”[11]  It oughtn’t to surprise us that the idea emerges as the person of the Messiah comes more and more into focus in the progress of revelation.

King and Kingdom

The term “kingdom” occurs only twice in Genesis (Gen. 10:10; 20:9), and neither usage concerns the kingdom of God.  Genesis 3:15 is at best a pale intimation of this kingdom, with nothing of any substance on the issue being broached to Noah or Abraham.[12]  What can be asserted is that God’s covenant with Abraham included the grant of a land in perpetuity to Abraham’s heirs (Gen. 15).

It is a similar story with the word “king” (melek).  Although it is used many times in Genesis it is not employed to designate the coming Ruler over the future kingdom until Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:7.  Added to this, and as was already noted above, Genesis 41:40 is the sole mention of “throne” in Genesis, and that is a reference to Pharaoh’s throne.  So, to repeat, we find no real development of the kingdom of God concept in the Genesis period.[13]   (more…)

Progressive Revelation and the Two Testaments: A Quick Thought

An interesting phenomenon in regard to the reading of the Old Testament and the New is that whereas the Old Testament was written over a period of approximately 1,300 years – taking Job as the earliest book (c.1750 B.C.) and Malachi as the last book (c.450 B.C.).  During that time history witnessed the beginning of the nation of Israel under Moses, and the dominance and eventual waning of Egyptian and Babylonian dynasties, plus the Hittite, Assyrian, Persian empires, and the onset of the Greek empire.  Israel rose to become a powerful state in the days of David and Solomon; then split into two kingdoms until both parts went into captivity.

The story of Israel dominates the Old Testament, yet that book also includes the account of creation and fall.  It speaks of the world before the great flood – a world that is buried beneath the rocks and stones and seas.  The flood came some 2,500 years before the call of Abraham (although no one can date the flood precisely), which itself was around 500 years prior to the Exodus and the writing of the books of the Pentateuch.

Accordingly, there is a great mass of data that must be collocated and explained, and that is without introducing all of the prophetic content within the Hebrew Bible.

What this amounts to for progressive revelation is that if a person is going to truly track the unveiling and development of God’s word chronologically he must situate himself within the various biblical milieus which pass before his eyes.  He (or she) will have to try to match the voice of the protagonist being described (e.g. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc) with what is being revealed about then and their times.  Moreover, since prophecy is such a significant part of that revelation any study of the progress of revelation will need to include the cumulative impact of the prophetic word through the different eras.

But when we arrive in the New Testament we are up against something different; a relatively condensed time-frame in which God discloses His word.  For my part I believe that the Gospel of Matthew is very early: written in the 40’s A.D.  That was the view of the early Church and I believe John Wenham made a brilliant defense of Matthaen priority in his book Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke.  So if we start with a date of 41 A.D. for Matthew and end with the writing of John’s Revelation and circa 95-96 A.D., we get a 55 year difference.  When we compare this with the 1,300 year gap between the first and last book of the Old Testament the contrast is striking.

Just as with the time covered by the Old Testament is larger than the time in which it was written (circa 3,500 years at least), so it is with the New Testament.  But the variance in time span is not nearly so pronounced.  The birth of Jesus was around 6 B.C. and John wrote Revelation in 95 or 96 A.D.  This means that the total time covered in the New Testament narrative is a little more than a century.  When progressive revelation is thought about within a window of 100 years, as opposed to 3,500 years, we again see huge disparity.  Whereas the Old Testament period allows for a prolonged progression, this is not the case with the New Testament.

What this means is that progressive revelation is either accelerated in the New Testament, or else it continues at about the same pace or is slower than in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, I think a case can be made for all three ways of seeing it.  If one looks at doctrines such as the deity of Christ, miracles, the birth, identity, and makeup of the Christian Church, and the coming of Christ again in power; all these things are crammed together in a relatively few pages and compounded in a brief span of time.

To sharpen the focus, a perusal of even the earlier writings of the New Testament: the Thessalonian Epistles (c. 49-51 A.D.), the Corinthian Letters (c. 52 & 56 A.D.), Romans (c. 56-58 A.D.), Ephesians and Colossians (c. 62-63 A.D.) speak to many of these things in a mature and profound way.  This is all packed into a mere 15 years!

There is one area where the emergence of doctrine must be emphasized, and that is in the Life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and the overspill of that Life in the earliest chapters of the Book of Acts.

In the Gospels, the Synoptics especially, the onus is on Israel and its Messiah.  The annunciation passages in Matthew and Luke are borne out of the cumulative expectations created by the Prophets.  The fact that a messenger from heaven reinforces that expectation must not be glossed over by a hasty reading of the chapters from the perspective of the Church.  This is true also of places such as the kingdom parables in Matthew 13, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and the teaching in Luke 19, 21, and Acts 1 through 3.  The Book of Hebrews might be very profitably interpreted within the same atmosphere as these important chapters in the Gospels.

The doctrines of the Church are compressed within a very small time-frame.  It should not be assumed therefore that the last book of the Bible deals with just that short time-frame and the revelation it contains.  Since the Revelation alludes to the Old Testament more than the other New Testament books it seems reasonable to think that it falls into line with those Old Testament books and the expectations raised in them.

 

What Is A Prophet? (Pt.2)

Part One

Prophecies of Far Future Events

The ministries of Samuel (see 1 Sam. 3:9-18), Elijah (2 Ki. 1:3-4), Micaiah (1 Ki. 22:17-20), and Elisha (2 Ki. 3:14-19) included short-term predictions which could be verified.  But there were also prophecies which anticipated things much further off, like Nathan’s oracle,

I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly… – 2 Samuel 7:10 (NASB)

This hope for David’s people has not yet been realized, and the later prophets repeat it.  These later writing prophets often made long-range predictions which could not be confirmed during their lifetimes, but these far off prophecies were established on the assurance of contemporary foretellings which came to pass.  One thinks about Amos’s oracle against Israel (and the interfering priest Amaziah) in Amos 7:14-17, or Jeremiah’s pronouncements concerning the conquering Babylonians in Jeremiah 21:1-10.   Ezekiel was told that there were still Jews in the land who foolishly believed that God would not drive them out of the land.  His prediction to the contrary (Ezek. 33:21-33) ended with the solemn words,

And when this comes to pass– surely it will come– then they will know that a prophet has been among them. – Ezekiel 33:33

The permanence of the prophetic word is necessary so that the word of God can be substantiated.  This is one reason why the prophet had to speak exactly what he was told to speak.  God said to Moses, “You shall speak all that I command you” (Exod. 7:2).  And in what I might call “the code of the prophet” Micaiah declared before king and court, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1Ki. 22:14. Cf. Jer. 23:28).  As one writer affirms, “By inspiration, God speaks to the nabi, who has to transmit exactly what he receives.”[1]

This literal consistency between God’s words and the prophet’s utterance accordingly became a guarantee that it was Yahweh who was the real Speaker.[2]  The crucial predictive test of the true prophet of God was then an extension of the “God’s words equal God’s actions” motif.  I have tried to show and will show again that often this important motif is reinforced by God’s covenant oaths.  That is why the prophet’s predictive function should never be eclipsed by his other roles.  To cite another recent scholar, Charles Scobie,

It has long been fashionable among modern historical scholars to declare that the prophets “were not foretellers, but forthtellers.”  This may have been a helpful corrective if prophecy was thought of purely in terms of prediction; the prophets were indeed deeply concerned with the contemporary social, political, economic, and religious life of Israel.  But prediction remains a major element in the OT prophets…In the prophetic books future prophecies play a major role.  Such prophecies can be broadly classified as oracles of judgment and oracles of salvation…Conditional prophecies are found that say, in effect, if you mend your ways, then you will be spared (e.g., Jer. 7:5-7).  But when it became clear that the people would not repent, prophetic oracles simply proclaimed future judgment.  Such prophecies, however, are balanced by oracles of salvation; the prophets saw “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of a coming new age.[3]

(more…)

Falling through the Porch: My Reply to A Critique (4)

Part Three

This is the fourth and last installment of my reply to some NCT’s who did a critique of my Forty Reasons For Not Reinterpreting the OT with the NT. (link, link)  I believe I have probably given their podcast more attention than it deserved; not because it criticizes me (which is fine), but because of the sloppy and frankly facetious way the criticism was done.

At the end of the last post I mentioned their reference to Galatians 6:16.  Here is the verse from the NASB:

And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. – Gal. 6:16

Their opinion is that reading the passage as dividing “those who walk by this rule” and “the Israel of God” (as the NASB does), “overthrows Paul’s whole argument”, whereas CT’s and NCT’s, who want to read the kai in the verse as “even” are rightly understanding Paul in equating the two.  As I showed last time, many top-flight biblical scholars insist that the Apostle intentionally separates the two groups with the kai (the primary meaning of which is “and”) and does not conflate them.  If he had wanted to make them one and the same all he had to do was not place a kai in the sentence.

But what about Paul’s argument in Galatians?  In the immediate context in chapter 6 we see that the first six verses concern person-to-person good works.  There follows a section (6:7-10) which warns against evil works and urges again good works.  The next section turns back to the Judaizing influence of those who were insisting that these Christian Gentiles had to be circumcised to be really right with God.  A key verse says,

As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. – Gal. 6:12  

As you can see the verse refers to a group of false teachers who have secondary motives for their heresy.  Which group do you think those advocating for circumcision would be?  They would be Jews.  But they would not be godly Jews representing godly Israel (whom Paul calls the Remnant in Rom. 11:1-5).  So what would someone who would go on to convey his “great sorrow and continual grief” for his own people (Rom. 9:2-3) say about those Israelites (see Rom. 9:4) who were people of God?  Might he not call them “the Israel of God”?  And might he not hold out a hope for an eventual national restoration after “the fullness of the Gentiles”? (Rom. 11:25).  Paul continues,

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. – Gal. 6:15

As far as the gospel is concerned it is justification by faith plus nothing.  Then we get,

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and (kai) upon the Israel of God. – Gal. 6:16

First, which “rule” is he talking about?  Obviously, the rule of care or love he has just been talking about.  So there is good reason to think that Paul was contrasting godly Christians with the ungodly Jewish teachers, but that he, being zealous for the doctrine of the Remnant of Israel, would want to teach his readers that God has not forgotten about restoring the nation of Israel.  Therefore, no, in their “Conversation on the Porch” my three critics’ argument that the traditional separation undoes Paul’s argument is completely bogus. (more…)

Falling Through the Porch: My Reply to a Critique (2)

Part One

Any Old Port in A Storm

We’re still on the ‘Conversations on the Porch’ objection to the first of my Forty Reasons why the OT is not reinterpreted by the NT, since according to my three protagonists, if this first one falls, they all fall.

There are always stock passages that are referred to by proponents of reinterpretation.  For example, 1 Peter 1:10-12 says this:

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.

The first thing to take notice of here is what Peter himself tells us he is talking about; and it is decidedly not the use of the OT in the NT.  It is the subject of salvation.  In particular it has to do with Christ’s passion and what it would bring about.   The passage therefore has nothing to say about my 40 Reasons.  It surely does not say anything about my first reason, which concerns whether or not the Apostolic authors give clear instructions for us to reinterpret the meaning of OT passages.

But the first Reason went on to assert that, “No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.”  What about that?  The guys on the Porch have a reply: “The hermeneutical key is the way the NT writers interpret the OT.”  Well, there’s no key in 1 Peter 1. There’s a deduction that Peter is giving permission to reinterpret the OT with the New when he isn’t writing on that issue.

After this we’re taken to Galatians 3 and informed that, “Paul is telling us how this Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled.”  I dealt with this issue in a series of posts, Galatians 3, the Land, and the Abrahamic Covenant, (which I want to update), but what is significant here is that one of these objectors admits that the Apostle quotes only one of the promises within the Abrahamic covenant.  Well, that gives the farm away.  That is exactly what I claim.  Ergo, Galatians 3 does not deal with the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant en toto, but only with the provisions for blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:3).

Acts 2, Acts 15, and Galatians 4

The podcast mentions Acts 2 and Acts 15 as examples of fulfillment texts which encourage us to view fulfillments in unexpected ways.  I covered some of the Acts 2 issues here.  I will not repeat myself.  Patently, the things described in Joel did not occur in Acts, although they might have done.  But that takes us too far afield.  Even many non-dispensationalists admit that there is more going on theologically in Acts 2 than people like G.K. Beale and my objectors will admit.  And it is passing strange that Beale will insist on being a “literalist” in Acts 2:16 when it permits him to spiritualize the verses surrounding it.  This falls foul of “Rule 9” of my Parameters of Meaning (not that it is a rule for anyone save myself.)  Here it is:

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available which preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context. (N.B. I promise I will complete that series)

In Acts 15:14-19 James uses Amos 9 to prove that Gentiles turning to God was always God’s intention.  He does not say that Amos 9 was fulfilled in Acts 15.

The three NCT’s then venture into the allegory in Galatians 4:21-31 to prove, well, that the Apostle is taking the liberty to reinterpret the Scripture!  Closer inspection will reveal that Paul is illustrating the way inclusion into either the Mosaic covenant or the New covenant results in bondage to the one or freedom in the other.  It is an allegory, not a green card into the reinterpretation of the covenants themselves. (more…)

Falling Through The Porch: My Reply to a Critique (1)

A little while back Fred Butler told me that he had passed on my Forty Reasons article to a group of brethren connected with a network called Bible Thumping Wingnut.  These men are proponents of New Covenant Theology and host a podcast called ‘Conversations on the Porch.’  They decided to spend some time on a critique of my article.   This series of posts is my belated rejoinder to what they had to say.

First off, I have to admit that it is not easy to argue well with people who don’t put much effort into understanding your position.  This was evidenced any number of ways, including the pain-inducing way at least one of the three presenters read from my article, which showed a lack of attention to what I wrote.

What was perhaps most frustrating to me was how, despite these brothers claiming to deal with some of the “reasons”, they paid little attention to the words of the article and “rebutted” points which I did not raise.  And even though their podcast was entitled “40 Reasons Paul Henebury is Wrong…” they only dealt with ten of my points, chosen at random.  For this reason I will not go through each of their ten responses since they just keep repeating the same set of stock answers.

“Distinctive Number Two”

Early on in the two hour recording the presenters agreed that the premise that the NT has to interpret the OT is “a huge distinctive for NCT”.  They call it “distinctive number two” of New Covenant Theology.  Their attempts to show this were pretty shallow.  It basically resolved itself into citing a NT precedent, often without a context, and treating it as a fait accompli.  This leaves me with next to nothing to respond to, since I might simply point out that, for instance, the introduction to the Book of Hebrews does not give carte blanche to people who want to treat OT details as symbolical foreshadowings.  But here goes.

Problems with My Intro

Although they failed to represent my intro properly, they did stop for a few criticisms. They straight away appealed to Hebrews 1:1-2.  Those verses say that God has spoken through His Son.  This is all that is needed for us to be told “the greatest revelation is Jesus Christ”.  But what does that mean?  If it means that Jesus’ first advent ministry of three years plus constituted the highest expression of God’s word to those who saw and heard Him, who will not agree?  What it does not and cannot mean is that Jesus’ words were more inspired and authoritative than the words of the Hebrew Bible.

One of the presenters then informed us that “there is progressive revelation”, as if that just settles it.  But progressive revelation is a very different animal from their perspective than from mine.  You see, as used by CT’s and NCT’s it is neither really progressive, nor is it very revelatory.  It does not mean that God’s revelation is traceable in verbal continuity backwards and forwards through the Testaments, but means only, “this is what all that stuff in the OT really meant” revelation.  I have previously written on this.  One observation I made was this:

It would be absurd for a person who professed to come across a bear to claim that the bear made the leopard tracks he was following.  Even so, a person is acting this way who looks back from Christ’s first coming and declares that the covenants which promised land and Davidic throne and prosperity to national Israel are “transformed” or “expanded” so that they are fulfilled spiritually or typologically by the Church.  Discontinuity in the meaning of words often features large in such approaches.  In reality, this is a non-progressive approach, wherein any supposed connections between the building blocks of revelation (i.e. the progressions) are not self-evident, but merely dogmatically asserted to be such.  What is on view here is not really progressive revelation, it is “supercessive” or “substitutive”, “transformative”, or at least “revised” revelation, wherein one entity is switched out for another or morphed into something else.

It can easily be demonstrated that there is an inspired intertextual usage of earlier OT texts by later OT writers: earlier covenants are cited unchanged in Psa. 89:33-37; 105:6-12; 106:30-31: 132:11-12; Jer. 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26; Ezek. 37:14, 21-26).

For instance, when we come to “land” in Genesis 13 and 15, we find it to be interpreted as the very same “land” hundreds of years later in Psalm 105:6-11

When you follow footprints in the snow you have definite expectations of who or what made them.  Progress and expectation are connected.  By contrast, CT and NCT practices are rather like having those expectations completely overturned (no “progress”).  What progressive revelation boils down to in this approach is their interpretations of the NT.  In my intro I stated:

the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.

The Pivotal First Reason…and the Deathblow

Let me reproduce the first of my forty reasons why the NT doesn’t reinterpret (sorry, “interpret”) the OT.

Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT. Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this. No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.

The three antagonists agreed that if this first reason fails then the other 39 also fail.  I myself cannot see the logical connection; not even between Reason 1 and Reason 2.  Although there is some development in my list, there is also a fair amount of diversity in the arguments I raise.  Toppling one does not unduly effect all the rest.   I understand that these brethren would claim that the NT does give explicit permission to them to (re)interpret the OT with the NT.  Fine, but how do they prove it?  Do they deliver the “deathblow” they speak about?  Nein!  The only way one would think that is by sheer partisanship.  So let’s take a look at the texts they repair to:

The presenters give Heb. 10:1 and Col. 2:16-17 as justification for viewing the prophecies and covenants in the OT as foreshadowings.  Now Hebrews 10:1 refers to the Law having a shadow of things in its sacrifices.  Which things and what sacrifices?  In answer to the first question, it is the sacrifices, especially at the Day of Atonement (Heb. 10:3), that are shadows of Christ’s final work.  The verse does not say that the prophetic covenants of the OT are shadows.  And Col. 2:16-17 refers to the ceremonial observations of the Law which are eclipsed by Christ, who is the substance of what these regulations portended. How so?  Well in Paul’s argument in Colossians it has to do with Christ’s sufficiency and finality for acceptance with God.  The Gospel is not Christ-plus, but Christ alone.

So there are foreshadowings in the OT, but how does this address my concerns in the 40 Reasons?  How does this prove the Apostles employed ‘transformational’ hermeneutics?   (more…)

Archive: Forty Reasons for Not Reinterpreting the OT by the NT: The First Twenty

I have been made aware that a group of New covenant theologians have discussed some my list of forty arguments for not reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament.  I intend to write a Response soon.  But I thought it worthwhile to repost the original list.  I have yet to encounter a serious attempt to refute these Reasons.

Introduction

It seems to be almost an axiom within contemporary, evangelical Bible interpretation that the New Testament must be allowed to reinterpret the Old Testament. That is, the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.
Not unusually the admission is made that the original recipients of the OT covenants and promises would not have conceived of God fulfilling His Word to them in the ways in which we are often told the NT demands they were fulfilled. This belief in the interpretative priory of the NT over the OT is accepted as “received truth” by a great many evangelical scholars and students today. But there are corollaries which are often left unexplored or ill-considered. Did the prophets of the OT speak and write in a sort of Bible Code which had to be picked through and deciphered by Apostolic authors resulting in hazy allusions and unanticipated concretizations of what seemed to be unambiguous language? Did God speak to men in times past in symbolic language so that we today could unravel what He really meant? Doesn’t this strongly imply that the OT was not really for them, but for us?

Here are forty reasons (there could be more but it’s a good number) why a student of the Bible should not adopt the common tactic of reading the New Testament back into the Old, with the resultant outcome that the clear statements of the Old Testament passages in context are altered and mutated to mean something which, without universal prevenient prophetic inspiration, no Old Testament saint (or New Testament saint who did not have access to the right Apostolic books) could have known.

In presenting these objections to the reinterpretation of OT passages by favored interpretations of the NT I am not throwing down the gauntlet to anyone. If someone wishes to respond to these objections I would be fascinated to read what they have to say. But no one is under pressure to agree with me. However, I hope these forty reasons will be given thoughtful consideration by anybody who comes across them.

I believe, of course, that the NT does throw much light upon the OT text. But it never imposes itself upon the OT in such a way as to essentially treat it as a sort of ‘palimpsest’ over which an improved NT message must be inscribed. By way of illustration, there are huge ramifications in making a dubious allusion in John 7:38 to Zechariah 14:8 a basis for a doctrine of the expansion of the spiritual temple over the face of the earth. Such a questionable judgment essentially evaporates huge amounts of OT material from, e.g., Numbers 25; Psalm 106; Isaiah 2; 33; 49; Jeremiah 30-33; Ezekiel 34; 36-37; 40-48; Amos 9; Micah 4-5; Zephaniah 3; Zechariah 2; 6; 8; 12-14; and Malachi 3, as well as all those other passages which intersect with them. I believe that the cost is too high as well as quite unnecessary.

With that introduction in mind, here, then, are my forty objections for consideration:

1. Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT. Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this. No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.

2. Since the OT was the Bible of the Early Christians it would mean no one could be sure they had correctly interpreted the OT until they had the NT. In many cases this deficit would last for a good three centuries after the first coming of Jesus Christ.

3. If the OT is in need of reinterpretation because many of its referents (e.g. Israel, land, king, throne, priesthood, temple, Jerusalem, Zion, etc.) in actual fact refer symbolically to Jesus and the NT Church, then these OT “symbols” and “types” must be seen for what they are in the NT. But the NT never does plainly identify the realities and antitypes these OT referents are said to point towards. Thus, this assumption forces the NT into saying things it never explicitly says (e.g. that the Church is “the New Israel,” the “land” is the new Creation, or the seventh day Sabbath is now the first day “Christian Sabbath”).

4. Furthermore, this approach forces the OT into saying things it really does not mean (e.g. Ezekiel 43:1-7, 10-12).

5. It would require the Lord Jesus to have used a brand new set of hermeneutical rules in, e.g., Lk. 24:44; rules not accessible until the arrival of the entire NT, and not fully understood even today. These would have to include rules for each “genre”, which would not have been apparent to anyone interpreting the OT on its own terms.

6. If the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT then what it says on its own account cannot be trusted, as it could well be a “type,” or even part of an obtuse redemptive state of affairs to be alluded to and reinterpreted by the NT.

7. Thus, it would mean the seeming clear predictions about the Coming One in the OT could not be relied upon to present anything but a typological/symbolic picture which would need deciphering by the NT. The most clearly expressed promises of God in the OT (e.g. Jer. 31:31f.; 33:15-26; Ezek. 40-48; Zech. 14:16-21) would be vulnerable to being eventually turned into types and shadows.

8. It would excuse anyone (e.g. the scribes in Jn. 5:35f.) for not accepting Jesus’ claims based on OT prophecies – since those prophecies required the NT to reinterpret them. Therefore, the Lord’s reprimand of the scribes in the context would have been unreasonable.

9. Any rejection of this, with a corresponding assertion that the OT prophecies about Christ did mean what they said, would create the strange hermeneutical paradox of finding clear, plain-sense testimony to Christ in the OT while claiming the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT. One could not maintain this position without calling the whole assumption under review.

10. The divining of these OT types and shadows is no easy task, especially as the NT does not provide any specific help on the matter. NT scholarship has never come to consensus on these matters, let alone “the common people” to whom the NT was purportedly written.

11. Thus, this approach pulls a “typological shroud” over the OT, denying to its Author the credit of meaning what He says and saying what He means (e.g. what does one make of the specificity of Jer. 33:14-26 or Zeph. 3:9-20?).

12. If the Author of the OT does not mean what He appears to say, but is in reality speaking in types and shadows, which He will apparently reveal later, what assurance is there that He is not still speaking in types and shadows in the NT? Especially is this problem intensified because many places in the NT are said to be types and shadows still (e.g. the Temple in 2 Thess. 2 and Rev. 11).

13. This view imposes a “unity” on the Bible which is symbolic and metaphorical only. Hence, taking the Bible in a normal, plain-sense should destroy any unity between the Testaments. What we mean by “normal, plain-sense” is the sense scholars advocating this view take for granted their readers will adopt with them, which we would identify as “literal.”

14. However, a high degree of unity can be achieved by linking together the OT and NT literature in a plain-sense, even though every question the interpreter may have will not be answered. Hence, this position that the NT must reinterpret the OT ignores or rejects the fact that, taken literally (in the sense defined above) the OT makes good sense. But in ignoring this truth, Christians may pull down upon themselves the same kind of accusations of defensive special-pleading which they accuse religions like Islam and Mormonism of using.

15. Saying the types and shadows in the OT (which supposedly include the land given to Israel, the throne in Jerusalem, the temple of Ezekiel, etc.), are given their proper concrete meanings by the NT implies neither the believer nor the unbeliever can comprehend God’s promises solely from the OT.

16. Thus, no unbeliever could be accused of unbelief so long as they only possessed the OT, since the apparatus for belief (the NT) was not within their grasp.

17. This all makes mincemeat of any claim for the perspicuity of Scripture. At the very least it makes this an attribute possessed only by the NT, and only tortuous logic could equate the word “perspicuity” to such wholesale symbolic and typological approaches.

18. Thus, the OT is deprived of its own hermeneutical integrity. This would render warnings such as that found in Proverbs 30:5-6 pointless, since the meaning of the OT words must be added to in order to find their concrete references.

19. A corollary to this is that the authority of the OT to speak in its own voice is severely undermined.

20. In consequence of the above the status of the OT as “Word of God” would be logically inferior to the status of the NT. The result is that the NT (which refers to the OT as the “Word of God”) is more inspired than the OT, producing the unwelcome outcome of two levels of inspiration.

 

“A Possible Problem with Your Reasoning”

I am in the middle of several things right now, but I had the idea of rehearsing a recent interchange with some CT’s and adding a few reflections.  I think it typifies what I tend to run into when trying to communicate my reservations about CT.  I kick it off with a remark made by my main interlocutor about God’s way of communicating.  He declared that,   

God may do other than what the original audience understood. God’s promises will be fulfilled exactly in the way He intended.

I replied with: “Well, that’s the trouble isn’t it? If God raised expectations in the OT which He didn’t intend to carry through, doesn’t that make Him an ambiguous communicator at best (recall Jer. 33:17-26!), and disingenuous at worse?

I then added:

What inside line does —— have that our understanding of God’s promises in the NT won’t be “other” than what we are led to understand? And how are we to put faith in the words?”

My CT interlocutor came back with (numerals and highlighting added):

To suggest that someone’s position you disagree with makes God disingenuous seems desperate. To imagine that every audience understood God’s intentions is naive.  (1) The first disciples of Jesus after three years with Him didn’t get it. (2) There’s only trouble if one is looking for expectations which weren’t the intention of the original author. Did God raise expectations or did the audience? God doesn’t carry out everyone’s expectations. (3) We know for a fact that the Jews of Jesus day had expectations they read into the prophecies. Jesus overturned them and clarified them as did the apostles. Many in His day were looking for a restored national kingdom. Jesus inaugurated His kingdom according to His Father’s will not according to human expectations.  (4) As I said, God may do more than what was understood or expected. God’s promises to us now may be “other” than what we understand. They may be more. They won’t be less.

My reflections:

(1) What is it that Jesus’ disciples didn’t get?  According to the Gospels it was that He would have to die (e,g, Mk. 9:31-32; Matt. 16:21-24; Lk. 9:44-45), NOT that the kingdom, when it came, would be other than a literal restored nation of Israel.  There’s no hint of that.  Not a sausage.  Somebody’s ignoring the context.

(2) He dodged my question by pretending that it was the recipients’ fault that they had false expectations from God’s words.  This would imply also that their faith was false and misguided.  They believed the wrong thing!  But if God wanted us to have faith in Him, how else could He ensure it apart from communicating with words that would guarantee our trust was in the right thing?  If He promised over and over that Israel would be redeemed and restored to their land, which would become like Eden; where Christ would reign from Jerusalem, and God’s sanctuary would be a magnet for all peoples (cf. e.g., Isa. 11; Jer. 33; Ezek. 36-37; Zech.14), wouldn’t that be what was to be believed?  In what world would we be expected to believe anything else?

Notice the example I gave: I said “recall Jer. 33:17-26!”  If God did not mean exactly what He said in this passage, how could anyone be sure He means anything He says anywhere?  Indeed, isn’t that the very conclusion God wants us to come to after reading the passage? If someone will answer, “of course not, He meant that all of this is fulfilled in the Church”,  then the burden of proof has to be on them to explain how God did not raise false expectations.

(3) Notice the dogmatism here.  The expectations of the Jews about the kingdom were wrong.  Jesus set up the kingdom according to the Father’s will but not according to the expectations of the Jews.  Okay, but who raised the expectations?  That the Jews didn’t have it all right is clear (especially their need of righteousness).  But they had a lot right, and nowhere in the NT are we told that Jesus inaugurated the promised kingdom.  In fact, the Lord often talked about the kingdom as future.

Do you have expectations that your sins will be utterly wiped away and you will be given a glorious body and everlasting life?  Who raised those expectations?  Did you?  Did God? How do you know you have eternal life?  Is it not by trusting that God means what He said in the words you are trusting?

(4) For sure God may do more than we expect, but can He do completely differently than what He leads us to expect?

Another CT chipped in with this objection:

(1) Didn’t Jesus, make clear in John 16:25, that he said these things in figures of speech.  (2) They were still expecting him to setup the kingdom at this time (Acts 1:6). (3) They studied, carefully and they still did not understand how Christ’s promises and covenants would be fulfilled (1 Peter 1:10-12).

(4) Is not the purpose of prophecy and promises, not that we fully understand them today, but that when they are fulfilled, we can validate them against the Word of God?  

(1) John 16 has nothing to do with the kingdom.  This is textual transplantation at its worse.

(2) Yes, the disciples were expecting the kingdom, since Jesus had been teaching them all about it (Acts 1:3).  But they asked about the time when He would set up the expected kingdom.  Jesus only corrected them on the timing, not on the expectation.  The inference made by CT that they were mistaken in their understanding of the kingdom finds no foothold in Acts 1.

(3) I Peter 1 is not about the promised kingdom.  Again a text is being misused.

(4) The irony of this statement was entirely lost on my opponent.  How can any “fulfillment” be checked against the Word of God if the words of the original prediction do not match it?  Isn’t that precisely the problem CT interpretation raises?  The point is, the original words of the prophecy can’t be used to verify the fulfillment because it was “fulfilled” differently!

As I said in a comment (slightly edited): “how can one test a prophet whose “prophecy” turns out to be “fulfilled” in a way totally different than the words he used in the prediction?  How can the tests of a true prophet be of any use? In fact we can go further. What is the use of even declaring that such and such will happen if it all turns out so utterly differently?   The OT Prophets might just as well have said nothing for all the use it was.” (more…)