These guidelines (the “rules of affinity”) test the distance between a given theological proposal and the actual textual references alleged to lend them authority. As already mentioned in previous posts, all the major non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian Faith have a strong affinity with the wording of the biblical text. Under the Grid of Category Formulations of these Rules of Affinity, all these first level doctrines are C1 and C2 (category 1 and category 2) doctrines. Doctrinal propositions which are arrived at by the consent of several converging biblical texts to bring about an “inference to the best explanation” are C3′s. C3′s are open to revision if better scriptural conclusions from clear texts are forthcoming.
The two other categories in the Grid, which reveal little or no affinity between the words of Scripture and the doctrines supposed to be borne out of it, are C4′s or C5′s. These categories are heavy on inference and light on affinity. They are chock full of human reason and empty of clear, definable connection to the verses which are being unfairly summoned to support them.
Problem Features of C4′s and C5′s
1. Another feature of C4′s and C5′s is that they often come into contention with clearer verses which contradict them (C1′s & C2′s). Why then, are they allowed to stand? It is because of our faith in our own rational faculties.
2. Yet another interesting fact about doctrines based on C4′s and C5′s is that they usually command large areas of systematic theology. For example, “the covenant of grace,” which as defined by covenant theologians (or the limp “Edenic covenant” of Confessional dispensationalists like Scofield and Chafer), enjoys no C1 – C3 support. Moreover, the texts used in support of it are not talking about it at all, but about biblical covenants like those with Abraham or David.
3. This brings up the third interesting feature of C4 and C5 formulations; because they are formulated by human reason they are already believed before the search is made for scriptural support-texts. That is to say, the doctrine is already in hand and cherished so the Bible must be ransacked for any verse which might give the impression that it supports the cherished teaching.
4. A fourth negative characteristic is that C4 and C5 formulations highlight the fact that doctrines have been manufactured not unusually from other doctrines. Although this may lend them a certain logical coherence, which can in itself be deceptive, it does nothing to show that the doctrine in question is built up from the clear statements of Scripture (C1′s – C3′s) which the fundamental doctrines are.
Still another item of notice is that even fundamental doctrines can be supported by texts with weak affinity to the proposition under scrutiny. This does not invalidate the doctrine. it does, however, encourage the theologian to look for better and clearer passages. But we shall consider this aspect in another post.
Here are some important theological propositions which, in fact, lack affinity with the Scriptures used to validate them:
1. The Covenant of Grace
The supposed covenant made between God and all the elect from Adam to the New Creation which assumes the one people of God in both Testaments, thereby making it impossible for Israel’s covenants to be fulfilled literally, but demanding they be re-interpreted by the NT. The covenants found in Scripture are viewed as manifestations of this inferred but overarching covenant.
Scriptures employed to prove it: Gen. 3:15. C4 - there is no mention of any covenant till the Noahic covenant. Although a thing can be present without being named, there are too many disconnects and too much scholarly dissension in this case.
Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24. C4 – these are references to the New Covenant (which it is often falsely equated with), not to any covenant of grace as defined above. There are no C1-C3 references to this covenant in the Bible. It is an inferred covenant which rests upon non-covenantal and covenantal texts (e.g. Gen. 12:1–3; 17:1–14; 22:17-18; Exod. 20-24; Jer. 31:31f.) which appear to be speaking of other things.
2. The Covenant of Works
The way for innocent Adam and all his posterity to remain in a state of well-being and to be confirmed in happiness (to eliminate the possibility of losing happiness) was based entirely on what man would do. (Walter Chantry citing Gen. 2:8,9 and 2:16-17)
Both references are C4′s since no covenant is mentioned in either text. See Chantry’s work at Monergism.com, especially pages 4-6.
Scriptures employed to prove it: the main one, after Gen. 2:16-17 (C4) is Hosea 6:7, which says,
But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me. (NASB, Hos 6:7)
The trouble is that this translation, “like Adam,” is heavily disputed and in any case is not decisive. Even if one allows the disputed translation “like Adam” instead of the more widely accepted “like men” one is still left to infer a covenant of works, as defined by covenant theologians (or Adamic covenant by some dispensationalists), from this text. Did the prophet mean to say that Israel (Ephraim) had transgressed the covenant of works? Did Adam? Where does the text specify that? Therefore, owing to its tendentious pedigree as a proof-text for the covenant of works, we cannot but assign this anything but a C4. If someone wants to make it a C3 and look around (a la Robert Reymond) for corroborating passages let him try. As it stands, once again there are no C1-C3 references to this covenant in the Bible.
Chantry writes in The Covenants of Works and of Grace:
In the entirety of Scripture there are only two divinely instituted arrangements by which man could be blessed: The Covenant of Works for innocent man, the Covenant of Grace for fallen man. Both covenants are referred to in God’s first communication to man after the Fall in Genesis 3. (p. 6)
When stood up against our Rules of Affinity, this bold statement receives rather less than a strong endorsement. Indeed, it is contradicted by the explicit (C1-C2) covenant statements in Gen. 8-9; 12-22; Exod. 20-24; Num. 25; Deut. 29-30; Psa. 89; 105; Jer. 31, 33, etc. Yet out of these two covenants arises a whole system of theology, including some of the theological propositions below. The persuasive power of these teachings does not come from the biblical texts they employ.
3. Infant baptism
This teaching depends upon the covenant of grace (see “Infant Baptism: God’s Grandchildren”) and teaches that those children of covenant parents are “in the one covenant [of grace]” and are, therefore, elect in some sense. All the passages it employs (like Gen. 17:5-7) are not speaking of the covenant of grace with all the elect, but of the Abrahamic Covenant with those who, as the next verse plainly says, will be given the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Gen 17:8. Cf. Psa. 105:6-11)! Hence, not only is this doctrine an inference based upon another inference, but it also undermines clearer C1 and C2 promises to Israel in the process. Notice, infant baptism is nowhere in view in any OT or NT covenant text. This is a C5 formulation.
Scriptures employed to prove it: Acts 2:38-39; 16:31-34. C4 – both contexts make it clear that the person’s present were able to understand and respond in belief (or unbelief) to the message they heard, as would their children and those afar off. If Acts 2:39 is pushed to include infants, it says too much; for surely “all who are afar off” could then be used to support a universalistic doctrine of infant salvation for every child, which is clearly not the case. There are no C1-C3 references to infant baptism in the Bible. Because it is an inference based on another inference, I assign it a C5 rating.
In all contexts where the gospel is proclaimed (including those in Acts 2 & 16) comprehension and belief are required (e.g., Jn. 3:16, 36; 5:24; 20:29-31; Rom. 1:16-17; 4:1ff.; etc.). And let it not be forgotten that all the references to undergoing baptism (as either immersion or effusion; never sprinkling) picture adult baptism after belief.
4. The Church is Israel
This has been expressed in different ways, but the basic idea is that the covenant promises (see “…Questions about Israel and the Church”) made to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, especially the national and ethnic promises, including “the Holy Land,” have been “transformed” or “spiritualized” and applied to the NT Church. If ethnic Israelites are to enjoy the promises, they must be part of the Church, “the New Israel,” in which the promises are fulfilled.
Scriptures employed to prove it: Rom. 2:28-29, which addresses Jews in the context (e.g. v. 24f.) and can easily be construed as distinguishing believing from unbelieving Israelites (hence C4, especially because nothing is said in support of the proposition under consideration).
Romans 9:6-7, which is speaking directly about Israelites “according to the flesh” in the context and can again easily be confined to believing versus unbelieving Jews. The context also says that the promises (still) pertain to Israel. It is a C4 at least because supercessionism is inferred from the passage even though Paul says nothing about such a proposition.
Philippians 3:3, in which Paul calls Christians “the circumcision” because they worship in the Spirit, not because they are really circumcised Jews. He writes figuratively and does not address the subject of Israel and the Church. Where he does address it in Romans 11 he distinguishes them and reiterates the irrevocability of Israel’s covenants.
The last verse used to teach this proposition is Galatians 6:16.
And as many as walk according to this rule [i.e. boasting in Christ’s cross instead of Jewish fleshly circumcision, cf. 6:11-15], peace and mercy be upon them, and [kai] upon the Israel of God.
The usual translation of kai is “and.” That translation fits perfectly well in Paul’s sentence and in his larger argument. There is no reason to translate it with the far more infrequent “even” unless it threatens ones theological assumptions. Even many who reject the Israel/Church eschatological distinction agree with this conclusion. If Paul had wanted to equate those in the first part of the verse with the “Israel of God” in the second part he could simply have omitted the conjunction and the point would have been clear enough. But he didn’t. The kai is there, and there is no good reason, especially in the context, that it should not be translated normally, as “and.” Therefore, this verse cannot even qualify as a C3 for the reason that it ought to read “and the Israel of God.” We therefore assign it a C4 to identify the intrusion of human reasoning into, and indeed prior to, the exegesis. Once more, there are no C1-C3 references to this theological idea in the Bible! It is a C4 doctrine.
I shall provide more examples in Part 4 of the series.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.