My Take on the New Covenant (Part 7)

Read the series.

Is Christ’s Blood Divided?

I want to begin with two more quotes from Beacham. I should say first that I think his article is an excellent presentation of Option 1. On page 22 of his paper he states:

The soteriological benefits that Israel experiences at the ratification of the New Covenant are not exclusive either to Israel or to the New Covenant. Many people,
throughout human history, have experienced spiritual blessings like those promised to Israel under the New Covenant. Their spiritual experience, however, neither originates in the New Covenant, nor places them under the New Covenant. Salvation is trans-historical and offered to all who believe. The New Covenant is eschatological and offered to Israel alone. (The Church Has No Legal Relationship to or Participation in the New Covenant, 22)

Every system has to account for the salvation of sinners before Christ, and who would disagree with the sentiment that “Salvation is trans-historical and offered to all who believe“? The issue is concentrated on the form in which that salvation takes. Beacham holds that “The New Covenant is eschatological and offered to Israel alone.” He states:

God‘s promise that all Israel will be saved at the ratification of the New Covenant does not make the New Covenant God‘s eternal covenant of salvation with the church or with all of mankind, the elect, or anyone else. Salvation is judicially grounded in the person and work of Christ, not the New Covenant. (Ibid, FN. 66)

Salvation certainly is judicially grounded in Christ, but on what basis? The usual answer is, “the blood of Christ.” But according to Christ Himself His blood is “My blood of the New Covenant” (Matt. 26:28). Salvation is “judicial” in the sense that it depends upon the judgment of God. God’s judgment is grounded in His character, and its revelation to Israel is found in the Law of Moses. Moses’ Law is one piece: moral, ceremonial and civil. The discussion is quite involved, but covenantally-speaking, Gentiles are not under the Law. However, the Law does give “the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20), and it does so by revealing the ethical requirements of God. In that sense Gentiles are “under the law.” Hence,

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Rom. 3:19)

Although it can be argued that in this context “law” is a reference to the Old Testament, not to the Mosaic Law per se (F. F. Bruce, Romans, 99), Paul’s use of the term here obviously shows that he is focusing on the moral aspects of law-keeping in relation to God (Alva J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace, 99-100), i.e. as a means to justification. As the Apostle writes above, this can only bring guilt. This is where Jesus Christ comes in. He is the One,

whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:25-26)

We must recall also that there is a universal “moral law,” which although it is embedded within nine of the Ten Commandments, yet transcends them. As such the law was “our tutor to bring us to Christ” (Gal 3:24). This is not the same as “legal” code formalized in law. Our salvation is not “law-based” because as I showed last time the New Covenant is not a legal document.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Beacham avers that “Salvation is judicially grounded in the person and work of Christ, not the New Covenant.” We see here that he distinguishes Christ from the New Covenant, in his case because he believes that covenants, (including the NC) are legal agreements.

Before moving on to Options 4, 5 and 6, which are developed along a continuum, I want to notice how Beacham deals with the “New Covenant” passages in 1 Corinthians 11 and 2 Corinthians 3. In short, he claims that Paul thinks that when Jesus spoke the words about the NC in His blood He made a distinction between Israel and the Gentiles/Church (42) by saying His covenant blood was “shed for many.” This takes the word polys (“many”) and restricts it to future Israel. But in Luke 22:20 He is recorded as saying to the disciples that it was shed for “you.” This definitely doesn’t look like a proleptic “you”! As I have said, the disciples became the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). So the normal way to understand this would be to view it as new revelation about the NC, not to split the blood of Christ into New Covenant blood and non-New Covenant blood!

Beacham believes (rightly on his very well presented view) that the NC has not been ratified (43-44), and that it is purely eschatological. Therefore, he believes that in 1 Corinthians 11:25 the Apostle, while referring to the New Covenant, is not actually concerned with it, but rather with the Lord’s Supper as a memorial. At best this makes Paul look sloppy. If the NC was only for future Israel why would he refer to it when teaching Gentiles? And why would he not qualify his meaning?

I could have missed it, but I could not find an interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 on this view. But when one takes these NT texts together it begins to look like someone putting a square peg in a round hole.

Participants But Not Parties

Option 4 says that the Church benefits from the application of the spiritual blessings of the NC. It participates in it but is not a legal party to it. This position allows for a more generous inclusive interpretation of Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, and 2 Corinthians 3, and it can deal with the central passage in Hebrews 7 – 10, although perhaps without pressing its connotations far enough.

In this view Jesus instigates the NC at the Lord’s Supper with His disciples. Being Jews the disciples must be included as parties to the NC. But the disciples become the foundation of the Church, with Christ as the cornerstone, yet the Church is not a party to the NC. Hence we still have the “schizophrenic” intention behind Calvary. We also have dissonance in the ministry of Paul and his teaching. Additionally, I have already demonstrated that the NC itself is all about “spiritual blessings”; the material blessings are stored in the other Divine covenants and in the intention for creation. What the NC does is releases the blessings of the Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic covenants in the Kingdom.

The words of institution of the Lord’s Supper which Paul quotes seem unequivocal:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)

By saying “as often as you drink it” (i.e. “this cup”) Paul is referring the Corinthian Christians to “the New covenant in My blood” that was mentioned immediately before.

When it comes to the argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews Rodney Decker, in a brilliantly argued paper, summarizes with these words:

It is not, in my opinion, possible to postulate two new covenants without doing violence to the unified, four-chapter argument of Heb 7–10. Nor is it possible to divorce Christians from some relationship to the new covenant so described. Perhaps there is more than one way to explain this relationship, but related we must be if the evidence of Hebrews 7–10 is given due weight. We are not only related to Jesus as our high priest, but the text seems to demand that we are directly related to the new covenant itself for it is on this basis that we draw near to God. To conclude otherwise, if I may say so, is to intrude a predetermined system into the text before we allow the text to speak for itself.

Decker subscribes broadly to Option 4, although it is not the subject of his paper. But his own premises indicate that he has not come to the most accurate conclusion. I think this is because, like Beacham, he held to the essentially legal nature of the NC. One wonders, for example, how Jesus could be our High Priest if we are not parties to the covenant He mediates!

There is always more to say, but that sets me up for the what to my mind are the two most plausible options.

(Next: The last two options in Vlach’s list.)

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There are 2 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

This is good "stuff."

G. N. Barkman

Jeff Howell's picture

that our brother Rodney Decker is with Jesus now. He has all the answers clearly. Some day we shall see clearly as well. Until then, let's keep examining the sacred Scriptures. Thanks for making us think.

 

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