Book Review - Kingdom through Covenant

Image of Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants
by Peter J Gentry, Dr Stephen J Wellum
Crossway Books 2012
Hardcover 848

Peter Gentry & Stephen Wellum are seeking a middle way between covenant theology and dispensational theology. As a covenant theology loving Christian I found their critiques even-handed and thoughtful. Anyone interested in developing a theology that fits within the big picture narrative of Scripture would benefit from Kingdom through Covenant.

They first define biblical theology as:

…concerned with the overall message of the whole Bible. It seeks to understand the parts in relation to the whole. As an exegetical method, it is sensitive to literary, historical, and theological dimensions of various corpora, as well as to the interrelationships between earlier and later texts in Scripture. Furthermore, biblical theology is interested not merely in words and word studies but also in concepts and themes as it traces out the Bible’s own story line, on the Bible’s own terms, as the plot line reaches its culmination in Christ. (p. 33)

After establishing the ground rules for their hermeneutical method, they offer a history of both dispensational theology and covenant theology. If you are interested in the history of these interpretations as well as the finer points these chapters are gold. It provides a concise survey and accurate comparison of both systems.

Gentry & Wellum boil down the major difference between the two systems to “the Israel-church distinction” (p. 42). They also argue that each system has made the same error but in different ways. They both understand the covenants of the Old Testament as either conditional or unconditional. The dispensationalist, they argue, understand the land promises as unconditional, whereas the covenant theologians understand the genealogical principle of the Abrahamic covenant as unconditional (fusing the Abrahamic covenant with the idea of the covenant of grace). They see both of these proposals as incorrect and later argue for their middle way.

Part 1 concludes with a discussion of the finer points of their exegetical method. They say:

As we think through the biblical covenants, since God has not disclosed himself in one exhaustive act but progressively, we must carefully think through every biblical covenant first in its own redemptive-historical context, then ask what has preceded that covenant, and then relate that particular covenant to that which comes after it and how it relates to the inauguration of the new covenant in our Lord Jesus Christ. (p. 92)

They describe this as the three horizons: textual, epochal, and canonical. In discussing this method, they spend a significant amount of space defending biblical typology by distinguishing it from allegory.

While the type has significance for its own time, its greater significance is directed toward the future; it testifies to something greater than itself that is still to come. But the future antitype will surely come, not only because God completely knows that it will, according to his eternal plan, but also because God sovereignly and providentially will guarantee that the prophetic fulfillment of the original type will occur in Christ. (p. 104)


Heavy lifting in the covenants

Part 2 is an extended exegetical discussion of the major biblical covenants. This section is where the heavy lifting really happens. While finding some of the discussion challenging (I’ve never studied Hebrew), I also recognized an approachability in the way even the most difficult passages were examined. They not only argued positively for their position but they also interacted with the opposing positions and counterpointed many of the major concerns. They were not afraid to draw out exegetical possibilities that didn’t strengthen their own position. This holistic approach allowed them to fairly expound each passage of Scripture

The discussions surrounding the covenant of creation and the Noahic covenant, the new covenant as revealed in Daniel, and the life in the new covenant discussion in Ephesians 4:15 were the most thought provoking and encouraging for me.

First, a challenge I have faced when discussing covenant theology with skeptics is the starting point—the covenant of works/creation. The major argument I’ve encountered is the lack of the word covenant within the first three chapters of Genesis. Gentry & Wellum argue convincingly from the text that the major components of a covenant are present. They also look at the linguistic data behind cutting a covenant and upholding a covenant. They argue from Genesis 6 & 9:

Therefore the construction heqim berit in Genesis 6 and 9 indicates that God is not initiating a covenant with Noah but rather is upholding for Noah and his descendants a commitment initiated previously. This language clearly indicates a covenant established earlier between God and creation or God and humans at creation. When God says that he confirming or upholding his covenant with Noah, he is saying that his commitment to his creation, the care of the creator to preserve, provide for, and rule over all that he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he initiated through and with Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants. (p. 156)

They also look at other passages which describe what God established with Adam in the beginning in contrast with the upholding of that covenant. They discuss this covenant within their three horizons (textual, epochal, and canonical) demonstrating that talking of a covenant in creation is not a fabricated reformed blindspot but is a Biblical, exegetical, and historically sound interpretation of what takes place in Genesis 1-3.

Second, the chapter on the new covenant in Daniel is masterful. Daniel more than any other book intimidates me. Mainly the second half of the book. There seems to be so much going on and so many allusions and prophecy—it’s hard to wrap your head around. At least for me. Now don’t get me wrong the discussion surrounding Daniel was intense and challenging but I walked away feeling like I have a much better grasp on the book then I did before and it’s made my understanding of the entire story of Scripture richer and more satisfying.

The discussion in Daniel begins with a bird’s eye view of the entire book examining the literary structure, emphases, & unity. They say:

[T]he first half of the book establishes and proves that Daniel has a gift of interpreting dreams and visions of events which could be independently verified by Daniel’s contemporaries. Therefore, we must believe and trust the interpretation of the visions in the second half of the book, which deal with the distant future and hence were not open to verification by the audience of Daniel’s time. (p. 533)
 

They look at the major lexical and syntactic issues of the second half of the book. They unpack the importance for dividing the seventy weeks. They also argue that the “Anointed One” and “Leader” in 9:25-26 (see pp. 541-543) are the same. They argue for a physical return to the land in the first seven weeks and a time where a spiritual restoration would take place as a key component in understanding the 7 and 62 weeks as “the ultimate jubilee” (p. 544).

Thus the real return from exile, a return including the forgiveness of sins, renewal of the covenant, and consecration of the temple, will not take just seventy years, but rather seventy “sevens,” i.e., a much longer time. This fundamental point of the vision has unfortunately escaped the attention of proponents of both dispensational and nondispensational treatments in the last hundred years. (p. 541)

They also argue for Ezra’s return commissioned by Artaxerxes as the beginning of the seventy weeks and note it also starts “a sabbatical cycle” (p. 547).

I mentioned earlier that in the midst of all the technical discussion they had a way of making the discussion approaching and this is exemplified best in the discussion of Daniel. There was a lot of linguistic and technical work being argued for to establish for their position. Some of the Hebrew was above my pay grade but I never felt lost and easily followed the train of thought. I could see this chapter being extremely helpful for pastors looking to springboard into a sermon series on Daniel.

Finally, they ended part 2’s discussion of the covenants with an examination of Ephesians and especially the phrase speaking the truth in love (4:15). I found this discussion particularly compelling because today it’s fashionable to contrast Christian piety (good old fashioned holiness if you’d like) with missional living. The priority is given to social justice (feeding the poor, taking care of orphans, etc). 

They argue that Ephesians 4:25-5:5 Paul is arguing for a new Christian ethic established by the new covenant. Speaking the truth in love is paramount for this. In fact, “speaking the truth in love is both at the heart of the new covenant stipulations and is also a short summary of them” (p. 571). It’s noteworthy that Paul argues that people who speaking crudely, live lasciviously, and generally disregard this new covenant holiness have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Chist and God” (Ephesians 5:5).

They then unify the false dichotomy between holiness and social justice—as if caring about reading your Bible and speaking wholesomely and taking care of the poor are mutually exclusive. They trace the meaning of the concept speaking the truth in love back through the Old Testament arguing that it’s connected with the concept social justice. They say:

Earlier a question was raised: “What do I say to a person who claims to know Christ but is following a lifestyle that entails sexual immorality as defined by Christ and the apostles?” What does speaking truth in love mean in such situations? According to a biblical-theological understanding of Ephesians 4-6, such a lifestyle is not only morally wrong, it is a form of social injustice and leads to being less than fully human. We must address violations of the covenant requirements not simply as offenses against God but as a destructive path that constitutes social injustice and inhuman behavior. This must be part and parcel of both our speech and our actions in the covenant community.

And it is only this humanity that will survive divine judgement and enter the new heavens and the new earth. Do we treat each other with faithful loyal love? We must obey these instructions, because only in this way can we attain social justice, and only in this way can we become truly human. any other path will lead us to lose what it means to be truly human (pp. 586-87).

So a lack of holiness is social injustice which will work itself out in the way we treat others. There is no such person than who is so concerned with this new covenant ethic that is also not fulfilling his duty to his covenant community. The two are inseparable.

What is “Kingdom through Covenant”?

After all the groundwork and exegesis, the book closes with a discussion on the implications of this middle way. Foundationally, they argue that “it is through the biblical covenants that God’s kingdom comes to this word centered in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 591). They are viewing the development of the covenants (the “s” is also an important distinction they make from covenant theology) diachronastically:

Yet, contrary to “covenant theology,” which has the tendency to speak of God’s one plan of salvation in terms of the “covenant of grace,” or “dispensational theology,” which tends to partition history in terms of dispensations, it is more accurate to think in terms of a plurality of covenants (e.g., Gal. 4:24; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 8:7-13), which are part of the progressive revelation of the one plan of God that is fulfilled in the new covenant. This allows us to speak properly of the continuity of God’s plan across the ages now culminated in the new covenant, and it also helps us avoid flattening the relationship between the biblical covenants and downplaying the signficant amount of progression between them. This, in turn, allows us to see specific covenantal discontinuities in God’s unfolding plan which has import for a variety of theological issues. (p. 602)

Three of the major practical implications which I found helpful in the final section include the discussion of baptism, particular redemption, & the land promises.

First, it’s clear that part of the major difference between this new covenant theology and classical covenant theology is the understanding of the Abrahamic covenant and the covenant of grace. Gentry and Wellum argue that there is both conditional and unconditional imports to the Abrahamic covenant. And that the new covenant made with Christ is unique and distinct from the old covenant. So while they can speak of one people of God, they also call out the church as a new people of God.  This understanding (seeing the continuity and discontinuity) provides the basis for rejecting padeobaptism. For in the new covenant, they argue, Jeremiah 31 says that all those who are under the new covenant have experienced the work of the Spirit in their heart. I could say more but you should really buy the book.

Second, they offer a robust defense of particular redemption. Within the wider development of their kingdom through covenant, their argument for particular redemption is nearly an impenetrable fort. They again place the unique work of redemption by Christ in the framework of the new covenant. If we argue that the new covenant is different from the old covenant primarily because the new covenant is not mixed and as Jeremiah 31 says all those under the new covenant will experience a greater working of the Holy Spirit than the question must asked: for who is Christ representing under the new covenant?

If the answer is everyone without distinction than we do not have much of a new covenant. This lackluster covenant then also speaks to the success of Christ’s high priestly work. The work of the high priest was always only for the covenant people. In the new covenant Hebrews emphasis repeatedly that the new covenant is better in its efficiencies and application. However, this cannot be the case under a general redemption.

Finally, they tackle the land promises and trace the idea of land and rest through out the whole story of Scripture. They firmly plan the promised land as on the shoulders of the first rest offered to Adam and final rest and its fulfillment in Christ in the new creation. They say:

In this final vision, as the curtains close, we now see what the eschatological goal of God’s creation was in the first place. Eden as the temple sanctuary now reaches its telos in the new creation. The land, which functioned as a type of this greater reality, now reaches its terminus. And the covenant relationship which God created us for in the first place is now realized in its fullness as we enjoy the presence of our great and glorious triune covenant God, and serve him in worship, adoration, devotion, and obedience forevermore. (p. 716)

Balanced, scholarly, and approachable

I enjoyed reading Kingdom through Covenant immensely. It again was refreshingly balanced and biblical. I cannot recall a place where their arguments were not tethered to the Bible even when I may have disagreed with their conclusions. You cannot ask for much from any book. I already mentioned the benefit for the chapter on the new covenant and Daniel but the entire work would be a huge help for pastors interested in preaching through the Old Testament. Also, the flow of thought and arrangement could nicely translate into a more advanced discipleship track or sunday school of sorts for unpacking the covenant and the narrative of all of Scripture. There is so much rich information that could easily be translated into meat for a lay person.

Practically Kingdom through Covenant’s thrust is more covenant than dispensational. And it’s more Baptistic in its understanding and hermeneutical underpinnings. What they have provided is a magisterial biblical theology that reformed Baptists can grab on to and call their own.

Kingdom through Covenant is the kind of book you must read with your eyes opened and fully engaged. Especially if you do not have a background in theology, the reading will be strenuous but I found the same joy finishing this book as I do after a long hike to the top of a mountain. Therefore, do not let the size of this book intimidate you. The benefit will far out weigh the hard work you put in to reading it.

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There are 71 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Looks like a good resource, worthy of a careful reading.  Thanks for the review.

G. N. Barkman

Bob Hayton's picture

I just finished this book myself. It is a fantastic book that seeks to bring clarity to the dispensational / covenant theology debate. It critiques both views arguing that the genealogical principle (of children being included in the covenant) is typological and expanded in the new testament to only adopted children / children by faith being in the covenant. This hits the CT camp. Then he argues, more convincingly (in my opinion), that Israel the nation, and the promised land are both developd typologically throughout Scripture and point to greater realities beyond themselves. He shows how land in the OT itself is expanded and viewed as a type from Eden on through Canaan to an expectation of a global inheritance. This hits the dispensational camp.

Ultimately, I'm convinced that their new covenant theology position, which sees Jesus as the true Israel, is the most true to Scripture of any of the options on the table today for seeing how the OT and NT fit together, and for how to view Israel and the Church. 

This book also captures the state of the debate today and is worthy of reading and interacting with no matter what your theological mindset. I highly recommend it!

Great review, Mathew. Appreciated many of the points you make and how appreciative you are of the book even though you don't accept all its premises.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Greg Long's picture

Thanks for the review, Matthew. I read primarily sections 1 and 3 of the book, and found it very thought-provoking. I'm still digesting it.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Mathew Sims's picture

Thanks Bob for sharing my review at SharperIron. It's def a book which will cause you to dig into Scripture.

Mathew Sims

James K's picture

Mike Vlach also reviewed it in addition to Bock and Moo.

http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/msj24b.pdf

Several things are worth noting.

Moo, Bock, and Vlach all mentioned how weak the NT exegesis was.  If the NT is the priority in interpretation, some key texts were starved for attention and locked in a closet.

Jesus as the "True Israel" would only nullify the land promises and national salvation if the NT was silent about the matter.  It isn't.  Believing that Jesus is the "True Israel" isn't unique to any system.

 

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Paul Henebury's picture

For what it's worth I think the book is worth reading, but it suffers from two flaws; one simply irksome, the other well nigh fatal.

1. The authors do not have a good grasp of Dispensational theology.  This comes out more clearly with Wellum, who defers too much to progressive dispensationalist Craig Blaising, and shows scant awareness of traditional dispensational scholarship.  Neither author is well versed enough in dispensationalism to measure out a middle course between it and covenant theology. 

 

2. Both writers assume that covenant fulfillment happened largely at the first advent.  This allows them to reshape covenant promises to fit first coming/ecclesial revelation.  They both assume fulfillment at the Cross without proving that thesis.  

 

There is no via media here, only a recasting of covenant theology via "New Covenant Theology."  Thus, all the old problems with CT surface: the OT is treated as a depository of types (interpreted as fulfilled at the first advent!); the theologically charged new covenant performs much as the covenant of grace, spiritualizing seemingly clear covenant oaths and shoehorning them into Christ and the Church; supercessionism again rears its head upon the nation of Israel, and the reader is presented with a batch of pious double-speak.  God must do what He promises to do, but the true meaning of what He promised lies apart from the promises themselves - in the NT - a revelation no first generation Christian had access to.

  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Bob Hayton's picture

Ironic!

James K faults the authors for being weak on NT exegesis (not enough of it). Paul faults them for basing their entire position on NT exegesis.

I don't know if you've read the book, Paul, or not. But they take pains to build their system from the ground up using OT exegesis. They illustrated what many other scholars also demonstrate: that the OT itself views the land typologically and sees a greater fulfillment of the new covenant than what typical dispensational authors have allowed. The OT expectation is of the borders enlarged and the Gentiles included in far bigger ways than make sense in classic dispensationalism (of the Ryrie variety).

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

James K's picture

Actually, I noted how Moo (a NCT not a DT), Bock (PD), and Vlach (DT) all note how weak the NT effort was.

They built the case assuming certain NT truths rather than exegeting the NT.

I applaud all books that demonstrate the fallacies essential to CT.  This book hurts CT more than DT by far.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Paul claims the authors of this book do not understand DT.  He further sees the NCT of this book to be nothing more than a minor variation of CT,  However, many CT's strongly reject NCT as a far too radical departure from CT.  That seems ironic to me, but I only mention this to play the devil's advocate.  I personally believe NCT is closer to CT than to DT, but I see it as correcting some of the problems of classical CT.

My own difficulties with DT came through the exegesis of several NT texts in which the writers of Scripture handle OT texts differently than does DT.  I realized that NT authors treated some of the OT prophecies which DT sees fulfilled in the second coming as already fulfilled in the first coming.  If some are understood this way, others may be as well.  Since all OT prophecies are not quoted in the NT, I cannot prove that assertion.  However, it makes more sense to believe that OT texts which are handled this way point to the divinely intended manner for understanding other OT texts.

Additional irony is seen in DT basing it's interpretation upon the priority of the OT, and not allowing the NT to adjust their understanding of OT prophecies, whereas CT bases it's interpretation upon the superior standing of the NT, and the adjustment of their understanding of OT prophecies in the light of the NT.  That seems opposite of what one might expect, but that appears to be the crux of the competing interpretations.  I find it difficult to defend the notion that OT interpretation should be given priority over the NT.  Though DT would not accept this characterization, that's what you have when you bend NT texts to fit OT interpretation rather than the other way around.  Surely the NT must be given priority in our understanding of the OT.  What other conclusion can we draw from progressive revelation?

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:

... Paul faults them for basing their entire position on NT exegesis.

I don't know if you've read the book, Paul, or not. But they take pains to build their system from the ground up using OT exegesis. They illustrated what many other scholars also demonstrate: that the OT itself views the land typologically and sees a greater fulfillment of the new covenant than what typical dispensational authors have allowed. The OT expectation is of the borders enlarged and the Gentiles included in far bigger ways than make sense in classic dispensationalism (of the Ryrie variety).

 

Actually Bob, I said nothing about NT exegesis.  I just said they see covenantal fulfillment in the first coming.  They constantly speak of the fulfillment at the Cross and such like.  Yes, I have read the book.

You ought to know that I am well aware of the "other scholars" and their typological exegesis (something I alluded to above).  And to talk of "enlargements" etc is simply to indulge in the kind of double-speak I refer to.  I do not mean that personally.  I simply wish to put forth a plea for plain speech.

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

G. N. Barkman says

Quote:
Additional irony is seen in DT basing it's interpretation upon the priority of the OT, and not allowing the NT to adjust their understanding of OT prophecies

 

I really don't want to get into a skirmish here.  Your reasons for leaving DT are taken, even if I personally disagree.  I am aware CT's (especially non-baptists) don't like NCT, but as you also see that it's closer to CT it is moot.  If you will look up the quotations of DT's by the authors you will find a very compressed list; and most major points are made either through Blaising or with generalizations. 

I do not believe one Testament has heremeutical priority over the other.  They are both equally the Word of God and are both quite clear (with some exceptions in certain passages).  The NT "adjustment" is so often not an adjustment at all, merely the addition of information (which is what progressive revelation really is).  In line with many, the authors of this book devalue the OT by making much of it typological based on their understanding of the NT (they read the NT back into the OT).  That isn't progressive revelation at all.  It is better named "corrective revelation" or "revised revelation."

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

"I do not believe one Testament has heremeutical priority over the other."  I meant hermeneutical of course.  I've no idea what heremeutical means Smile

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

James K's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

My own difficulties with DT came through the exegesis of several NT texts in which the writers of Scripture handle OT texts differently than does DT.  I realized that NT authors treated some of the OT prophecies which DT sees fulfilled in the second coming as already fulfilled in the first coming.

Rarely does a DT ever claim that a nonDT understands their position.  Most of the time it is true I think, but it is pretty standard to just include that.  The same is true for CTers claiming that also.

NCT is an animal that neither CT nor DT like.  NCT is actually very limited in its scope.  CT and DT are quite extensive in what they affect.  It is true that the majority of people who would identify with NCT did not come out of DT though.  A lot of them were disgruntled CTers who were tired of all the doublespeak that CTers must use.  NCT emphasizes actual covenants, not speculative ones.  When I read former CT now NCT hammer this point, I can only imagine Sam Waldron or Michael Horton with a twitch in their eye as they read that.

To your quote though, is it possible you mean that the NT uses certain texts differently than what some DTers say?  In other words, is it really the system that is at fault or the exegete?  Not everyone agrees with Ryrie's 3 essentials for DT.  In fact, they are actually quite silly.  The history of DT itself has demonstrated that Ryrie's 3 points cannot be essential to the system.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

James K's picture

I meant to include that neither testament should be given priority.  I think the NT is the final word.  Proper exegesis of the NT cannot happen though apart from the foundation of proper OT exegesis.  The NT would verify whether or not the OT exegesis was correct.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

AndrewSuttles's picture

JK -

 

Terms like "actual" and "double speak" are a bit pejorative, no? 

1) I believe that our triune God 'actually' planned our redemption in eternity past. 

2) I believe that Adam (in his original state) actually had the strength to stand before God based on his obedience, but after his fall he (and we) are no longer able to stand on our own works. 

3) I believe that all who ever were or ever will be saved (from Adam to the end of this world) are so by the vicarious atonement provided by Christ - all men are either fallen in Adam or stand in Christ. 

These three are the very essence of Covenant theology (which does place tremendous emphasis of the Biblical Covenants as well).  All of this is Biblical and 'actual' in my opinion.

 

Andrew

 

Larry's picture

Moderator

These three are the very essence of Covenant theology (which does place tremendous emphasis of the Biblical Covenants as well).  All of this is Biblical and 'actual' in my opinion.

But none of that is unique to covenant theology.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I was corresponding with a CT recently, and he remarked that the "fatal flaw" of DT is that we use the OT to re-interpret the NT. I was pondering this remark today as I wrapped up a study of eschatology in Amos 9. This characterization is completely incorrect. DT does not let the OT interpret the NT at all, we simply refuse to allow the NT to correct the OT.

These two testaments go together; there is no correction or alteration of literal promises (which were understood to be literal by their original audience). The NT does not re-interpret the OT; it merely expands upon it.

Paul Henebury wrote:

The NT "adjustment" is so often not an adjustment at all, merely the addition of information (which is what progressive revelation really is).  In line with many, the authors of this book devalue the OT by making much of it typological based on their understanding of the NT (they read the NT back into the OT).  That isn't progressive revelation at all.  It is better named "corrective revelation" or "revised revelation."

I agree wholeheartedly with this observation.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

James K's picture

AndrewSuttles wrote:

JK -

 

Terms like "actual" and "double speak" are a bit pejorative, no? 

1) I believe that our triune God 'actually' planned our redemption in eternity past. 

2) I believe that Adam (in his original state) actually had the strength to stand before God based on his obedience, but after his fall he (and we) are no longer able to stand on our own works. 

3) I believe that all who ever were or ever will be saved (from Adam to the end of this world) are so by the vicarious atonement provided by Christ - all men are either fallen in Adam or stand in Christ. 

These three are the very essence of Covenant theology (which does place tremendous emphasis of the Biblical Covenants as well).  All of this is Biblical and 'actual' in my opinion.

 

Andrew

Those terms I used were lifted from former CT but now NCT who made those very claims.

1. So do I.

2. If by stand you mean he could maintain what he had, then yes, so do I.

3. So do I.

I am not CT at all.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

James K's picture

Larry wrote:

These three are the very essence of Covenant theology (which does place tremendous emphasis of the Biblical Covenants as well).  All of this is Biblical and 'actual' in my opinion.

But none of that is unique to covenant theology.

Exactly right.  That can't be the essence of CT since it is not unique to CT.  Even DT would agree with those points.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Several have made a statement to the effect that the NT does not correct the OT, but only adds new information.  True.  But the handling of the OT by NT authors may very well correct the way we have interpreted the OT.  What the OT says, and how we interpret what it says may be entirely different matters.

If we refuse to allow the NT to teach us anything about interpreting the OT, we are putting our interpretations on the same level as inspired Scripture.  Isn't that, essentially, the great mistake the Pharisees of Christ's day made?

We cannot claim that our hermaneutic is either inspired or infallible.  To begin studying the OT with a particular rule of interpretation, such as the "literal whenever possible" rule, will lead us to understand the OT in a fairly predictable way.  When we observe that NT writers did not honor our rule, it should cause us to re-consider the rule, to modify it to accommodate new information.  To contend that the NT cannot correct our interpretation is to claim infallibility for our interpretation.  It forces us to declare that the NT has not corrected our interpretation because it cannot.  The NT can only supply additional information.  But there is a huge difference between stating the NT may only supply additional information, because the inspired NT cannot correct nor contradict the inspired OT, and stating that the NT may confirm or else correct our interpretation of the OT.  To deny the latter is to dangerously confuse our interpretations, which are fallible, with sacred Scripture, which is infallible.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

When we observe that NT writers did not honor our rule

But this observation seems to assert the very thing you wish to deny--infallible interpretation. Why do you think we can't interpret the OT properly but we can interpret the NT properly? How do you know that your NT interpretation is, in fact, correct?

I think that with much of the NT, we don't know exactly how they did what they did with the OT. We can see what they did, but we do not know how they did it. What role does the Holy Spirit play in what they did with the NT?

Some assert that if the NT used the OT in certain ways, then we should be able to do the same. Otherwise, the meaning is not in the words, but in something else. In other words if you assert that inspiration was needed to do what the NT authors did, then it is not something that is found in the OT words/text, and it is not something we can replicate. However, if the NT authors used the OT legitimately, then the meaning they assert is in the text and we can replicate.

I find that to be, at least as of now, a false dichotomy, that if it is legitimate we can do it, and if we can't do it, then it isn't legitimate.

But that's getting a bit astray. My main point is to suggest that our interpretation of the NT may be just as faulty as it is of the OT. We may assert some new view based on the NT, when in fact we misunderstand the NT.

Bob Hayton's picture

We do know why the NT interprets the OT as it does - often. And the reason has a lot to do with 2nd Temple Judaism and how they interpreted Scripture.

What boggles my mind is that the group that clamors the loudest for "literal, grammatical, historical" or what is often called "grammatico-historical" interpretation, are the ones who don't do enough of the hard work of figuring out how ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) and 2nd Temple Judaism people would have interpreted or understood the grammatical/literal accounts in Scripture. This group looks down their nose at any talk of genre, when genre is how we do literal / literary interpretation - and genre comes from a detailed study of grammar and history!

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Paul Henebury's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Several have made a statement to the effect that the NT does not correct the OT, but only adds new information.  True.  But the handling of the OT by NT authors may very well correct the way we have interpreted the OT.  What the OT says, and how we interpret what it says may be entirely different matters.

If we refuse to allow the NT to teach us anything about interpreting the OT, we are putting our interpretations on the same level as inspired Scripture.  Isn't that, essentially, the great mistake the Pharisees of Christ's day made?

We cannot claim that our hermaneutic is either inspired or infallible.  To begin studying the OT with a particular rule of interpretation, such as the "literal whenever possible" rule, will lead us to understand the OT in a fairly predictable way.  When we observe that NT writers did not honor our rule, it should cause us to re-consider the rule, to modify it to accommodate new information.  To contend that the NT cannot correct our interpretation is to claim infallibility for our interpretation.  It forces us to declare that the NT has not corrected our interpretation because it cannot.  The NT can only supply additional information.  But there is a huge difference between stating the NT may only supply additional information, because the inspired NT cannot correct nor contradict the inspired OT, and stating that the NT may confirm or else correct our interpretation of the OT.  To deny the latter is to dangerously confuse our interpretations, which are fallible, with sacred Scripture, which is infallible.

 

Whether or not one agrees with my position or the DT position, or CT or NCT positions, the fact is the brother's argument has problems. 

 

In the first place it threatens the clarity of Scripture.  If a commitment to a prima facie interpretation of the OT is suspect, how come it is okay for the major doctrines (please see my posts on the Rules of Affinity at SI), and the prophecies of Christ (Christ pointed to them remember).  And how come the test of a prophet is based on whether what he says literally comes to pass? (it would be plain daft to deny this point).  

Secondly, it threatens the sufficiency of Scripture.  If the "Scriptures" referred to by the NT writers (i.e. the OT) were subject to alteration or modification because we discover (?) that the NT writers did not honor the rule of the plain sense  then its older, pre-NT sense was insufficient (I always ask what God meant in Jer. 33:14-26 and have never got a straight answer).  Scripture is only sufficient if it can be understood.  If it can't, it is useless (which is not a synonym for 'sufficient').  I addressed many problems with this approach in this article: http://www.telosministries.com/forty-reasons-for-not-reinterpreting-the-old-testament-according-to-the-new/

Thirdly, this assumes that G.N Barkman's interpretation of the NT is correct, which I would respectfully question (e.g. how does he interpret the disciples' question to Jesus in Acts 1:6?).  As my interpretation of the NT dovetails quite nicely (though granted some problem passages) with the OT I am not going to be persuaded by this kind of argumentation - which appears to beg the question in his favor.

Larry makes my fourth point very well.

Finally (for now), why is G.N.'s favored hermeneutics above suspicion while DT's 'contend that the NT cannot correct their interpretation?'  Really, who is saying any such thing?  What I and others like me are saying is that G.N. Barkman's interpretations of the NT cannot correct our interpretations until he has proved his point.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:

We do know why the NT interprets the OT as it does - often. And the reason has a lot to do with 2nd Temple Judaism and how they interpreted Scripture.

What boggles my mind is that the group that clamors the loudest for "literal, grammatical, historical" or what is often called "grammatico-historical" interpretation, are the ones who don't do enough of the hard work of figuring out how ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) and 2nd Temple Judaism people would have interpreted or understood the grammatical/literal accounts in Scripture. This group looks down their nose at any talk of genre, when genre is how we do literal / literary interpretation - and genre comes from a detailed study of grammar and history!

 

Bob,

 

Here you are advocating a hermeneutics relativized by our position on the timeline.  How much of this "knowledge" of 2nd Temple Judaism" was known a hundred years ago?  500 years ago?  1,500?  And do you really think in another hundred years people will be saying the same things about 2nd Temple interpretation that they do now?

 

On top of this you are advocating interpretation of Scripture from outside of Scripture.  Thus, Scripture doesn't interpret Scripture, profane history does.  I realize that's overstated, but you are advocating a position which would be hard pressed to stop its momentum in that direction.  Again, what of the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture?

 

As I've already pointed out, the first Christians did not have the NT on hand to interpret their OT's with.  Neither have the majority of Christians for most of Church History.  And it's mind boggling to me that you should think a first or third century Christian in Ephesus or Smyrna or Lyons should know all about 2nd Temple Judaism.

Further, you should know that scholars cannot agree on 2nd temple interpretations.

Next, although I do not advocate G-H hermeneutics as applied to the Bible, but come at it through Scripture itself, yet as John Sailhamer and others have pointed out, the G-H method is really grammatical interpretation.  That's a good thing because we often cannot reconstruct the history in many places accurately from the statements of the biblical authors.

We don't look down our noses at genre.  We just don't happen to agree with you about genre.  An example: "apokalypsis" means to unveil or reveal; not to make esoteric.  But lo and behold a book called the Apocalypse (Revelation) is converted into "apocalyptic" genre which we're told hides or veils the actual meaning!  I reject that view of genre as opposing the clear intent of an apokalypsis or "revelation."  

Look brother, if you think the OT is a repository of "types" waiting to be properly understood by readers of the NT, that fine.  But I'd appreciate it if you'd respond to these matters, and/or the others I spoke about above.

 

God bless,

 

Paul H.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Just a quick reply because of present time limitations.

The Old Testament cannot help us with inspired interpretation of the New Testament since it was written first.  However, the NT can help us significantly with the OT because it was given later.  For obvious reasons, we have no OT authors quoting NT Scripture, but we have numerous NT authors quoting and commenting upon OT Scripture.  If we apply historical/grammatical methods to NT passages where the OT is cited, we get some very helpful, not to mention inspired interpretation of the OT.  The OT and NT cannot hold equal place in the field of interpretation.  The NT claims necessary priority in the interpretation of Scripture.

Another way of stating this is that we cannot interpret the OT without reference to the NT.  We can arrive at a loosely held, tentative interpretation, but must be willing to adjust it in light of the NT, whenever NT authors deal with an OT text.  In light of the numerous OT texts cited in the NT, we cannot "lock in" our understanding based upon what we believe to be the obvious meaning employing historical/grammatical methodology.  If NT authors do not arrive at the same interpretation, we know that we failed to discern the divinely intended meaning.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

If we apply historical/grammatical methods to NT passages where the OT is cited, we get some very helpful, not to mention inspired interpretation of the OT. 

But the question remains, was that interpretation inspired, or is it something we can do simply with the OT text apart from inspiration?

 The OT and NT cannot hold equal place in the field of interpretation.  The NT claims necessary priority in the interpretation of Scripture.

This doesn't seem to follow.

Another way of stating this is that we cannot interpret the OT without reference to the NT.

And yet those living in OT times were expected to read/hear the OT and do something with it. They were supposed to believe certain things and do certain things, and Jesus rebukes them for not doing it (cf. John 3; John 5; Luke 24; etc.). Your position seems to negate that. It removes all meaning from the OT text.

Furthermore it is inadequate since the NT refers to very little of the OT. Given your approach, it would seem we could only deal with what the NT clarifies for us. And that, only if we interpret the NT accurately. Which leads us back to the problem I brought up before. On what basis can we be sure of our NT interpretation but not our OT interpretation? Why can we not simply read the OT and believe what it says?

If NT authors do not arrive at the same interpretation, we know that we failed to discern the divinely intended meaning.

See above ... How do you know what the NT authors meant? And why do you only know what they meant and not what the OT authors meant?

The Bible does not seem to make this distinction, this "canon within a canon," that you are leaning heavily on. The Bible as a whole treats the OT on equal par with the NT. I see no reason to depart from that.

Paul Henebury's picture

As I said, brother Barkman is treating his interpretation of the NT as the standard.  But what if I reject that standard? 

This line is alarming in view of what I've said previously:

Quote:
Another way of stating this is that we cannot interpret the OT without reference to the NT.

We cannot?  Bang goes 2 Tim. 3:16-17!

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Larry's picture

Moderator

We do know why the NT interprets the OT as it does - often. And the reason has a lot to do with 2nd Temple Judaism and how they interpreted Scripture.

This is a subject of ongoing study, which can be fascinating to some degree. It is also the root of where people like Pete Enns have gone. But again, you, like Brother Barkman, seem to be ignoring the possibility of wrong interpretation on your part. It seems to me that even with an understanding of Second Temple Judiasm, all the questions are still not answered.  There is, as Paul points out, significant debate about the period, and it is relatively new. Should we presume that all of church history was somehow left out of something so key?

Interestingly, the only inspired record of the Second Temple period seems to point to a future kingdom in which Israel is set apart from all other nations with a temple that will far outshine the rebuilt temple. These are dispensational views.

What boggles my mind is that the group that clamors the loudest for "literal, grammatical, historical" or what is often called "grammatico-historical" interpretation, are the ones who don't do enough of the hard work of figuring out how ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) and 2nd Temple Judaism people would have interpreted or understood the grammatical/literal accounts in Scripture. This group looks down their nose at any talk of genre, when genre is how we do literal / literary interpretation - and genre comes from a detailed study of grammar and history!

Wow, Bob ... Don't do enough of the hard work? Looks down their nose at any talk of genre? That seems pretty strong, doesn't it? Do you really mean that?

I would say that genre is key, and that is a key dispensational point. But genre isn't how we do literal/literary interpretation, and it doesn't come from a detailed study of grammar and history. Genre is a grouping literature based on characteristics of the literature. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you are saying.

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