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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TylerR's picture

Editor

Now for some application - I am genuinely curious how a CT interprets Amos 9:11-15. What did Amos' audience in the northern kingdom think he was promising them? What warrant is there to believe Amos was not speaking of a literal restoration of Israel, still to come?

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,

12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”[c]
    declares the Lord who does this.

13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
    and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.

14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

15 I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.

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?

Bob Hayton's picture

I didn't really want to get into a full-fledged debate. And I don't have time for one. I just want to make a few clarifying points as follow up to earlier remarks. Unfortunately they are a bit rambling but I"m trying to not be misunderstood.

1) I appreciate very much Greg Barkman's point about learning from the NT use of the OT, and listening to how the NT authors interpret Scripture. How else could God have communicated to us the proper way to interpret Scripture than through modeling that for us in the NT? I have heard so much special pleading that the NT authors are inspired and what have you, we can't follow their example and do what they do - so much it is truly bewildering! What they did was tell us what OT Scripture meant by means of their appropriation and yes interpretation of earlier Scripture, and if they did that we should follow them.  Texts like 1 Cor. 10:11 and Heb. 9:5 (which implies that the author could have spoken in more detail if he had had time - indicating there was more to validly conclude from the OT than he could share), seem to confirm this. And 1 Pet. 1:10-12 indicates that some of what the prophets wrote did not make perfect sense - was not abundantly clear - to them in their day, but they knew it applied to a future day.

2) Genre comes from study of literary structures in a given time period. We study Scripture yes, but also writings of the same time period to understand how they would be understood, how they would be grouped by genre. The early Christians generally interpreted Scripture with much more awareness to types and the OT story applying to the church (as the end-times Israel, as it were) than dispensationalists today. They may not have appealed to 2nd Temple authors or documents, but they were much closer to that era of time and way of thinking, and held onto a more spiritual (to use that term) approach to interpretation than DT is comfortable with today.  Studying the NT use of the OT by itself is informative, when the Jewish use of the OT - and even more important the OT use of the OT itself, when that matches what we see the NT doing, this confirms we are on the right track. The further removed we are from the time of the writing, the more need we have of scholarship to recover the intended meaning. I don't discount the history of the church, but I do remember how that history has been largley chucked in the wastecan by some DT scholars - and other biblical critical scholars. The DT guys post-Darby have now figured out the true meaning of Scripture that was lost by the church - since no one taught of a pre-trib rapture before the 1830s - as one example. I also heard an intriguing lecture by a evangelical scholar who showed how the entire history of  interpretation of parables from near  the time of Christ to the late 1800s had totally botched the interpretation of the Good Samaritan for instance. Some German guy figured out there was no allegory and no analogy there at all. Everyone from Augustine to Chrystostom and Calvin to Luther were all wrong. The German guy was right. I don't discount the interpretation of the church and the findings of G.K. Beale, for instance, stay in accord with the time-honored confessions (WCF) and yet still do justice to the historico-critical learnings and grapples with 2nd Temple Judaism.

3) Everyone agrees the NT has priority over the OT to some level. For one, the NT announces the fulfillment of much of the OT expectations. The fulfillment comes with Christ. Christ announces the whole OT points to Him and talks of Him. Furthermore, now that we have the NT, we don't worship on the Sabbath, we don't kill animals for sacrifices, we can wear mixed fabric clothing (cotton blends) and we don't have to have parapets on our roof-tops. Oh and we can have BACON! So clearly there is some priority there. 

4) I know that everyone has their favorite little ditties to help with Bible interpretation. This one seems simple but it is really quite profound:

Old in the New contained. New in the Old explained.

Anyone reading the Bible straight through would see the above is obviously true. But to see the stress made that no priority should be given to the New Testament seems strange - and actually quite new in the history of Bible interpretation. 

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.

Andrew K.'s picture

TylerR wrote:

Now for some application - I am genuinely curious how a CT interprets Amos 9:11-15. What did Amos' audience in the northern kingdom think he was promising them? What warrant is there to believe Amos was not speaking of a literal restoration of Israel, still to come?

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,

12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”[c]
    declares the Lord who does this.

13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
    and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.

14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

15 I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.

I like James' interpretation in Acts 15:12-19 myself:

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 j“‘After this I will return,

and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;

I will rebuild its ruins,

and I will restore it,

17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,

and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,

says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

Without doing any study in this passage myself, it looks to me like there are two periods here: "that day" (v11-12) and "the days are coming" (v13-14). The first corresponds to the part of this age following the First Advent of Christ; the second corresponds to the age following the Second.

There will be a literal restoration of Israel. But it will be bigger and better than the Israel at that time could have imagined. It will encompass the whole earth.

That's my take at least. Any real Bible scholars care to chime in? Smile
 

神是爱

Bob Hayton's picture

One other point. G.K. Beale has perhaps done more study on the NT use of the OT than any other evangelical scholar. Obviously not everyone will agree with everything he says, but the following five presuppositions that he sees the NT authors uniformly displaying are helpful and seem to flow naturally from an observation and study of the NT.

These five presuppositions are spelled out here, in a Google Books excerpt from his new book: Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. The footnotes aren't in that link but similar footnotes and the same five points are made back in this online article from 1989 "Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from Wrong Texts? An Examination of the Presuppositions of Jesus' and the apostles' exegetical method."

I copy them here below from Justin Taylor's blogpost which provides additional links and information about the latest book from Beale that expounds on this interpretive method.

[Beale] identifies five assumptions or presuppositions of the New Testament which affects how they understood and use the Old Testament:

  1. There is the apparent assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.
  2. In the light of corporate solidarity or representation, Christ as the Messiah is viewed as the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel—the church—in the NT. [Thus, e.g., Isa. 49:3-6 and the use of Isa. 49:6 in Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23; note how Christ and the church fulfill what is prophesied of Israel in the OT. Beale notes, "one can hold to the notion of Christ as true Israel and still have room for a hope that the majority of ethnic Jews will be saved as some point in the future. Any such salvation would be in their identification with Christ as true Israel."]
  3. History is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts (cf., e.g., Matt. 5:17; 11:13; 13:16-17).
  4. The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ. [See, e.g., Mark 1:15; Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 10:11; Gal. 4:4; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 18.]
  5. As a consequence of the preceding presupposition, it follows that the later parts of biblical history function as the broader context for interpreting earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors. One deduction from this premise is that Christ is the goal toward which the OT pointed and is the end-time center of redemptive history, which is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises. [On this, cf. 2 Cor. 1:20; Matt. 5:17; 13:11, 16-17; Luke 24:25-27, 32, 44-45; John 5:39; 20:9; Rom. 10:4.]

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.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Critics of dispensationalism have often cited James’ quotation from Amos in Acts 15:16-17 and argued that the church fulfills this promise. In context, however, James is not arguing this point at all.  He was simply arguing that, in light of God’s revelation to Peter (Acts 10:45) and also Paul (Eph 3:6), Gentiles did not need to conform to Mosaic law to be saved. This is quite correct, and accords well with the Biblical teaching that God administers His rule over the world in different ways as He progressively works out His purpose for world history.

James never argued Amos 9:11-12 was fulfilled; but he did argue it was in agreement with what was happening. If Gentiles will be saved during the time the Kingdom was restored, why should they be circumcised in this current age?

Moreover, God is not dealing with men according to the Mosaic law any longer, and the edict of the Jerusalem Council reflects this reality (Acts 15:22-29). 

I would also ask the following:

1. How has the booth of David been raised up in history?

2. If you believe this is a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men, then can you honestly explain how the breaches are being repaired, it's ruins are being raised up, and rebuilt "as in the days of old?" Would Amos' audience have honestly understood or expected a spiritual fulfillment? Was there a spiritual, unearthly Israel "in the days of old?"

3. V.12 is possessive, stating that Israel will possess the Gentile nations. There is no thought of the church replacing Israel. Will the church possess itself?

4. You see V. 13-15 as future, in the eternal state. Most amillennialists attempt to allegorize it as the word of God going forth to the people in this present age.

Appreciate the interaction. No need to respond back - just food for thought.

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?

TylerR's picture

Editor

This hermeneutical divide cannot be solved by generalities, or by Systematic theologies which attempt to harmonize doctrines. Faithful exposition of the text, passage by passage, will lead the Christian to an honest understanding. The foundation of grammatical-historical hermeneutics is to discover what meaning the original author intended to convey to his audience.

As I go through tough passages, and I have many more to go, I find that dispensationalism is truer to the text. I look forward to tackling many "problem passages," not to reinforce a preconceived bias toward DT, but to honestly understand the meaning of the text.

I'll probably pick up a copy of this book down the road, or grab it from the library. I appreciated the review.

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?

Paul Henebury's picture

Bob,

 

You managed to write a long comment without hitting a single issue I raised.  As your preferred ditty slams right into these problems I had hoped you might try to respond more precisely.    

Dr. Paul Henebury

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

Steve Davis's picture

TylerR wrote:

This hermeneutical divide cannot be solved by generalities, or by Systematic theologies which attempt to harmonize doctrines. Faithful exposition of the text, passage by passage, will lead the Christian to an honest understanding. The foundation of grammatical-historical hermeneutics is to discover what meaning the original author intended to convey to his audience.

As I go through tough passages, and I have many more to go, I find that dispensationalism is truer to the text. I look forward to tackling many "problem passages," not to reinforce a preconceived bias toward DT, but to honestly understand the meaning of the text.

I'll probably pick up a copy of this book down the road, or grab it from the library. I appreciated the review.

Tyler:

I appreciate your comments. I've hesitated to comment at all since the conversation usually degenerates to accusing positions of doublespeak or implying that other positions are not true to Scripture. What you will find is that Christians through faithful exposition will still come to different honest understandings. As a former DT I don't speak about the Church replacing Israel. I see the Church more a continuation of what began with an ethnic people and do not see a future reversal. Covenant keeping ethnic Jews along with believing Jews are the one people of God, the new man of Ephesians 2, the church a royal priesthood and holy nation. Much of this was mystery in the OT so yes the NT does clarify much that the original recipients didn't fully understand.  All I can say for now. On to work.

Steve

AndrewSuttles's picture

James K wrote:

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

 

Yes it is!  The very essence of CT is that there was an inter-Trinitarian "Council of Redemption" planned before time and that there there are two Federal Heads in time - Adam and Christ.  This IS covenant theology in a nutshell.

James K's picture

Andrew, then Dispensationalism is really covenantism.  I think you are too narrow in your definition.

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

Acts 15 provides an excellent example of how inspired NT authors interpreted OT Scripture.  The issue was the salvation of Gentiles through faith in Christ alone, without the requirement that they keep the Mosaic law.

James quotes from Amos 9, introducing his quotation with, "And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written."  He links the words of Amos to the current situation.  James says that Amos was speaking about the day in which James and the Jerusalem Council were meeting, that is to say, an OT prophecy about Gentile inclusion.  He says, "Just as it is written."  That doesn't sound like, "This isn't talking about the day in which we live, but it does have some secondary reference to what is happening today."

"After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down:  I will rebuild its ruins."  (16)  The first coming of Christ is the restoration of David's tabernacle.  Jesus Christ rebuilt its ruins.

"So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things."  (17)  David's rebuilt tabernacle enabled Gentiles to seek the Lord, and their inclusion has greatly enlarged the glory of David's rebuilt tabernacle, now ruled by David's greater son, Jesus Christ.  Though this understanding of the words of Amos may surprise some, it is "the Lord who does all these things."

"Known to God from eternity are all His works."  (19)  Though this fulfillment may seem strange to some, it is in perfect keeping with God's eternal plan of redemption, and the way He chose to rebuild Israel's glory by including believing Gentiles along with believing Jews in the rebuilt tabernacle of David.

Thus we have an illustration of how inspired NT writers understood this prophecy of Amos.  It may look to some as if Amos was speaking of a future day, but the NT informs us that it refers to the coming of Christ, and Gentile inclusion inaugurated with the New Covenant.

That's not what I would have thought if I had only Amos to study.  It is what I now think because I also have NT interpretation of Amos. 

 

G. N. Barkman

James K's picture

I find it informative that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not understanding the scripture. According to the theory of some, the Pharisees could have rightly responded that they would not know how to interpret scripture because Jesus had not told them yet. Yet Jesus expected the people to know what scripture meant.

 

When dealing with Israel's future, Peter in Acts told them to consider what the prophets had already said. This is after the beginning of the church, so  Peter still believed in future Israel.

 

Much of this whole discussion has to do with removing political Israel from prophecy. Some declare that the church is Israel therefore political Israel is nothing. This is why they must start with the nt and then read backward (see Beale and other clumsy authors for such reasoning).

 

Greg, I don't have any problem believing that acts 15 began with Christ's first coming. DT does not have a uniform view on that passage, so it isn't like DT has a blind eye about that.

 

I believe in future Israel because I believe in future nations, just like Revelation states. Those who claim that Israel has no future are actually guilty of a reverse restoration: all the nations except Israel. No question the Ryrie types out there emphasize Israel over the other nations, but they tried to over correct and swerved into the ditch on the other side.

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

James K wrote:

Andrew, then Dispensationalism is really covenantism.  I think you are too narrow in your definition.

 

Right.  Popular dispensationalism has 'come back' to a more Covenantal (Federal) view.

iKuyper's picture

AndrewSuttles wrote:
Right.  Popular dispensationalism has 'come back' to a more Covenantal (Federal) view.

 

Good catch, Andrew. It's kind of funny when you try to explain to dispensationalists a flaw in their system they always seem to say, "Oh, I'm not that kind of dispensationalist. I believe __________________." It seems like there are 2 types of recovering dispensationalists: 1) those who change their hermeneutic/theology totally, or 2) those who hang on to the name "dispensationalist" but then have developed a way to distance themselves from X or Y dispensationalist. In all fairness, there is no standard Covenant or New Covenant Theology but it seems as though there is more cohesion within the diversity of opinions versus all the variances within Dispensationalism.

----Anyways----

The Jews during Jesus' time were dispensationalists then, right? Weren't they looking for  LITERAL fulfillment of a few things? Were they in the wrong for demanding a king for how they knew or expected a king to be like?

Ecclesia semper reformanda est

James K's picture

AndrewSuttles wrote:

James K wrote:

Andrew, then Dispensationalism is really covenantism.  I think you are too narrow in your definition.

 

Right.  Popular dispensationalism has 'come back' to a more Covenantal (Federal) view.

Andrew, the wedge between covenantism and dispensationalism was driven hard by both sides.  Check out Todd Mangum's http://www.amazon.com/Dispensational-Covenantal-Studies-Evangelical-History-Thought/dp/1842273655/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1369865644&sr=8-2&keywords=todd+mangum

It seems like you are saying that the essence of covenantism is the same as dispensationalism.  How can that be when the authors of both sides want everyone to know how different they are?  Maybe covenantism in its original, but not current, form could be boiled down to those points, but I still don't believe that is accurate.  Covenantism can't exist without a covenant of works.  It is the grid superimposed on the bible that so is the cause of so many NCTers.

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

iKuyper wrote:

AndrewSuttles wrote:
Right.  Popular dispensationalism has 'come back' to a more Covenantal (Federal) view.

 

Good catch, Andrew. It's kind of funny when you try to explain to dispensationalists a flaw in their system they always seem to say, "Oh, I'm not that kind of dispensationalist. I believe __________________." It seems like there are 2 types of recovering dispensationalists: 1) those who change their hermeneutic/theology totally, or 2) those who hang on to the name "dispensationalist" but then have developed a way to distance themselves from X or Y dispensationalist. In all fairness, there is no standard Covenant or New Covenant Theology but it seems as though there is more cohesion within the diversity of opinions versus all the variances within Dispensationalism.

It is kind of funny?  What flaw do you believe was revealed?  I have an idea, let's use anecdotes to determine truth.

 

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

iKuyper wrote:

The Jews during Jesus' time were dispensationalists then, right? Weren't they looking for  LITERAL fulfillment of a few things? Were they in the wrong for demanding a king for how they knew or expected a king to be like?

This might be one of the most sad things I have ever read in a theological discussion.  Giving you the benefit of the doubt on not being intentionally malicious, this is so over the top ignorant as to hardly deserve the time it takes me to type this.  Do yourself a favor and stop reading covenantist propaganda.  If you don't agree with something, that is one thing.  Mockery something as a fool is never a good thing though.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for NOT understanding the scripture.  It is because they WEREN'T literalist that they failed to understand so much of what He did.  Failing to see the anticipation of the coming Messiah in the OT was not a result of literalism.  It is just the opposite.

Being literal does not make a person a dispensationalist.  What belief system is Harold Camping part of again?

I don't know how you feel about sola scriptura, but maybe you can point out your literal or figurative commitment to it by posting that one verse that talks about a covenant of works.

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

Bob Hayton wrote:

I don't discount the interpretation of the church and the findings of G.K. Beale, for instance, stay in accord with the time-honored confessions (WCF) and yet still do justice to the historico-critical learnings and grapples with 2nd Temple Judaism.

Bob, Bob, Bob, Judaism isn't Jewish, at least not the faith of the Jewish faithful.  Judaism was learned in Babylon where they didn't have a Temple, sacrifices, feasts, and the regulations found in the OT.  Instead they created a system where they didn't need a temple, sacrifices, feasts, and regulations found in the OT.  They created a whole 'nother system complete with new regulations.  Oh, and it was so complex, they were able to walk with the Messiah and still not know who he was.  It is because Judaism doesn't need a Messiah.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.

Jesus rejected Judaism.  You are advocating a hermeneutic to accommodate it.

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.

Larry's picture

Moderator

The Jews during Jesus' time were dispensationalists then, right? Weren't they looking for  LITERAL fulfillment of a few things? Were they in the wrong for demanding a king for how they knew or expected a king to be like?

Interestingly, Jesus didn't correct them, not even in Acts during his last words on earth to them when they were looking for a future kingdom to come as the OT promised. He allowed them to go on looking for their literal fulfillment.

Their expectation for a king wasn't incorrect. They simply refused to accept the king that was before them. Jesus said that if they believed Moses and the prophets they would accept him. The problem wasn't that they believed too much. They believed too little.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Bob, I also don't have time for an extended debate, and with Paul, I think you are actually not addressing the points, but I will make just a few brief comments again.

How else could God have communicated to us the proper way to interpret Scripture than through modeling that for us in the NT? I have heard so much special pleading that the NT authors are inspired and what have you, we can't follow their example and do what they do - so much it is truly bewildering!

1. How else? Through the common understanding of normal human communication. Long before the OT, people were responsible to interpret Scripture, and the way they did that was through normal rules of human communication.

2. I am not sure inspiration qualifies as special pleading; it's a pretty significant theological issue. It needs a bit more than a label. Whether one agrees with that view or not, it isn't special pleading.

3. This assumes that your interpretation of their interpretation is right. But again, how can you be so sure that you can't interpret the OT but you can interpret the NT? As a dispensationalist, I see a number of significant problems in what you espouse which I believe makes sense of the whole better.

And 1 Pet. 1:10-12 indicates that some of what the prophets wrote did not make perfect sense - was not abundantly clear - to them in their day, but they knew it applied to a future day.

Take this for instance. You say this was not abundantly clear. Yet it is very clear; Peter identifies the clarity in five points. The only thing they didn't know, according to the text, was what person or time this was referring to.

2) Genre comes from study of literary structures in a given time period. We study Scripture yes, but also writings of the same time period to understand how they would be understood, how they would be grouped by genre.

This is a better definition to some degree, but the time period feature is probably still saying too much. Narrative is narrative whether in 1500 BC at the Exodus or AD 60 with Acts or today. Prophecy has certain characteristics that group it together in all ages, as does poetry. It is probably true that culture is much more definitive in genre than time period. The idea of genre is similarity of literature based on shared characteristics, not time period. But this is irrelevant. This discussion does not hinge on genre.

The early Christians generally interpreted Scripture with much more awareness to types and the OT story applying to the church (as the end-times Israel, as it were) than dispensationalists today.

Again, you assume your conclusion. But there is no indication in the text itself of the typology that some advocate. Types certainly exist but they are easily abused. But the issues here are what constitutes valid typology.

Christ announces the whole OT points to Him and talks of Him.

Wasn't what Christ actually announced the idea that all parts of Scripture point to him.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Acts 15 provides an excellent example of how inspired NT authors interpreted OT Scripture.

It also provides an excellent example of how we interpret the NT authors.

There are essentially two views of James’ use of Amos in his message to the Jerusalem Council. The first is that James understands that the prophecies of Amos were being fulfilled by the early church in some way. The second is that James is simply using Amos to make a point without intending any sense of fulfillment.

 1.      Amos 9:11-12 is certainly eschatological. It speaks of the resurrection of the Davidic dynasty and the restoration of the nation of Israel to the land. Only by denying half this prophecy can it said to be fulfilled at the first coming. And if you deny half (the land half), or say it means something else (not actually the land), how do you maintain any meaning for it?

2.      James is addressing the issue of whether Gentiles must be circumcised and obey the law, to proselytize to the Jewish faith in order to be saved. Nothing in Amos, at face value, addresses this issue in Acts 15.

3.      James makes several changes that distinguish the events Amos has in view with the events in the early church.

 

Amos 9:11 "In that day [becomes "After these things" in Acts] ["I will return" is added in Acts] I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old; 12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name," Declares the LORD who does this.

Amos 9:12 (LXX) … that the remnant of men, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, may earnestly seek me, saith the Lord who does all these things.

Acts 15:16 'AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,' 18 SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.

 

 “In that day” becomes “After these things” – This refers to the period after God’s present activity of calling the Gentiles to salvation.

He adds “I will return” to show that Amos’ prophecy would not be fulfilled until after Christ returned. What significance is this in your view? You seem to have this fulfilled prior to his return, which makes me wonder what you do with those words.

James follows the LXX which has a slightly different translation. The LXX translates “possess” (Wvør>yyI) as “seek” (Wvør>dyI); and Edom (~Ada/) as man (~d"a').

 

4.      James is showing that God was calling Gentiles to salvation without their first becoming Jews (Acts 15:14). He cites Amos for support that such activity is not in contradiction to God’s prophecies in the OT. What God was presently doing in the church was exactly what he had promised to do in the Kingdom at the return of Christ and the resurrection of the Davidic throne.

5.      James does not say that Amos’ words were being “fulfilled,” but that the “words of the prophets were in agreement.”

What James seems to be pointing out is that the salvation of Gentiles is is no way contradictory to the OT. In fact, the OT tells us of the salvation of Gentiles, and he quotes the passage to prove it, which is says "agrees" with the current situation. And as such, they don't need to come under the Law. So this is a passage that is understood perfectly fine if simply read and explained. Reading more into it seems both unwarranted.

When we get presuppositions such as Brother Barkman has, all of the sudden we have to do some gymnastics to make it fit. He presupposes that James sees it as a fulfillment, yet nothing in the text indicates that.

It may look to some as if Amos was speaking of a future day

Isn't this more significant than you are treating it here? The reason it looks like that is because the words God inspired say that. By what authority do we say that they actually mean something else? This, IMO, is the crux of the matter.

That's not what I would have thought if I had only Amos to study. 

Again, this is significant. The audience of Amos was expected to believe something based on his words, and act accordingly. You seem to be suggesting that if they believed Amos, they would have believed wrongly. I find that a bit disconcerting. It's why I find Bob's earlier assertion that dispensationalists are not willing to do the hard work inaccurate. In this case, I think it is your side that needs more work. I don't see how we can simply bail out with your explanation. It seems superficial to me.

 

AndrewSuttles's picture

James K wrote:

Covenantism can't exist without a covenant of works.  It is the grid superimposed on the bible that so is the cause of so many NCTers.

 

I thought you said that you agreed that in Adam's fall, all his posterity fell with him.  Was he not the representative head for all his seed?

James K's picture

Believing Adam's fall brought the ruin of all does not equate to believing in a covenant of works.

This is a perfect example of reading into scripture.  Believing in a CoW is then read into Gen 1-3, and then superimposed on the rest of scripture.  The CoW can only be found in the white portions of the pages of scripture.  It is impossible to exegete it out of scripture.  This is where sola scriptura dies in the covenantist tradition.

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

James K wrote:

Believing Adam's fall brought the ruin of all does not equate to believing in a covenant of works.

 

Yes it does.  

Larry's picture

Moderator

Federal headship does not equate to a covenant of works. It is not a distinctive of covenantal theology.

James K's picture

Andrew, the CoW theory speculates that Adam would have earned something from his obedience.  I absolutely and totally reject that speculation.  Show me one verse where it says Adam would have received something more than he had.  If you can't do that, then the entire covenantist system is a fraud.  You can't appeal to the white portions of the biblical pages either.

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

Larry wrote:

Federal headship does not equate to a covenant of works.

 

Federal Theology and Covenant Theology are the same thing. 

 

Larry wrote:

It is not a distinctive of covenantal theology.

 

 

It was a distinctive of Covenant Theology before the latest revisions of dispensationalism.

AndrewSuttles's picture

James K wrote:

Andrew, the CoW theory speculates that Adam would have earned something from his obedience.  I absolutely and totally reject that speculation. 

 

Adam lost something by sinning against God.  He 'earned' spiritual death and lost access to the Tree of Life and life in the garden.  Conversely, had he continued in obedience, he would have 'earned' the right to continue in the state in which he was created.  

 

James K wrote:

If you can't do that, then the entire covenantist system is a fraud.  You can't appeal to the white portions of the biblical pages either.

You and I both accept the Federal headship of Adam and this is a cornerstone of Covenant Theology.

Greg Long's picture

Andrew, you are mistaken. Lewis Sperry Chafer taught federal headship in his Systematic Theology (vol. 2, p. 311), and he was an old school dispy.

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

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Larry's picture

Moderator

Federal Theology and Covenant Theology are the same thing.

Well, no.

It was a distinctive of Covenant Theology before the latest revisions of dispensationalism.

Granting that argument, it proves the point that is it not distinctive of covenant theology. It is possible to hold the federal headship of Adam and dispensationalism, as you admit here.

But in addition to what Greg pointed out about Chafer, Dr. McCune, who is a traditional dispensationalist, also holds to federal headship (see his Systematic Theology v. 2). So this is not a new thing.

 

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