Dispensationalism

My Take on the New Covenant (Part 5)

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Putting Some More Passages Together

Deuteronomy 30 describes a time when God Himself will convert His people:

“If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.

Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deut. 30:4-5)

In this text we get the earliest example of a promise of inner transformation of a sinful people resulting in divine acceptance and blessing. This involves a change of heart and an obedient walk—indeed, a “circumcision of the heart.” This reminds one of Paul’s words in Colossians 2:11-14, especially verse 11 (“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”)

Perhaps this is what Paul is referring to in Philippians 3:3 when he declares, “we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit”?

Isn’t this precisely what we see in Jeremiah 31:33, Isaiah 59:21 and Ezekiel 36:26-27? Deuteronomy 30 is a New Covenant passage, and is accepted as such by all authorities.

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My Take on the New Covenant (Part 4)

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Last time we looked at Isaiah 42 and saw that Jesus is being referred to prophetically as a “covenant.” I insert here that when Isaiah 42:6 says “I will give You as a covenant to the people” it is not saying that Christ will be like a covenant; it is not a simile. It is better to read it as as an identification. It is like saying, “This knife can be used as a can-opener” or “I will give my van as a moving truck.” The knife is the can-opener and the van is the moving vehicle.

The NET Bible renders the place in question “I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for the people.” The word for “mediator” does not appear in the text. The reason the NET Bible gives for this is that “A person cannot literally be a covenant.” (N. 15). We know of course that Jesus is “the Mediator of the New Covenant” (Heb. 9:15). So shouldn’t that suffice? I don’t think we can leave it there. There are a few problems with it.

The first problem with claiming that Isaiah 42:6 refers to Christ as the Mediator of a covenant for the people is that the text simply does not say that. Neither does it say it in Isaiah 49:

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My Take on the New Covenant (Part 3)

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We all know that sin stops us from inheriting the kind of world God the Creator envisaged for us—a world of peace, joy, righteousness, justice, and glory, not to mention communion with the Lord Himself.

God set the world in motion, permitting the Fall and the devastation that it has brought in its wake. He made covenants with man, signposts and promises to the better world that He still intends to bring about:

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My Take on the New Covenant (Part 2)

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When we examine the clear New Covenant passage in Jeremiah 31:31ff, we see that verses 31 and 32 name Israel and Judah as parties. We see also that it concerns the future (“the days are coming”), and that the NC will supersede in some way the Sinai Covenant. It is crucial to ask what the main promise of this covenant is, which is not difficult to ascertain. The New Covenant in the chapter concerns an internal or spiritual change in the elect of Israel.

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

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

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

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

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My Take on the New Covenant (Part 1)

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

Introduction

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

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Literal or Figurative?

One of the biggest debates among Christians is how to interpret the Bible. Liberals accuse conservatives of taking the Bible too literally. Conservatives accuse liberals of not taking the Bible seriously enough, often by declaring controversial sections to be figurative. That seems to be a handy way to avoid passages that teach what you don’t want to believe.

But even conservative Christians divide over the issue of literal verses figurative. For example, Dispensationalists often accuse the Reformed of spiritualizing certain sections of Scripture, and the Reformed frequently fault Dispensationalists for their “wooden literalism” by awkwardly forcing literal interpretations upon passages that are intended to be figurative.

Dispensationalists charge the Reformed with “Replacement Theology,” which means interpreting Old Testament prophecies made to Israel as fulfilled in the New Testament Church, and the Reformed return the favor by charging Dispensationalists with interpretive myopia; focusing too narrowly upon the immediate context, and failing to see the forest for the trees.

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Contrasting Dispensationalism and Biblical Covenantalism

A Little Backstory

As many of my readers will know, I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to place Dispensational theology on what I believe is a more secure footing. Dispensationalism has not produced many top-line academic works, especially in the last half century, and with only one or two exceptions it presents itself as static and unwilling to improve. In the meantime it has been frozen out of mainstream evangelical scholarship and its influence has dwindled.

One example among many will suffice: The huge 8 volume IVP Dictionaries, which cover the entire Bible, and are written by hundreds of top scholars across the broad sweep of evangelicalism, include scarcely any contribution by dispensational scholars. The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets has (as far as I can tell) only one entry by one dispensationalist (Robert Chisholm on “Retribution,” and I’m not sure Chisholm is much of a dispensationalist).

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Tom Schreiner on Andy Stanley and "Unhitching" the Old Testament

Tom Schreiner: Commenting on Andy Stanley's new book arguing that Christians must "unhitch" from the Old Testament, Schreiner disagrees and argues: "We must interpret the Old Testament in terms of God’s progressive revelation in his covenants in order to discern how to apply it today."

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