Challenging Covenantalism: The Error of Type/Antitype Hermeneutics-pt.1

This series has sought to introduce the reality that the covenantal framework of Covenant Theology is more a contrivance of man than it is a fact of Scripture. The unbiblical nature of CT has led many, especially in recent years, to confusion more than enlightenment. The confusion that CT exhibits does not promote sanctification. God only sanctifies by truth, not error (John 17:17). Thus, the sanctification that God expects from His children is minimal in those who hold to CT, compared to those who have a right understanding of Scripture.

I have attempted to explain the proposition that

“…the positions and teachings as found in CT …are a departure from authentic, biblical, revelation. That is, although many components contained in CT are obviously true, e.g. man’s fall in Adam, election, Jew and Gentile in one body the church, that does not give license to take liberties with God’s Word to introduce teachings that are not found in Scripture, which CT has done. The result of introducing these teachings is a confusion over the nature of the church, eschatological realities, the work of God in the actual covenants listed in Scripture, as well as a number of activities which are affected by what one does with OT passages (e.g. parenting) which all in turn upset households who have been challenged to rethink the clear and straightforward teaching of Scripture on these issues, and many others. The result of this influence of dealing with Scripture is confusion and doubt, since the CT position in many aspects is not true, and therefore lack sanctifying power in the life of a believer (John 17:17). Overall, CT advocates different doctrines, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor with the doctrine conforming to godliness (1 Timothy 6:20-21) and therefore upset the faith of many by their confident assertions based upon philosophical musings and self-styled hermeneutical gymnastics which suit their assumptions.”

The significance of the error of CT results in confusion on many fronts. However, one teaching that particularly concerns me has to do with the understanding of who Jesus Christ is, especially as He is “found” in the Old Testament (OT). This post will concern itself with a very brief overview of my concerns. An accurate presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the eternal plan of the Father, as carried out in Christ, will be forthcoming in future posts.

Put simply, since there is no “Covenant of Grace,” then Jesus Christ is not the mediator of that covenant. It is true that He is the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), the only One. However, that office does not extend from the so-called Covenant of Grace. Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has written:

“It is important to carefully consider the fact that the covenant of grace has a personal mediator–Jesus Christ–who is revealed to us in the types and shadows of the Old Testament through Moses’ office as mediator of that covenant God makes with Israel at Mount Sinai, as well as through the kingship of David and his rule over Israel, and even through the sacrifices for sin offered to God by the priests of Israel. All of these Old Testament events foreshadow the coming of God in human flesh.” (http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/3638>  accessed 10/16/2012).

Let’s consider this statement, which itself is a mixture of truth and error. First of all, since the Scripture does not contain a covenant of grace, discussed in former posts, then the “fact” of the mediatorial nature of Christ of that covenant is not actually a “fact.” It is not true. However, that does not mean that Christ is not a mediator. It simply means that the economy which He mediates is not referring to that present by this contrived covenant. Further, Dr. Riddlebarger, as do most, if not all, CT adherents, believes in an highly extended, spiritualized “types and shadows” (T/S) condition of the OT when it comes to the presence of Christ found there. In other words, Jesus is explained in “types and shadows” in the OT, which appears to be a code-word for allegory, which is actually mythological in nature. The “types and shadows” hermeneutic is a large stone in the foundation of the hermeneutic of CT which has led to so much error. What tends to happen with the T/S hermeneutic is that few things in the OT are actually what they appear to be. Thus, they are treated as a kind of literary and not as historical fact.

One  example is Dr. Riddlebarger’s treatment of the temple as prophesied in Ezekiel 40-48. Although treating this fully is not possible in this format, there are a number of issues that I want to address by way of example of the use of T/S hermeneutic. The issue which Dr. Riddlebarger is addressing is the nature of the temple of which Ezekiel writes in chapters 40-48 of his prophecy. The position of CT can be summed up in this statement made by Dr. Riddlebarger, “First, the prophecy cannot be interpreted literally and still make any sense” (Unless otherwise noted, the rest of the citations will be from http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2008/1/16/eschatology-q-a-what-about-ezekiels-vision-of-the-temple-eze.html#comment1556909 , accessed 10/16/2012). I would suggest that he is right, in a way. The prophecy, as interpreted by a T/S hermeneutic, makes no sense. The hermeneutical shift, from literal plain language to mythical, which CT demands takes place when speaking of prophetic events, creates and maintains confusion. It does not clarify. Let me address a few points to demonstrate what I mean:

  1. Ezekiel is taken to a “high mountain” at the beginning of his prophecy (40:2). The assumption that this vision is non-literal begins with Dr. Riddlebarger’s observation that since there is no high mountain near Jerusalem, we should right away conclude that this section is to be taken non-literally. He writes, “Given the nature of Ezekiel’s prophecy, this language should alert us to the fact that what follows is given the symbolic geography of the prophet.” However, if we take the text with authority and sufficiency, we see that it is upon this same high mountain that stands a city-like structure. So, Ezekiel is on the very same high mountain as the city. Thus, if that high mountain does not exists, neither does this city nor its contents. The “high mountain” is spoken of many times in Scripture, especially in relation to future events (Is. 2:2, 3; Ezek. 17:23; 20:40; 37:22; Micah 4:1; Rev. 21:10). Thus, the Scripture makes sense when understood (and believed) just as it is written. There was a high mountain upon which stands a city. Upon this mountain, “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was taken, on that same day…” Ezekiel is shown an interactive vision by the “hand of the Lord.”

  2. Ezekiel also finishes his vision with the declaration that the city will have a name. The name of the city will  be “The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). Dr. Riddlebarger (with supportive reference to Dr. Gregory .K. Beale) comments that this proves “[that] something much greater than a localized temple in Jerusalem during the millennium” is in view. What is being said is that since the city takes a name that the Lord is there, and the Lord is obviously spiritually superior to a geographical city on this planet, then this must refer to something more than a city on a mountain. This interpretation fails to give rightful authority to the Scripture. The vision indicates that the city is 18,000 cubits round about. It also names the gates of the city in previous verses (vv.30-34). Previous to that it lays out the portions for the literal tribes of Israel, as well as for other leaders along with the division of the land (vv.1-29). Are we to assume that because the city is named by God “the Lord is there” then all that information is meaningless, or spiritual (which, when used by CT, is the same thing as meaningless since it demands that words in the OT cannot mean what they say in normal language)? Further, the Lord is there and will remain there forever (Ezekiel 43:1-7; cf. Isaiah 12:6; 14:32; 24:23; Jer. 3:17; 8:19; 14:9; Ezek. 35:10; Joel 3:21; Zech. 2:10; 14; Rev 21:3; 22:3). Are we to assume that all these other passages, and more, are also some lesser-quality revelation that fails to accurately describe what is actually happening or going to happen?

  3. Further, Dr. Riddlebarger states, “Finally, it is obvious that Revelation 21 presents Ezekiel’s vision in its consummated fulfillment…” That is, Ezekiel’s temple is simply a lower-quality temple than John’s temple in Revelation 21. The vision that Ezekiel is given, apparently, was never meant to be take literally as a temple that would occupy time and space. It is obvious, he states, that the readers of Ezekiel’s vision really should not see that vision as true, real, or accurately representing what God will actually do at some point in the future. Yet God says, “As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan. If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them” (43:10-11; emphasis mine). God commanded Ezekiel to take the vision, write it all down, in detail, and explain it to Israel. Finally, God will dwell among them forever (Ezekiel 37:26–28; 43:7), as promised beforehand (Exodus 25:8; 29:45; Leviticus 26:12; Numbers 5:3; Deuteronomy 12:11). The differences and distinctions between the temple vision of Ezekiel and the temple vision of Revelation are significant enough, when taken correctly, to be referring to two different temples.

What is important to comprehend in this small list of illustrations is:

  1. Those who hold to this hermeneutical position (T/S) do so of their own authority. This kind of “type/antitype” is foreign to Scripture.
  2. Those who hold to this hermeneutical position often evade the real issues. Much of their thinking is built upon the presupposition that things aren’t as they seem. Thus, their thinking is also unclear and inconsistent. Their unstable thinking is taken by the untaught as profound.
  3. Those who hold to this hermeneutical position do not believe in inerrancy. Otherwise, they would tremble at the Word of God instead of making it mean what they want.
  4. Those who hold to this hermeneutical position lead others astray creating confusion instead of worship. Because of their philosophical thoughts, these men are often idolized and esteemed by others, especially in their own academic circles. However, God does not esteem them. Their praise will not be from God (“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”-Matthew 5:19).

I will explain, from Scripture, the truth about types and antitypes in my next post. For now, please consider the assertion of these men. To say that the types of the OT are fully realized in the antitypes of the NT is to deny the perspicuity (clarity) and inerrancy of the OT and thus Scripture itself (2 Timothy 3:16a). It is to impose an undue, foreign, structure upon the unity of the Scripture that, then, distorts the Scripture. Thus, once the Scripture is distorted, it is unrecognizable, although all the biblical verbiage is used. We must not settle for anything less than the absolute authority of Scripture over man; the inerrant nature of every word in Scripture; the glory of God in His Word; and the exact meaning of the authors in Scripture as consistent and non-contradictive in both testaments. Otherwise, we really cannot believe/understand the Scripture, unless these men “enlighten us.” In that case, we have run right back to Rome. The uneducated and unenlightened have so much to learn, if the Scripture does not mean exactly what it says, to the word, in both testaments.