Covenantalism

Challenging Covenantalism: Daniel’s Seventieth Week

It is amazing to me how little is ever taught on this crucial section of Scripture. Most pastors simply never address it in their preaching. I can understand how daunting it is. However, it is still in Scripture and foundational to the future history of the world. In order to understand Jesus’ teaching on His return, one must comprehend Daniel 9:24-27 (see Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). The reader of Jesus’ teaching concerning the future must include a proper comprehension of Daniel 9:24-27, to start with.

The prophet was exiled to Babylon in 605 B.C. in the first of three exiles. King Nebuchadnezzar, recently appointed as king over the newly dominant empire after his father’s death, desired to bring the best of young men from Judah to be his servants in his court. Thus, we have Daniel, and his friends, being taken captive in order to be indoctrinated in Babylonian instruction (Daniel 1:1-7). Being taken captive there around 15 years of age and died in 535 B.C. He was about 85 years old, having lived almost his entire life in Babylon. Tradition indicates that he was buried in Babylon. This was a man given some of the most graphic and specific visions from God. His writings tell us what is happening in the world, and about to happen in the world in great detail.

There is much to be studied from Daniel. However, we want to focus on chapter 9:24-27. Last post I introduced this section. Here, I want to understand specifically what this section means by what it says.  Daniel wrote,

Daniel 9:24–27 (NASB95)

Seventy Weeks and the Messiah

24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.

25 “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.

26 “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

27 “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

Verse 24 states that God has decreed 490 years for the Jews and for Jerusalem. Thus, Israel’s history is to be summed up in 490 years. A collection of 70 Sabbath cycles of years (see Leviticus 25:1-12) is decreed for Israel. These Sabbath cycle of years is the same amount of time indicated by the 70 Sabbaths that Israel broke and landed them in Babylon in the first place. God just did not include the 6 years in the Sabbath cycle, only the 70 Sabbath years of each cycle, thus 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21; Daniel 9:2). Thus, those years are now decreed by God as the future for Israel. There are six events that form the conclusion to Israel’s history:

  • to finish the transgression.
  • to make an end of sin.
  • to make atonement for iniquity.
  • to bring in everlasting righteousness.
  • to seal up vision and prophecy.
  • to anoint the most holy place.

Although these are not possible apart from the death of Jesus Christ, these are not completed with the death of Jesus Christ. For example, we cannot agree that everlasting righteousness has been brought in since the cross. Further, notice that these six things pertain to Israel, not the world. This is the decree that is meant for Israel, national Israel. At the end of 490 years, these things will occur.

Verse 25 tells us that the chronology of 490 years begins at the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Whose decree? Some say King Cyrus in 538 B.C. Some say King Artaxerxes I in 458 B.C. Others would say King Artaxerxes’ second decree in 445/444 B.C. The facts and figures surrounding this discussion is mind-boggling. However, it would appear that the best answer is King Artaxerxes’ decree given to Nehemiah in 445/444 B.C. From that time (seen in Nehemiah 1:1-2:1-8; cf. Ezra 4:13). It is apparent that Nehemiah’s concern is with the city in which God’s name would dwell (Nehemiah 1:4-10), repeating the promise of God in Leviticus 26 that if Israel would confess their sins and repent, God would bring them back to Jerusalem forever. Thus, Nehemiah confesses on behalf of himself and Israel, and God did indeed bring them back…to some degree (incidentally, Daniel follows the same pattern in Daniel 9). From this decree, given in Nehemiah 2:4-6, to Messiah the Prince will be a total of 69 weeks (i.e. 483 years = 69 x 7 Sabbath cycles of seven years). From 445 B.C. to 483 years later, using a 360-day calendar usual for biblical prophecy (which is the only point of reference given the nature of the context. That is, since Daniel is reckoning not from popular calendars of the day, but from prophetic material in the Law) we arrive at Friday Nisan, 14, or April 3, A.D. 33 as the death of Jesus Christ, and four days earlier the exact date of the end of Daniel’s 483 years (See Matthew 21; Luke 19:41-44).

However, notice that Messiah will be cut off and will have “nothing.” The teaching of Messiah in the OT indicates that He would arrive on the earth and reign (2 Samuel 7:13-16; Isaiah 2; 9:1-7; cf. Genesis 49:10). Yet, when He comes, He will be killed and have nothing. That is, He will die and not inherit the Messianic kingdom as prophesied in the OT. He would not reign on David’s throne. This is precisely why we understand that Jesus is not reigning on David’s throne in heaven.

According to Daniel’s prophecy, there is one more unit of seven years’ Sabbath Cycle left. That is yet future. We know that because that year presents the end of the total of 490 years decreed for Israel by God. Once that 490th year ends, the six accomplishments for Israel will be inaugurated. They are not here at this time and thus we wait, 2,000 years later, for that seventieth week, or 490th year. The Scripture indicates that the week in question is none other than the Tribulation, or Jacob’s distress (Jeremiah 30:7). It is a time of unparalleled pressure upon Israel, and, consequently, the whole world. It is during this final week that the prince who is to come, that is the Anti-Christ (he is one who will set himself up as the christ attempting to fool the world into thinking that he is the messiah) will come and break a covenant of peace which he made with Israel for that entire week (Daniel 9:27). Until then, we are in an age not prophesied of in the OT. We are in the mystery age of the kingdom (Matthew 13). We are the church. We are elect from every tribe, tongue, and nation (including Israel). But we are not Israel. Their day is coming in which they will physically see the One whom they pierced (Zechariah 12:10) and they will repent of their sins once for all and be restored nationally just as God promised (Leviticus 26:40ff).

Covenantal Theology teaches that there is no future for the nation of Israel, for the twelve tribes of Jacob, the collected descendants of Abraham. They, instead, aver that Christ Himself is Israel, true Israel, and thus the church receives the blessings of Israel through Him. That is an apostate position. To deny all that the Scripture clearly teaches on the subject of God’s promises to the nation of Israel and their restoration in the land with the forgiveness of sins, including and especially Daniel’s seventy weeks’ prophecy, is to deny the veracity of Scripture and the integrity of God. Regardless of the hermeneutical justification one adopts, to do this is to commit serious error and, in effect, denies inerrancy. Those who hold this teaching should repent of it (see R. Scott Clark here as a demonstration of this kind of teaching). Paul rightly identified these men as those who

1 Timothy 1:3-7

…teach strange doctrines,

4 [and who] pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.

5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,

7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

God says,

Ezekiel 37:21–28

21 “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land;

22 and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

23 “They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

24 “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.

25 “They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever.

26 “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.

27 “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.

28 “And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.” ’ ”

Challenging Covenantalism: The True Covenantal Structure of God’s Redemptive Plan

At this point in the series, we must move to the offensive. We have been challenging Covenant Theology (CT) and attempting to show its invalidity. However, what I want to do at this point is to explain, in positive terms, what the Scripture does present as a covenantal structure of history and redemption.

I must say, first, that Scripture is not silent on these things. It is not as though the Bible does not specify clearly the covenants that it does contain. On the contrary, God has revealed them, and done so sufficiently for us to understand and appreciate. It is a falsehood to say that you must have any kind of theological structure, Covenantal or Dispensational or anything else, in order to understand the Scripture. If that were the case, how would Jesus and the apostles have handled the Prophets apart from that framework?

In the interest of maintaining this topic in one post, I will only review with the true biblical covenants with comments explaining them and their pertinence to history and/or Scripture in general. This is also a series that we are conducting at our church, Berean Bible Church of Kalispell, Montana (www.bbckalispell.org). It has been a very wonderful series that has opened our eyes to the plan for the history of the world and God’s eternal plan of redemption.

From the beginning I will say that history does not make sense unless a correct understanding of the covenants to Israel has been gleaned from Scripture. In one sense, we must be covenantal in our understanding of Scripture. However, we must get our understanding of the covenants from the Scripture itself, plainly spoken, and not our own philosophical dispositions:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 1 Corinthians 4:6 (NASB95)

Paul and Apollos, two major preachers in the life of the Corinthian church, took the posture of slaves of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). They spoke to the Corinthians in such a way that the Corinthians were capable of passing judgment upon them. However, in taking the posture of a slave and steward, Paul and Apollos (who were both capable orators and teachers), exampled the posture we should all take-we are only managers of another man’s possessions. It is not our word that we are preaching, but God’s. He has entrusted His truth to us and we dare not go beyond what has been written in it. Otherwise, if we do, we WILL become proud and boastful against one another. The church, then, will be divided into the ‘have’s and the have-not’s.’ The Corinthians are a perfect example of that kind of schism.

Therefore, by not adding nor taking away from God’s Word, we can, and must, arrive at an accurate conclusion about the truth, which CT has not done concerning the covenants.

Let’s begin with an overview of each covenant, and then we will demonstrate how they coincide.

THE COVENANTS:

The Noahic Covenant:

Genesis 9:9–11

9 “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you;

10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth.

11 “I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

This covenant is the first covenant that God made with any man. This “covenant” actually reads like a promise. However, because of Noah’s sacrifice on the altar after coming after the ark, God spoke within Himself that He would never again curse the ground for man’s sake. We still live in light of this “everlasting covenant” (cf. Genesis 9:16) that God made between Himself and “every living creature” that came out of the ark “for all successive generations” (Genesis 9:12).

 

The Abrahamic Covenant:

Genesis 15:17–18 

17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.

18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,

“To your descendants I have given this land,

From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:

This next covenant is a focal point for the rest of the covenants. This covenant that God initiated and promised to fulfill is the foundational covenant for redemption. Its extent is vast and eternal. Further, it is built upon the promise of Genesis 12:1-3, which itself is and extension of the promise of Genesis 3:15. For our purposes, it is critical to understand that the nature of this covenant was the inheritance of the world (Romans 4:13), a world in which righteousness dwells (Hebrews 11:8-16). This covenant secured an eternal dwelling-place for the descendants of Abraham in the land outlines above. There are further components of this covenant given in the chapters following Genesis 15. However, the heart of that covenant is here. The sign of the covenant, that God would give them the land, was circumcision, which was given while Abraham was uncircumcised (Romans 4:11), thus identifying the faith that he had apart from circumcision as more “creditable” than the works of covenant-keeping (Romans 4:16-25). In this covenant, the seed of Abraham would “possess the gates of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17), which teaches us that this singular seed (Galatians 3:16) would conquer all who oppose Abraham and his descendants. By the way, the seed of Abraham would include believing biological Jews as well as believing Gentiles (Galatians 3:28-29; cf. Romans 4:16). However, that does not nullify a covenant previously ratified, e.g. the covenant of the land. Biological descendants of Abraham will receive the land which was covenanted to them. Being “in Christ” does not make that covenant based upon a promise null and void. It only secures its possibility.

 

The Mosaic Covenant:

Exodus 24:3–8

3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!”

4 Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.

5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord.

6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”

8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

God introduced Himself to the newly-formed Israel on Mt. Sinai as recorded in Exodus 19:16-19. Israel trembled, and rightly so. Holy God took up residence upon that mountain and would then reside in a soon-to-be-constructed Tabernacle. Because of the righteousness of God, these people needed the Law in order to live righteously before Him (Genesis 20:2). The commandments of Almighty God were given and a covenant ceremony secured this agreement between God and Israel. That day Israel, national Israel, made a covenant with God to obey all that God had commanded (Exodus 24:1-8; cf. Ex 19:8; Deuteronomy 5:27). This covenant ritual included the blood of an animal that instructed the people that if either party, God or Israel, should renege on this covenant, may what happened to this heifer happen to them. It needs to be understood that this is a binding covenant dependent upon the obedience of Israel. Just because Israel never truly accomplished this agreement, does not mean that God will simply throw it out. Otherwise, God’s integrity is at risk because not only did Israel make a covenant to God, but God made a covenant to Israel!  Further, as part of the Law, the day that Israel repents from her sins and confesses their iniquity and the iniquities of their fathers, is the day that God will enact the covenant based upon the promise to Abraham (Leviticus 26:40-46). This is why Jesus came preaching repentance (Matthew 4:17). Until Israel repents and submits to God, that they might be God’s people and He their God in reconciliation, none of the covenanted promises which were given to Abraham will occur. So, we wait for God’s nation (Deuteronomy 7:6-9) to repent. However, since they can’t repent and “circumcise their hearts",” God must do it, and He will (see Deuteronomy 30:6).

 

Priestly Covenant:

Numbers 25:10–13

The Zeal of Phinehas

10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy.

12 “Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace;

13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’ ”

Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron, checked God’s wrath against sinning Israel by killing two people in the midst of their sin (Numbers 25:6-9). This zeal was commendable. In fact, because of this zeal, God made a covenant with Phinehas to have one of his descendants serve Him in the Temple forever (Number 25:10-13). God also confirms this in the Millennial Temple with a descendent of Zadok, himself a descendant of Phinehas (1 Chronicles 6:48-53), serving as High Priest (Ezekiel 40:46; 43:19; 48:11) and will be eternally fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:3).

Davidic Covenant:

2 Samuel 7:16

16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” ’ ”

The line of the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) continues and includes David of Bethlehem. David, replacing the enigmatic Saul, as king of Israel, had it in his heart to build a permanent dwelling place for God (2 Samuel 7:1-2; cf. 1 Chronicles 17:1). However, God’s plan did not include that kind of Temple, which is made with human hands (cf. 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18; Isaiah 66:1). Instead, God communicated to David, through the prophet Nathan, that He, Himself, would establish a “house” for David. this house would include the eternal lineage of the name of David, as well as the Davidic Dynasty, including his throne and nation (kingdom-2 Samuel 7:13, 16). That is to say, the place of rulership over a nation called Israel would be secured for eternity (see Genesis 35:10-12). So, this establishes forever the nation of Israel, as well as a “throne” which God Himself will establish. That indicates that the rulership of a Son of David will continue eternally upon a throne over the nation of Israel, and they themselves would possess all the gates of their enemies (Genesis 22:17-18). Further, that Son, being also the seed of Abraham, will rule over not only Israel, but also the world (see Romans 4:13). Again, God made a covenant with Israel to be their God, and they His people forever. Their dwelling-place is secure, regardless of the turmoil in the Middle East. God is righteous and has promised and covenanted that the nation of Israel will dwell before Him forever and He will not change (Psalm 89:30-37). Jesus Christ Himself is that Son of David who will reign upon that throne from Jerusalem forever (Luke 1:32-33; cf. Revelation 21:10-22:5).

New Covenant:

Jeremiah 31:31–34 

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,

32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Finally, God’s redemptive plans are consummated by the promise of a New Covenant to the house of Israel. Remember, all these covenants are interwoven, not separate. That is, they build upon one another. However, all of them depend upon this New Covenant to begin their fulfillment. Why? Because, in order for the Abrahamic Covenant based upon the promise of restored Edenic conditions, which itself is the reversal of the curse upon the earth (Genesis 3:17; see esp. Romans 8:19-22), Israel must repent and have their hearts circumcised. Then, they will obey God’s statutes and ordinances (see Ezekiel 36:27). However, since they are not able to regenerate themselves, it would seem impossible for these blessings to come to fruition. To God’s glory, though, God Himself will institute a New Covenant that will accomplish a new heart and new spirit for the house of Israel. The Lamb slaughtered to inaugurate this covenant is none other than God’s own Son (Luke 22:19-20). Israel’s greatest need is what God will provide, and thus will bless the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:8). They will look upon Him whom they have pierced (Acts 2:22-23) and will have the Spirit of supplication poured out upon them and thus all biological, national, Israel will be saved (see Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26). This will display the power of God and thus God’s name will be vindicated among the nations for His work with the salvation of the entire nation of Israel (see Ezekiel 36:21-32). To deny the forgiveness of sins of the entire nation of biological Jews is to serious defame the power of God and to blaspheme His righteous character. He will do it, whether we believe it or not.

I will leave us to review this information from the Scripture. All that I ask is that the Word of God be examined to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11).

Challenging Covenantalism: Type/Antitype

As I mentioned before the Types and Shadows (T/S) hermeneutic has devastated the church landscape because of its over-spiritualization and incessant allegorization of biblical truth. The indication of this hermeneutic is that few passages in the Old Testament actually mean what they say. We looked last time at the example of the temple in Ezekiel 40-48. In that section, God explicitly tells Ezekiel to write these things down, in detail, and communicate/teach them to Israel (43:10-11). Because God had said this, it would appear that God did not want these things to be allegory for a future, immaterial, spiritual reality. I wonder if Israel would have considered these measurements such?

In order to rightly understand the types of the Scripture, we must get our information from the Scriptures. The idea of “shadow” is indeed in Scripture. However, it has a very different meaning than what is assumed by CT. To begin, I want to look at a passage of Scripture that is the foundation for a proper understanding of this issue, Exodus 25:8-9. It has to do with the tabernacle which Moses was to build. A cursory study of these things will instruct us, to a large degree, how to properly understand what is meant by types and shadows.

In the Exodus 24, the people confirmed their covenant with God and they affirmed that they were willing and able to keep the covenant brought to them from God through Moses. In chapter 25, God is speaking and says to Moses,

Exodus 25:8–9 (NASB95)

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

It is a magnificent thought that God would dwell in a sanctuary among the people of Israel. The sanctuary of which God speaks is the Tabernacle which dimensions and construction is covered in chapters 25-32 and picked up again in chapters 35-40 where it is ultimately erected (Exodus 40:17-33). Much could be said about this Tabernacle, but what needs to be pointed out is that this Tabernacle, and eventually the Temple itself (1 Chronicles 28:19), was a “pattern.” This Hebrew word for “pattern” has a general definition of a model, or image, or detailed schematic. However, it also has the more basic definition, and is used as such, of “likeness.”  It is used often when the word “likeness” is used in the OT (however not in Genesis 1:26). The twenty times this particular word is used, it more often than not refers to the replication of something that already exists. For example, Moses uses this word in Deuteronomy 4:16-18 in this manner. The children of Israel were not supposed to make a “likeness” of any animal on the earth to be a graven image such that they worship it. The likeness does not refer to actually making a living animal. It means that they are not to make a copy of something that exists in actuality. Their graven images would have been a replica, a type, a picture, or a likeness of actual animals. It is also used in this manner in 2 Kings 16:10-18 in reference to the model altar built by Urijah patterned after the actual one in Damascus.

local to the Pentateuch, Moses uses this word five times. Three of the five times it refers to the replicas of the animals that the children of Israel were not to copy. The other two times it refers to the construction of the Tabernacle. Joshua also uses the word in the sense of the replica of something that exists (Joshua 22:28). This section speaks of the altar that the sons of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh built by the Jordan River away from Shiloh, where the Tabernacle was. They constructed this altar not for worshipping, but simply as a pointer back to the true altar in the Tabernacle (vv. 21-29). Thus, the altar in Gilead was a copy, replica, or scaled model of the true altar in the Tabernacle.

What does this mean? This means that the Tabernacle, and the Temple, were both patterns, or replicas of the true Temple in heaven, from where Moses and David received their detailed drawings. They were not original designs and they were not, in actuality, the true temple. The true temple is in heaven in some form. The Tabernacle and Temple that was constructed by the sons of Israel were simply copies, or “shadows,” of that Temple in heaven.

The shadow understanding is preeminent in the mind of the writer of Hebrews. It is here that we are taught the correct understanding of what the Bible actually means about types and shadows.

Hebrews 8:4–5 (NASB95)

Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”

The priest in the OT Tabernacle served a literal, physical dwelling. This is not a literary picture conjured up to teach us a moral lesson. The Tabernacle, as defined by inspired Scripture, was a “copy and shadow of heavenly things…for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” Thus, we are told that the Tabernacle/Temple were both made as replicas of a heavenly Temple in some way. Again, this is not a literary figure, or allegory or allusion. This was an actual building with real people ministering in it and God actually dwelt there. The point that I think needs to be understood is that the shadow aspect of this scenario demands one-for-one correspondence. That is, the Tabernacle was the resemblance or “shadow” of the actual, or “true temple” (cf. Hebrews 8:2; 9:11, 24). The earthly Tabernacle was not simply an allegory or literary figure of a greater truth about heaven. It was an exact replica of a heavenly Temple.

Further, the pattern of the earthly Tabernacle was for the purpose of teaching something about God, Christ, atonement, justice, grace, etc.… To simply look at this as literary tools glosses over their real intent, which is instruction. For example, the death of bulls and goats surely teaches us that one day a final substitute will come. However, the greater instruction is that a substitute is needed. The fact that He will come is taught in comprehensive fashion through other Scriptures, not simply in a “figure.”

It appears that CT takes “types and shadows” to refer to existential philosophy that may be literarily represented in Scripture, but is now replaced by the antitype. It is interesting that the New Testament uses the word “type” (tupos), fifteen times. Some examples of “type” include:

  • Acts 7:43-44; Stephen indicates that Israel took “types” of false gods along with them. Moses also was told that he was to build a “type” of the Tabernacle as told by God.
  • Acts 23:25; the body of the letter from Claudius had a “type.”
  • Romans 5:14; Adam was a “type” of Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:6; Israel was a “type” for us to follow.
  • Philippians 3:17; godly men are to be “types” for us to follow (1 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).
  • 1 Peter 5:3; elders are to be “types” to the flock.

The use of this word indicates a “pattern,” or “model,” or “an example that was, or is to be, followed.” In each case, however, there is an actual person at the heart of the type, and not simply a figure.

Another example refers to topics like the one covered in the previous post. Ezekiel 40-48 is the description of a Temple given in actual dimensions with actual land divisions and actual sacrifices being offered. As stated in the previous post, the perspective of the CT scheme is that of “Types and Shadows” (T/S). That is, the “Temple” found in Ezekiel 40-48 is merely a literary type or shadow of the antitype of the non-physical Temple structure on the New Earth. Dr. Riddlebarger writes,

“In other words, I believe Ezekiel is giving us a picture of the new earth in the prophetic terms with which his readers were familiar (Hoekema, The Bible and Future, 205). This is a picture of the new earth as the dwelling of God. Ezekiel prophesies it in earthly terms (complete with all the temple utensils), while John describes its fulfilled version (in eschatological terms)”

(http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2008/1/16/eschatology-q-a-what-about-ezekiels-vision-of-the-temple-eze.html#comment1556909 accessed 10/29/2012).

The statement made here is classical T/S interpretation. A passage in the OT does not mean what a straight-forward reading of the passage indicates. It, thus, holds a greater antitypical meaning foreign to the reader (since the words do not mean what they appear to mean). This is not sound Bible interpretation.

It would be better, and more in line with the sense of Scripture that we understand “type” as a “pattern” or “model/example,” depending upon the context, than a license to change the meaning of one text to fit the allegorized spiritual-meaning of another text contrived by the imagination of the interpreter.

Paul gives us a clear understanding in the locus classicus Colossians 2:17. Here he writes that food, drink, in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day are all “shadows” of that which is coming. This word “shadow” is exactly what it sounds like. It is an outline cast by a solid form once light hits the form. Thus, these components of Temple activity, regulation, and worship are all the shadow cast by the “substance,” the Lord Jesus Christ. What does this mean? It means that access to God was allowed by these activities, but they did not truly allow for the atonement that was required. Only Jesus Christ truly atones for sins such that access to the Father can be made. Or, to put it another way,

Hebrews 9:8–14 (NASB95)

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol (παραβολή, ‘parabole’: a teaching tool) for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come (they were still “to come” at the time of the writer), He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

That which is coming is absolute, permanent, unhindered access to the Father in His Temple (which He is-Revelation 21:22. However, the personal dwelling of God on the New Earth does not contradict a rebuilt Temple in the Millennium, as per Ezekiel40-48) because of the efficacy of the obedience of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Thus, the foods, drinks, sacrifices, and even the Sabbath-Day taught us concerning the need for atonement as well as the work that God would accomplish through the Messiah.

In future posts, we will be examining further the reality of Jesus Christ and His work in light of a true interpretation of Scripture. We will see that the program for the future is not simply a spiritual anti-type for the “typical” language of shadowy references in the OT. If were such, we would not have a perspicuous Scripture. We would have a kind of literature that carries a meaning beyond the words on the page that only the learned elite can figure out.

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.

Challenging Covenantalism: The Covenant of Redemption

What motivated God to initiate His saving work?

That is a fair and appropriate question to ask. The Covenantalist avers that it was an

“…inter-Trinitarian pact made in eternity past, in which the Father designed, the Son agreed to undertake, and the Spirit agreed to apply the results of redemption.”  (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/qna/worksgraceredmpt.html , accessed 10/2/2012).

According to CT, God the Father and God the Son undertook a “pact”, or covenant, that Christ would satisfy the Father and do so on behalf of the elect. This is the foundation, they say, of all the other covenants. However, unlike the other covenants of CT, this particular covenant does not get as much press.

According to Witsius again, the initial passage that speaks of this Covenant of Redemption (CR) is Luke 22:29, which reads, “…and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you.” (Herman Witsius, The Economy Of The Covenants Between God and Man, vol.1 [London: Thomas Nelson, 1822], p. 166) If I were to presuppose a conclusion, like CT does here, I can easily concede that this would speak of a kingdom which was “covenanted” to Jesus before time. However, right hermeneutics would ask, “What does the context say?” Thus, in the next verse we read, “…that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Just as is taught by our Lord in and Matthew 19:28 and  elsewhere, which we will cover in a future post, this is not a kingdom promise because of a covenant between the Father and the Son in eternity past. This kingdom is reserved for the covenant fulfillment of David’s promise of 2 Samuel 7:13,16 (cf. Psalm 89; see also Daniel 7:22; Revelation 20:4). The teaching of the inherited kingdom of Jesus Christ is a vast, and easily verifiable, teaching of Scripture. Nowhere in that amount of data is an ‘inter-Trinitarian pact’ spoken of or alluded to. It is easily, and consistently, taught by reason of the actual covenants historically promised by God. The entire paradigm of the true, biblical, covenants, then, is undermined by the illusory covenants of CT. This is a very grave error.

A further error that I see repeated by CT is taking actual terms, events, and truths and superimposing the “covenantal” structure over them such that they become actually subject to the philosophy of CT. As R. Scott Clark has written, “Covenant theology structures all of Biblical revelation.” (R. Scott Clark, “Theses on Covenant Theology”, http://clark.wscal.edu/covtheses.php, accessed 10/2/2012). It this true? Does CT actually structure all biblical revelation? No, this is not true, since the Bible does not actually teach CT. However, what is happening is that CT is ‘extrabiblical’ and this  extrabiblical system is being imposed upon inerrant Scripture. The Covenant of Redemption is a very good case in point.

Michael Horton has written, “The covenant of redemption, therefore, is as clearly revealed in Scripture as the Trinity and the eternal decree to elect, redeem, call, justify, sanctify, and glorify a people for the Son” (Michael Horton, God of Promise [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 82). Is that true?

Taking apples and pasting them to an orange tree does not make the orange tree an apple tree.

You can’t take the fruit of God’s true work in time, and affix it to a man-made system and redefine what God has actually done! In an effort to support his claim, Dr. Horton refers to those wonderful passages in the gospel of John wherein Jesus teaches that the Father has given some (people) to the Son (see John 6:39, 10:29; 17:2, 4-10 etc.). However, just to get straight to the point, if we will once again notice the context of John 6:37-30, for example, we will see repeatedly that this “giving” is the result of the sovereign will of the Father (e.g. John 6:37, 38, 39, 40). So, in that scenario, how is it that there was an agreement between the Son and the Father, to say nothing of the Father and the elect? Otherwise, the Father’s will would not be free to do all that He would, and thus be sovereign. The Father’s will would be bound to an agreement, or some other motivation, that would actually add to His will. That would not, then, allow for absolute sovereign freedom to do all according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:5). Herein is the irony:

Covenantalists make ideal Arminians.

Instead of asserting and maintaining the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty, they insist that God’s free will was actually bound by an agreement made between the Father and the Son prior to creation. Thus, the elect, too, can agree to the terms of this agreement, and/or other agreements, and enter into the redemption that is insisted upon because of this so-called Covenant of Redemption. In other words, man, once again, has a say in his salvation. This impugns the sovereignty of God, which those holding to CT so strongly, arrogantly, insist they believe. Yet, when compared with Scripture, we see the arrogance of man contributing to the pure, undefiled, will of God to sovereignly elect whom He will according to His kind intention.

What does the Bible actually say about all this?

The Father commanded the Son to enter into human history and become a Man; man who was made in His own image and likeness, and die the death that man so-rightly deserved. The Spirit of God empowered Christ by giving Him signs and wonders such that He would fulfill Scripture which said the Messiah would perform such signs verifying Who He was. The Son would be punished by the Father, die, then rise again. He would then ascend to share the throne of His Father until He re-enters earth and assumes a throne promised to the Seed of David, Himself the Seed of Abraham, thus the Seed of the woman. He would rule, fulfilling the promises upon which the true, biblical, covenants were made in history, for a time, as promised to Israel. Then, to restore the sovereign rule of the Father over everything, He, the Son, will return all things to the Father, and subject Himself to Him as well. Did/will all of this happen because of a covenant? No. This is all

“…according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:11b, 12b

Does His glory involve a pre-temporal pact? No. It is the simple exertion of sovereignty. It is simply the will of the Father commanding the subjected (but not inferior) Son who obeys because He loves His Father, and for no other motivation (John 14:31). Thus, sending the Spirit to, in fact, create new creations from dead and sinful ones. The Son will subject all things to the Father once again, after He has vanquished all His enemies, so that the Father’s supremacy will be restored over all creation and the Father may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28), just like it was before Genesis 1:1. To add to that scenario is to add to actual revelation. It is to add to God’s purposes. It is to add to God and Who He actually is and what He has actually done. CT does this. Covenantal Theology needs to be held accountable for the confusion it has caused.

Challenging Covenantalism: The Covenant of Grace

I have been attempting to reveal the reality that there is not a covenantal scheme found in Scripture as is presupposed by those who believe in Covenantal Theology (CT). This belief system, built upon the assumption that there was a covenant between God and man, i.e. the Covenant of Works, is pervasive and subtle in all of its insinuations. The conclusions of such a system have become foreign to the actual statements of Scripture to an alarming degree. Over the next few posts, I will continue to lay the groundwork that is necessary in order to review these conclusions so that at least it can be understood what I am saying. Given the fact that I have little to no response from anyone on these posts, I can only assume that what I am writing is being considered, at least.

Last post we verified the reality that there is/was no Covenant of Works. One may believe that there was, but that does not make it real. Did God actually make a covenant in the garden, pre-fall, with Adam with conditions, stipulations, rewards, and blessings? No. That is a contrived system super-imposed over the Scripture. Adam already had full access to the Tree of Life, not contingent upon obedience. Adam already was blessed of God, not contingent upon obedience. Adam was instructed/commanded directly to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil under penalty of death, without condition. There was nothing to which Adam had to agree. He was under the sovereignty, authority, and care of his Creator who created all things simply according to His will (Revelation 4:11). There was no compulsion to create a covenant (an agreement, conditional or otherwise) in that perfect world which God created. As said in the previous post, love cannot be regulated by law (Galatians 5:22-23).

We come now to consider the next covenant as stated by CT, the Covenant of Grace. This covenant is stated as follows:

“The covenant of grace  is a compact between God and the elect sinner; God on His part declaring His free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that good-will by a sincere faith” (Witsius, Economy of the Covenants, p.165).

It must be stated that the philosophical nature of CT is very appealing to many, which causes its popularity. This popularity is especially keen in the world of young men. There is a particular thrill that comes from engaging in dialogue and contemplation about deep things, contrived or true. The structure of CT is no different. Because of its philosophical nature, CT draws many to its system simply because it affords an exercise of the mind to a large degree. However, there is no greater exercise of the mind, heart, and will than to meditate upon truth. What God actually did is far more profound and engaging than anything man could dream of. Plus, truth is humbling. It breaks the will and sanctifies the person. This, to the glory of God.

As we come to the Covenant of Grace, we come to a subject that is indeed “deep”, profound, and eternal. We are talking about the work of God in Christ on behalf of sinners. The Covenant of Works discussion dealt with God’s dealing with Adam pre-fall. However, this “covenant” deals with Adam’s offspring post-fall. The redemption of sinners is the heart of the gospel. It is near to the heart of all that God has accomplished in Christ. It is territory to tread slowly and carefully upon. Of its nature, it demands absolute precision and care. Zeal is no substitute for accuracy. Zeal without truth cannot save (Romans 10:1-3).

This covenant states that God made a covenant, agreement, pact, with elect sinners that they might be saved. R. Scott Clark, who has written very detailed upon the entire subject and nature of CT, writes, “The term covenant of grace can be used broadly and narrowly. When used broadly, it refers to everyone who is baptized into the Christ confessing covenant community. When used narrowly, it refers to those who have received the double benefit of Christ: justification and sanctification” (R. Scott Clark, http://clark.wscal.edu/covtheses.php , accessed 9/10/2012). Dr. Kim Riddlebarger writes, “The covenant of grace is the historical outworking of an eternal covenant of redemption (the so-called “covenant before the covenant”) in which the members of the Holy Trinity decreed that Jesus was to be the redeemer of those whom the Father had chosen in him, and that Jesus would do this on behalf of, and in the place of, all those sinners chosen from before the foundation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14)” (http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/3636 , access 9/10/2012). Both descriptions assume a pre-creation covenant between God and Christ which is entitled, “The Covenant of Redemption".” Both authors state that that pre-Adamic covenant is the basis upon which all other covenants, and their accomplishments, flow. I am not attempting to deal with the topic of the Covenant of Redemption at this time. I will wait until a future post. However, it is enough to say, as I have said before, it is entirely unnecessary to assign a covenantal structure to God’s plan of redemption, outside of the stated covenants of Scripture, to which the New Testament writers explicitly refer based upon the teaching of the Old Testament. There is no need to subsume the biblical covenants under a larger one. For example, using the reference from Dr. Riddlebarger, Ephesians 1 makes it extensively clear that there was no compelling covenant in eternity pre-Adam demanding that God do what He did in creating the world, ordaining the fall of man, and the death of His Son. It was simply the expression of His free will. Consider these passages:

Ephesians 1:5–6 (NASB95)

5 In Love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:7–11 (NASB95)

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace

8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight

9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him

10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him

11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,

Now, if we take these truths (God predestined us to become sons according to the kind intention of His will, for His glory, freely given to us, according to His rich grace, according to the kind intention of His will, according to His purpose, after the counsel of His will) and assign to them a pre-creation covenant that supposedly explains the initial compulsion of God to do what He has done in Christ, we have just confounded these verses. It is no longer according to the free counsel of His will, but counsel of His will based upon an agreement that He made with Christ and then the elect. Those are two very different statements. God is unaffected by any outside influence or compulsion. He does what He pleases (Psalms 115:3; 135:6). He is not compelled by any covenant, except what is stated in Scripture. He does what He pleases based upon His will. Some might say, “Yes, and it pleased God to make this covenant with Jesus Christ and the elect.” If that is true, then God’s compulsion was no longer to freely give, but to give out of duty. This is not freely giving. The essence of giving freely is that there is no previous cause compelling one to do what he is doing. Even the actual biblical covenants, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New, were still initialized by God’s will, whether bilateral or unilateral. Paul teaches that the entire plan of redemption is the result of God’s will, not agreement. But we will deal with this further at another time.

The covenant of grace is fanciful on a number of fronts. First, it is not stated in Scripture. To take the terms Scripture does use (justification, sanctification, predestination, election etc.) and assign them to a concluding covenant out of which they flow does not make that covenant true. Again, Scripture does not indicate that God made an agreement with the elect, nor continues to do so when the elect are saved. The salvation of the elect is based upon the freedom of God’s purpose in Christ and that is all (Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, the elect are saved on the basis of the New Covenant, not a covenant of grace. The two are not the same. The New Covenant is the basis upon which our sins are forgiven since that is what the Scripture actually says: “

Hebrews 8:12 (NASB95)

12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities,

And I will remember their sins no more.”

This “better covenant” is based upon better promises than the Mosaic Covenant which could never cleanse the conscience. The salvation from the curses of the Mosaic Covenant for disobedience because of our depravity and God’s just wrath upon us for our disobedience is not based upon an agreement between God and man, elect or not. It is based upon the work of Jesus Christ through the New Covenant which was based upon better promises, the Abrahamic promise, which itself is based upon the promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15. Once Jesus Christ entered into the true tabernacle of heaven, after “offering Himself without blemish to God” (Hebrews 9:14), He obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12). That eternal redemption is because Jesus Christ fulfilled the New Covenant, not the covenant of grace (or redemption, for that matter). Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 1 Timothy 2:5). The true covenantal structure of the Scriptures are self-contained and sufficient for elucidating all that God has done and is doing and will do in the redemption of mankind and the entire creation. To go beyond that and state all of that is still the result of a larger covenant, the covenant of grace or redemption, is adding to what the Scripture has actually revealed and what God has actually done.

Third, as with the entirety of CT, if one believes in the covenant of grace, he teaches himself to impose upon Scripture and thus develops the habit of adding to the Scripture. No matter the subject, if we say something God has not said, it is never true (Jeremiah 23:25-32). Covenant Theology, as a system, is foreign to Scripture. Therefore, to impose it upon Scripture does damage to the Scripture.

Fourth, if the elect choose to enter into a covenant with God, how does that affect the sovereign nature of salvation. Calling the sinner to repent and follow Jesus Christ does not indicate a covenant or agreement. It is a command. To do so, is to disobey and be subject to eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10). If a sinner calls upon the Lord for salvation, is very different than saying that he agrees to a covenantal relationship with God. It does not appear that the idea of “covenant” ever describes the justification, sanctification, and glorification of a sinner (Romans 8:28-20). It is, again, the expression of the will  of God. We must maintain the purity of the will of God in all that He does.

In future posts, I will be dealing with the following subjects:

  1. The Covenant of Redemption.
  2. God’s Purpose in Christ.
  3. The True Covenantal Structure of God’s Plan.
  4. The Gospel.
  5. The Difference Between Israel and the Church.
  6. Eschatology and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.
  7. The True Nature of the Church.

There may be further topics as well as the need arises.

Challenging Covenantalism: The Covenant of Works-pt. 2

The last post posed a question: “Was there a Covenant of Works?” That is a legitimate question, given the weight that is attributed to this covenant. Since it becomes the foundational brick in the wall of Covenant Theology (CT), it must be examined and identified as true or false. To assume either way is detrimental to the revelation of God and will harm His glory.

We saw last time that CT asserts that God made a covenant with Adam in which if Adam were obedient, he would inherit eternal life. If he were disobedient, he would die. Or to put another way, if he obeyed, he would be blessed. If he disobeyed, he would be cursed. The backdrop for this reasoning is the assertion that the components of covenants are present in the narrative of Genesis 1-2. “the substance of covenant is the stuff that forms the contents of Genesis 1-3” (Meredith Kline, “Two Adams, Two Covenant of Works”, selected readings from Kingdom Prologue, 2000, p.1). These components also are present in the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) treaties identified in archaeological finds over the years. In comparing those finds, including significant discoveries like the treaties of the Hittites and the Ebla Tablets, with the biblical texts, it is believed that God followed the same pattern as those treaties and covenants as written in the ANE discoveries in the creation of the world.

  • I would like to challenge that assumption and clarify a few things concerning this hypothesis. Specifically, I do not believe that Moses is writing as one would from the structure of ANE treaties. Further, the components of a covenant are not present in the text of Genesis 1-2.

First, it is important that we insert a foundational tenant of Scripture, namely the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy states that the Scriptures, in the autographs, are inspired by God through the instrument of human authors and as such the resultant text is infallible, true, and authoritative. Also, the basis of the inerrancy of Scripture, and the veracity of the resultant copies of those inerrant letters/books, is that God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), is the source of the information contained therein. That is, although man may have used sources other than dictation from God (e.g. Luke 1:1-4), the resulting text of Scripture is nonetheless truth and has God as the source of that information. Inerrancy is also claimed by CT as well. Why is inerrancy significant to our discussion? Because, when speaking of covenantal language in Genesis 1-2, A) does history interpret the event of creation, or B) does creation define and interpret history? The only correct answer is B, Scripture, and its account of creation, defines and interprets history. Therefore, let us consider the assertion that all the components of ANE treaties are present in the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 as patently false. There are a number of reasons, which I will give below, but begin by considering that God did not follow the conventions of culture (of ANE or otherwise) when He established the foundations of the earth. If it is asserted that God’s work in creation followed the pattern of ANE treaties/covenants, then we have committed eisegesis saying that God’s creation work was patterned after ANE cultural norms. Surely, inerrancy cannot be maintained with that assertion since creation came before the Hittites.

Second, the components of a covenant/treaty are not present in Genesis 1-2. The general components of the covenant of works are usually listed as preamble/prologue, contractual parties, stipulations, blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience, and concluding remarks usually calling upon witnesses to the agreement. Michael Horton, author and host of White Horse Inn, a Christian radio show from a Reformed perspective, also describes a “typical” covenant arrangement and attributes that back into Genesis:

" In addition, the literary elements of covenant-making seem to be present in the Genesis narrative, especially as interpreted by the rest of Scripture. Even in Genesis 1-3 we recognize the features of a covenant that we have delineated: a historical prologue setting the stage (Genesis 1-2), stipulations (2:16-17), and sanctions (2:17b) over which Eve and the serpent argue (3:1-5) and which are finally carried out in the form of judgment (3:8-19) (Michael Horton, God of Promise [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006], 90).

Kim Riddlebarger, professor at Westminster Seminary California and pastor of Christ Reformed Church, Anaheim, CA., lists them in summary form as:

“Although the term “covenant of works” does not appear in the creation account, all of the elements of such a covenant are clearly present in Eden. First, there are two parties involved (Adam and his creator), with God sovereignly imposing the terms of this covenant upon Adam and his descendants. Second, there is a condition set forth by God as spelled out in Genesis 2:17–“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Although this condition comes in the form of a specific prohibition (if you eat from the tree you will die), it can also be framed as a positive theological principle which describes the very essence of this covenant: “Do this [i.e., obey by not eating] and live.” Third, there is a blessing promised upon perfect obedience (eternal life) as well as a threatened curse (death) for any act of disobedience. If Adam obeys his creator and does not eat from the tree, then he will receive God’s promised blessing–eternal life. But should Adam eat from the tree, then he will come under the covenant curse–which is death (Westminster Seminary California, blog, http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/3608, accessed 9/4/2012).

 

If we simply use these writings as our starting points, we will discover that the ideal of the Covenant of Works is, in fact, the philosophy of man and not a true explanation of what God actually did.

First, Michael Horton indicates that the entire narrative of Genesis 1-3 fits into the ANE structure. Unfortunately, he does not seem to comprehend that the creation of the world and the cosmos does not fit into covenantal/treaty structure.  Although Moses wrote during the time when the Near East was not ancient, creation occurred before ANE culture. When these things are read into the biblical text, the text is treated as some literary piece and not actual history. Such is the common failure of CT.

Second, Dr. Riddlebarger, who has done much to confuse the Scriptures, states that if Adam would obey God, he would receive access to the Tree of Life. Once eating the fruit, he would then live forever. It is further stated that Adam is on a kind of probation to prove his obedience. There are a few problems with that teaching, however. Most CT teachers repeat Genesis 2:17, “…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Along with this verse is the usual statement that this indicates a kind of test for Adam. In fact, this “condition” becomes the hinge pin for much in CT. Adam failed to maintain the condition by breaking the covenant, and thus he died as per this verse. The converse, they reason, is also true. If Adam does obey, then he will receive blessing. One glaring problem is the fact that the biblical text says in the previous verse, “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely…” (v.16). Adam already had access, free access, to any other tree in the garden, including the Tree of Life. In fact, both eating of every other tree in the garden and not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are all under the umbrella of a “command” (v.16). It is just as much a command to eat freely as it is to not eat. This is also verified by the fact that the Tree of Life needed to be guarded from Adam and Eve after the fall (Genesis 3:24). He did, in fact, have access to that tree even after his disobedience! The reasoning with CT is that if Adam exhibits perfect obedience to the command (the stipulations of the “covenant”), then by not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he will then, in time, be able to have access to the tree of life, by the sheer fact that he will still be alive to do so. This conditional existence of Adam, according to CT, is the basis for the rest of their assumptions in theology. However, there were no conditions in the garden, and thus there was nothing for Adam to agree to. This is not a contractual agreement between two parties. In fact, is was not a “royal grant” either since God does not promise to benefit Adam in the least. Adam was already blessed, already possessed life, and already walked with God:

Let me reiterate. Adam already had free and unhindered access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:16). There was no condition, whatsoever, for Adam to be able to go up to that tree and take of its fruit and eat. He was already given free access by the Creator.

This is crucial to realize. Since there was no contractual condition for which Adam must attain, then there was no covenant. Since there was no covenant, this arrangement in the garden does not follow ANE treaty structure, or anything of the sort. God’s work in creation is simply an expression of His will. To assert and teach that Adam’s eating of the tree of life is based upon not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is to 1) miss the actual words of the text, 2) misrepresent what God has done in creation, and 3) diverge from sound biblical revelation on the matter, and thus maintain an apostate position, thereby harming the church for whom the truth of Scripture belongs (1 Timothy 3:15).

Third, CT also asserts that God would bless Adam if he obeyed, and curse Adam if he did not. That is not true. As already stated, God already blessed Adam (Genesis 1:28). He already had life (Genesis 2:7). In fact, the restriction to the tree of life post-fall indicates that he would have been confirmed in some kind of perpetual physical life that could be sustained forever. That is not to say, however, that he would have inherited “eternal life” such as we have in Christ (i.e. partaking of the divine nature – 1 Peter 1:3). We know this because God indicates that if Adam and Eve, in their punished, fallen state, would have eaten of that tree, they would have been confirmed in that state. The tree itself, having properties that sustained and strengthened (see Revelation 22:2; cf. Ezekiel 47:12), did not possess the quality of eternal, divine, life since Adam and Eve would have been sustained in their fallen condition if they would have eaten of that tree. Therefore, to say that if they would have obeyed, they would have satisfied the covenantal agreement with God and would have been given access to the tree of life so that they would live eternally is false. Adam already had access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Eve were already blessed of God (Genesis 1:28a). The tree of life simply perpetuated physical life forever, which is not the same thing as the quality of divine life that CT attributes to it.

In none of these arrangements do we see conditions placed upon the man. God did not say, “Adam, if you obey Me, I will give you to eat of the tree of life.” He already had access to that tree under no grants or conditions. God simply created the tree for Adam and his offspring. Nor did He say to Adam, “If you obey Me, I will bless you.” God had already established a blessed state for Adam and his wife. There were no conditions, and thus no covenant. The text of inspired Scripture indicates that God blessed them (Genesis 1:28) and that was not contingent upon obedience. They already had it! It was the will of God. Once again, since nowhere in the text is there indication of conditions for blessing or access to the tree of life, then there is no covenant. Covenants are based upon conditions. Even unilateral covenants, such as with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:4-6), require a certain attainment of righteousness, albeit provided by Jesus Christ. However, all we have in the actual text of Scripture in Genesis 1-2 is God creating and giving freely to the man, the woman, and their children of His provision without cost or covenant. To say that the command to not eat from the tree presupposes a covenant is reading into the text to a detrimental degree. If anything, the command of God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a demonstration of the desire for Christ-like obedience from Adam since he was made in the image of God. How? Because the obedience would have been generated from love and subjection to the Father in the same way that the Son loves and subjects Himself to the Father (John 15:10; 1 Corinthians 11:3). Again, love does not need a law (Galatians 5:22-23). This is why Luke describes Adam as a “son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Since the influence of CT is widespread, especially throughout the Young, Restless, and Reformed people, there needs to be accountability for the mishandling of Scripture in such a fashion as is demonstrated by Covenant Theology. From beginning to end, it is not based upon proper exegesis of the actual text of Scripture, but rather the philosophical musings of men throughout the centuries which have dealt a harmful blow, overall, to the Scripture. Although the gospel itself was recovered by the Reformers, the need to continue a reformation stands. There needs to be a recovery of the authority of the Scripture once again. This authority is only understood and perceived through a hermeneutic of the grammar of a text and the historical context in which the text exists. Once the foundation of CT is laid down as truth, the Scripture cannot hardly be recognized since, by and large, its veracity and literality is compromised many times over, especially in such areas as creation, and eschatology. Both the beginning and the ending of God’s Word suffer a harmful blow by the likes of CT to the degree that we do not understand from whence we came, nor for what we have to look forward. Let us truly “keep reforming” and return to a proper, text-centered, study of God’s holy, inerrant, and precious, Word.

Challenging Covenantalism: “Was There a Covenant of Works?

In my previous post, I stated that Covenant Theology (CT) is built upon two (or three) stated covenants: the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. These so-called covenants are the fountainhead of the rest of this system of theology. However, they need to be examined in light of Scripture to see if they even exist.

Covenant of Works:

This covenant is described as the agreement between God and Adam, in the garden, wherein both God and Adam were the contractual parties. As was mentioned in the previous post, “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his prosperity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, chapter VII, section II). Herman Witsius, in his foundational work for Covenantalists entitled, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (London, 1822), devotes a large section to the “contracting parties” of the Covenant of Works. It is said there that God, upon creating man, enacted a covenant with him that Adam should fulfill upon the penalty of death if he does not. Adam consented. Thus, the covenant of works. The assertion is that God “cut” a covenant (Hebrew, berit) , which was binding for Adam and for all man, at that time of creation, which in turn would demonstrate loyalty on Adam’s part. In this section of Mr. Witsius’ book are a number of Scripture references and quotes. However, by and large, they are misdirected and misleading. The truth of the references are unquestionable. The application of those truths to an assumed system, as found in the Covenant of Works, is unbiblical.

For example, on pages 46-47, the author states that God is one Party to the covenant, man the other. Thus when

“[Adam] consents thereto, embracing the good promised by God, engaging to an exact observance of the condition required; and upon the violation thereof, voluntarily owning himself obnoxious to the threatened curse. This the scripture calls… “to enter into covenant with the Lord,” Deut. xxix.12. “and to enter into a curse and an oath,” Neh. 29.”” (Economy, 46-47).

What Mr. Witsius is saying is that when God created Adam, He and Adam made an agreement by virtue of his being created, bearing His image. Thus, once Adam realized the stipulations of this creation agreement, he agreed to the contract. He entered into a covenant with the Lord, in the same way that is spoken of in Deuteronomy 29:12 in regards to Israel. Thus, the author puts the same binding agreement that Israel experienced with God through the Law of Moses upon Adam saying that they were equal. Another way to say it is that Mr. Witsius takes a postulated covenant and equates it with the reality of a clearly written covenant and makes them equal. Well, not really. In reality, Adam’s so-called covenant supersedes Israel’s covenant.

Did God make a covenant with Adam in the same way that He made a covenant with Israel? Further, does it matter? Let’s look at this carefully. First, there is never mentioned in Scripture that God made a binding, legal, agreement with Adam. In all of Paul’s writings (as well as the prophets) about Adam, he does not once state that Adam reneged on his contractual agreement with God. There might be two objections at this point. One: “What about Hosea 6:7? It clearly says that Adam broke his covenant.” Does it? What does Hosea actually say? Adam is not the subject of the sentence. Israel is the subject, as evidenced by the personal pronoun, ‘they’. They transgressed the covenant. What covenant? The only covenant Scripture indicates that God made with Israel and they continually broke (see the context of the entire book of Hosea, for example). But does it say that Adam broke a covenant also? No. It says that Adam transgressed (cf. Romans 5:18). It does not say that he transgressed a covenant since there is no recorded covenant in Genesis 1-2. The phrase, “like Adam”, is a comparison to the transgression and not the covenant. Besides, the better translation would say, “Like a man” and not “like Adam” since the article does not precede the word adam, which, when taken with the article, refers to the individual Adam. However, when the article is not there, it is man in general since the word ‘adam’ means ‘man’. This is the only verse in all of Scripture that actually uses ‘Adam’ and ‘covenant’ in proximity to each other and we can see that this is not even referring to a broken covenant made with Adam.

Objections:

Some might say,

“But the evidence of a covenant is there; stipulations, warnings, and punishment for failure.” Really? Did God need a covenant in order to maintain order in the garden? Did Adam have to agree to the terms of a covenant in order to go about his day? The observation of death upon disobedience, does that demand a covenant structure? According to the Apostle Paul, no.

Romans 5:12–14 (NASB95)

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

It is clear that Adam did fall, and miserably so. He did sin. He did transgress God’s command. But this does not demand a covenant structure. Paul writes that through one man, sin entered the world and with it came death. We understand this event as that time when Adam, against the command of God, ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-7;cf. Genesis 2:16-17). However, Paul does not equate the disobedience of Adam to the breaking of a legal contract, i.e. a covenant. Death spread to all men because all sinned. This is because until the Law (Mosaic) sin was in the world, but it was not imputed to man. What does that mean? From Adam to Moses, the punishment of Adam was experienced-death. However, that same offense of Adam is not experienced by every man. Mankind, as coming from Adam, died because they were “in Adam.” However, they legally did not sin that sin which Adam did. They were made sinners as coming from Adam, but they, themselves, did not each take of the tree and eat. Therefore, sin, or the transgression of a commandment, was not legally marked down on their account as a broken law, i.e. imputed.  Paul is right, sin is not imputed when there is no law. After Adam, no one else ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, technically, they did not sin. However, mankind is alienated from God and dead in their sinful natures. But, it was not until the Law of Moses that sin could be legally imputed to each man and thus each man bear the weight of his own transgression. Thus, Paul is saying that Adam did not break a covenant. Adam disobeyed God. Big difference. The stipulations of a so-called covenant were not broken because there was no covenant. We know this because Paul says that sin was not imputed. That is, Adam did not break a legal agreement. He did disobey. He did transgress. But the legal aspect, which CT asserts to be present, was not there. Thus, there was no covenant. It is simply God’s creation rising up in rebellion against his Maker.

Semantics?:

For some readers, this is pure semantics. However, how closely you define these things determines which direction you go in other doctrines. For the Covenantalist, since they assume a covenant here, they are free to assume other covenants, namely the Covenant of Grace. Thus, from there, they feel the freedom to assume other things as well. For example, they might feel the need to assume that since we are all under a covenant of grace, then Israel has merged with the church and there are no national promises made to Israel since they don’t exist anymore in God’s plan. Or, they might assume that they can take a text of Scripture and install a second meaning into that passage (a Covenantalist handles most of the Old Testament this way). To some, these issues are inconsequential. But to God, they are not. The assertion that God made a covenant with Adam, which he broke, misrepresents what actually happened, and thus distorts God’s revelation of Scripture, thus robbing God of glory. This is no small assertion.

So, what actually happened? Just what Paul said happened. Adam disobeyed a command of God. A command which, if obeyed, would maintain fellowship with God forever. As one unnamed writer stated (as quoted from within Mr. Witsius’ work and he summarily disagrees with)

“Prior to the fall there was properly no law. There… a state of friendship and love obtained, such as is the natural state of a son with respect to a parent, and which is what nature affects. But when that love is violated, then a precept comes to be superadded: and that love, which before was voluntary, (as best agreeing with its nature; for that can scarcely be called love, unless voluntary) falls under a precept, and passes into a law, to be enforced then with commination and coercion; which rigour of coercion properly constitutes a law.” (Economy, p.61).

He is right. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:22-23,

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

There is no law to regulate love. You do not need regulation of divine love and relationship, such as that for which Adam was created. Adam was created in a condition of righteousness such that he was able to fellowship with God. This relationship is as a son to a father (Luke 3:38), not a servant to a master. A slave/master relationship exists with Satan and his subjects (John 8:31-44). Our relationship to God can also be described as slave and Master (Ephesians 6:6). Yet, ultimately, we are sons (Revelation 21:7) and as a true son, we will serve our Father just like Jesus Christ does as well as reign with Him (Revelation 22:3,5). Still, Adam was created as a son, in the likeness of the Son. There is no law, or covenant, to regulate that condition. It was not until the fall that that relationship was severed, Adam apostatized, Satan became lord over him, and began to rule. Thus, when the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed-free to be a son again (John 1:12-13; 8:31; Galatians 3:26). Therefore, when you say that there was a covenant between God and Adam, you are then distorting the love of God, and His image, and making it something other than it is.

Challenging Covenantalism

Over the years, there have been certain issues and teachings that have surfaced in working with people that seem like the proverbial Gordian Knot. One particular difficult knot to figure out for many is known as Covenant Theology (CT). CT is a system of theology by which its proponents assert you must understand the Bible. Some of the basic positions of this system will be stated below and over the next few posts compared to Scripture, but at the outset it should be understood that it is a system and, as such, it is seen by many as the key to understanding the Scriptures. Reformed Theology has CT as its foundation, according to many.

Some remarks should be made:

  • First, although CT needs to be challenged from Scripture because of its widespread, and growing acceptance, it is not to say that we should deny the fact that we owe much of what we know today as Evangelicals to the work of the Reformers. The recovery of the gospel on behalf of the masses of humanity under the domination of the Catholic Church in the 16th-18th centuries is due, in large part, to the bravery and work of the Reformers.
  • Second, it is also not something that we need to conclude that all who hold to CT are unsaved. That is not the issue. As Paul writes, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). Other factors may be precipitated by holding to CT as a system, and not holding fast to Christ. However, the issue at hand is not trying to figure out who is saved and who is not, who is in and who is out. The Lord will make that clear in the future.
  • Third, this is not an issue of Dispensationalism vs. Covenantalism. These, in actuality, are arbitrary and superficial titles that really confuse the issue.
  • Fourth, and final, the issue is bringing every thought captive to the obedience of the truth of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). That is, the speculative teaching, and potentially damaging results, of CT need to brought under obedience to the truth of Christ. Thus, examination of the basic tenants of CT are in order.

It is best to begin by covering what exactly is meant by CT. That is, what exactly is Covenant Theology and why is it to be examined? The relationship of Covenant Theology and Reformed Theology is an intimate one. The Reformed Faith is built upon the constraints and presumptions of the covenantal framework which act as its guide. The presumption is that God had originally created all things under a covenantal framework, the first of which was the “Covenant of Works” made with Adam. The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 states, “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his prosperity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, chapter VII, section II). From this assumption, i.e. that this is an actual covenant made between God and Adam, the rest of Scriptures and covenants flow. However, Adam did not keep that covenant and fell into the condemnation spelled out in that covenant, namely death. The next covenant, then, since Adam failed, is called the “Covenant of Grace” which states: “Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe” (Westminster, chapter VII, section III). Upon the backs of these two “covenants” are said to be the entire plan of redemption of sinners. In other words, because Adam disobeyed the Covenant of Works, God punished him by inaugurating death into this world. And, because of that disobedience to the Covenant, God initiated a Covenant with the elect to save them. Both Reformed Theology and Covenantalism assume these two Covenants as fact.

Further, as a result of these assumptions, biblical history, then, takes the form of one large unit under the umbrella of the Covenant of Grace. The result of this is that the plan of redemption is moving forward, with one covenant under various dispensations replacing one after the other (Westminster, chapter VII, section VI). The net effect of this replacement, or displacement, is that the next dispensation replaces the previous one, and yet maintains fragments of the previous to some extent. As an example, in the earlier dispensation God instituted the act of physical circumcision to commemorate an Israelites introduction into the covenant made with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-12; cf. Acts 7:8; Romans 4:11). However, when Christ came, they say, He instituted the act of baptism as a reflection of circumcision under Abrahamic covenant. Thus, seeing that circumcision was done to male infants, baptism, in turn, may also be done upon infants and children.

A number of other conclusions are also drawn as a result of the assumption of the Covenant of Grace made with the elect:

  • Israel is subsumed into the church, the true Israel, and thus has no claim to a uniquely Israelite land promise.
  • The prophecies of a future for national Israel are nothing more than the “shadow” of the “substance” realized in Christ in the church.
  • The Old Testament is mostly contrived of “shadowy” figures and types of Jesus and thus should be comprehended that way.
  • Future prophecies yet to be realized are also shadowy figures, e.g. the idea of a 1,000 year reign of Revelation 20:1-10.
  • The New Testament has priority over the Old Testament and thus the New Testament has the authority to advance an interpretation in the Old Testament that may not be readily available from simply reading the Old Testament passage itself.
  • The Law of Moses remains binding for the church.
  • The promises for Israel are actually realized in the church.

Over the next few posts, I will be examining the distinctions of CT and comparing them to Scripture. But, allow me to first state my conclusion at the outset. I have concluded that the positions and teachings as found in CT, some of which are stated above, 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.

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