inerrancy

The Work of Interpretation-pt.3

This final piece in this little series is meant to help someone who has done the above steps of word work and sentence (syntax) work to now work on the historical information necessary in order to really understand a verse/passage when everything is pulled together.

Our church just finished studying our Lord’s entrance into the Temple during His first months of ministry. He walked in and, upon seeing the sellers and their wares, makes a rope from other ropes laying around. He then begins to drive people out, threatening them with harm (John 2:13-22). In studying this event, I had to do a lot of historical research. I wanted to understand what Jesus saw as He entered the Temple and why that catalyzed His zeal. I found out, through the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus and a Jewish scholar turned Christian, Alfred Edersheim, that since the Old Testament never taught a person to exchange their blemished animal for an “unblemished” one, then these sellers and money-changers in the Temple, lead by the High Priest Anna himself, were simply running a very deceptive and lucrative scam meant to secure relationship with Rome and fatten Annas’ pocketbook. If found that Annas was known for his extortion and the priests were known for their use of force to gather “tithes” for the Temple. Once having understood all of this, the entire passage came alive. Then, comparing that with God’s original design for the Temple, a place where God would dwell and men could approach Him in fellowship, it even made me upset!

Therefore, since the Scripture was written in real language in real time with real people, we have to understand the historical setting of the passages we are studying. Most sound commentaries make use of extensive historical works. Some don’t. If the Bible is treated as only devotional material meant to simply make you think ‘happy thoughts’ to get you through the day, then a person who does that simply does not understand the Bible, no matter what they say.

When coming to a passage ask yourself:

  • About whom is the passage speaking?
  • Where did he/she live?
  • Were they at war with anyone?
  • What was it like living there?
  • What year(s) are represented in the text?
  • What age is the person being talked about?
  • Is he/she married?
  • Are they believers?

There are many questions that should be asked of a passage. These are  just a few. When you are able to reconstruct the passage historically, you will be able to assess the meaning of the passage better.

For instance, Paul wrote in Colossians 1:15:

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

 

When did Paul write that? Who were the Colossians? Where did they live? Why would they need to know that Jesus is the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation? Were they a Roman colony?

Many times, questions like these can be answered from reading the book many times over. From the book we learn that Colossae is a location on the map (1:2). The audience of the letter were saints and faithful at that (1:2). However, it would appear that they needed ongoing teaching from the Apostle Paul concerning the person and nature of Jesus Christ, since that takes up the bulk of the letter. It would also appear that they were being taught some erroneous doctrine from somewhere and that may have been what caused Paul to write this letter in the first place (2:8, 18; 3:1-4). It would also appear that Paul wrote this letter from prison (4:10). That would help us to date the letter. If we could learn when Paul was in prison, we could then know when he wrote this letter.

Much of the historical setting can be ascertained from the letter itself. However, the letter will not tell us the location of Colossae nor the population at the time, for example. One of the best places to turn at this point for information like that would be a Bible encyclopedia.

A Bible encyclopedia will give you information about many people, places, events, practices, cities, as well as a myriad of other information from scholars who have done the hard work of research. They will then collect that into a volume in encyclopedia fashion for your access. A Bible dictionary is similar to an encyclopedia as well. However, as you would guess, it deals with words and terms in the Bible that can be ascertained and read for understanding. Again, this is usually the fruit of the labors of able scholars. Having this information is necessary in order to comprehend the situation from which Paul is writing and to whom Paul is writing.

For example, if we look under the heading “prison” in The Harper’s Bible Dictionary (Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 824), we find out the condition from which Paul was writing. There is even further reference for more specific information at the end of the article that tells me to look under “Paul.” Also, in the same book, we find out a little more about Colossae (under the heading “Colossae,” p.175).

Conclusion:

Once you have done your “word-work,” “sentence-work,” “historical-work,” you can pull it all together. One note here, though, is that these things can take time and patience. But the discovery is worth it! Simply understanding this text is the goal. Once the text is clear, it is powerful. God works through the understanding of the text. We do not need to add to it, or remove anything from it. It stands on its own.

From all of this information we understand that Paul, the apostle, is writing to the church in Colossae, a Roman town in Asia Minor, near to the towns of Laodicea and Ephesus. The prison in which Paul was at this point, most likely, was during his first imprisonment and it was a more relaxed imprisonment than his second, final, imprisonment. His final imprisonment was final because he was beheaded while there. Thus, he would have been in prison under different, more stringent, circumstances. Paul’s first imprisonment would have ended around 62 AD. Thus, this letter, written while in his 2 year imprisonment, or confinement, would have been written in 61 AD, or so. While in Prison, Paul received word from Epaphras that the church loved the truth and was committed to love (1:3-9). However, it appears that he also heard of the influence of myths, Jewish traditions, and the like promoted by some and distorting the truth about the nature of Jesus Christ. Concerned, Paul writes to them and gives the letter to Epaphras, along with Tychicus and Onesimus (Philemon 1-10). They are to read this letter, and send it on to other churches. In our verse, 1:15, we see that Paul further explains that Jesus Christ is God. In fact, He is the “image,” or “pattern,” of the true God. Thus, Christ represents a God whom no one can see. In fact, Jesus is actually His Son, as the OT speaks of Him (Psalm 2:7). This Son of God is the firstborn of all creation. That is, He, like the OT laws of the firstborn, is preeminent. He is the heir of all things and receives all things from His Father. With this information, we are able to appreciate, even adore, Christ more. This is fantastic, and seemingly incredible, truth. A Man, as He appears, is the heir of all things. And yet, this Heir, died for His inheritance. This assaults the idea that He is an angel, or a created man. He is none other than the eternal Son of God and, as such, He is God. Only God can accurately represent God. 

I realize that this is a simplistic little series that takes time to learn and perfect. However, because of the reality of inerrancy, we are bound by this method of study. We study the Scripture the way it was given-real people, in real time, with real language.

The Work of Interpretation-pt.1

 

Over the last couple posts, we have seen that we must interpret the Scripture the way that it was given-in real live history, by actual people who lived, written down in known grammatical languages, given by the true God, and understood by the original audience. Many perceive the Scripture the very opposite of the above. They consider the Bible to be void of historical content, written by men but with a distinctly Platonic spiritual component, given by God and thereby must possess an almost mythological meaning, and only meant for the enlightened to understand. When we compare the two premises, we see that the second more resembles a pagan, mystical understanding of the Scripture rather than a sound, verifiable understanding of the Scripture. Some would continue to see the Scripture as having double-meaning which, to them, means that words don’t really mean what they say. Funny thing is, they seem to possess the actual “second meaning” of any given passage.

What I have attempted to establish is that there is only one meaning in every verse and the effort needed to discover that meaning is rational, sound, and logical. It is guided by rules and produces the mind of God in that text. It is clear, coherent, and at the same time spiritual and heavenly in the sense that it represents heavenly truths or instructions. We do not need to add anything to Scripture in order to embellish its meaning so that it would give off a glow. We must study it by way of sound, objective processes in order for the text itself to instruct US. This process looks like work, and it is. But the text of Scripture demands this.

First of all, since God gave His truth in words, we have to understand these words. These words were written down at a point in time, in a fixed way, using the language employed with meanings of the day. For example, we would not expect Matthew to write, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2) and have it mean anything other than what Matthew meant for it to mean to himself and the original readers. After all, he was writing down what Jesus said.

However, knowing all of this, the question comes, “How do we discover this meaning?” What I would like to outline over the next couple posts is a method of study that I use (to which I owe a tremendous debt to The Master’s Seminary for instructing me in this process and exampling it at every turn) and it has been proven to cause the meaning of the text to become clear and plain. That does not mean that there is no depth. Rather the depth of Scripture becomes available only when the text is clear and the meaning plain (understood). What I am also going to explain is also the method that is borne out of the conviction of the text being the copies of an inerrant autograph. Again, if every word in Scripture is inerrant and accurate, then we must understand every word. Words do not exist in a vacuum. They exist as part of a context. That context itself has a broader context that has a beginning and ending. Every word has meaning and purpose. The definitions, arrangement, and relationship of every word to another is what conveys meaning. Once all of that has been determined, the meaning of every verse becomes plain.

There is a four step method to work all of this out (granted, there are variations of this process, especially as it relates to the original languages). Here it is:

  1. Word study
  2. Syntax study
  3. Historical study
  4. Outline/Notes

WORD STUDY:

This process of word study is just what it sounds like. It is the study of words. What words? The words of Scripture. Since the Scripture was written originally in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, we could learn to study the words of those languages. Although studying these languages would be expected for a pastor or elder, it would not be usually available for most saints. Therefore, most of God’s people rely upon a translation. Yet, given that a person has a good translation, he/she can still do a proper word study. I am not wanting to stud the history of translations, but here are my recommendations. First, I recommend the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It does the best translation work of all the translations, minimizing editorial interpretation. I would then recommend the King James or New King James (KJV or NKJV). Although some of the words are archaic and a stumbling block for modern readers, it does a fairly good job of translation. The manuscript families represented in the KJV is lesser quality than the family of the NASB. However, it still has proven a faithful translation for decades. A good summary work on translations and how to choose one is Dr. Robert L. Thomas’ work, How To Choose A Bible Version. Having accumulated information concerning the deviations from the original language manuscripts, Dr. Thomas gives us a very useful tool in determining which version would suit us best in translation. At the top of the list was the American Standard Version for its literalness (although in awkward Elizabethan English), and the bottom of the list is The Living Bible. For people who want to study the Scripture in the fashion I am suggesting, the NASB (either the 1971 edition or the 1995 updated edition) would be ideal. A new translation, The English Standard Version (ESV), would also be suitable, but it has a higher degree of deviation from sound translation principles than does the NASB.

For our purposes here, we will study Colossians 1:15

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

To begin a word study, it is helpful to design chart, such as below.

 

word meaning notes miscellaneous

 

The first column, “word,” is just what it appears to be: the word that you are studying. If we take Colossians 1:15 and fill the chart with it step by step, it would look like this:

word meaning notes miscellaneous
He is
the image
of
the invisible
God
the firstborn
of
all
creation

 

Notice that I put the verb “is” with the subject of the verb “He.” That is helpful so that I can keep it straight who is doing the action of the verb or about whom the verb is speaking. At this point, every word gets addressed. Here is what we have:

word meaning notes miscellaneous
He is he is this is referring to a description of the subject, “He.” Refers to “beloved Son” of v. 13.
the image representation/pattern not simply kind of looks like, but exact picture See Hebrews 1:1-3
of with reference to tells me of whom he is the image.
the invisible cannot be seen/we do not see the description of
God God/Father Cannot be the same Person God is invisible.
the firstborn the one born first/the preeminent one The Son is not the first one born. Cain is. must refer to preeminence.
of with reference to
all every/completely
creation everything that is made This must refer to everything in Genesis 1-2.

 

At this point, I have every word accounted for in the verse. Although appearing tedious, this step is born out of the conviction that every word in Scripture has importance, meaning, and authority (Luke 16:17). Granted, in order to do this, one must spend some time. However, that is exactly what the Lord would have us do-spend time in His Word.

Also, since the Bible was written in 3 other languages, it is a good idea to have reference works that help in translation of these words. One such works is Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. This collection has a good listing of the English words and their Hebrew or Greek definitions as used in the Bible. For example, the word “image” has a large entry and a portion of it says,

 

“1.  ( *0 , 1504) denotes “an image”; the word involves the two ideas of representation and manifestation. “The idea of perfection does not lie in the word itself, but must be sought from the context” (Lightfoot); the following instances clearly show any distinction between the imperfect and the perfect likeness…” (no copyright)

The entry goes on to explain the variety of contexts that use the word “image,” including our passage above. it is very useful. Granted, there are more technical works out there, but this is a good starter for most.

Next post, I will show the subsequent step from the word study step. We can call it the “Syntax Step.” It is the relationship of each word to the other in a verse or sentence.

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: 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.

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