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NCT: New Covenant Theology

January 30, 2009

Recently I listened to the set of Master’s Seminary audio lectures series on NCT, or New Covenant Theology, and found these to be very helpful in understanding the difference between NCT, covenant theology, and moderate dispensationalism.

I had heard of NCT, through my local church Sunday School classes over a year ago — though at the time I did not comprehend the greater issues involved — but this series explains the overall material very well. Though I had heard bits and pieces before, my knowledge of Covenant Theology was sketchy at best, and here for the first time I got the basics of what Covenant Theology teaches — and what NCT refutes: the three Covenants of “Covenant Theology”:

  • Covenant of Works — between God and Adam, before the Fall
  • Covenant of Grace — between God and the elect, beginning after the Fall and manifested in the other biblical covenants
  • Covenant of Redemption — between the members of the Trinity, the God-head, in eternity past

NCT rightly rejects these three covenants, as they are not actual covenants as scripture uses the term. However, NCT falls short of the mark by not coming all the way to dispensationalism, instead trying to come up with a third way to approach scripture and interpretation. Significantly, NCT limits the New Covenant to only passages in the New Testament, beginning with the book of Acts, ignoring the important New Covenant passages in Jeremiah 31 and 33. NCT stresses the discontinuity to an extent that can be taken too far, as when it concludes that the Old Covenant was made with an unbelieving nation that only served as a model or type for the later, believing church. Their hermeneutic of starting with the New Testament and then reading it back into the Old, is flawed and overlooks important revelation. (Even when it comes to the New Testament, NCT puts too much emphasis on Hebrews while ignoring Romans, since Romans too would give them more of a problem regarding the truth of national Israel.) Related to this is the idea, expressed at least by some in NCT, that Old Covenant Israelites didn’t have enough revelation to be saved or really understand God’s plan; God’s word was hidden too much for them to figure it out. Yet a look at scripture shows that, instead, they did have enough revelation. Jesus’ response to Nicodemus shows that Nicodemus, as a teacher, should have known and understood these things. Job, from very early history, probably the time of the patriarchs, showed great understanding. Paul, as described in Acts, explained that what he believed was nothing more than the hope of their fathers (again, the Old Covenant believers). Overall, the very notion of regarding the New Testament as better because it is newer, and rejecting the Old Testament on its own basis because it is older and more “primitive,” smacks of evolutionary humanistic thought rather than the biblical, historical reality regarding ancient mankind.

Richard Mayhue, in his session (last in the series) about NCT and Futuristic Premillennialism, notes that the NCT group is not being consistent in its study, and challenges them to come all the way out from Covenantalism. As he notes, only one NCT proponent has done so, Fred Zaspel. (See links to Fred’s great articles, on my “Great Reading Material” page.) He also gives seven major reasons to believe in Futuristic Premillennialism. I’ve come across most of these points before, but here they are listed together:

  1. Start with the hermeneutic (literal-grammatical-historical) as a presupposition, rather than starting with a theology as a presupposition.
  2. Exegetical integrity, as illustrated by how we handle Revelation 20.
Basic hermeneutical rules:
  1. Numbers should be accepted at face value (conveying mathematical quantity), unless there’s substantial evidence to warrant another conclusion.
  2. Point 1 is especially true when dealing with numbers referring to time.
  3. Never in Bible is “year” used with a numerical adjective when it doesn’t refer to actual period of time that it mathematically represents
  4. The number 1000 is not used elsewhere in Bible with a symbolic sense. (Critics will certainly point to certain passages in Psalms, Jobs, etc. that use the word thousand, but the context here is conveying the idea of long amounts of time, as compared to our lifetime, not a mathematical or time reference)

3. Identities of Israel and the Church are distinct in New Testament. Scripture gives no hint of supersessionism.

  1. In the book of Acts, the word Israel or its related term Israelite appears 20 times; Church appears 19 times. In each case, Israel always refers to the nation, ethnic Israel. The terms are never switched or used as synonymous
  2. The Church is never called Israel in the New Testament. Israel is never called the Church in the Old Testament.
  3. In Revelation chapters 1 through 3, ecclesia (church) is used 18 times. This term is never used again in the later chapters of Revelation, and the terms are never confused in the subsequent chapters, in passages dealing with Israel.

4. The preservation of Israel as a race of people and as a nation is very, very significant in history.

Again we must consider the two passages in Jeremiah, relating to the New Covenant and its relation to the Jewish nation:
Jeremiah 31: 35-37 (NAS)

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 33: 19-26 (NAS)

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 20″Thus says the LORD, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, 21then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers. 22’As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.'” 23And the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 24″Have you not observed what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD chose, He has rejected them’? Thus they despise My people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight. 25″Thus says the LORD, ‘If My covenant [for] day and night [stand] not, [and] the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, 26then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.'”

5. The Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are unconditional covenants. They are unilateral, eternal, and unconditional. Only the Mosaic covenant was conditional, and only it was superceded by the New Covenant.

6. All other eschatology systems propose this order: Christ reigns, then He comes. Yet what is the order in scripture? Answer: Christ comes, then He reigns.

7. Dozens of Old Testament passages promise a physical, earthly kingdom, a king, land, prominence of Israel. These passages are scattered throughout the major and minor prophets, and they cannot be spiritualized or dismissed, or said to be abrogated and done away with.

Here I note for myself, if ever I can come across a MacArthur Study Bible, to look at page 1287 (in Amos 9), which has a list of these passages.

  1. Sonja
    July 13, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Hi Lynda! Happy to oblige. 🙂

    The ultimate restoration of Israel:

    Isa. 27; 42-44; 65; 66. Jer. 30-33. Ezek. 36; 37; 40-48. Dan. 9:20-27; 12:1-3. Hos. 2:14-23; 14:4-7. Joel 3:18-21. Amos 9:11-15. Obad. 17, 21. Mic. 7:14-20, Zeph. 3:14-20. Hag. 2:20-23. Zech. 13-14. Mal. 4:1-3

    Page 1256 in the ESV MacArthur Study Bible.

    You’ve patiently explained NCT to me but this is so excellent an explanation. One thought that permeates (as it always has) is arrogance. I mean that not as uncharitable or the wrong tone, but simply error. Israel is His convenant people. Irrevocable as you point out. The Lord has always perserved a faithful remnant to possess the land as He promised Abraham.

    Good post, thank you!

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