Home > Covenant Theology, dispensationalism, eschatology, Israel, premillennialism, Theology > Regarding the Old Testament: Covenantal, Dispensational and NCT Views

Regarding the Old Testament: Covenantal, Dispensational and NCT Views


A little over a year ago (summer 2013), a passing comment in David Murray’s blog post caused a bit of uproar from Calvinist Dispensationalists. Included in a list of 7 reasons why the Old Testament is neglected was this 4th reason: “Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.” The Cripplegate blog, and a guest post from Dan Phillips at David Murray’s blog addressed some reasons why dispensationalists do study the Old Testament.

From my studies concerning dispensationalism, and covenant theology (including Baptist covenant theology and covenantal premillennialism) and its contrasts with New Covenant Theology, here are some further reflections on the overall issue of people’s interest in the Old Testament – and how it relates to their theological reference system.

Dispensationalism

Murray’s original comment noted what was introduced with classic dispensationalism, “the division of Scripture into different eras,” and thus greater supposed differences between OT saints and the church age. Though current-day dispensationalists tend to downplay the specific number of dispensations, often they will emphasize the historical covenants that relate to the different time periods – especially the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and thus study that part of the Old Testament. “The division of Scripture into different eras” also includes, as with NCT (discussed below), the traditional definition of antinomianism (Christ taught a new “higher law” beyond the original Mosiac Ten Commandments, and regarding law, only what is taught in the NT is for “church age” believers). Generally, though, dispensationalists put more emphasis on the prophetic word – of which there is much content from the Old Testament. This includes study of the historical covenants, as well as all that the Old Testament scriptures say related to promises for Israel’s future. The dispensationalist’s interest in the Old Testament also overlaps with that of overall premillennialism in study of the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the future millennial age, an intermediate phase followed by the eternal state, as well as the prophecies that speak of a future regathering and restoration of the people of Israel.

Covenant Theology

The CT view sees much more unity (than the other two groups) in the Bible as one people of God, with much in common between the believing community of Israel and the NT church. Old Testament saints had the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them (though in less measure) and we can learn from their examples, from what is often referred to as “the Jewish church.” Also, the moral law, the natural law which was summarized in the Ten Commandments/ Decalogue, goes back to creation, as law from God for all peoples living in all times – not just something that began with Moses and only for Israel through the 1st century. All believers, from all ages, understand the same precepts and delight in God’s law, and we learn from everything in God’s word, the unity of the scriptures. Within covenant theology, some teachers emphasize the law, grace, and sanctification, while others (such as covenantal premillennialists) teach on this issue as well as eschatology.

NCT (New Covenant Theology)

The third group, NCT, combines some elements from dispensationalism and other ideas associated with Covenant Theology, to end up with something that could be considered (as others have expressed it) “the worst parts” from these two systems. Here I refer primarily to the “majority view” within NCT, that seems to “get both things wrong” in reference to both the nature of law AND their eschatology. (There are a few exceptions; one well-known NCT proponent holds to historic premillennialism and thus more interest in the Old Testament for that reason.) It is this group that appears to take the least amount of interest in the Old Testament; and I have observed “hard-core NCT” proponents actually say this, that the OT has so little value and that from now on they only do their evangelism from the New Testament.

On the one hand, NCT teaches – and emphasizes — the discontinuity of dispensational theology: a sharp division between Old and New Testament believers. The Decalogue was only for Old Testament believers, and moral law for us is only true if it is repeated in the New Testament. This group further maintains (again, at least some of its adherents) that OT Israel was never really a believing community, apart from the very few characters set forth for us, essentially the prophets, King David and a few other godly kings.

NCT also takes very little interest in eschatology, as a secondary issue not worth much consideration, but a “default” position of amillennialism generally associated with extreme “partial preterism” (all prophecy except Christ’s return, the general resurrection, general judgment, and eternal state, was completed by A.D. 70). Given their view of OT Israel as not really a believing community, it is not surprising to hear the claim, as I recently heard at an NCT local church, that “Israel never had any sovereign election to begin with, it was only a type of our individual election in the NT age” – in complete ignorance of what even the NT teaches, such as in Romans 9:4-5 (They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.)

* * * * * * * * *

In summary, both “systems” of covenant theology and dispensationalism can find at least some benefit in studying the Old Testament, whether from a viewpoint of continuity or an interest in the prophetic word.  However, when both of these ideas (CT and DT) are rejected — in favor of sharp discontinuity regarding OT and NT saints and overall sanctification, law and grace, combined with very little (if any) interest in eschatology/millennialism– the resulting theological system becomes something that sees little if any benefit in studying the Old Testament.

 

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  1. November 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging and commented:
    Great article to reflect upon, plenty to consider.

  2. Neil Schoch
    November 18, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Why study the Old Testament? First and foremost it is full of wonderful pictures and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s good enough for me!

    • November 18, 2014 at 11:57 am

      And a very good, simple reason at that, Neil. Thanks! It’s some of the people who get especially focused on a system such as NCT that look for and come up with “reasons” to not study it.

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