Posts Tagged ‘biblical covenants’

Premillennialism, the Historical Covenants, and Typology

February 24, 2015 1 comment

A recent article from a progressive dispensational viewpoint lists 12 points regarding the biblical (historical) covenants and how they should be understood. In a few online discussion groups, some people have interacted with the various points, citing their own responses to some of the points or noting areas of agreement and difference. From the question asked in a group for historic (classic) premillennialism, as to how historic premillennialism would agree or disagree with these points, come the following general observations regarding where historic (covenantal) premillennialism differs from this (at least what is stated in this particular post):

  • Difference regarding the “church age” (point 10).  The description here reflects dispensational ideas (contrary to the covenantal view) such as no indwelling of the Holy Spirit before Pentecost; this description implies that the Old Testament age did not have Holy Spirit indwelling or anyone with a new heart, and no Gentiles (non-Jews) ever saved before the “church age.”
  • Understanding of the historical covenants needs to start before the Noahic covenant – going all the way back to Genesis 3:15 (the proto-evangelium) and the basic covenant of works that Adam transgressed (reference Hosea 6:7).

The concluding statement certainly holds true: “Theological covenants should not be imposed on the biblical historical covenants in any way that alters the meaning of the biblical historical covenants.”  The term ‘historical covenants’ is preferred, the term used by teachers including S. Lewis Johnson — to distinguish these from the theological covenants, which also have biblical basis in the same manner as the word ‘Trinity’ is biblical though not explicitly stated as such in scripture.

The 19th century era of covenantal premillennialism certainly included some covenant theologians who used a full replacement “spiritualizing” hermeneutic, as seen in Horatius Bonar’s responses to spiritualizing Patrick Fairbairn.  Yet, as noted by at least a few historians, that era did not put as great of an emphasis on a system of covenants as today (as for instance, today’s paedo-style CT that has every historical covenant as an administration of the Covenant of Grace).  19th century covenantal premillennialists taught that Abraham and other OT saints were part of the church, the one body of Christ, and placed emphasis on other aspects of Covenant Theology, such as sanctification per the Puritan Reformed model (including observance of the fourth commandment, the Christian Sabbath).

The following amillennial response (to the above linked article) is a common generalization and part of a “system” that goes beyond actual scripture and the proper use of typology, reflecting the issue noted above, of theological covenants being imposed in a way that alters the meaning of the historical covenants.

“7. Collectively and individually, the covenants consist of dozens of specific promises including spiritual, national (Israel), international, and material blessings. These elements are all important and intertwined. All elements will be fulfilled literally through two comings of Jesus (no need to typologically interpret or spiritualize the covenants).”

You’re going to be incredibly confused if you don’t recognize typology in the Old Covenant. The material blessings were typological of the spiritual blessings in the New. They do not continue and they will not be fulfilled “literally.”

Here I recall S. Lewis Johnson’s lessons on typology and its definition — which includes specific correspondences between an OT person, event or institution, and a corresponding New Testament fulfillment.

A good example of typology related to the historical and theological covenants will provide specific point-by-point comparisons, instead of a general concept (without specific scripture texts) that “Israel is a type of the church,” therefore “the material blessings… will not be fulfilled ‘literally’.” I conclude with a Spurgeon sermon which illustrates such specific “type” comparisons: recognizing the historicity of the Noahic covenant, yet noting many ways in which it is similar to, a picture or type of, the (Baptist definition) Covenant of Grace:

Genesis 9, Rainbow:

  • reference Revelation 4:3 “rainbow around the throne.”  The rainbow is not a temporary symbol for earth only, but is a symbol of everlasting and heavenly things!
  • and Revelation 10:1, the mighty Angel whose head is crowned with a rainbow: our Lord Jesus Christ, in His mediatorial capacity, wears the symbol of the Covenant about His brow; and in the other passage, our Lord, as King, is represented as sitting upon the Throne, surrounded with the insignia of the Covenant of Grace which encompasses the Throne, so that there are no goings forth of His Majesty and His Power and His Grace, except in a covenant way, and after a covenant sort

The Tenor of the Covenant (features in common to both the Noahic covenant and the Covenant of Grace)

  • Pure grace
  • All of promise
  • Has up to now been faithfully kept
  • Does not depend in any degree upon man
  • An everlasting covenant


Historical Theology and the Covenant Concept

August 25, 2014 4 comments

I once thought that “covenant theology” had (only) its three theological covenants, whereas (only) dispensationalists taught regarding the historical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, New), with no overlap or combinations in between.  Also I heard the commonly asserted idea, that covenant theology only began in the 17th century.

Though some current day Calvinist-Dispensationalists may take exception to the idea of any theological covenants, it is interesting to note that classic dispensationalism from earlier years recognized the “Adamic/Edenic Covenant” (CT’s covenant of works). Also, the late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, even in his earlier Dallas-Seminary years recognized in scripture both the “covenant of works” (Edenic) covenant and the theological “Covenant of Redemption,” along with all the historical covenants. The CT side, it turns out, also recognizes the historical covenants, though seeing the historical covenants as the redemptive history outworking of the theological “covenant of grace.” See for example this series on covenant theology, taught at a 1689 reformed, historic premillennial church, which teaches through the three theological covenants AND each of the historical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New).

Variations also exist among different covenant theologians in terms of eschatology, with the (in modern times dominant) amillennial and postmillennial spiritualizing/replacement idea concerning the prophetic texts, as contrasted with the many classic/covenantal premillennialists’ literal understanding of the OT prophetic texts as describing the future millennial age and national Israel’s restoration. Such different approaches clearly relate to the different covenant theologians and their eschatological views, as well seen in examples such as Horatius Bonar’s “Prophetic Landmarks,” (see this excerpt and also this one) written by a covenant theologian advocating the literal, future Israel understanding of the Old Testament prophecies, with very sharp words against the  spiritualizing hermeneutic of his reformed/amillennial contemporary Patrick Fairbairn.

Regarding the development of “covenant theology,” certainly its highly developed form originated in the 17th century. But as pointed out in some online articles, the rudiments of covenants, and the scriptural approach to covenants, goes back to the early church. As with the doctrines of grace, Augustine had a more developed view of covenants than the earlier church fathers, even recognizing the “covenant of works” with Adam, as in this excerpt from Augustine:

But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die. “Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus, “All flesh waxeth old as doth a garment. For the covenant from the beginning is, Thou shall die the death.”

Even Augustine’s more limited (compared to later ages) understanding of covenants limited his thinking, as Ligon Duncan observes in his “History of Covenant Theology“:

That is why Augustine, with as good as an answer as he gave to Pelagius, didn’t quite solve all the issues related to original sin because Augustine did not have a fully worked out Covenant Theology.  Augustine was a realist in his view instead of a federalist in his view of the imputation of Adam’s sin, and so Augustine got up to a certain point and he was stymied. Some of the errors in his theology are related to that distinction with regard to the imputation of Adam’s sin.

Yet the basics were there, what he had learned from the even earlier Christian teachers.  Ligon Duncan’s article explains the early church use of the historical covenants: as part of their understanding and ability to respond to the early heretics. Irenaeus, in “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” expounded God’s redemptive plan as “unfolded in covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the New Covenant, and Christ.” Justin Martyr, Tertullian and others likewise explained their thinking, their apologetic, on the basis of these covenants set forth in scripture. Their covenantal thinking helped in their responses to the gnostics, by showing the continuity of scripture, that the God of the Old Testament is the same God in the New Testament, and Christ is that same God. Their response to unbelieving Jews, who denied that Christians were the legitimate heirs of the Abrahamic promises, was similarly based on the historical covenants and the Abrahamic promises.

As we know, the early Reformation emphasized a return to the original languages of the scriptures and early Christian writings. Through this, the 16th century Reformers (a century before the Dutch and the full development of Covenant Theology) including especially Zwingli, rediscovered the covenant concept. Several of the 16th century reformers use the covenants as an organizing principle, especially Zwingli and Bullinger. Calvin taught the unity of the covenants for a covenantal framework to understand the sacraments and argue against the Catholic teaching. Other 16th century reformers followed with important contributions toward the development of full covenant theology.

The articles mentioned above give more details regarding the development of covenant theology from the early church up to the 17th century, for a helpful part of historical theology and the development of Christian theology that we have inherited from those who went before.


The “Covenant of Redemption” and the Historical Covenants

March 14, 2013 5 comments

The 2013 Shepherds Conference included this instructive message from Dr. Mayhue, When God Gives His Word: a good overview lecture concerning the six historical covenants.  Mayhue’s list includes the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly (Numbers 25:13), Davidic and New Covenants — but not the “Edenic” aka “Adamic” covenant or the “Palestinian covenant.”  Looking at the explicitly named covenants, Mayhue’s inductive study through the Bible finds these six that are “very obvious, diverse and unmistakeable.” As we all know (or should know), only one of these, the Old / Mosaic covenant, is conditional, very unlike the other five.

Mayhue approaches the issue from the standpoint of the word “covenant” explicitly used in scripture, which is certainly true for these six covenants.  Some on both sides of the theological issue (CT and dispensationalism) have seen an implied “Adamic/Edenic” covenant — also called the Covenant of Works, one of the three theological covenants.  As to the Palestinian covenant (Deuteronomy 27-29), some see a separate covenant or a “renewing of a covenant”; but as Mayhue points out, no new information is given there that is not included elsewhere.

More details regarding the specific Abrahamic and Davidic covenants can be found in these previous posts (AbrahamicDavidic, and also here), from S. Lewis Johnson’s Eschatology series which included separate messages on each of the covenants. SLJ’s Divine Purpose series also went into more detail regarding each of the theological and historical covenants.

One other item to note. In keeping with a precise definition, that only explicitly named covenants are actually covenants, Mayhue gives his opinion regarding the theological “Covenant of Redemption.”  Yes, there was some “intra-trinitarian” deal going on there, as John MacArthur has termed it, as to the cooperation between the three persons in the Godhead and their agreement, before time began, concerning the election and salvation of God’s people, the elect.  MacArthur apparently also, like Mayhue, never calls this a covenant.  I understand that distinction, that the historical covenants are quite different from the implied, theological ideas described in scripture, which some have also labeled as “covenants.”  Yet I also understand S. Lewis Johnson’s way of describing it, making the distinction between the theological covenant of Redemption and the historical covenants, as he related in this message:

my basic contention has been that there is one great eternal covenant of redemption which is unfolded in a series of historical covenants.

and here:

I do not see myself that the covenant of grace is really a Scriptural covenant, but the covenant of redemption is a biblical covenant in my opinion, and the covenant of works is a fair representation of the arrangement that God made with Adam in the garden of Eden.  It has also been called the Edenic Covenant or the Adamic Covenant, as it is in the Scofield Bible.

As described in the Divine Purpose series:

Christ’s ministry is a condition of the Covenant of Redemption made between the persons of the Trinity.  In other words, each of the persons of the Trinity covenant to do certain things, and our Lord’s part of that Covenant is a condition for the accomplishment of the Covenant of Redemption.  That Covenant is a conditional covenant.  Now, because it’s a conditional covenant between the divine persons, there is a certainty of accomplishment of the terms of the Covenant bound up in the nature and being of the divine persons of the Trinity.  So what the Trinity, and what the persons of the Trinity take upon themselves to do, they are able to do, and they do do, because they are sovereign persons.  The sovereign Father.  The sovereign Son.  The sovereign Spirit.  And so they are fully able to accomplish all of the conditions, and they accomplish all of the conditions that they set upon themselves.

In the final analysis, I’m not convinced that the particular terminology used matters all that much. Some, such as John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, want to say that only the explicitly named covenants can be called actual covenants, and yet they understand the “intra-trinitarian” working — a doctrinal understanding that others see as an (implicit) theological “Covenant of Redemption” describing the same aspect of the Triune Godhead’s work.  The classic case of the word “trinity” comes to mind: we use the term to describe the doctrine, fully recognizing that the term “trinity” is never actually stated in the Bible.  Similarly, I don’t see a real problem with some teachers, S. Lewis Johnson in this case, describing the “intra-trinitarian” working as a covenant, a theological covenant among the Godhead “which is unfolded in a series of historical covenants.”  The overall issue is that we understand the purpose and importance of the explicitly stated  historical covenants that God made with man, along with the understanding of the Triune redemptive purpose of God from before the foundation of the world.

The Differences Between Historic and Futurist Premillennialism

February 22, 2013 3 comments

In an online group someone recently asked, what are the main differences between historic premillennialism and futurist premillennialism?

Of course variations exist even within the term “historic premillennialism,” but here I am defining historic premillennialism as that view of many post-Reformation premillennialists: a view sometimes referred to as “covenantal premillennialism,” the perspective of those teachers from the Calvinist Covenant Theology background, yet who appealed to literal hermeneutics especially regarding the future for Israel and a future literal 1000 year kingdom of God upon the earth.  Names representing this view include 18th century preacher John Gill, plus 19th century preachers Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle, and Charles Spurgeon.  It is also worth noting  that the early church fathers were also “historic premillennial,” the original form, though not Covenantal — since Covenant Theology itself is a relatively recent development, from the 17th century.  Following are several  areas of difference between historic premillennialism and futurist premillennialism.

1) The theological covenants of Covenant Theology, or the biblical covenants of scripture? Historic premillennialism follows the theological covenants set forth in Covenant Theology, and is silent concerning the biblical covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic and New covenants). This comes out, for instance, in Spurgeon sermons talking about the covenant of grace, God’s grace to all the elect, or about the covenant made within the Triune Godhead.  J.C. Ryle, too, though very strongly premillennial with future for Israel, also taught the full understanding of Covenant Theology regarding infant baptism.

Futurist premillennialists emphasize the importance of the biblical covenants, especially the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants, and all the promises in those covenants including the land promises.

2) The nature of the Church and Israel.  Historic premillennialism does not see a distinction between Israel and the Church, but one general category: the people of God, the church. Like futurist premillennialists, they do follow a generally literal hermeneutic in interpreting the OT prophecies as being about Israel, including Israel’s future regathering and their being returned to their land in connection with the Second Coming events and the future Millennial Kingdom — in great contrast to amillennial spiritualizing the Old Testament prophecies as being about the church age.  John MacArthur’s six-part series, “Why Every Calvinist is a Premillennialist,” addresses this aspect of historic premillennialism, the future for Israel. Barry Horner’s emphasis in Future Israel also fits in here. (Both MacArthur and Barry Horner, though, do teach the biblical covenants, point 1 above.) Historic premillennialist preachers will sometimes talk about “the Jewish church” or refer to examples from the Old Testament while talking about the church. As another example of literal interpretation but without the distinction between Israel and the Church, Spurgeon pictured Ezekiel’s temple as some type of church/worship structure that would exist during the Millennial Kingdom.

Futurist premillennialism sees a greater distinction between the Church and Israel, that the Church began in Acts 2.  Several other teachings flow out of this difference.  Ezekiel’s temple will be a structure specifically for the people of Israel.  The Day of the Lord/Great Tribulation/Jacob’s trouble is something specifically for Daniel’s people — Daniel’s 70th week.  The millennial kingdom includes Israel’s prominence: the people of Israel’s role in going out and being a blessing to the world, as pictured in the Old Testament prophecies about people from the Gentile nations coming to Jerusalem with their gifts and offerings.

3) Are the events of Revelation future, or past/present?  Historic premillennialism generally sees the events in Rev. 6-18 as unfolding throughout history in a general way — such as identifying “Babylon” as the Catholic Church and applying the texts symbolically to events happening during this the church age. Also note, the term “futurist” can apply to any millennial view, as described in this previous article.

Futurist premillennialism sees these events as future, taking place during the last seven years (Daniel’s 70th week) before Christ returns.

4) The purpose for the millennial kingdom: both historic and futurist premillenialism recognize one of the purposes for the millennial kingdom, as the final test of man.  With all conditions perfect, even Christ ruling on the earth, man still rebels at the end, showing man’s complete inability — and all the more glory to God.  Futurist premillennialism recognizes the above purpose for the millennial kingdom, but goes beyond it to add another purpose: the biblical covenant promises yet to be fulfilled to Israel.

Futurist Premillennialism recognizes the above purpose for the millennial kingdom, but goes beyond it to add another purpose: the biblical covenant promises yet to be fulfilled to Israel.  Reference FP’s distinction in point 2 above: Israel’s prominence in the future kingdom of God upon the earth.

5) Historic premillennialism has a post-trib rapture timing, and generally very little, if any, said about the rapture or the Great Tribulation events (reference point 2 above). Within Futurist Premillennialism, the pre-trib rapture is not the most important feature (and not an essential), but is part of the overall teaching and sequence of future events.

Fred Zaspel: The Earthly Kingdom and the Land Promise (Romans 11)

December 3, 2010 Comments off

From “Jews, Gentiles, and the Goal of Redemptive History.

It should be noted further that the ground on which Paul bases his hope of the future conversion of “all Israel” is nothing other than Israel’s ancient covenants. In 11:29 Paul says this directly, and in 11:26-27 he cites by way of support and explanation a composite of passages from the Old Testament (Psa.14:7; Gen.17:4; Isa.59:20-21; 27:9; Jer.31:33). The language is reminiscent of more passages, particularly from the prophets, in which the Davidic, Abrahamic, and new covenants are held in view for the people. Significantly, these same passages speak to a time when Israel, in her own land, will again enjoy her prominence among the nations.  Now clearly, no amillennialist will want to admit this; but then how are we to explain Paul’s appeal to these very passages? Are we to understand Paul as limiting their fulfillment to a soteric sense only? And if so, why? The Prophets certainly did not understand their word to be so restricted; they plainly held out a hope of salvation and restoration to the land and Israelite prominence among the nations. The hope of forgiveness which they offered the people was inseparably linked to and formed the basis of these other hopes, hence their equally vigorous heralding of them all. Nor does Paul indicate such a stripping away of the Prophets’ message. Indeed, at the very outset of his discussion he affirms that these covenants do indeed still belong to Israel (9:3-4). And at the conclusion he reaffirms the same (v.29). The question then is this: what exegetical warrant is there for allowing only a part of the covenants’ promises (i.e., the forgiveness of sins) and not the whole of them? In fact, if we would consider these covenants as still in force, the result would sound much like 11:15. And again, this fits very well with the premillennial scheme, but it is at this point the amillennialst must do some wiggling.

Nor is this an isolated argument. The prophets plainly and repeatedly spoke of the inviolability and unending certainty of Israel’s covenants. Paul alludes to and cites a sampling of these, noteworthy of which is his allusion in 11:8 to Deu.29:4. There Moses is promising the eventual realization of the land promise to Israel. He even explains that while this is conditioned on Israel’s faith, Israel will nonetheless enjoy the promise because God in grace will bring them back from their stubborn disobedience.

Biblical Covenants, Typology, and S. Lewis Johnson

July 19, 2010 Comments off

Through my study of the biblical covenants — the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New — I now increasingly notice biblical references to these covenants, with greater appreciation for our covenant-keeping God, the One who will deliver us in keeping with His word.  Understanding the great, divine purpose of God, and His faithfulness to these covenants, helps me to bear up under personal struggles, realizing again God’s wonderful sovereign grace, trusting that He will yet deliver on these wonderful promises — though for now (for a short time, this life) we have our light and momentary afflictions.

Returning to the biblical references, I note something S. Lewis Johnson has pointed out, that the term covenant appears over 300 times in the Old Testament, yet only 33 times in the New Testament — and over half of these are quotations from the Old Testament.  Yet recently I noticed one of the “covenant” references, in Ephesians 2:12 — we (Gentiles) were once excluded, foreigners to “the covenants of the promise” — an excellent New Testament reminder of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2 Samuel 7, the main passage dealing with the Davidic covenant, includes David’s wonderful praise (verses 18 – 29), in which David prays “O Lord God” — Adonai Yahweh in the Hebrew, and the same words used in Genesis, in reference to the original covenant with Abraham.

Exodus includes a few references to covenants, including an interesting one in 29:9, a promise to give the priesthood to Aaron’s descendants forever.  This one I can see as having ultimate fulfillment at the Second Coming, with the millennial temple and priestly service described in Ezekiel 40-48 and mentioned by other prophets such as Zechariah.

Exodus 31:17 is another strong covenant statement that mentions the covenant with Israel — and a statement of fact that God created  heaven and earth in six days:  “It (the sabbath) is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”  Something so simple and straightforward, yet how many profess the name of Christ yet want to reject the very beginning of God’s word and argue that Genesis 1 is poetry.  In reading Exodus 31, it also strikes me as interesting that often the same people who scoff at the Genesis creation are the very ones who write off Israel and declare that God is finished with them.  Yet here the two ideas are inextricably linked:  the fact of God’s creation in six ordinary days, as a sign “forever” between God and “the people of Israel.”  Again, how obvious can something be and so many professed believers just don’t get it?  Israel still exists as a distinct, separate ethnic race, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies such as Baalam’s prophecy (Numbers 23:9: behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!), and (from my recent reading) Ezekiel 20:32 (“What is in your mind shall never happen-the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations…’).  For as Psalm 89 assures us, the promise to David is sure — Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.

Another interesting Old Testament covenant is the one between David and Jonathan, begun in 1 Samuel and fulfilled in 2 Samuel 9 with Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.  S. Lewis Johnson again teaches good typology, pointing out the requirements of such types — historical, and with correspondences between the historical object and the New Testament equivalent.   Here, the parallels include:

  • David’s covenant purpose –> God’s eternal purposes — David as a type for God the Father
  • Jonathan (which means, “the Lord has given”) as God the Son
  • Mephibosheth — a name which means shame; one in shame, and crippled, representing us.
  • Delayed fulfillment of the covenant:  many years had gone by since David and Jonathan made the original covenant, yet just as surely as this covenant was later fulfilled, so will God’s covenant reach its fulfillment in the future
  • David’s search for those who are the object of the promises –> the Divine Initiative, that God is the one seeking us out.

The Davidic Covenant in the New Testament

July 16, 2010 2 comments

I’ve now completed the mini-series (within Lessons from the Life of David) on the Davidic covenant, so here are some more study notes and observations concerning this great covenant, itself an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant:

The New Testament has many references to the Davidic covenant, including:

  • Luke 1:31-33
  • Matt. 4:17, 21:43, 22:41-46, 26:29
  • Acts 13:29-37, and 15:15-16
  • Romans 1:3-4 and 15:7-13
  • Revelation 3:7, 5:5, and 22:16

Revelation 3:7 makes a reference to Isaiah 22:22, the “key of David.”  Revelation 22:16, the end of the New Testament, sums up the truth of the Davidic promises with Jesus’ sure words, “I am the root and the offspring of David.”

To those who would re-interpret references to David as meaning the church (as with the Acts 15 text:  David is mentioned 54 times in the New Testament, and always the word refers to David, not the church.  Furthermore, the Amos text cited in Acts 15 talks about “rebuilding” the tabernacle of David.  When is the Church ever referred to as something to be RE-built?  (No, Christ told Peter He would “build” His church.)  Or as something to be rebuilt from ruins, “as in the days of old”?  What does one do with the beginning phrase “after this”?  As always, we look at the context, which is talking about Gentiles being saved, and understand that the prophecy is talking about the future restoration, what will happen “after this,” the Gentile church age.

S. Lewis Johnson describes the difference between the Jews of Jesus’ day and the present-day Church in an interesting way:  The Jews received the promises, but rejected the seed (Jesus Christ, the seed of David).  We (the visible Church) receive the seed (Jesus), but reject the promises.

As for the common question, “what about the land promises? They’re not mentioned in the New Testament,” the obvious and clear answer is that both the Old and New Testaments are equal in importance.  We must follow the example given by the apostles, for who the Scriptures were the scriptures of the Old Testament, as pointed out in 2 Peter 3:2, “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”  Peter’s statement is a strong answer to those who give the New Testament priority and would discard anything from the Old Testament unless it is explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Rather, we interpret the Old Testament on its own terms, and only discard something from the Old Testament if the New Testament specifically says to do so.

To think otherwise is to disparage the scriptures, and to lose a lot of the joy of understanding the purpose of God.

Biblical Covenants: The Davidic Covenant

July 8, 2010 Comments off

Through an interesting providence, both of my current MP3 sermon studies — one going through the life of David in 1st and 2nd Samuel, the other a doctrinal series “The Divine Purpose” — came to the same subject last week: the Davidic covenant. The “Lessons from the Life of David,” upon reaching 2 Samuel 7, begins a mini-series of four messages on the topic. The “Divine Purpose” series is in a section looking at the biblical covenants and commits two sessions specifically to the Davidic covenant, as an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.

Some of the important points:
The Davidic covenant expands on the Abrahamic covenant, and the primary feature here is the kingdom — a king and a realm (subjects). The New Covenant, another outworking of the Abrahamic covenant, treats the matter of the seed. The Davidic covenant also promises the everlasting reign of David’s seed, and here the term seed is meant in the collective sense: David’s descendants on the throne, but ultimately the line ends as it comes into the Messiah.

In 2 Samuel 7:8, God promises that David “should be prince over my people Israel.” God reserves the title of King to Himself alone. Here I add an interesting note from recent reading through 1 Samuel 25 (list 6), that Abigail does indeed appear to know something about the future Davidic promises, with her words “a sure house” and, verse 30, that the Lord would appoint David prince over Israel: ” And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel”. Also from recent readings I noticed Psalm 145, and in verses 10-13 David also recognizes that it is God’s kingdom:

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The word “covenant” does not actually appear in 2 Samuel 7, but in 2 Samuel 23:5, David makes reference to the covenant: “For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.”

The three key passages for the Davidic covenant are 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89.  Johnson describes these passages as different types of lights that show different emphases:

  • 2 Samuel 7 — a floodlight, an overview
  • 1 Chronicles 17 — a spotlight
  • Psalm 89 — a searchlight

Psalm 89 has two key words: mercy (or “loving kindness”) and faithfulness. Psalm 89 was written by Ethan, whose name means perpetuity. SLJ made a passing reference without further explanation, that this psalm was written at the time when Rehoboam had been unfaithful. I don’t see this detail in the text, so this is one for further study, to look up in commentaries.

These two Davidic covenant series contain a great deal of overlap, though the David series spends more time (four sessions instead of two). Yet in both of these series SLJ uses the illustrations of different types of light — the floodlight, spotlight, and searchlight — and cites the same passages in reference to the Davidic covenant in prophecy, including Isaiah 7, 9 and 11. Both series also discuss the New Testament references to the Davidic covenant.

In closing, here are the references to the Davidic covenant in Isaiah. Both of these series are available, in transcript and audio files, at

Isaiah 7:13-14 — “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:7 – Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 11:1- 10, in which verses 1 and 10 mention “the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse,” with descriptions of the kingdom age in between:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.


In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples-of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

The Whole Counsel of God: The Abrahamic Covenant

July 6, 2010 Comments off

What great treasures in God’s word are missed by the casual Bible teacher or student, by those who limit their study of God’s word to only certain parts and do not teach the whole counsel of God — justifying their neglect of the Bible by the notion that the only important thing is Christ’s First Coming, remembering the cross and how much God did for us at the cross.  Such a one, who concludes from 2 John that “there’s only one doctrine, the doctrine of Christ” also dismisses some biblical teachings as less important, saying:  (others would say) “oh let’s talk about Israel in prophecy, that’s more fun,”  — but that’s not important and that distracts from what’s really important, what Christ did at the cross.  Such an attitude appears to show great spiritual superiority, yet completely misses the important things that God has chosen to reveal to us– including the significance that Israel does have in prophecy (a large section of the Old Testament plus many New Testament references), as an important part in exalting and glorifying Christ, praising Him for the wonders He will yet do in the Divine Purpose of the Ages.  As I mentioned in this blog, the New Testament writers placed great emphasis on Christ’s return, often mentioning the prophetic word; they did not just look back, but eagerly awaited and desired His return.

Now to an important part of the whole counsel of God:  understanding the Abrahamic covenant, and the relevant passages in Genesis chapters 12, 15 and 17.  I have come across this topic a few times during previous studies from S. Lewis Johnson, such as his Eschatology series, and now in the “Divine Purpose” series he again briefly touches on the subject (while noting that he had previously covered this topic in many other series and suggested that people reference the tapes from those previous studies).  To those who would say that the basic promises in the Bible have to do with the cross of Jesus Christ, S. Lewis Johnson points out the connection, why studying the Abrahamic covenant is important:

what Christ did on the cross is the outgrowth of the Abrahamic promises and the outgrowth of the Davidic promises as well.  So we are contending that the basic broad promise of redemption is the Abrahamic covenantal promises.  The story of the Bible, we have said, is the record of the path along which Israel moves toward the fulfillment of these great promises. …  it’s in harmony with this that at the last of the whole of the Bible, that is, in Revelation chapter 22 in verse 16, the Lord Jesus’ connection with the Davidic covenant is again set forth and it’s the next to the last word that Jesus says.  He says, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.  I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star,” and his final word is, “and surely I come quickly.”

One new (to me) interesting thing concerning the account in Genesis 15:  verse 12 describes the deep sleep that fell on Abram — and “dreadful and great darkness.”  This was a nightmare, and the fact that it is associated with the ratification of this covenant indicates the future judgment, the horror and terror that would be required for the actual fulfilling of the covenant, the death of Christ on the cross.  Again from S. Lewis Johnson:

the fact that the terror and the horror of great darkness is associated with the ratification of this covenant suggests the judgment that is bound up in the ratification of it in reality in the future when the Lord Jesus Christ represented by this covenantal ratification dies upon Calvary’s cross.  So the terror and the horror of darkness is designed to suggest that the ratification of the covenant in reality not in type or not in illustration is a matter that involves the most serious and most painful of the divine judgmental discipline.

It is also biblically accurate to say that if we are to get any blessings from God, we have to get them through Abraham.  God chose Abraham, that the promised seed would come through him.  All the blessings involved in Jesus Christ come from Abraham, for Christ comes as the seed of Abraham.

A final note from S. Lewis Johnson about the importance of the Abrahamic covenant:

In fact, one of my teachers once said a long time ago that the way one looks at Abraham’s covenant more or less settles the entire argument in eschatology.  So it’s important to have a concept of what is taught in the Abrahamic covenant, its unconditional character and also the Scriptures that have to do with its future fulfillment.

The Divine Purpose: Understanding the Dispensations

May 27, 2010 Comments off

Listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s “The Divine Purpose,” I’ve already learned a few more of the specifics of dispensationalism — evidence that after a year or so of study, I still have much to learn, and we can all still learn new things about God, man, and God’s purpose as expressed throughout human history.

I’ve only completed the first 8 out of 37 sessions, just getting started into study of dispensational theology.  The first sessions include an introduction to Covenant Theology, including the history of it and the three theological covenants, followed by a history of dispensational theology and an overview of the dispensations.

The basics include a list of the 7 dispensations and the associated failures and judgment that accompany each age.

Age of Innocence ==>  the fall, kicked out of the garden of Eden
Age of Conscience ==> the Flood
Age of Human Government   ==>  the scattering at the Tower of Babel
Age of Promise ==> sent down to Egypt for 400 years (situation with Jacob’s family by the end of Genesis)
Age of Law ==> Christ coming, atoning work on the cross to bring in the New Covenant
The Church Age ==> the apostasy that will come about, followed immediately by the rise of antiChrist and the Great Tribulation
Millennial Kingdom Age ==> The Gog and Magog event described in Revelation 20

The related biblical covenants, which will be covered in later sessions in this series:
Age of Innocence == Edenic Covenant
Age of Human Government == Noahic Covenant
Age of Promise == Abrahamic Covenant
Age of Law == Mosaic Covenant, also Land Covenant (Deuteronomy; a renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant)
Davidic Covenant, an expansion of the Abrahamic Covenant
Church Age == New Covenant

I knew most of the details regarding the dispensations, but was unclear concerning the specifics for the Age of Human Government and the Age of Promise.   I had realized that the added revelation given in each age wasn’t enough, therefore more help was given in each successive age.  But I tended to think of the early dispensations as being successive, adding to the previous, and didn’t know of the specific judgments that “ended” the age.  It makes sense, though, to point to the Tower of Babel for the “end” or “failure” of the Age of Human Government, and to reference the journey down to Egypt as the “end” of the Age of Promise.

As I think about each of the previous ages, one interesting point sticks out:  the early dispensations directly affected all humanity.  The Fall, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel dealt directly with all of the humans that were around — and indirectly affect us as their descendants.  The next two dispensations, the Age of Promise and the Age of Law, dealt with a subset of humanity.  The sojourn to Egypt impacted only about 70 people, and their descendants during the next few hundred years.  The next dispensation, age of Law, impacted the whole nation of Israel — yet still a relatively small portion of the human population.  The next two dispensations — the current Church Age, and the future Kingdom Age — again affect the overall population.

Yet in each dispensation mankind is tested in reference to some task, with new assistance given that the previous dispensation lacked.  Just as Adam was the representative man in the Age of Innocence, so Abraham and his descendants to the fourth generation became the representatives for the Age of Promise, and the nation Israel representative during the Age of Law.

At first glance, the ending for the Age of Promise — the sojourn to Egypt — seems less like a judgment than the other end-points.  After all, the Bible does tell us that one reason for the 400 year delay was God’s mercy and long-suffering:  the iniquity of the Canaanites had not yet reached its full measure.  The event itself, the sojourn in Egypt, had been foretold to Abraham from the very outset, clearly as part of God’s overall plan.  Then again, the same can be said for other dispensation endings: the current Church age and the Kingdom age.

So here I further reflect on the lessons brought out during S. Lewis Johnson’s Genesis series (which I studied several months ago), and now I see the dispensational viewpoint of that era, straight from the pages of the lives of the patriarchs.  During that series SLJ frequently pointed out the characters’ shortcomings, such as Isaac’s focus on his enjoyment of certain foods and his determination to give the blessing to Esau when it had already been revealed that it was to go to Jacob (Gen. 25, verses 23 and 31-34).  Also Jacob’s behavior in Genesis 33-34:  his unfaithful dealings with Esau, and reneging on his vow to God to return to Bethel, which brought about the tragic story of Genesis 34 — which Jacob could have avoided since he should not have been at Shechem to begin with. Need anyone comment further on the sordid tale of Judah and his sons and daughter in law (Genesis 38)?  By that time the danger of staying in Canaan was clear, that Jacob’s family was in danger of assimilating with the Canaanites around them.  As S. Lewis Johnson pointed out (something I learned then), the reason for sending them to Egypt was that the Egyptians — though just as pagan as the Canaanites — didn’t take kindly to foreigners and kept themselves apart from others.  Egypt was necessary to preserve Jacob’s family as a separate entity, in a place where the Egyptians would keep them separate.  Still, that land that had been promised to Abraham, which they thought of as theirs as well, was land they had to leave, even if under relatively favorable conditions.  The stay in Egypt certainly became a judgment to the generations that followed, who experienced slavery and oppression from a Pharoah who did not know Joseph.

As a system of understanding God’s purposes throughout human history, dispensational theology comes closest to describing the truths contained in the Bible and relating how God has dealt with man throughout the ages.  The dispensations describe things from man’s viewpoint, and the biblical covenants look at God’s perspective.  With increased understanding of dispensational theology comes increase of faith and trust in our awesome, covenant-keeping God.  “The God of Abraham Praise!”