Monday, May 15, 2006

Who Broke the Covenant?

Daniel Morgan has been arguing in my comment section that God has failed to keep his covenant promises with Israel. This is an audacious claim indeed, for all over the Bible God is praised for his “covenant faithfulness.” Daniel argues that Israel kept its end of the deal, but God failed to keep his end.

I responded with a quick comment giving the overview of Covenant Theology: how all of the Old Testament covenants pointed to and were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Now Daniel states:

It appears we are talking past each other. I never said I noticed something no one else had. What I pointed out is indeed plain and obvious: that the promises, PLURAL, of the OT covenant were in fact failed promises. I’m specifying the words, “If X, then Y”, where the people in the covenant keep X and God doesn’t keep Y. It’s pretty simple.

You’re doing the same thing that the followers of Jesus did in post-72AD, reading into these promises as only about Christ, when, of course, the covenant had been established via circumcision and laws and was holistic and self-containing. God promises all these people if they do X then God will do Y, and in looking back, since Y isn’t done, the blame automatically goes to the people, that they somehow didn’t keep the covenant, although right up until the time of Titus’ invasion, the Temple was still functioning, and Jews were still orthodox–some promise to “establish them”. How were they supposed to interpret the plain words of the OT as “an obscure figure will arise and you need to forget all the plain meanings of the prophecies and read them symbolically”?

It’s like a lot of things in theology–easily accessed 2000 years later upon hours of scholarly study of a NT canonized around these very issues (like natural selection–the pieces that don’t fit are excluded).

Address the “If X, then Y” portions, Aaron. Nowhere in the laws and regulations of the OT was there an “X” which lines up with “believe in Jesus and repent of your sins and etc.” Why else does modern-day Judaism continue unabated? The plain words of their own books give them no indicator…it’s all these obscure prophecies, but no “X” conditionals.

1. When it comes to the covenants, there are two hermeneutical camps: the dispensational school and the covenantal school. The dispensational school sees a future, literal fulfillment of these covenants: in the future, God will restore the nation of Israel under David’s throne and fulfill physically his covenant promises.

But what matters is not what we think was in God’s mind when he made these covenants, but what God actually had in mind when he made them. What were his intentions? And dispensationalism, sadly, misses the point. It turns texts that are so obviously pointing forward to Christ on their heads (Daniel 9). To transform a text that speaks of the Messiah into a text that speaks of the Antichrist is no small error!

And, by the way, the covenantal hermeneutic isn’t some arbitrary rule of “whenever there is a literal promise, interpret it symbolically.” Rather, Covenant Theology is based upon consistent and contextual exegesis of the relevant passages. There really is no point in you and I arguing back and forth in generalizations. Let’s go to the text of Scripture, shall we? And let’s exegete those promises which you think God failed to keep.

2. You’re assuming the inspiration of the Old Testament, but not the inspiration of the New Testament. You are not fully embracing the internal critique of the Christian worldview. From my perspective, God inspired both testaments, so the Apostles’ explanations in the New Testament are God’s explanations.

3. On a side note, you assume that X was fulfilled. You state, “right up until the time of Titus’ invasion, the Temple was still functioning, and Jews were still orthodox.” But does that mean they fulfilled their side of the covenant? Re-read texts like Matthew 23 again, and the major and minor prophets.

Joel 2:13 Rend your heart, and not your garments.

Hosea 8:13 They offer sacrifices given to me, and they eat meat, but the Lord is not pleased with them.

Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. Like Adam, they have broken the covenant–they were unfaithful to me there.

Furthermore, the theme of books like Jeremiah and Ezekiel is plain: Israel has broken the covenant, therefore God, in his mercy, promises a New Covenant, a covenant which they will not break:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Jeremiah 31:31-33 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This isn’t something that the New Testament authors made up. This came straight from the Old Testament. Re-read the book of Hebrews, and notice the texts the author uses to prove his case. What does the author of Hebrews state concerning this Jeremiah text?

Hebrews 8:13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

4. Daniel states, “It’s like a lot of things in theology–easily accessed 2000 years later upon hours of scholarly study of a NT canonized around these very issues (like natural selection–the pieces that don’t fit are excluded).” Oh please, do you really expect me to take you seriously when you embrace the Dan Brown hermeneutic when it comes to the canon? I suggest that you reconsider your premature assertion that God failed to keep his promises while Israel was perfectly faithful if you cannot even get your historical facts straight when it comes to the New Testament canon.

5. Daniel raises an objection that is at least 2000 years Old. This isn’t something that is “easily accessed 2000 years later” alone. This is an objection that the Apostle Paul himself addressed:

Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel

6. Everything in the Old Testament, including the Old Covenant, points to Christ:

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Hebrews 9:10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of the new order.

1 Peter 2:6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

Daniel assumes the negation of this fact in his arguments, and thus he abandons the internal critique. But, again, I suggest that we cease arguing in generalities and look at the actual texts. It is one thing for Daniel to assert that these promises necessitate a literal and physical fulfillment; it is another thing for him to defend his assertions exegetically.

Evan May.


  1. Excellent. Just as a concise little lesson on covenant theology this post communicates very clearly. Rare for 99% of writings on covenant theology (only a slight exaggeration)...

  2. Evan,

    I just wanted to post a link to my post on DC about this.


  3. Daniel:

    It is difficult for me to connect the direct relevance between your article and this post. Yes, your article deals with aspects of the Old Covenant. But there were many assertions that you made in the comment section of my other post that were questioned here which seem to be a completely different subject.

    For instance, you assert that Israel kept their part of the Old Covenant. I refute this here.

    But, just a couple of notes in response to your Jehovah Rophi article:

    1. I reject the assertion that healing does not occur today, and I believe such an assertion is made from a purely atheistic worldview. If we assume atheism, then our minds immediately rule out the miraculous or the supernatural.

    Now, modern healings and miracles are analogous to that of the New Testament era, and in that sense they are different. That is, the word "miracle" generally refers to a supernatural act performed in order to further redemptive history. When my grandmother was miraculously healed, we called it a "miracle," but it wasn't a "miracle" in the sense of furthering redemptive history.

    2. But by the same token, the Bible attributes immaturity to those who constantly seek the extraordinary at the expense of the ordinary.

    3. God is sovereign and works out his plan according to his good purposes (Rom 8:28). And the Scriptural fact is that suffering, though itself a result of the fall, can often be used for his good purpose (James 1:1-4, Romans 5:1-5, Rom 8). So God, knowing how to give good gifts to his children, often chooses to allow them to go through a trial for their better good (2 Cor 12). I suggest that you re-read and reflect upon these texts that I have cited.

    4. You ask, "If the Bible makes it clear that the effects of sin are done away with by the Cross, why do they linger on?" But this ignores the "already/not yet" distinction that theologians often point out. Christ in his death has already accomplished salvation, and yet we await the future glorification. The authority of sin has been removed from the lives of the regenerate, but the effect of indwelling sin remains until glorification. Again, take a closer look at Romans 8.

    4. Your post ignores glorification. All Christians will ultimately be healed of all suffering, and both this ultimate healing and the temporary healings that occur in this life are a result of the death of Christ. Remember, this is the "already/not yet" distinction.

    5. You ask, "Has your God separated your sins from you as far as east is from west?" Again, this is an "already/not yet" topic. The answer is yes and no. Christ has already accomplished in the cross everything merciful that God will ever bestow upon his elect. But we have not yet experienced this to its fullest.

    6. I would encourage you educate yourself in the "already/not yet" theological distinction that Christians have made since the beginning of Christianity. Here are some places to start:

    And remember, this distinction isn't some ad hoc answer given in response to your objection. This is what the text of Scripture itself states. It isn't Scripture's fault that you have failed to take everything it states into consideration.


  4. A related question is why do Christians still have to die? Why not, once regenerated, just being translated like Enoch or Elijah?

    Enoch and Elijah show that that has been made possible through faith (in their case faith in the coming Messiah), but in God's plan He obviously needs regenerated Christians to continue on in their new lives to carry out His plan in terms of evangelization and so forth. And, also, the process of living out one's life is part of the sanctification process. Death has been defeated, but we still experience what our forerunner experienced...

    (If any Triabloguers would like to amend any of this be thou welcome. I may have holes in there somewhere...)