Saturday, February 11, 2012


I’m going to respond to this post:

The real problem for anyone passing from the OT to the NT is what to make of the “newness” of the Church (cf. Eph. 2:15; Cf. Matt. 16:18; Jn. 7:39, etc.).  Dispensationalists, by and large, are not given to seeing the Church in the OT.  There may be vague adumbrations in the OT (per the Progressives), but the Church as the Body of Christ is not there.  Therefore, Israel in the OT is not in any sense the Church (of course, Stephen, in Acts 7:38 is not referring to Israel as the Body of Christ, despite the best efforts of Bishop Bancroft.  The word ekklesia simply refers to Israel as “a called assembly”).  Covenant Theologians (CT’s), in the thrall of the “covenant of grace,” see only one people of God in both Testaments, which must be the Church.  From this conclusion OT Israel has to be understood as being the Church in the OT, whether the Bible says it is or not.  I realize CT’s do recognize a change from OT church to NT church, but that is another matter.

It's true that I see one people of God in both Testaments. I don't have to call that the "church." The "church" has more specific connotations. If you restrict the "church" to the NT, then, by definition, there is no OT church. But that's semantic.

I'd use a more general term: we have covenant communities in both Testaments. There are continuities and discontinuities between the two based on similarities and dissimilarities between the respective covenants that govern them. Yet they are one people of God inasmuch as both groups are saved by grace; both groups share a common destination.

What ultimately unites both groups is divine election. The elect of all ages.

Once this view is adopted, any unity cannot, of course, be arrived at via plain-sense, law of identity interpretations.  The only way unity can be saved is by making the Apostolic authors identify OT objects as “types” and such, to be realized in different form in the NT (i.e. via reinterpretation).

As I just explained, I don't think we have to view Israel as a type of the church to ground their unity.

Let's take a borderline case. Take 1C proselytes or Godfearers. These are ethnically Gentile, but religiously Jewish. They belong to the OT covenant community. When they convert to Christianity, they now belong to the NT covenant community. There's "newness" in their Christian identity, but Cornelius the Godfearer is the same person as Cornelius the Christian. And his conversion from Judaism to Christianity is a continuum rather than a quantum leap.

One of the frustrations some of us encounter when dealing with CT’s is their habit of redefining words like “literal,” and “replacement,” and “transform,” and even “reinterpretation.”

In my experience, "replacement theology" is not a term that CTs generally use to designate their own position (although Waltke is a partial exception). Rather, that's a term of abuse which dispensationalists use to characterize covenant theology. So I don't see that CTs are "redefining" the term "replacement."

And, as an aside, it is hard for me to comprehend men like C. Venema when they write about the First Resurrection of Revelation 20 as “not a physical but a spiritual participation with Christ,” while insisting we take “the thousand years of Revelation 20 as figurative, rather than literal,” – ( R. D. Phillips & G. N. E. Fluhrer, These Last Days, 122, 121).

i) For the record, I think the "first resurrection" in Rev 20 has reference to the intermediate state. The martyrs go to heaven to be with Christ during the church age. That’s distinct from the final state.

ii) One factor we must take into consideration when we interpret the "first resurrection" in Rev 20 is the OT counterpart in Ezk 37.

iii) In addition, there's an implicit analogy in Revelation:

The first resurrection is to the second resurrection


The first death is to the second death

But unless the second death is the same type of event as the first death, then there's no presumption in treating the first and second resurrection as the same type of event.

As G. Goldsworthy says, “Some literalists have an aversion to spiritualizing, but it is clear that there is a real sense in which the New Testament spiritualizes the Old.” – Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 248, n.14.

I don't think the NT spiritualizes the OT. Rather, I think NT writings understand OT writings the same way later OT writings understand earlier OT writings. I think there's a common typology which carries over from the OT to the NT.

Be that as it may, some Covenant Theologians do say that the NT “reinterprets” the OT (e.g. K. Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 37).  To re-interpret something is “to interpret in a new or different way.”  Is that not an accurate description of the position of those who teach that the NT is needed to understand the OT when it speaks of “Israel” and “land” and “temple” etc.?  Isn’t that exactly what we are often told the NT writers did with OT contexts?

i) Some CTs do view the fulfillment scheme in terms of reinterpretation. Bruce Waltke is a case in point. I think that's a mistake.

ii) Using the NT to interpret the OT doesn't presume that the NT is reinterpreting the OT. For one thing, promises and prophecies are inherently future-oriented. So it makes sense that we'd grasp them better retrospectively than prospectively. You have a better understanding of the future when the future becomes the present or the past.

In a promise/fulfillment scheme, living in the time of fulfillment gives you a better perspective on where the promise was heading.

iii) At the same time, the starting point isn't the key issue. Whether we begin with the OT or the NT, at the end of the day we need to integrate both. We can't compartmentalize apostolic exegesis as if that's sui generis. Both dispensationalists and CTs are in the same boat in this respect. Even if we begin at different launch sites, we need to arrive at the same destination.

It's not as if there's a special problem for CT. Dispensationalists have the same duty to come to terms with apostolic exegesis. Dispensationalists must also understand OT promises and prophecies consistent with how NT writers understood them. If you want to make the OT your benchmark, so be it. But even if you take the OT as your point of departure, your understanding of the OT can't be at odds with how the NT understands the OT.

To be clear about this, Beale, as Goldsworthy, and most contemporary CT’s, thinks Jesus is Israel (thus, the church is “new Israel” in Him).  Jesus is also the temple (ditto the church).

I think the identity language ("is") is shorthand. If you press the identity language, that's reductionistic. It's not that Jesus is (i.e. identical with) Israel, but that Jesus recapitulates Israel. Yet where Israel is the faithless son, Jesus is the faithful son.

That, however, doesn't eliminate Israel as an entity distinct from Jesus. Rather, it's a vicarious principle, where the Redeemer acts on behalf of, and in place of, the redeemed. But we're not actually collapsing two parties into one.

Once this view is adopted, any unity cannot, of course, be arrived at via plain-sense, law of identity interpretations.
“39. This view, which teaches a God who prevaricates in the promises and covenants He makes, also tempts its adherents to adopt equivocation themselves when they are asked to expound OT covenantal language in its original context. 

There are two basic issues here:

1) A promise involves two parties: the promisor and the promisee. For a promise to be a sincere, good-faith promise, it must mean the same thing to both parties. If the promisor intends the promise to mean something different to him than it does to the promisee, then that's deceptive.

Take the classic Delphic oracle: "If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed."

Croesus took this to mean he'd defeat the Persians–whereas the Persians defeated Croesus.

The oracle was equivocal and treacherous. The oracle fostered a misimpression.

2) Apropos (1), what would a land-promise mean to Abraham? Is the land just a place? An address? A set of GPS coordinates?

Don't space and time go together? Is the land the same land in every century or millennium? Doesn't the same place change over time?

Take a crooked realtor with a time-machine. Suppose he sells a customer a view property in Santorini. It has a spectacular view of the Aegean Sea.

Only there's a little catch. He sells them the same place, but not at the same time. He shows them the property before the eruption, but sells them the property after the eruption. They buy the same plot of land, but it's timing makes all the difference!

Did he cheat them? It's the same address. 

When Dispensationalists appeal to the Abrahamic land-promises, what did that mean to Abraham? Is the Dispensationalist indexing the land-promises to Abraham's world? To the world Abraham knew? Is modern Tel Aviv equivalent to that address in c. 2000 BC? What could be more equivocal than that?

Is that the "plain sense" of the promise to the promisee? Isn't that interpretation highly anachronistic?

3) Let's put this another way. Suppose God fulfills the land-promise to Abraham in the world to come by recreating a replica of the ANE, minus the damned. Wouldn't that be a more “literal” fulfillment of the promise to Abraham than reassigning the promise to the modern state of Israel?

4) Dr. Henebury is also glossing over the meaning of meaning. This is a complicated issue in hermeneutics. According to Henebury, what is the locus of meaning? There are several candidates:

i) Sense

ii) Reference

iii) Authorial meaning

If (iii), that breaks down into the following options:

a) The intention of the human author

b) The intention of the divine author

c) The actual author

d) The implied author

e) The editor (e.g. Psalter)

iv) Audiencial meaning

If (iv), that breaks down into the following options:

a) The actual audience

b) The implied audience

c) The intended audience

v) The narrator

vi) A normative character

viii) Canonical context

Again, he may not be interacting with my piece, and I have yet to get to his examples.  But does a resort to a debatable typology solve the problem?  As I shall show next time, Hays’ examples of “recapitulation” from Isaiah 11 & 35 & Jeremiah 16 seem to exemplify a reinterpretation along typological lines.

If the land always had a typical significance, if that was frontloaded, if there always was a one-to-many relation between the type and its multiple tokens, then we're not "reinterpreting" the land.

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