Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:6 -13
By Randal Seiver
The issue of the new covenant promise and its fulfillment has become a theological battleground of no small magnitude. Dispensationalists have insisted that since the covenant was made with the nation of Israel, God's earthly people, it cannot find fulfillment until God restores that nation at Christ's second coming.1 Based on the presupposition that Israel and the New Testament church are both heirs of one covenant of grace, Covenant theologians have argued that the church of the new covenant administration replaces national Israel, the church of the old covenant administration, as the heir of new covenant blessing.2 Can we answer the issues these passages raise in a way that will satisfy both Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians? Probably not! Yet, we do think that there are answers to many of these questions that will be undiscoverable to both schools as long as they continue doggedly to hold on to their basic presuppositions.
In the interest of honesty, we want to admit that we too have presuppositions that control our approach to these passages. We will state those premises that form the foundation of our interpretation so the reader can test them by the standard of Scripture. There are, of course, some assumptions on our part of which we are not aware. Insofar as our fundamental views are erroneous, our exegesis of pertinent passages will be flawed.
There are several goals that we are seeking to accomplish in this study. First, we want to consider, in the light of Scripture, the dominating presuppositions of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology as they relate to this issue. We will never resolve this matter as long as we continue to dispute about our conclusions. We must center the debate on basic presuppositions. The second aim of this study is to answer the questions presented by these passages in a way that does justice both to the nationalistic references in Jeremiah 31 and to the plain New Testament truth that the new covenant is now in effect. The third aim of our study is to suggest a hermeneutical approach that will aid the interpreter in understanding the relationship between Israel and the church. Our final aim is to examine the nature of those new covenant blessings thatare enumerated in Hebrews 8: 10-12 as they relate to the church. We are especially concerned with those blessings as they impact the sanctification of God's children. Are those who reject the binding authority of the Ten Commandments, as a covenant, truly antinomians? Is there really a sinister purpose behind ourtheological stance? Is there really some secret sin that we want do commit? No! We rejoice in our freedom from the law because we are thereby set at liberty to love and obey God. It is the glory of the new covenant that, by it, God effects a holiness in the lives of His people that the law could never have produced.
31"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34"And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
As we begin to examine the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34, one of the first issues that presents itself is the necessity for such a promise. Why was there a need for a new covenant? The collective witness of the Old Testament prophets is that, as a nation, Israel had miserably failed to keep the covenant that God had made with them on Mount Sinai. In verse thirty-two of this passage, God reminds both houses of Israel that they had broken covenant with Him. He tells them that this new covenant is
. . .not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD (Jeremiah 31: 32).
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (8:7-8) indicates that the reason God had promised the new covenant was that the old covenant was faulty. He wrote,
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, [or, for finding fault, He says to them] "BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH (Hebrews 8:7-8);
In saying that the Mosaic covenant [it was not the old covenant until there was a new covenant] was faulty, he did not mean that it had been unable to accomplish the purpose for which God gave it. That purpose was to demonstrate to sinners, using Israel as a paradigm, that it is absolutely impossible for God to welcome sinners apart from His promise of grace. The law performed splendidly in accomplishing the task for which God had given it, but having fully discharged its function, it was incapable of meeting man's most basic spiritual needs. It could not cancel guilt. It could not quiet the nagging conscience. It could not sanctify the life. It couldnot equip people to worship God in truth (Heb 10:1). Indeed, "the law made nothing perfect" (Heb 7:19). Ebrard 3 stated this point well when he wrote,
The law in every respect opened up and imposed a number of problems without solving any of them. It set up in the decalogue the ideal of a holy life, but it gave no power to realize that ideal. By the law of sacrifice it awakened the consciousness of the necessity of an atonement; but it provided no true, valid offering for sin. In the institution of the priesthood it held forth the necessity of a representation of the sinner before God; but it gave no priest able to save men ,eis to panteles [completely]. In short, it left everything unfinished.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has chosen to display the magnificence of God's great salvation, accomplished in fulfillment of new covenant promises, by contrasting it with the `weakness and uselessness' of the old covenant. He has done this in a general way by showing that Christ is superior to all the messengers and mediators of the old covenant. Christ has given a full, not a fragmentary revelation of God and His redemptive purposes. He leads believers into a better inheritance and establishes them in a better rest. He is a better priest who mediates a better covenant that is legally secured upon better promises. He has offered a better sacrifice, in a better sanctuary, on a better altar. The covenant that He mediates is better than the old covenant, just as the fulfillment is superior to the type to which it corresponds.
There was nothing wrong with the old covenant as a typical arrangement. It is simply that it was unable to achieve what Christ, alone, would accomplish in the fulfillment of that covenant. C.K. Barrett, commenting on John 6:32, elucidates this point well. He writes,
The contrasts John is working out result in a sentence almost too pregnant; not 'Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but God did', though that is part of the thought, but 'God now gives you what Moses could only foreshadow'. . . .It does not imply that that which Moses gave was not 'bread from heaven'. The manna was in fact a valuable type of the bread of life; it came down from God to undeserving sinners who were preserved and nourished by it. But only in a comparatively crude sense could it be called `bread from heaven'. It was itself perishable, and those who ate it remained mortal and liable to hunger. The Mosaic law also was a secondary and transient revelation. That which is given through Christ is the substance to which these figures point, the true bread from heaven.4
It is not that the blessings enjoyed under the old covenant were not true blessings; they were. Israel enjoyed great advantages as the covenant people of God. They were privileged to call Jehovah their God and they were called God's sons. Having received the law in codified form, they knew His will and were able to discern between that which was "good" and that which was "excellent." They enjoyed Jehovah's continued presence in the midst of Israel's camp. These are only a few of the many blessings that Israel enjoyed under the old covenant. Yet, to use Barrett's words, "only in a comparatively crude sense" could these be called blessings. Contrasted to the glory of the new covenant, the old covenant had no glory at all. Paul wrote, "For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts" (2 Cor 3:10-11)!
It is this comparison that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews intends for us to understand. He does not intend to say that the old covenant had no glory at all. Instead, he wants his readers to appreciate that the new covenant's glory has surpassed of the old covenant, as the splendor of the rising sun eclipses glory of the brightest star.
He draws this contrast in a specific way in Hebrews 8, where he sets these two covenants side by side. He does so to show that the new covenant is "not like the [old] covenant that I [God] made with their fathers" (8:9). In truth, this covenant was like that covenant as far as typical correspondence is concerned. The difference is that the old covenant was only a faint and fading emblem of the reality that it foreshadowed.
Problems Presented by the Passage:
1. If 'the house of Israel, and the house of Judah' refers exclusively to the nation of Israel, how can we explain the New Testament references to New Covenant blessings that enjoy Gentile believers currently enjoy?
2. If, on the other hand, 'Israel' refers to the Church, the elect of all nations, how can we explain the national references in Jeremiah 31? E.g., how can we explain God's promise that Israel would never cease to be a "nation" before Him, v. 36?
3. In light of the phrase, "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers. . . ." how can we refer the passage to Gentile believers, since God did not make the old covenant with their fathers?
4. What laws does God write on the hearts of His new covenant people? If these are the same laws that He wrote on the tables of stone, how can we contend that the new covenant believer is not under the blinding authority of the Ten Commandments?
The way we answer these questions will depend, to a large degree, on the presuppositions that we bring to them. If we insist that Israel never refers to any but Abraham's natural seed, the interpretation of this chapter will be very easy for us. If, on the other hand, we are disturbed by those verses that tell us that not every natural descendant of Abraham or even of Israel, is a true heir to God's promises, then it may be more difficult for us to assume that these promises belong to a physical nation. We will never settle the questions raised here if we continue to dispute only over the conclusions we have reached. Instead, we need to discuss whether our basic presupposi tions will stand up under the scrutiny of Scripture. To that end, I have tried to list what I see as the basic assumptions of three systems; Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology, and New Cove nant Theology. It will become clear that I am a proponent of the New Covenant position. In some cases, I have tried to indicate areas in which I believe the other two systems are inconsistent. There are some cases in which it will be obvious that New Covenant Theology shares common ground with both of the other systems. Now, let's examine these three systems to see how they will affect our interpretation of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:6-13.
Presuppositions of Dispensationalism
1. God has two distinct purposes; one for Israel, the other for the church.
"The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity. . . ."5
2. God's primary concern is with Israel. The church represents a parenthesis in God's program.
"The Old Testament age, in which the purpose of God for Israel is stated in the covenants into which God entered and by which He is bound, closes with those purposes unrealized. After the death of Christ, God instituted a new divine program, not to replace the program for Israel, but to interrupt that divinely covenanted program [italics mine]."6
3. New Testament revelation is to be interpreted by a literal or plain interpretation of Old Testament revelation.7 On the basis of this presupposition, Dispensationalists impose an old covenant understanding of God's promises on the New Testament Scriptures.
4. The promises God made to Israel are to be interpreted, using the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, as promises that God can only fulfill literally in the experience of the nation of Israel. "The term Israel is nowhere used in the Scriptures for any but the physical descendants of Abraham."8 Promises made to Israel cannot find fulfillment in the church.
Thus, the new covenant cannot find real fulfillment until the nation of Israel is restored at the second coming of Christ.
We should note that both Luther and Calvin, who have been hailed as great practitioners of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation understood the phrase "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 to be a reference to the church.
John Calvin, whom Philip Schaff has called, ". . .the founder of modern grammatico-historical exegesis,9 wrote, "In a word, he gives the appellation of the Israel of God to those whom he formerly denominated the children of Abraham by faith, (Gal. III: 29), and thus includes all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, who were united into one church."10
Similarly, Martin Luther wrote, "They are the Israel of God, which with faithful Abraham believe the promises of God offered already in Christ, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, and not they which are begotten of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, after the flesh. "11
This presupposition has led some Dispensationalist to a number of bizarre conclusions. For example, in an article appearing in Bibliotheca Sacra, John Walvoord was forced by this presupposition to interpret Hebrews 8:6-13 in a way that virtually strips it of any force whatsoever. Instead of seeing that Hebrews 8 argues that the New Covenant has been established, thus rendering the Mosaic covenant antiquated and without force, he contended that the New Covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34 has not been fulfilled at all. In his view, that Covenant cannot have been fulfilled since Israel has not yet accepted the terms of the New Covenant. For this reason, he posits that the writer has reference to two different covenants; a "better covenant" for the church, and a "New Covenant" for the house of Israel. In his view, the entire quotation of Jeremiah's prophecy was simply to show that the Old Testament writers understood that the Mosaic Covenant was not to be permanent. He wrote,
The argument of the passage does not hinge on this point [that the new covenant with Israel has been introduced] at all, but rather on whether the Old Testament anticipated an end to the Mosaic covenant. This the Old Testament does, but is does not follow that the new covenant of the Old Testament is identical with the better covenant of Hebrews.
There is no appeal at all to the content of the new covenant with Israel as being identical with the better covenant of which Hebrews speaks. The very absence of such appeal is as strong as any argument from silence can be. It would have been a crushing blow to the opponents of the Christian order among the Jews to be faced with a quotation which described in detail the promises of God to the church. The writer instead merely refers to the word new and goes on to show in Hebrews nine how the Christian order superseded the sacraments of the Mosaic covenant.12
There are several observations that I want to make about this interpretation of Hebrews 8:6-13:
If Walvoord is right, the writer has used a quite long quotation from Jeremiah to prove a very small point. To show that God had intended the Mosaic covenant to be a temporary arrangement, he needed only to cite that portion of the passage that prophesied the new covenant with Israel. When he lengthens his quotation to include that portion of Jeremiah's prophecy that deals with the blessings of the new covenant, he gives his readers the impression that those blessings have something to do with them.
If Walvoord were right, the point that the writer has made
would be totally unrelated to the issue raised by Jeremiah's prophecy. The
point of that prophecy was that the old covenant was unable to grant blessing
to the people of God because He had conditioned blessing on their obedience.
Through His prophet, God was announcing His intention to establish a new,
unconditional covenant that would make the promise sure to all the seed.
From the time that promise was first made, the Mosaic covenant became the
old covenant and was to be considered obsolete. Yet, the old covenant
would not become inoperative until God's anointed mediator introduced the
new covenant. If the new covenant has not been inaugurated, then the Hebrews
would have been justified in their return to Judaism, since the covenant
that God made with them at Mt. Sinai will remain in force until the inauguration
of that new covenant.
If these Hebrews are now believers in Christ, under a better covenant that God has made with the church, what difference does it make whether God had rendered the old covenant obsolete by His promise? Neither the old covenant made with Israel nor the new covenant made with Israel has relevance for them any longer.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Walvoord is right, what bearing would this line of reasoning have on believers in Christ. Now that they are in Christ and have a better covenant that is distinct from the new covenant promised in Jeremiah, neither the impermanence of the old covenant nor the future establishment of a new covenant with the Nation of Israel would have any relevance for them. According to Dispensationalism, Israel and the church are totally separate. If these people are true believers, they are part of the church and not part of Israel. Why should it make any difference to them, whether the Mosaic covenant was temporary or permanent?
The augment of Hebrews 8:6-13, is precisely the one that, according to Walvoord, "would have been [italics mine] a crushing blow to the opponents of the Christian order among the Jews. . . ."13 That these promises God made through Jeremiah have now been fulfilled in Christ for all believers is irrefutable proof that He has rendered the old covenant inoperative.
If the church has a 'new covenant' that is distinct from the new covenant that God promised Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34, what is the [church's] 'old covenant' that this one replaces? How can there be a new and better covenant if there is no covenant to which it is to be contrasted?
6. God's underlying purpose in the world is the manifestation of His glory.14 This differs, ostensibly, from the Covenant Theology position that God's purpose in the world is salvific.
7. Dispensationalism emphasizes the discontinuity between Israel and the church.
Presuppositions of Covenant Theology
1. God has only one purpose and one elect people.
2. There is a continuity between Israel under the old
covenant and the church under the new covenant that virtually equates Israel
with the visible church. Thus, covenant theologians view the visible church
as a body that, by design, is composed of believers and unbelievers
The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel, (not confined to one nation, as before the law [emphasis mine],) consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is not ordinary possibility of salvation. 16Commenting on this statement, G. I. Williamson writes,
If this be true, it cannot be denied that unbelievers may be, and actually are, members [italics his] of the true visible church. We believe that this is undoubtedly the case. . . .God did command that both Jacob and Esau be circumcised, and thus be visibly identified as members of the Church [emphases mine].17
Since New Testament writers used the word ekkl`sia (Church) as a reference to Israel, e.g., Acts 7:38, some Covenant Theologians have argued, based on such descriptions that Israel was the Church of the Old Testament. Using the same dubious exegesis, one could argue that the unruly mob that rioted against Paul and his companions in Ephesus (Acts 19) was the church of Ephesus. Luke wrote, "The assembly [|6680F\"] was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there" (Acts: 19:32). Though we must grant that this sounds a great deal like a business meeting in a typical Baptist church, it actually describes a town meeting that erupted in response to Paul's preaching.
3. "Israel was a nation of God's people." This statement seems to imply that the only difference between ethnic Israel and the Church is that Israel was the Church that had not yet reached maturity.
Reformed writers often speak of Israel being the "chosen, called, and redeemed people of God" as though these designations were true of them in the same sense that they are true of God's new covenant people (see Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. p.174 and Murray, John. Principles of Conduct. p.197). Covenant theology seems to assume that the Israelites were on the same spiritual footing with the spiritual heirs of the Abrahamic covenant, referring to them as "a nation of God's people."18 Murray describes the covenant relationship between God and Israel under the Mosaic covenant as a "Religious relationship on the highest level. . . .[emphasis mine]"19
But, we need to ask, "In what sense was Israel "a nation of God's people?" Had all the members of that nation, with whom God was now establishing a covenant relationship, been justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The answer is no! The grand majority of those who were "redeemed" out of Egypt, perished in the wilderness in unbelief. Their "redemption" was physical and temporal in nature. The only relationship it bears to the eternal redemption of God's spiritual people by the blood of Christ is that of type to antitype. We should expect that God's redeemed and regenerate people will show, by holy behavior, their true natures as those who have been taken into an intimate covenant relationship with God. Yet, we should not expect the same from Israel, that rebellious and unregenerate nation with whom God entered into covenant at Mt. Sinai. The relationship that they sustained with God was nothing like (in the true spiritual sense) the relationship between God and His justified people.
4. God deals with members of the human race under one of two covenants; the covenant of works in Adam or the covenant of grace in Christ. The old [Mosaic] and new covenants are merely different administrations of one overarching "covenant of grace."
II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works. . . . III. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the Covenant of Grace: whereby he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come. . . .
VI. . . .There are not therefore two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.20
5. The conditions for blessing under the old covenant are not different in character from the conditions for blessing under the new covenant. O. Palmer Robertson has written,
But, it is not true that an element of conditionality existed under "law" which is not present under "grace." The same "ifs" [emphasis mine] so apparent under the Mosaic administration as they apply to Israel in the wilderness manifest themselves with even greater portent of judgment in the event of failure under the new covenant (cf. Heb. 3:7, 14, 15; 4:1, 2, 11; 6:4-6).21 See also Murray, Principles of Conduct, 197-201).
There is clearly a difference in these conditions. On the one hand, continuance under the blessings of the old covenant was contingent on obedience to the terms of that covenant. The entire nation of Israel was under that covenant whether they obeyed or not. On the other hand, for the heirs of new covenant blessing, Jesus has satisfied all the contingencies. The "ifs" in question do not pertain to continuance in the covenant. Instead, they concern the issue of whether a person has ever become an heir of the covenant at all.
6. God has already literally fulfilled the promises made to natural Israel or He is fulfilling them spiritually in the new covenant church.22
Presuppositions of New covenant Theology
1. God has only one purpose. That purpose is the revelation of His glory as He establishes His sovereign rule over His entire redeemed creation.
2. The establishment of Israel as a nation was only a means that God used pursuant to His eternal purpose. God has only one spiritual people. He grants the spiritual inheritance only to those in Christ.
3. Christ, and those united to Him by faith, are the true seed of Abraham to whom God made the promise.
4. We must interpret old covenant prophecies in the light of their new covenant fulfillment. Jesus and the inspired New Testament writers, by their use of the Old Testament Scriptures, have left us a pattern by which to interpret such prophecies. This follows the basic hermeneutical principle that we should interpret obscure passagesin the light of clearer revelation. Their use of the Old Testament Scripture gives us justification to interpret certain Old Testament prophecies in other than a strictly literal fashion.
For example, who would have guessed, based on the prophecy of Malachi 4:5 concerning the coming of Elijah, that John the Baptist would fulfill this apparently literal prediction? Yet, in Matthew 17:10-13, Jesus informed His disciples that Elijah had come in the person of John the Baptist.
And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13).
See also Matt. 11:13-15; Mk. 9:11-13; Lk. 1:17.
We should not expect, based on Jeremiah 31:31-34, a restoration
of national Israel, any more than we should expect, based on Jeremiah 30:
9; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25, a literal restoration of David to the throne
But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them (Jer 30:9).
"Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. "And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken (Ezek 34:23-24).
"And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances, and keep My statutes, and observe them. "And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever. "And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever (Ezek 37:24-26).
It seems clear that these verses refer to the antitypical David, Christ, Himself. Yet, based on the hermeneutical principles of Dispensationalism, the interpreter would be forced to insist that, for these texts to be fulfilled, David must literally be resurrected and restored to the throne of Israel.23
Even in the OT Scriptures there are times that the term 'Israel' does not refer to the nation of Israel as a whole, but to the upright within that nation. E.g., "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart" (Psalm 73:1). This is consistent with Paul's use of the term Israel in Roman's 9:6. Any interpretation of promises to Israel, whether OT or NT, that does not take into account Paul's caveat concerning Israel in Romans 9:6-8 will inevitably be flawed. Paul wrote,
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCEN DANTS WILL BE NAMED." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants (Rom 9: 6-8).
5. The New Testament writers understood the relationship between Israel and the church as that of type and promise to antitype and fulfillment. Israel had the promises; we enjoy the fulfillment. Israel, its institutions, its physical, temporal blessings, etc., stand as types of the church and her spiritual and eternal blessings. Israel's election, redemption, and calling to be a holy people, have no more than a typical correspondence to the blessings that God grants His new covenant people.
Concerning our presuppositions about the relationship of ethnic Israel and the church, see Part one, Chapter two, An Exposition of Galatians 6:11-16.
It is in the typological sense that Paul refers to those who walk in line with the standard of the new creation as "the Israel of God." The new creation is a realm in which the external has given way to the spiritual, and the type has given way to the fulfillment. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. These are now matters of indifference. One's physical ancestry is of no consequence. God does not bless a person because he belongs to ethnic Israel nor curse him because he is a Gentile. The true24 people of God, the Israel of God in this sense, are those who walk in line with the rule of the new creation, and, in Christ, enjoy the reality that was typically foreshadowed in Israel's experience.
6. The fulfillment of God's promises does not exhaust them. Promises to the nation of Israel that were literally fulfilled during the old covenant period, e.g., deliverance from captivity, find their antitypical realization in the experience of God's new covenant people, e.g., their deliverance from their captivity to sin.
7. There may be a future restoration of ethnic Israelites to God's favor through faith in Christ but not a retrogression to Judaism. There may be a fuller, future fulfillment of promises that have been, in the higher, new covenant sense, literally fulfilled already. Yet, in keeping with the nature of typological fulfillment, the future fulfillment must be of the same kind as the fulfillment that has already occurred.25 Thus, there may be a future restoration of Israel that is fuller in quantity, but not different in quality from what is now occurring in the conversion of a remnant of ethnic Israelites through gospel preaching.
8. There can be discontinuity between the old covenant and the new covenant without rendering the Old Testament Scriptures irrelevant for the new covenant believer.
Is this new covenant now in force or is it yet future?
Based on presuppositions 4 &. 5 of Dispensationalism, the new covenant cannot now be in force, since God is not now dealing with Israel, but with the church. Some Dispensationalists believe that the church is now enjoying some to the blessings of the new covenant, even though that covenant has not yet been effected for Israel.
Covenant Theology's Answer:
Based on presuppositions 2-6 of Covenant Theology, the new covenant is now in force and is being fulfilled in the church. Yet, in their view, the new covenant is only a different administration of the one covenant of grace. Thus, they make no radical distinctions between the church of the old covenant and the church of the new covenant.
New Covenant Theology's Answer:
Based on presuppositions 2-7 of New Covenant Theology, the new covenant is now in force and finds its fulfillment in the church, the antitypical Israel. Yet, we should not understand this fulfillment of new covenant promises in a way that would exclude a fuller realization of these promises in the future. Additionally, New Covenant theology sees radical distinctions between the old [Mosaic] covenant and the new covenant.
New Covenant Theology sees, in the church, a fulfillment of promises that, in their Old Testament context, seem to be addressed to Israel as a nation. Thus, while acknowledging the possibility of a future restoration and conversion of a large number of ethnic Israelites through gospel preaching, it does not see the necessity of such a restoration to fulfill Old Testament promises. Yet, it seeks to take seriously God's relationship to Israel as an ethnic people.
Some who hold the Covenant Theology view argue that the term "Israel" in Romans 11:26 refers to the church, all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles. We would contend that it refers, instead, to elect, ethnic Israelites. Our understanding of this verse is governed by the answer to two questions: 1. What question was Paul answering throughout the entire section (Rom. 9-11)? 2. How did Paul define "Israel" at the outset of this discussion?
Though Paul does not raise the question, it seems clear that he is responding to an objection, real or supposed, to his teaching that God will be faithful to glorify all His chosen people. Did not God make promises to Israel? Yet, God has now cast them off for unbelief. How can we be sure that He will keep His peomises to us? If He has cast national Israel aside because of its rejection of God's Messiah, does this mean that God's promises to Israel have fallen to the ground? To this Paul responds, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. . . ." (Rom 9: 6a). In the remainder of the section (Rom 9-11), Paul concerns himself with the answer to this question.
The way Paul answers this question is governed by His understanding of God's promises to Israel, which, in turn, is determined by his understanding of the identity of the true Israel. He writes, "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;" (Rom. 9: 6b). In other words, in Paul's view, not every natural descendant of Israel (Jacob), not every member of the nation, was part of the true, spiritual Israel to whom the promises of spiritual blessing were made. God gave the spiritual promises only to those who would believe His promises and thus 'walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had being yet uncircumcised' (Rom. 4:12).
Does "the character of God demand" that He restore Israel to a place of national blessing? An affirmative answer to this question suggests the presupposition that God has made such a promise to the nation of Israel without condition. Yet, if He promised unconditionally to bless that nation, how could He cast any of them aside because of unbelief? Would He not, in that case, be obligated to bless them despite their failure? On the other hand, if His promises were conditional, how could His character demand that He restore them?
The engrafting of which Paul speaks in Romans 11: 23, is predicated not on being a member of national Israel, but on faith. He writes, "And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again."
The issue is not whether there will be a great restoration of national Israel after a lengthy period of Gentile blessing. The question is whether all true Israelites, the elect from ethnic Israel, will receive the blessings God promised them in the Abrahamic covenant. Will every true heir be "saved?" Paul's answer is, "and thus [kai houtos] all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB" (Rom. 11:26).
Notice that the text does not speak of "the deliverer who comes out of heaven," but "the deliverer who comes out of Zion." Paul does not here refer to Christ's second coming, at which time believers will realize all the blessings of the new covenant in their fullest sense. Instead, he refers to His first coming at which, by His redemptive work, He turned away ungodliness from Jacob. This objective accomplishment provides the firm assurance that "all Israel will be saved. . ." God's promises to Israel (as Paul has carefully defined it) have not failed.
The issue of whether God will effect this spiritual deliverance of the full number of elect Israelites by a gradual process or by a great, precipitous, restoration is not a question Paul considers in this section.
With whom Does God promise to make the new covenant? Who is the "house of Israel?"
The prophet tells his readers that God will make a new covenant with 'the house of Israel' [the ten northern tribes] and "the house of Judah" [the southern tribes] for the following reasons:
1. Because these two houses together comprised the entire special
natural seed of Abraham to whom God had promised blessing in the Abrahamic
Covenant. Yet, God does not establish it with the houses of Israel and Judah
as such any more than He establishes it with Gentiles as such.
The promise is effective "to as many as the Lord our God shall call"
(Acts 2:39). Also, Hebrews 9:15 says, "And for this reason He is the mediator
of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption
of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those
who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."
When we remember that God calls believers according to His eternal purpose
and grace, it becomes clear that He has made this promise to the elect
within Israel. Those whom God, through the establishment of the new covenant,
brings to faith in His anointed will never "cease from being a nation before
the Lord forever" (Jer 31:36).
2. Because the blessings of the new covenant extend to the most guilty who believe God's promise. In this case, God promises to forgive even apostate Israel for playing the whore with pagan gods.
3. Because the northern ten tribes of Israel had become alienated from Jehovah because of their idolatry. In effect they had, through their defection from Jehovah, become pagans. For this reason, they stand as a type of the Gentile nations who were alienated from Jehovah and His covenant promises. God's promise to establish the new covenant with Israel and Judah is a foreshadowing of His reconciliation of Gentiles and visiting them to take out of them a people for His name. This seems to accord with Paul's citation of Hosea 2:23; 1:10 in Romans 9:25-26, in confirmation of the call of the Gentiles. He wrote,
23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.25As He says also in Hosea, "I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, 'MY PEOPLE,' AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, 'BELOVED.'" 26"AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, 'YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,' THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD."
Clearly, in their original Old Testament context, these verses had reference to the northern ten tribes of Israel. Yet, it seems equally evident that Paul uses these verses to refer not to the restoration of apostate Israelites, but to the calling of Gentiles to faith in Christ. Concerning the seeming discrepancy, John Murray wrote,
There might appear to be a discrepancy between the purport and reference of these passages in the prophecy and as applied by Paul. In Hosea they refer to ten tribes of Israel and not to the Gentile nations. There should be no difficulty. Paul recognizes that the rejection and restoration of Israel of which Hosea spoke have their parallel in the exclusion of the Gentiles from God's covenant favor and their reception into that favor. . . .the same procedure is exemplified in both cases and Paul finds in the restoration of Israel to love and favor the type in terms of which the Gentlies become partakers of the same grace [emphases mine].26
Even James Stifler, a Dispensationalist, has commented, "The prophecy originally seems to refer to the ten tribes, but as they had been excluded from the nation and were practically heathen, Paul refers to them as a type of the call of the Gentiles."27
Clearly, it is legitimate to recognize apostate and reconciled Israel as a type of apostate and reconciled Gentiles [part of the Christian church]. It is also obvious that this is a passage that, in its OT context, plainly refers to the nation of Israel. Since it is legitimate to find in this passage a type of the ingathering of the Gentiles, there is no reason why we should not understand such passages as Jeremiah 31:31-34 in the same way.
4. Because He wanted to show that the fulfillment of the new
covenant would bring unity between those who, formerly, had been bitter enemies
(Eph. 2:14-15). The northern ten tribes, the house of Israel, had, by their
apostasy from Jehovah, essentially become pagans. Using circumstances in
the life of the prophet Hosea, God illustrated what His relationship with
Israel had become because of their idolatry.
"And the LORD said, "Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God." Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; And it will come about that, in the place where it is said to them, "You are not My people," It will be said to them, "You are the sons of the living God" (Hosea 1:9-10).
5. Because Israel and Judah were the parties that had broken covenant with God. It is within the redemptive-historical context of Israel that the covenant must be kept. It was in the very place where the trespass had overflowed that grace overflowed all the more. Paul wrote, "And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more," (Rom. 5:20). It was against the backdrop of the broken covenant that Jesus established the new covenant by making redemption for the transgressions that were under the first covenant. It was because Israel was under the curse of the law that the Messiah became a curse. He established the new covenant by fulfilling the old covenant. Thus, it was necessary that the drama of redemption be played out on the stage of Israel's national covenant.
There is a temporal priority in God's dealings with the Jews and their situation under the law. Unless the demands of the law were met, there could be no free bestowal of blessings on either believing Jews or believing Gentiles. Thus, Paul tells us that, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law [the Jews], that we [Jews and Gentiles alike] might receive the adoption as sons [son-placing] (Gal; 4:4-5).
Paul also presents this truth plainly in Galatians 3:13-14 where he writes, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE" in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." In the Greek text, the words, "in order that on the Gentiles the blessing of Abraham might come in Christ" are in the emphatic position and are juxtaposed to the clause that describes the work of Christ in which He was made a curse for those who were under the law, i. e., Israel under the old covenant.28
One of the keys to understanding that God has already established the new covenant with Israel, i.e., the true, elect Israel within the nation, is to understand the nature of biblical covenants.29 Some Dispensationalists have spoken about the need for the nation of Israel to "ratify the new covenant by their acceptance" of it at Jesus' return. The implication is that this covenant cannot be in force until the nation of Israel, as a whole, accepts it as their covenant. It is important for us to remember that biblical covenants were not bilateral but unilateral. Though faith is essential if anyone is to enjoy the blessings of the new covenant, the ratification of the covenant is not dependent on anyone's acceptance. The Jesus ratified the new covenantd at the cross. Thus, the focus of the New Testament Scriptures is on Jesus' accomplishments at His first coming, not on the application of those accomplishments at His second coming.
6. Because Abraham's special natural seed (Isaac and his posterity) stand as a type of the new covenant people of God, elect Jews and Gentiles. It seems clear from the New Testament Scriptures that God has established this covenant with all in Christ. These are the true (as opposed to the typical) Israel of God. If this is the case, then this was God's intention from the beginning in making His promises to Israel.
We should understand much of the Old Testament's language in terms of typology, not in a strictly literal sense. God fulfilled many of these promises in a literal sense, but these fulfillments, for example, Israel's return to the land from captivity in Babylon, which stood as types of a further fulfillment in Christ, were always inferior to the ultimate fulfillment.
7. Because the blessings of the new covenant were first offered to ethnic Israelites and first welcomed by them.
These blessings were first offered to ethnic Israelites:
"It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.' "For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways" (Acts 3: 25-26).
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom 1:16).
The first citizens of this new nation to welcome these new covenant blessings were ethnic Israelites:
In Matthew 21:42-3, Jesus cited a prophecy from Psalm 118 concerning a stone that the builders had rejected becoming the chief corner stone. Then, He informed them that because they had rejected Him, God would take the kingdom from them and give it to a nation that would produce the fruit that the husbandman was seeking.
Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'? "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it (Matthew 21:42 -3).
What is the identity of this nation about whom Jesus spoke?
Was He speaking about a restored Israel that, after His second coming, would finally fulfill the purposes for which God had chosen it? The Apostle Peter, in his first epistle, plainly identified the nation to which Jesus referred when he spoke of a nation bring forth the fruit of God's kingdom. He wrote,
2:6For this is contained in Scripture: "BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." 2:7This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, "THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone," 2:8and, "A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 2:9But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 2:10for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Pet 2:6-10).
When did God establish this new nation?
Remembering Jesus' words, "For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit," the disciples asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel" (Acts 1:6). On the basis of Old Testament prophecy, they had every reason to believe that such a restoration was to occur. If they were mistaken, it was because they though there was to be a retrogression to a kingdom that would be restored within the confines of Judaism. J.A. Alexander wrote, "they were only mistaken, if at all, in expecting it to be restored in its primeval form."30 Since they had been taught to associate the Spirit's coming with the inauguration of the kingdom, it seems likely that the question they asked was linked with His promise about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In other words, they were asking, "will you restore the kingdom to Israel when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit?" Though Jesus refused to answer the question they had asked, he plainly revealed the answer to them when the day of Pentecost was fully come. As Luke records,
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved' (Acts 2:14-20).
Peter was not suggesting that everything that Joel prophesied had already transpired or was going to occur immediately. Instead, he was proclaiming the good new that the long awaited and earnestly anticipated time of fulfillment had finally come. In sending His Son to accomplish the redemption and reconciliation of His elect people, God had "remembered his holy covenant" (Luke 1:72). All that now remains is the full, application of Jesus' redemptive accomplishments by which he ratified the new covenant for His people.
If there are any "land promises" that have not yet been fulfilled, they find fulfillment in two ways. They are being fulfilled in the inheritance that believers have because of their union with Christ, and they will be fulfilled in the eternal kingdom when believers enjoy the inheritance of the new earth.
There are four specific areas of blessing in which our author,
using the pattern determined for him by Jeremiah's prophecy, contrasts the
old covenant with the new covenant. They are 1. the internalization of the
law, in contrast to the law code written on tables of stone (8:10), 2. The
reality of being owned by God as His true, spiritual, people, in contrast
to the nationalistic, typical, and conditional relationship established by
the old covenant (8:10), 3. the universal, spiritual, knowledge of God among
the members of the covenant community, in contrast to the old covenant, under
which some were saved, but most were lost (8:11), and 4. The true forgiveness
of sins, in contrast to the old covenant's ceremonial cleansings by which
God continually reminded the Israelites that their sins remained
(8:12).31 Philip Hughes has commented
on this contrast as follows,
This new covenant, not like the covenant made with the people through Moses, would be of grace, not of works; radical, not external; everlasting, not temporary; meeting man's deepest need and transforming his whole being, because from beginning to end it would be the work, not of man, but of God himself.32
Before closing this study, we want to comment briefly on each of these contrasts.
The old covenant could never effect the obedience that God demanded. It could command, but it could not produce love for God. As long as the relationship between God and the covenant nation remained external only, Israel would never exhibit the kind of obedience that God demanded. God's promise that He would write His law on the hearts of His new covenant people, goes beyond a mere pledge to give them an intellectual understanding of His will. It involves the promise to put within them a new governing principle that would incline them to do His will. This promise is best explained by the words of promise that God spoke through Ezekiel, Jeremiah's younger contemporary. He said,
36:26I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezek 36:26-27).
For the new covenant child of God, the law of God is not merely an external standard that demands compliance with the will of God. It is now an internal principle, produced by God's Spirit, that inclines us to obey God from the heart. The laws that God writes on the hearts of His new covenant people are summarily comprehended in two commandments. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 22:35-40 that love was the great demand of the law. The way a person expresses his love for God and neighbor may vary under different covenants, but this basic demand never changes.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt 22:35 -40).
In establishing the new covenant, God has done what law could never do. He has changed stiff-necked rebels into grateful lovers of God. His lovingkindness toward poor sinners is so amazing, so enduring, and so free, that He, by the constraining power of love alone, causes His people to delight in doing His will. Like their Lord, they can say from the depths of their souls, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).
We use the word "true" here not in contrast to "false," but in contrast to "typical." Israel was truly a nation of God's people in an external and nationalistic sense. God had sovereignly chosen them, out of all the nations of the world, to be His people. He had called them out and redeemed them from their physical bondage in Egypt. He cared for them and entered into covenant with them. He led many of them into a land of rest and blessing. He continued to be long-suffering with them in spite of their recalcitrance and infidelity to His covenant. They could call Jehovah their God and rejoice in the truth that they were His people. Yet, all of this was true, as far as the majority of the Israelites were concerned, in an external and nationalistic sense only. As a nation, Israel stood as a type of the new covenant people of God. That which was true of Israel, in type, is now true of God's new covenant people in fulfillment. Jehovah is our God, and we are His people in a personal and spiritual sense. This aspect of new covenant fulfillment is integrally related to the other blessing of the new covenant. It is because new covenant believers have received a new governing principle of life, know God in a personal and spiritual way, and have been forgiven for their sins, that God is now their God and they are His people in truth, not merely in type.
The promise of the universal knowledge of God in the covenant community will, in the grand consummation of all things, be the universal knowledge of God in the absolute sense. Then "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab 2:14). For now, God has fulfilled this promise in that every member of the new covenant community knows God in a personal and spiritual way. In commenting on this verse, F.F.Bruce writes, "It is. . .a personal knowledge of God to be possessed by each individual member of the new covenant community, because of the new heart received by each ."33
Unlike the covenant community of Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ is composed of none but those who possess a true, spiritual knowledge of God. Ideally, the same holds true of the local manifestations of Christ's Church on earth. There will inevitably be hypocrites who infiltrate the local church. Yet, the goal that the New Testament Scriptures set before us is a regenerate church membership. Any "church" that, by design, is composed of regenerate and unregenerate people, is constituted contrary to the biblical standard. The Church, God's new covenant community, is not made up of believers and their [unregenerate] children. Every member of this community, from the least to the greatest, knows the Lord.
Though the idea of the forgiveness of sins was not foreign to those who lived under the old covenant, God never granted it based on that covenant. Philip Hughes writes, "The law can never be a principle of justification for sinners, but only a principle of condemnation precisely because they have failed to keep its precepts"34 The best that the old covenant could offer was a system of ceremonial cleansing that could not remove the sinner's consciousness of guilt. That the sacrifices of that covenant were offered perpetually, reminded the sinner that his guilt remained. The blessing of the new covenant is that there will never again be such reminders. God has completely cancelled sin and guilt for His people. He will remember our sins against us no more.
Such are the blessings of the new covenant. The types and promises of the old covenant have all been fulfilled in and by Christ. The new age has dawned. Why return to the shadows?
Alexander, J. A., A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprint ed. 1980.
Barrett, C. K. , The Gospel According to St. John. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978.
Brown, John , The Epistle to the Hebrews, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprint ed. 1972.
Bruce, F.F. ,The Epistle to the Hebrews, NIC, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerd- mans Publishing Co., 1964.
Calvin, John, Calvin's Commentaries, vol. XXI, trans. by William Pringle, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint ed. 1979.
Chafer, L.S. , Dispensationalism, Dallas: Seminary Press, 1936.
Chantry, Walter, God's Righteous Kingdom, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980.
Cox, William E., Amillennialism Today, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1972.
Hughes, Philip E., A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.
Luther, Martin, Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, London: James Clark and Co. LTD., Reprint ed. 1961.
Murray, John, Principles of Conduct, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971.
__________, The Epistle to the Romans, NIC, Vol. II
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971.
Pentecost, J. Dwight, Things to Come, Findlay, OH: Dunham Publishing Co., 1959.
Robertson, O. Palmer, The Christ of the Covenants, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presby- terian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1984.
Ryrie, Charles C. , Dispensationalism Today, Chicago: Moody Press, 1967.
Schaff, Phillip, History of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint ed. 1981.
Walvoord, John, "The New Covenant With Israel," Bibliotheca Sacra, 103: pp. 16-27, January, 1946.
Westminister Confession of Faith, Chapters VII, and XXV.
Williamson, G.I., The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1964.
What is it that constitutes Israel a nation before God? If it is a national covenant that does so, then Israel can no longer exist as a nation since it no longer has a covenant relationship with God. It us clear that the old covenant was given for a limited period only, namely, ". . until the seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise had been made" (Gal. 3:19). It is plain that that covenant was fulfilled and thus done away at Christ first coming. If the new covenant has not yet been established, then Israel is without a covenant, and, therefore, has ceased to be a nation before God..
Must the terms of the covenant be ratified by both parties in order for it to be in force? Goes to the nature of divine covenants
Ratify--to make valid and binding by a formal legal act
1 The proponents
of the Dispensational view have differed widely on this issue. J. Dwight
Pentecost has identified the three main Dispensational views as follows:
1. J.N Darby's view that there is only one New Covenant that is to be fulfilled
exclusively for Israel in the future. It has no application to the Church
at all; 2. C.I. Scofield's view that there is only one New Covenant, but
that it has a dual application; one to Israel in the future and one to the
Church in the present; and 3. The view of Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie and others,
that there are two New Covenants; one made with Israel and one made with
the Church. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Findlay, OH: Dunham
Publishing Co., 1959), pp. 121-5.
2 In setting forth the presuppositions of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, I have given what seem to be the presuppositions of these systems in their classic, historical form. It is true that both these systems have undergone refinements by which they have moved closer to each other and have become more consistent with Scripture. Yet, as they have become more consistent with Scripture, they have both become more inconsistent with their basic presuppositions.
3 Quoted by John Brown, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 344.
4 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), p. 241.
5 L.S. Chafer, Dispensationalism (Dallas: Seminary Press, 1936), p. 107.
6 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Findlay, OH: Dunham Publishing Co., 1959), p. 133
7 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), p. 45.
8 Pentecost, op. cit., p. 127.
9 Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint ed. 1981), p. 532.
10 John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, vol. XXI, trans. by William Pringle, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint ed. 1979), p. 186.
11 Martin Luther, Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, (London: James Clark and Co. LTD., Reprint ed. 1961), p. 364.
12 John Walvoord "The New Covenant With Israel," Bibliotheca Sacra, 103: p. 25, January, 1946.
14 Ryrie, op. cit. , p. 46.
15 I do not wish to present a caricature of any of the views represented in this discussion. I am aware that there are Covenant Theologians who are seeking to deal with ecclesiological problems that arise from their system. It is my contention, however, that these problems arise, not from an abuse of the system, but from the system itself. In my view, the error of this system stems, from a failure to see that the typical relationship that exists between Israel and the church does not represent an identity of the two.
16 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV, Section II
17 G.I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.,1964), pp. 188-9.
18 Walter Chantry, God's Righteous Kingdom (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), p. 112.
19 John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 197.
20 Westminister Confession of Faith, Chapter VII, Sections II, III, V, VI.
21 O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1984), pp. 216-17.
22 William E. Cox, Amillennialism Today (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1972), p. 138.
23 Though is seems that a majority of modern Dispensationalists take a typical approach to this passage, Pentecost was at least consistent with his presuppositions when He interpreted these passages to mean that David would be "God's regent" during the millennium. See Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 498-500.
24 I use the word true here not in contrast to false, but in contrast to typical.
25 This conclusion is based on our presupposition that Israel, its institutions, etc. stand as types of the church, the new covenant people of God. One of the characteristics of a type is that there is an escalation from a type to its antitype or fulfillment. Once the fulfillment has come, there cannot be retrogression from the antitype, e.g., the spiritual inheritance that God has granted to His new covenant people, to the type, e.g., the physical land of Palestine promised to natural Israel. For an expanded study of the nature of biblical typology, see the author's forthcoming book, In These Last Days, Appendix B.
26 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NIC, Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 38.
27 James A. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p. 169.
28 For a fuller discussion of this issue, The Fullness of the Time, Sound of Grace, 1991.
29 .For a fuller treatment of the nature of biblical covenants, see the author's book, In These Last Days.
30 J. A. Alexander, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprint ed.1980), p. 10.
31 For a fuller treatment of these contrasts, see Chapter One, Definitions of New Covenant Theology.
32 Phillip E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), p. 300).
Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NIC, (Grand Rapids:Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co.,1964), p.174.
34 Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 300.