Israelology and Theology of the Old Testament, Part One
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II. Covenant Theology’s Goal of History is Limited
Covenant theology sees only one goal of God in the outworking of all history, and that is the glory of God through the redemption of the elect. It is important to note that the redemption of the elect in all dispensations is a very important goal when considering the Whole Council of God. However, this ignores God’s other programs, which He has stated explicitly in Scripture. God does have a program for those that are not included within the elect. (Rom 9: 10-23) See verse seventeen where He states one of His programs, using Pharaoh (one of the non-elect) to advance the declaration of His name in all the earth.
He has a different program for Satan described in John 12:31, Rom 16:20, Rev 12:17 etc. He has a different program for nature. (Matt 19:28, Acts 3: 19-21 etc.) and a program for the nations. (Job 12:23, Isa 14:24-27, Jer 10:7 etc.) All of these programs will make a contribution to the total goal of God in managing His creation. So it is insufficient to focus on one program and call that God’s goal. Suffice it to say that the idea that God is only concerned with the redemption of mankind is flattering to the human but also rather pride inducing as well.
III. Covenant Theology Denies a Distinction between Israel & The Church
Covenant theology denies the distinction between the nation Israel and the Church. Covenant theologians believe that the Church existed in the Old Testament. Reading the Bible in a “normative” manner impels the reader realize that the word church does not appear in the entire Bible before Christ announced that he will build His church upon Himself, The Rock. So the beginning of the Church was yet future to the time when Christ was walking the land of Israel during His first advent. (Matt 16:18) The Church had its beginnings on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2) Peter declared it to be “the beginning.” (Acts 11:15)
Scripture speaks of the name Israel in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The Church is only mentioned in the New Testament. The apostle Paul declares in Romans 11:25-28:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this [is] my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel, [they are] enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, [they are] beloved for the fathers’ sakes.”
Paul declares that one who is ignorant of the mystery of Israel and God’s plan for them is conceited. Those who deny the distinction between Israel and the Church are not only conceited, as Paul states but are also engaging in Spiritual pridefulness.
IV. Covenant Theology’s Double Hermeneutic
When one reads the Bible in a “normative” manner as we would with any other publication we take into account the writer, message, grammar, idiomatic phrases etc. We consistently apply normal word usage as the context demands to produce understandable syntax.
There is a flaw in the hermeneutics, which Covenant Theologians utilize to develop their eschatology. For fulfilled prophecy they use words in their normal meaning. For future or unfulfilled prophecy they adopt a new and arbitrary meaning to adapt to their overall understanding of God’s plan. This is called the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. The fundamental problem with this method is that the understanding of Scripture and especially the prophetic portions become a “private interpretation” (2 Pet 1: 20) and it is no longer God speaking to man but man telling God what He is saying. It is not clear what rules of grammar or word usage they appeal to for their eschatological exposition. So the allegorical method is so arbitrary that it is outside of the ability of man’s God given logic and reason to accept as valid. In short it does not make sense. Only the unthinking, lazy and undiscerning will accept illogic. It is simply sloppy thinking to do so.
This means that there is no millennium. This system of theology rejects any idea of a period of a thousand years either before or after the return of Christ to the earth. Allis further clarifies:
This is the teaching that the only visible coming of Christ to the earth, which the Church is to expect, will be for judgment and will be followed by the final state. It is…. a-millennial because it rejects the doctrine…. of a thousand years.
Today a major segment of Covenant Theology is amillennial. This concept, which states that there is no millennium, is difficult to advance with Scripture. Chapter nineteen of the Book of Revelation clearly describes Christ’s return to earth following the Great Tribulation. Revelation chapter 20 states on six occasions the length of this period following Christ’s second advent. It is a thousand years. Hence it is referred to as the Millennium. Much of the development and propagation of the Amillennial concept can be attributed to Origen. This brilliant man tried to integrate the Christian doctrine with Greek philosophy. The Alexandrian theology which flowed from this rejected an earthly kingdom. Further, he can be called the father of the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. He believed that there were three levels of Scriptural understanding. 1. The meaning derived from the plain words, 2. Application of the text; and 3. The Allegorical meaning.
Scripture does not support Amillennialism. Because of early church father support it seems that this system of theology has persevered. Concepts, which have been known for a lengthy period, take on an aura of authenticity. The length of time a concept has been known does not validate it as truth. The concept itself has to be measured against the truth to determine if it is true.
VI. Continuation of the Law of Moses
All Covenant Theologians believe that the Law of Moses is still in effect. They support this by claiming that when Israel refused the offer of the Kingdom, Christ gave it to His disciples whom Covenant theologians refer to as the true people of God. This bypasses all the Old Testament covenants, which provide promises to the nation Israel that, have yet to be fulfilled.
Covenant Theologians such as Ladd arbitrary reduce the Law by removing the dietary laws and the ceremonial law. It is not clear how this is justified from a Scriptural basis since the New Covenant for Israel entirely replaces the conditional Mosaic Covenant. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Galatians that the Law is completely fulfilled by Christ, and the New Covenant is now in effect. Now the New Covenant which is for the Jews to be realized fully in the Millennial Kingdom does provide the Church with benefit. We ride on it so to speak because both Church and Israel’s New Covenant are initiated by the Blood of Christ. Without a sound Scriptural basis it is difficult to understand how one could assert an arbitrary partial deletion to the Law and claim validity while other portions of the Law still hold true. This is interesting mental gymnastics but lacking in cohesive logic and biblical exegesis. How does one know which parts of the Law to discard and which parts to keep? This falls into the general claim of “permanent validity” of the Law. Clearly the Law does not pass through to the Church. Christ’s law is embodied within the New Covenant and provided in the pages of Scripture from the date of the birth of the Church onward. So from Acts two to the end of the epistles we are given the operative nature of the New Covenant. The Law is completely finished. It was fulfilled by Christ and replaced in its entirely with the New Covenant For Israel and the Law of Christ for the Church.
VII. Blurring of the Meaning of the Olive Tree in Romans Eleven
The Apostle Paul uses an image of an olive tree in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans. The olive tree is meant to represent God’s blessings and the natural branches are a representation of the nation Israel. The were chosen first to receive God’s blessings so they are referred to as the “natural branches.” Some Covenant theologians imply that the olive tree is the Church today. In Paul’s imagery the Gentiles are grafted into the tree to receive God’s blessings (or His goodness) too. Gentiles are also told not to be high-minded but to fear God over this. We have not replaced Israel. We can’t be proud over this; it is God’s choice and His plan. Further if Israel “abides not in unbelief” they will be grafted into their own olive tree! Ladd when speaking of the “natural branches” defines this as Jewish believers that came into the church.
So clearly there is a distinction between Israel and the Gentiles (Church) in these passages, which render the olive tree as notbeing the Church. The Covenant theologians are here trying to make their case for only “one people of God.” This they claim from their belief that the church is in the Old Testament and God just used the name Israel to refer to them during those dispensations. This is simply a diseased idea, which has as its goal to cause harm to the Jews.
Postmillennialist hold to a symbolic interpretation of Scripture. They believe that since there are symbols in Scripture and Scripture contains allegories all Scripture can be interpreted in the manner of symbols and allegories. They further take any figurative language in Scripture as license to make other passages figurative as well. They cloud God’s message with a spiritual understand of Old Testament prophecies in the New Testament. This arbitrary manner of assigning inappropriate grammatical properties to Scripture passages that do not warrant it, results in an inaccurate exposition of passages. Hence, the true meaning is lost or at least severely obscured and the result is the reader is no longer getting God’s Word. Faulty hermeneutics and inappropriate grammatical usage destroys the meaning that written language is intended to convey. This faulty extrapolation of one concept used in one instance in the Bible to the whole of Scripture is unjustified.
The Postmillienists believes that Christ will return after a period of peace and righteousness, which is not necessarily a thousand years. The peace and righteousness according to this theology is brought about through world evangelism. They believe that the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom and not a world condition. They believe very narrowly that Christ in John 18:36 said His kingdom was not of this world. They neglect many other passages regarding the kingdom, which make it very clear that the kingdom would be accomplished on earth, in the future, as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:10)
There are many other characteristics of this unbiblical doctrine but they too are grounded in faulty hermeneutics, which will always produce a message that is outside of orthodoxy.
IX. The Nation Israel Today in the Land
Typically covenant theologians do not believe that Israel is viewed as an independent entity in the Bible and assume that the Church replaced them in God’s plan. Therefore they must with great difficulty devise an explanation for the reestablishment of the State of Israel in contradiction to Bible prophecy. Fruchtenbaum notes that this was not a problem for Charles Hodge since his life span did not coincide with the rebirth of the Nation Israel (May 14, 1948). However, Fruchtenbaum does note the feeble attempts of Lorraine Boettner to wrestle with the issue.
Boettner denounces that a restoration of the Jews to their Land is part of God’s divine program. He claims that the Jews do not belong in the land or anywhere for that matter. Unfortunately Dr. Boettner ignores Bible prophecy and that the Jews are still the recipients of God’s Covenants. For some reason this man seems to violate his own teaching of God’s Sovereignty and assume that the Jews came back on their own accord. One wonders about this contradiction of the theology he taught. God is indeed sovereign and brought the Jews back just as He said He would. The Reformers did not spend much time in the prophetic portions of Scripture and neither to those today espousing so-called Reformed Theology.
X. The Abrahamic Covenant
The Covenant Amillennialists does not see the Abrahamic Covenant as being distinct or separate from the Church. They simply see it as part of the development of the covenant of grace. Suffice it to say that the Abrahamic Covenant is clearly communicated in Scripture and the covenant of grace is nowhere to be found.
It is very difficult to deal with this issue when the Covenant Amillennialists simply has no foundation upon which to rest his thesis. There is no covenant of grace. There is an Abrahamic Covenant. This should be the end of the story but this poorly conceived and communicated theology persist in defiance to our God given logic, reason and actual Scriptural text. This persistence is due to the Covenant Ammillennists placing his theology above his Bible in authoritativeness. He subordinates the Scripture to a theology by finding a covenant that does not exist and elevating its authority. Further in continuation of their idea that the Church exists in the Old Testament they see the Abrahamic Covenant as another epoch of the “institutional church.”
As to circumcision within the Abrahamic Covenant, they see it as a “seal of righteousness of faith, a sealing ordinance or a badge of membership.” This sounds appropriate except upon closer evaluation they claim that the “membership” ordinance is the Church not the people of Israel. Abraham was the first to be called a Hebrew. This should be clear. But again, in this mindset the theology is superior to the actual biblical text.
Covenant Amillennialists do not consider the Abrahamic Covenant to be unconditional. Allis for example in an attempt to defend his position of non-unconditional admits that his position is not found in the covenant. He looks to Psalm 68:6 as evidence that obedience is the precondition of blessing to all of God’s promises. The central issue that Fruchtenbaum makes very concisely is “it is not whether obedience is a precondition to blessing but, whether God’s promises to fulfill the covenants are within themselves conditional.”
One frequently sees the Covenant adherents moving away from pertinent sections of scripture under discussion or inventing Scripture to advance their theologies.