I need to let my friends know that my commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians is now out (The Books of First and Second Thessalonians: Looking for Christ’s Return, AMG Publishers). At amazon.com it is listed at the astronomical price (I suppose pre-publication sale in reverse!) of over $170. I assure you it is not that expensive. It retails for $19.99. If you have any questions about anything I say about Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, don’t hesitate to ask.
Archive for October, 2009
One of the areas which traditional dispensationalists debate the most is the relationship of the Church to the New Covenant predicted in Jeremiah 31:31-34. As a result, we recently convened the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics at Baptist Bible Seminary in order to discuss the interpretation of the New Covenant among traditional dispensationalists. Over 120 guests attended for the presentation of several papers with much discussion after each presentation.
No paper represented the two New Covenants view. To my knowledge no one in the audience defended this view at any time. However, as I listened to the discussions, I could see why someone would opt for that view to try to resolve some of the issues. Among the positions discussed, I would say that there were three major views:
- There is one New Covenant in the Bible and the Church has no relationship to it whatsoever.
- There is one New Covenant in the Bible and the Church is related to it indirectly through its relationship with Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant.
- There is one New Covenant in the Bible and the Church is related to it directly by application in New Testament passages.
I myself have tended to lean toward # 2 in my own understanding. As I listened to the presentations and discussions, another thought that did occur to me was this – the views may be closer together than one might think. Some of those who held to # 1 also supported the idea that the Church enjoys blessings now that are analogous to the New Covenant blessings that Israel will one day receive in the coming kingdom. Practically speaking, this view ends up at the same place as the others in terms of the Church’s experience. I could say the same thing about the relationship of views # 2 and # 3. In the end, the views are not arguing about the nature of the Church’s present experiences. They are debating the best way to label the Church’s current experiences and how such experiences are related to Israel’s New Covenant. All traditional dispensationalists want to be precise in their understanding of the Bible’s teaching.
Perhaps the single most intriguing issue that came up for me was during Roy Beacham’s presentation entitled “The New Covenant of Scripture in ANE Covenant Context: A Preliminary Presentation.” The issue was how to take passages like Ezekiel 20:34-44. In verse 37, the text says “And I shall make you pass under the rod, and I shall bring you in the bond of the covenant.” On the basis of ANE studies, this is language for the cutting or ratifying of a covenant. This is not the hard part. The hard part is the context which seems to be set at the time of the tribulation and then entering into the kingdom. In short, it is possible to see this passage (there are others later in Ezekiel) as indicating the making of the covenant in our future – i.e., it is yet to come. If this is the New Covenant as Beacham argues contextually within Ezekiel (recall Eze. 36), then how can the Church have a relationship to something that is not in existence yet. It has been predicted; that is all. In this view, it has not been cut, ratified, or even inaugurated. This was an interesting presentation which was contrary to my own position. I have never seriously incorporated the earlier Ezekiel passages into my theological assessment on this issue. Thus, I am indebted to Beacham for making me think and be more comprehensive relative to the passages in question. I don’t know if I’ll come to agree with him on this issue, but I think I am better for having listened to his ideas.
Some might think that the disagreements among traditional dispensationalists on this issue demonstrate a weakness to their overall viewpoint. However, I would hazard an educated guess that even among nondispensationalists, there is quite an array of viewpoints in how the details are put together.