Israel and the Church: Continuity, Discontinuity, or Something of the Two?

haysIn his influential study on intertextuality, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of PaulRichard Hays argues the apostle Paul’s hermeneutic is “functionally ecclesiocentric rather than christocentric” (xiii). In a series of essays, he shows how the apostle applies Old Testament texts to the New Testament church, and in so doing he questions the commonly held assumption that Paul wrote with a Christocentric approach to the Old Testament.

In comparison to the Gospels, especially Matthew and John, Hays shows that Paul is much more reticent to cite messianic prooftexts. Rather, writing to local churches who are comprised of the eschatological people of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11), he applies the Old Testament scriptures semi-directly to the church. I say semi-directly, because the old covenant scriptures only apply through the mediation of Jesus Christ, a point Hays goes on to affirm: “christology is the foundation on which [Paul’s] ecclesiocentric counterreadings are constructed” (120).

For Hays, his aim is to observe the hermeneutical principles at work in Paul’s letters. My question is more systematic. What does Paul’s method of interpretation say to us about the relationship between Israel and the Church? Debates rage between Dispensationalists who make a clear division between Israel and the Church and Covenant Theologians who have ostensibly replaced Israel with the Church. Thankfully, these hard divisions have been revised in recent years—Progressive Dispensationalists see more continuity between Israel and the Church (even as they retain a unique place for Israel), and Covenant Theologians like Richard Gaffin and Anthony Hoekema have centered Old Testament promises in Jesus Christ and his new covenant people. Still, the debate continues: how should we relate the testaments? Continue reading

Psalm 89: A Covenantal Problem . . . and Its Resolution

Psalm 89 presents the Bible reader with a covenantal problem. Located at the end of Book 3 (Psalms 73-89), it prepares the way for a new movement of God in Books 4 and 5 (Psalms 90-106 and 107-50). It stresses God’s unilateral promise to David that God will keep his covenant. For instance, read verses 28, 34-37.

My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.

I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever,his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” 

Yet, it also laments that God has renounced the covenant (v. 38-39).

But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.

Hence the problem. Continue reading

‘I Will Give You as a Covenant’ (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8): The Suffering Servant as Covenant Mediator

As I worked on my dissertation, one of the things that struck me was the importance of the covenant mediator for any covenant. Structurally, every covenant needs a mediator; and with regard to effectiveness, every covenant depends on the personal integrity of the covenant mediator (alternately called a federal head). Continue reading

The Wisdom of God is Seen in Intended Obsolescence

If God is the architect of the Old Covenant, and the Bible says that the Old Covenant failed (Hebrews 8), the question may rightly be asked: Did God create something that did not work?  Did the sovereign, omnipotent God make a lemon?  Was the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-13) a repair job?

Hardly!

The relationship of the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, shows the unfathomable riches of God’s wisdom! (Rom 11:33-36).

On this challenging subject of covenantal relations, Barry Joslin gives an inspiring (but not inspired) vision of the way God wisely designed the first covenant with “purposed insufficiency.”  God’s plan did not fail.  It was designed to break down, so that Christ’s better covenant could be installed for eternity.  Professor Joslin explains,

The inadequacy of the first covenant espoused in verse 7 centers on the inabilities of its sacrificial system to deal with sin and in the “rebellious hearts” and “stiff necks” of the people (recall [Hebrews] 3:7-4:13 and the indictment of Ps 95).  The criticism here [Heb 8] comes from God, the speaker.  This is significant given that he was responsible for making the first covenant.  God, the covenant-maker, established a covenant which he knew to be anticipatory and limited in its abilities.  He knew that it would be insufficient and that its sacrificial system would ultimately not be acceptable to him in order to take away sin (9:1-10:18). Therefore one must pause and make the assertion that God had, in this manner, always planned for a [New Covenant] that would be superior to the old, and one that would consist of the blessings both to take away sin as well as to make obedience a hallmark of the NC People.  Thus [Hebrews] 8:7 reinforces the point that the first covenant was not a failure, but was insufficient due to its built-in insufficiencies that anticipated a new arrangement.  Therefore the [Old Covenant] fulfilled its divinely-ordained anticipatory purpose (Barry Joslin, Hebrews, Christ, and the Law: The Theology of the Mosaic Law in Hebrews 7:1-10:18, 183-185).

From before the foundation of the world, God had planned the salvation of his people, and from Genesis 1:1 until the cross of Jesus Christ, God’s history was being worked out according to his sovereign and wise plan.  The intended obsolescence of the Old Covenant is just one feature of God’s perfect wisdom refracted through redemptive history.  It is for this reason that all the redeemed should study the works of God (Ps 111:2), so that they may praise with Paul,

Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has know the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Amazed at the wisdom of God in redemptive history, dss

Israel On Your Mind?

Sitting in Dr. Russell Moore’s Systematic III class and then again in his Eschatology class, I became convinced from the Scriptures that Israel is not just a what, but a who.  And that who is Jesus Christ. 

Today, with Israel in the headlines and  just returning from the “Promised Land” himself, Dr. Moore summarizes his thoughts on the future of Israel.  It is a snapshot of the biblical theology that was presented in those classroom lectures–a biblical theology of God and his people that unifies all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10), the True Israel of God.   Whether you are Dispensational, Covenantal, or agnostic in terms of all things eschatological, it is worth a look.

Anyone thinking through these matters–eschatology, the nature of the church, the future of Israel, and how evangelicals have debated these things over since Scofield–should consider Moore’s arguments.  Reading his book on the subject would be a great place to begin, The Kingdom of Christ.   Similarly, another great chapter on this subject of the identity of Israel is Stephen Wellum’s chapter on the covenants in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in ChristBoth are excellent.

Thankful to be a co-heir with Christ, the True Israel, and I hope that he too is on your mind!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss