Monday, January 30, 2017

Is Paul Departing from Contextual Hermeneutics in Galatians 3:16?

by Michael J. Vlach

Some scholars believe New Testament writers sometimes used the Old Testament in non-contextual or non-literal ways. This belief is often connected with the idea that the New Testament writers change or reinterpret the storyline begun in the Old Testament. Near the top of the list of alleged non-contextual uses of the Old Testament is Galatians 3:16 where Paul states:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

At first glance it seems that Paul’s hermeneutic is off. It appears that he is taking a collective or multiple sense of “seed” in Genesis and turning it into a single reference to Jesus. Most Genesis references to “seed” or “offspring” refer to Abraham’s descendants collectively. But does Paul change or reinterpret the collective meaning in Genesis to an individual reference to Jesus? Is Paul using the Old Testament non-contextually? Using David Daube as support Longenecker says Paul is using “a midrashic mode of interpretation” that goes beyond normal historical-grammatical hermeneutics. (Richard Longenecker, “Can We Produce the Exegesis of the New Testament,” Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970): 37).

What Is Paul Doing?

I don’t believe Paul is quoting the Old Testament in a non-contextual way. Paul’s statement in Galatians is likely a contextual use of Genesis. This is based on two factors.

First the concept of “seed” from its very first usage concerning persons included an individual element alongside a collective sense. This is found in the strategic verse, Genesis 3:15:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (all terms in bold are my emphasis)

Just like the English term “seed” the Hebrew zera ("seed") can be a collective singular or unitary singular. With Genesis 3:15, a collective sense of “seed” is found in the statement “between your seed and her seed.” This predicts an ongoing battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent which involves multiple descendants on both sides. Yet a singular sense is found in “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”

So with Genesis 3:15 the collective sense of “seed” culminates in an individual battle between the ultimate seed of the woman (whom we now know as Jesus) and the power behind the serpent. This appears to be a specific messianic hope stemming from the “seed” concept in Genesis 3:15. A coming specific deliverer from the collective seed of the woman will be the one who defeats the power behind the serpent.

An individual sense of “seed” (zera) is also found in Genesis 4:25:

Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring [zera] in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.”

Of course, there are many collective senses of “seed” in Genesis referring to multiple descendants of Abraham (Gen. 13:15; 15:5; 17:8), but since there is a specific messianic hope stemming from Genesis 3:15, the individual sense is never lost or disconnected from the plural sense.

Thus, for Paul to see Jesus as the ultimate referent of the “seed” concept in Genesis in Galatians 3:16 is not allegorical or typological hermeneutics. A messianic hope was connected with the “seed” concept in Genesis 3:15.

Secondly, Paul may be relying literally on the grammar of the Genesis verse he is referring to. Unanimity is lacking concerning which passage Paul is quoting in Galatians 3:16. Many believe he is referring to either Genesis 13:15, 17:8, or 22:18. Paul’ use of “and” leads Schreiner to believe Genesis 13:15 or 17:8 are in view (Galatians, 230). But in his extensive study of what verse Paul was referring to Collins opts for Genesis 22:18:

Genesis 22:18 seems to be the best candidate for Paul’s source here, because, of the Genesis “blessing” texts that might lie behind the composite quotation of Galatians 3:8, it is the one that has the dative of σπέρμα. This, then, allows us to make sense of Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:16 (C. John Collins, “Galatians 3:16: What Kind of Exegete Was Paul?” Tyndale Bulletin 54.1 (2003) p. 86).

If Paul is quoting Genesis 22:18 he could be relying on a straightforward understanding of this text in Galatians 3:16. As a result of researching all references to zera (“offspring”/“seed”) in the Hebrew Bible, Collins concluded that a unitary single sense of zera (“seed”) concerning one person can be discerned when the term is connected with singular verb inflections, adjectives, and pronouns. This applies to Genesis 3:15. Building upon the work of Collins, T. Desmond Alexander applies this criteria for a singular understanding of zera to Genesis 22:17-18a and 24:60 (T. Desmond Alexander, “Further Observations of the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” Tyndale Bulletin 48/1 (1997): 363).

If this is accurate the last reference to “seed” [zera] in 22:17 and the reference to “seed” in 22:18 should be understood in a singular way.” The ESV translates 22:17 as, “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies.” This is in contrast to other versions that opt for “their enemies.” And if this singular sense is true in 22:17 it is likely that the “offspring” reference in 22:18 (which Paul may be quoting in Galatians 3:16) also refers to a single individual. Alexander explains,

If the immediately preceding reference to ‘seed’ in 22:17 denotes an individual, this must also be the case in 22:18a, for there is nothing here to indicate a change in number. The blessing of ‘all the nations of the earth’ is thus associated with a particular descendant of Abraham, rather than all those descended from him (Alexander, 365).

This unitary individual understanding of “seed” is bolstered by the allusion to Gen 22:17b-18a in Psalm 72:17: “And may all nations be blessed in him.” Psalm 72 is likely a messianic passage that speaks of Messiah’s coming kingdom. It connects the Messiah, an individual, with the fulfillment of the “seed” of Genesis 22:17-18.

What does this all mean? If Paul’s reference to “seed” in Galatians 3:16 is a reference to Genesis 22:18 then Paul is being literal with his understanding. Limiting the seed concept to a singular person (Jesus) is consistent with the literal meaning of Genesis 22:18. Concerning Galatians 3:16 Peter Gentry argues, “So Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:16 that the text speaks of ‘seed’ and not ‘seeds’ appears to be based upon solid exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures” (Kingdom through Covenant, 289).

Not all will agree with this understanding, but it is reasonable to hold that Paul was being contextual and literal with the Hebrews Scriptures in Galatians 3:16. This means the pool of passages that can be used to say that the New Testament writers were being non-contextual with the Old Testament gets even smaller.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Some Final Thoughts on "Shadow" and "Type" Language in the Bible

by Michael J. Vlach

My last few blogs have surveyed “shadow” and “type” terminology in the Bible. They have not been an exhaustive study of shadows and types, nor have they been a broad study of typology. But I have focused on key terms associated with “shadow” and “type” in the Bible to see what conclusions could be drawn from these terms. This current blog brings together some thoughts I have on these terms and how they are used in the Bible.

Most references to “shadow(s)” and “type” in the Bible are not invested with great doctrinal or inter-testamental significance. Concerning “shadow,” three passages are theologically significant—Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:4-5; and Hebrews 10:1. The thrust of these texts is that the Mosaic Covenant and its components were a shadow of the superior New Covenant and Jesus’ better sacrifice and priesthood. The concept of “shadow” is not projected to all Old Testament matters or the details of the covenants of promise (i.e. Abrahamic, Davidic, New), but it does address the temporary Mosaic Covenant directly.

Likewise “type” language in the Bible is applied to three main areas. First and foremost, the tabernacle of Moses’ day was a type, pattern, or model of the tabernacle in heaven. This concept is found in Exodus 25:9, 40; Numbers 8:4-5; Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:4-5; 9:24. It is also applied to Adam and Christ (Rom. 5:14) and Noah’s flood and baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Ironically, the “antitupos” term in Hebrews 9:24 is used of an Old Testament reality when many theologians use the “antitype” word for greater New Testament realities.

Like “shadow,” the various “type” language is used narrowly. The concept of “type” is not projected to all Old Testament matters or details of the covenants of promise. Significantly, “shadow” and “type” language is not used of Israel, Israel’s land, and Jerusalem. It is used in regard to the tabernacle but mostly to show that the tabernacle of Moses’ day was patterned after the tabernacle/temple in heaven. And the Levitical priesthood associated with the Mosaic Covenant was a shadow of Christ’s greater priesthood and the New Covenant. But there is no indication, that this understanding of the tabernacle/temple rules out the presence of literal temples in God’s future purposes (Ezek. 40-48; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 11:1-2).

There are many types in the Bible and issues concerning types that I have not addressed in these blog entries, but a survey of the terms “shadow” and “type” in the Bible do not seem to indicate major changes in understanding the Bible’s storyline or the necessity of a “typological hermeneutic” in addition to historical-grammatical hermeneutics. If typology is going to be established as a legitimate hermeneutical principle it will have to rely on other biblical data.

We should not underdo or overdo the implications of “shadow” and “type” terminology in the Bible. In my estimation, a historical-grammatical hermeneutic will uncover and recognize the reality and significance of legitimate “shadows” and “types” in the Bible, but these terms do not indicate the Old Testament as a whole is primarily inferior types and shadows or that these concepts change the Bible’s storyline begun in the Old Testament. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Some Thoughts on "Type" Terminology in the Bible

By Michael J. Vlach

In previous blogs I surveyed the term and concept of “shadow.” In this blog entry I survey the term “type” to see its significance in Scripture. Like my previous entry on “shadow,” I understand that a concept can exist where a term is absent and that a study of the term “type” does not exhaust the topic of types and typology which involves many factors. But I thought it would be helpful to survey the term “type” in the Bible and see if any theological or doctrinal conclusions can be made about the term.

Two words are particularly significant for this study of “type” language—the Hebrew term tabnith and the Greek word tupos. Tabnith occurs twenty times in the Old Testament and is translated in the New American Study Bible as “copy,” “form,” “image,” “model,” “pattern,” and “plan.”

Theological significance of tabnith is found in Exodus 25:8-9 where the term could be translated as “pattern” or “model”:

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern [tabnith] of the tabernacle and the pattern [tabnith] of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

Exodus also 25:40 declares:

See that you make them after the pattern [tabnith] for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.

The tabernacle was to be constructed according to the “pattern” or “model” of a heavenly tabernacle. This is affirmed in Numbers 8:4: “Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand . . . according to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.”

This heavenly pattern for the earthly tabernacle of Moses’ time is referred to in Acts 7:44 and the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 8:4-5 as he quotes Exodus 25:40:

Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy [tupos] and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”

Thus tabnith and tupos in the above verses have theological significance since they reveal that the tabernacle of Moses’ day was patterned after a heavenly tabernacle. Perhaps this heavenly tabernacle is referenced in Revelation 11:19: And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple.”

In the New Testament the term tupos occurs sixteen times and, depending on context, can refer to “imprint,” “pattern,” “example,” or “model.” In its most basic sense a “type” refers to a mark from a blow. In John 20:25 it refers to the “imprint” of nails in Jesus’ hands. Paul often used the tupos term to emphasize being an example for other Christians (Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7). As a whole the common idea behind tupos is usually correspondence or resemblance.

Most uses of tupos in the New Testament are not loaded with inter-testamental or great doctrinal significance. But in addition to Hebrews 8:5 mentioned above, one example of theological significance for tupos is Romans 5:14:

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type [tupos] of Him [Jesus] who was to come.

Here there is doctrinal significance in that Adam is a “type” of Jesus. In this context (Rom. 5:12-19), both Adam and Jesus operate as federal heads of humanity who by their representative acts impact all of humankind. Adam’s act of disobedience (eating the fruit in Eden) brought condemnation to all, whereas Jesus’ act of righteousness (the cross) brings righteousness to all who believe in Him.

In 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 Paul uses the tupos term to explain that persons in Old Testament times served as “examples” for us Christians. I’m reluctant to draw big theological implications from these verses but they do show that Christians can learn from the examples of Old Testament saints.

With Hebrews 9:24 we find antitupos concerning the earthly tabernacle: 9:24:

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy [antitupos] of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

Often in theological discussions a “type” is seen as the Old Testament thing, but the New Testament counterpart is seen as an “anti-type.” But with Hebrews 9:24, anti-type wording is linked with the Old Testament reality—the earthly tabernacle of Moses’ time. So ironically this rare use of antitupos concerns an Old Testament matter.

The antitupos term is also found in 1 Peter 3:21:

who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding [antitupon] to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Here the flood corresponds to or has a type relationship to baptism. In both cases identifying with God delivers one from judgment.

Most terms connected to “type” do not carry theological significance or indicate a relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Several refer to the earthly tabernacle’s relationship to the tabernacle in heaven. The other clear theological reference to “type” occurs in Romans 5:14 where Adam is viewed as a type of Jesus. Both Adam and Jesus represent mankind and commit acts that impact mankind. With 1 Peter 3:21 the flood of Noah’s Day corresponds to baptism. In sum, the doctrinal sense of “type” refers to the following relationships: (1) earthly tabernacle and heavenly tabernacle; (2) Adam and Christ; and (3) Noah’s flood and Christian baptism.

What are some theological conclusions we can draw from “type” wording in the Bible? First there are God-intended theological correspondences as evidenced by the three examples above. Second, the term “type,” does not appear to be linked with broad and sweeping conclusions that the Old Testament as a whole is a type of New Testament realities. Perhaps other evidence will indicate this (which I don’t think is the case), but there is not enough evidence from “type” terminology to conclude this.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Some Thoughts on How “Shadow” Relates to Old and New Testament Realities

By Michael J. Vlach

With this entry I address the term and concept of “shadow” concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Often times the concept of “shadow” is used to make sweeping statements concerning how Old Testament realities relate to New Testament ones. But here I will argue that Christians should be careful in how they use the “shadow” concept.

Some Thoughts on “Shadow” in the Bible

A shadow is a dark image or shape that occurs when an object interrupts rays of light. The term “shadow” is found 47 times in the New American Standard Bible. Forty occur in the Old Testament and seven in the New Testament.

The Hebrew term often translated “shadow” is tsel. Tsel is closely connected with the ideas of “shelter,” “protection,” and “shade.” The term is used both literally and figuratively. A literal shadow is referred to three times in 2 Kings 20:10-11. A shadow from a plant protected Jonah from the sun (Jonah 4:5-6). Isaiah 38:8 refers to a “shadow” on a stairway (Isaiah 38:8).

The concept of “shadow” is often used figuratively concerning something transitory. A figurative and transitory use of “shadow” occurs in 1 Chronicles 29:15: “our days on the earth are like a shadow.” Kings and powerful people could operate like a shadow for others (Songs 2:3; Lam. 4:20; Ezek 31:6). Human life is brief like a shadow (Job 8:9; 14:2; Ps. 102:11).

Of the forty uses of “shadow” in the Old Testament none are used concerning matters like Israel, Israel’s land, the temple, or Jerusalem. Nor is the shadow concept used to indicate that these realities were short-lived or transitory. Not even in the latter prophets do we find the “shadow” idea being predicted for matter such as Israel, land, temple, Jerusalem, etc. Perhaps other factors will make this point (which I do not believe), but “shadow” is not used in the Old Testament concerning these realities. And there is no hint these concepts were transitory like a shadow. The term tsel (“shadow”), while often picturing ideas of protection, shelter, and shade, is not used in the theological sense of a person, place, thing, or institution being a transitory and giving way to something greater in the future.

But is the idea of transition from lesser to greater realities found in the New Testament concept of “shadow”?

In the New Testament the term for shadow—skia—is found seven times. Four appear in the non-theological sense similar to that in the Old Testament (Matt. 4:16; Luke 1:79; Acts 5:15; James 1:17).

There are three uses of “shadow” (skia) that carry specific theological relevance concerning something in the Old Testament being a temporary shadow of something greater in the New Testament. These three are Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:4-5; and Hebrews 10:1.

Colossians 2:16-17 states:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ (emphasis mine).
Here Paul indicates that food laws and the festal calendar associated with the Mosaic Law are explicitly linked with the “shadow” concept. Two points are important here. First, forced compliance with the food laws and calendar of the Mosaic Law was not to occur. Second, the matters associated with the Mosaic Law pointed toward Christ who is the “substance” of these matters. Jesus fully embodied what these other realities pointed to. Thus, it is accurate to say that realities of the Mosaic Law functioned as shadows that pointed to a greater reality in Christ who embodied what these matters were pointing to.

Hebrews 8:4-5 contains the next use of “shadow” with theological significance:

 Now if He [Jesus] were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain (emphasis is mine). 

This verse highlights the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood over the Levitical priesthood associated with the Mosaic Covenant. So again, a Mosaic Covenant reality—the Levitical Priesthood—is said to be a shadow.

Then, Hebrews 10:1 states:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.

Here the Mosaic Law is said to be a “shadow” of coming good things. In the context of Hebrews 8-10 the Mosaic Law with its sacrifices and priesthood were inferior shadows of Jesus’ priesthood and New Covenant.

Significance of “Shadow”

These three passages—Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:4-5; and Hebrews 10:1 all have one thing in common. The concept of “shadow” concerns the Mosaic Law and its components. The Mosaic Law with its food laws, festal calendar, sacrifices, and priesthood are shadows that give way to greater realities of the New Covenant and Jesus’ superior priesthood and sacrifice.

So of the 47 uses of “shadow” in the Bible, three are invested with the theological idea of something in the Old Testament pointing to greater New Testament realities. In each of these the shift is from Mosaic Covenant to New Covenant.

Significantly, this idea of a transition from Mosaic Covenant to New Covenant was explicitly taught in Jeremiah 31:31-34, a passage the writer of Hebrews quotes in Hebrews 8:8-12. So the New Testament informs us this transition has occurred, but the Old Testament itself predicted the Mosaic Covenant would give way to the New Covenant.

So what theological implications are there for the “shadow” term and concept? In my estimation, it is correct to infer that the Mosaic Law functioned as a transitory shadow of the New Covenant. This includes the Mosaic Law as a whole and the components of the Mosaic Law. What is not appropriate, though, is using the “shadow” term or concept in a broad and sweeping manner that treats the majority of the Old Testament as shadows. In other words one can be too broad in applying the “shadow” idea.

The Mosaic Covenant is of a different nature than the covenants of promise—Abrahamic, Davidic, New. While containing conditional elements these covenants are eternal and unconditional covenants and are different in nature from the temporary and conditional nature of the Mosaic Covenant. Thus, matters such as Israel, Israel’s land, the temple, and Jerusalem, which are also related to the covenants of promise, cannot be swept under the rug of “shadow.” This is important since theologians and commentators sometimes try to treat these matters as inferior shadows that have no relevance in the New Testament era.  

In sum, precision should be used with the “shadow” term and idea. Mosaic Covenant matters were shadows but that does not mean everything in the Old Testament is a shadow. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Are the Most Important Differences between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology?

By Michael J. Vlach

For the past two centuries Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology have operated as theological rivals within Evangelicalism. Both have rich traditions and excellent theologians and defenders Much has been written about these two theological systems and for the most part the debates have been friendly. But what are the real issues that separate Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology?

Below is my perspective on the key differences between these camps. The issues involving these systems are many and complex and I cannot cover a lot of important areas, but below is a thumbnail summary of what I think are the most fundamental differences between these two systems of theology.

But first I offer some comments on what are not key differences. Significantly, the gospel is not a dividing issue between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Both sides affirm that salvation can only be found in Jesus Christ alone through faith alone. This agreement on the gospel should be celebrated. Whatever differences exist between these systems the gospel is not one of them. Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians are brothers in Christ.

Next, the issue of “dispensations” in my opinion is not a fundamental point of difference. This might surprise some since Dispensationalism is closely connected to the idea of dispensations. But Covenantalists and Dispensationalists both affirm that God has worked in different times and in different ways throughout history (although salvation has always been by grace through faith). Dispensationalists have often spent more energy on the issue of dispensations but this is not the most important factor in my estimation. The two camps may differ on the criteria of a dispensation or how many there are, but belief in dispensations is not the most crucial issue.

Also, the covenants of Covenant Theology are not what’s most important. Traditionally, three covenants have been affirmed in Covenant Theology—(1) Covenant of Redemption; (2) Covenant of Works; and (3) Covenant of Grace. Yet Covenantalists themselves have not agreed on these covenants, some rejecting one or two of these. Plus, they have not always agreed on what these covenants should be called. Also, some Dispensationalists have affirmed one or all three of these covenants while remaining dispensationalists. So I don’t believe the covenants of Covenant Theology are the main issues separating the two systems.

So if dispensations and the covenants of Covenant Theology are not at the heart of the differences between the two camps, what are the main differences? The answer, in my opinion, comes down to two matters—hermeneutics and storyline.

Hermeneutics deals with principles for Bible interpretation. Dispensationalists affirm a consistent historical-grammatical or literal hermeneutic applied to all areas of Scripture, including eschatology (end times) and Old Testament passages related to national Israel. This approach includes a literal understanding of passages concerning Israel’s land, the temple, Jerusalem, etc. Dispensationalism affirms that all details of the Old Testament prophecies, promises, and covenants must be fulfilled in the way the original inspired Bible authors intended. There are no non-literal or spiritual fulfillments of physical and national promises in the Bible. Nor does the New Testament reinterpret, transcend, transform, or spiritualize promises and prophecies in the Old Testament. With Dispensationalism, what you see is what you get in the Bible. There is no underlying typological trajectory or canonical progression that erases or transcends the Bible’s storyline or the significance of the details of the covenants and promises in the Bible. Historical-grammatical hermeneutics will discover types in the Bible, but the concept of typological interpretation that overrides the plain meaning of Bible texts is not accepted in Dispensationalism.

While areas like the Mosaic Law are shadows of greater New Covenant realities (see Heb. 10:1), Dispensationalists do not believe that everything in the Old Testament is a shadow. Matters associated with the covenants of promise including Israel, Israel’s land, the temple, Jerusalem, nations, restoration of creation, etc. are not shadows. Promises concerning these matters must be fulfilled as predicted. All of this occurs because of Jesus the Messiah who brings all God’s promises to fulfillment (2 Cor. 1:20).

Dispensationalists hold to “passage priority” in which the primary meaning of a passage is found in the passage at hand and not in other passages. Dispensationalists do not believe in the priority of one testament over the other (although the New is more complete), they just ask that the integrity of each passage in each testament be honored without overriding its meaning with other passages. The New Testament will offer newer revelation but it will not contradict or override the meaning of previous passages in the Old Testament. Dispensationalists, therefore, believe all Scripture harmonizes with other Scripture, but no Bible passage transforms, transcends, or reinterprets any other Scripture passage.

Covenantalists also affirm a historical-grammatical hermeneutic to many areas of Scripture, but they believe that typological and even spiritual hermeneutics need to be applied to some areas of scripture—particularly passages involving physical and national promises to national Israel in the Old Testament. These are often viewed as shadows that are transcended by greater New Testament realities (i.e. Jesus and the church).

The covenantal hermeneutic is closely linked to the concept of “New Testament priority” in which the New Testament is viewed as the lens for interpreting and even reinterpreting the Old Testament. This fits with the idea that the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament is that of shadow to reality. Thus, physical and national promises in the Old Testament often are seen as shadows and types that are fulfilled in Jesus and the church. This approach can involve spiritualizing the Old Testament. As Kim Riddlebarger stated, “If the New Testament writers spiritualize Old Testament prophecies by applying them in a nonliteral sense, then the Old Testament passage must be seen in light of that New Testament interpretation, not vice versa.” (Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 37). Allegedly, once the concepts of “Israel” and “temple” find fulfillment in Jesus, one need not expect a literal fulfillment of these matters in the future.

In a nutshell, many of the differences between the two camps concern how literal we should be with physical and national promises and covenants in the Old Testament. Dispensationalists view these as realities that need to be fulfilled if they have not been already. Covenantalists often view these as shadows and types that are fulfilled in Jesus with no literal fulfillment of these matters being necessary.

In addition to hermeneutics, the other major difference between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology concerns the Bible’s storyline. The debates usually involve important matters such as the nature of Old Testament promises and covenants, the identity and role of Israel in God’s purposes, the identity and role of the church, and what was fulfilled with Jesus’ first coming and what remains to be fulfilled with Jesus’ second coming.

But when it comes down to it I think the two major storyline differences concern: (1) the nation Israel’s role in God’s purposes, and (2) whether there will be a mediatorial kingdom phase to God’s kingdom program on earth after this present age but before the Eternal State.

When it comes to Israel, Covenantalism perceives Jesus as the true Israel and that Old Testament promises to national Israel in the Old Testament are shadows that find fulfillment in Him. And when all believers, including Gentiles, become united with Christ, they join “Israel” as well. This means the concept of “Israel” expands to include Gentiles. Thus, the church in Jesus is the new/true Israel and the culmination of God’s plans for His people. There is no need for a restoration of national Israel since Jesus is “true Israel” and the church in Jesus is now Israel. Also, while acknowledging a “not yet” aspect to Jesus’ reign, Covenantalists tend to heavily emphasize first coming fulfillment of Old Testament promises and covenants. For most Covenantalists Jesus’ Davidic/Millennial reign and the reign of the saints is occurring from heaven now. So we are currently in Jesus’ messianic kingdom. Also, covenant promises from the Old Testament are mostly being fulfilled now. Thus, there is no need of a future earthly reign of Jesus since this age is the era of fulfillment and Jesus’ reign.

Dispensationalism, on the other hand, celebrates Jesus’ identity and role as the true Israelite, but this truth does not mean the non-significance of the nation Israel. God’s plans for Israel involve a role of service for the nation and the “true Israelite”—Jesus the Messiah. Jesus’ identity as the true Israelite means the restoration of the nation Israel as Isaiah 49:3-6 teaches. It has always been God’s plan for the nation Israel to fulfill a mission of service and leadership to the nations (Gen. 12:2-3; Deut. 4:5-6). Israel failed this mission in the Old Testament but under Jesus the Messiah, Israel will fulfill its destiny of leadership and service to the nations in a coming messianic kingdom over the nations (Isa. 2:2-4). Since nations exist in the coming messianic/millennial kingdom, there should be no surprise that Israel as a nation would have a role to the nations during this period—under Jesus the Messiah. Since national Israel is still significant, it is not the case that the church is the new Israel that supersedes or replaces national Israel in God’s purposes. The church is the instrument for gospel and kingdom proclamation in this age, but Israel will still have a role to the nations when Jesus returns. The church of this age will also participate in Jesus’ rule over the nations (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21).

Unlike Covenantalists, Dispensationalists do not believe the concept of “Israel” expands to include Gentiles. Instead, the concept of the “people of God” expands to include believing Gentiles alongside believing Israelites. It is not God’s plan for all believers to become Israel, but for there to be diversity in the people of God as the people of God idea includes both Israelites and Gentiles without them losing their ethnic identities. Even in the Eternal State the people of God are referred to as “the nations” (Rev. 21:24, 26).

Also important to the Bible’s storyline, according to Dispensationalism, is the necessity of a coming earthly kingdom in which the Last Adam and Messiah will rule the earth successfully for the glory of God. A successful kingdom rule over the earth must occur. God tasked Adam and mankind to rule the earth successfully on His behalf in Genesis 1:26-28, but this kingdom mandate remains unfulfilled as of now, something the writer of Hebrews affirms in Hebrews 2:5-8. Thus, there must be a coming earthly kingdom of Jesus because there must be a successful reign of the Last Adam (Jesus) in the realm where the first Adam failed. Since this reign involves nations, the Messiah will use Israel as an instrument for His kingdom rule during this time. Thus a coming earthly kingdom reign of Jesus over the nations with Israel as an instrument of His rule is essential to the dispensational understanding of the Bible’s storyline.

Much more could be said on other important differences between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology but the points mentioned above are at the heart of the differences. Dispensationalists and Covenantalists disagree on hermeneutics and the Bible’s storyline particularly relating to Israel’s role in God’s purposes and the necessity of a coming earthly kingdom of the Messiah.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Addressing the Misuse of Hebrews 10:1: Why Not Everything in the Old Testament Is a Shadow

By Michael J. Vlach

Theologians often disagree about the fulfillment of Old Testament (OT) promises concerning national Israel, the temple, Jerusalem, and Israel’s land. Dispensationalists affirm that unconditional promises concerning these matters must be fulfilled literally, and they believe the second coming and kingdom of Jesus will bring these areas to fulfillment. Nondispensationalists often believe these things were shadows and types of greater New Testament (NT) realities involving Jesus and the church (and some would say the new earth). Allegedly, once Jesus and the church arrived no need exists to expect literal fulfillment of issues concerning national Israel, the land, the temple, Jerusalem, etc. The details of these are “fulfilled” or absorbed into Christ.

My purpose here is not to fully discuss this issue of what is a shadow and what is not, but to argue that Hebrews 10:1 is not evidence against the idea of literal fulfillment of OT expectations. Hebrews 10:1 states:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow [skia] of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near (emphasis mine).

Some believe Hebrews 10:1 indicates many OT realities are inferior shadows that were transcended by Jesus. For example, I recently listened to a sermon from a theologian on Zechariah 1. He came across verse 16 and the statement, “Therefore thus says the Lord, ‘I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem.”’ This verse and the context of Zechariah chapters 1-6 seem to indicate that the Lord will return to the city of Jerusalem to build a temple and restore the city of Jerusalem. But as this theologian read this verse he then told his audience that they needed to understand the difference between “shadow” and “reality” and then proceeded to have his audience turn to Hebrews 10:1 to show that what Zechariah 1:16 discusses is a “shadow” of what is coming in the NT era.

Thus, this theologian abandoned explaining Zechariah 1 in its own context to appeal to Hebrews 10:1 to give a canonical interpretation of Zechariah 1:16. Allegedly, the prediction of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem should not be taken literally because the temple was a shadow of Jesus and there is no need for a literal temple in the future—all of this because of Hebrews 10:1.

On other occasions I have read theologians use Hebrews 10:1 as a proof text to show that the OT as a whole is primarily shadows and types, and one should not expect a literal fulfillment of matters concerning Israel, Israel’s land, the temple, and Jerusalem. The canonical reading of Hebrews 10:1 supposedly overrides the literal meaning of Old Testament passages in their original context.

But I submit that Hebrews 10:1 does not imply that the OT as a whole is composed of shadows that give way to greater New Testament realities. Why?

The context of Hebrews 10:1 (and Hebrews 8-10 as a whole) is the relationship of the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. Specifically, the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus and His New Covenant are better than that of the Mosaic Covenant. That’s the main point! The writer of Hebrews is not claiming that everything in the OT is an inferior shadow. Nor is he saying that all things in the OT are inferior shadows. What is a shadow is the Mosaic Law and its sacrifices.

The Mosaic Covenant with its law was a temporary and conditional covenant that Israel broke. Jeremiah 31:31-34 predicted that the Mosaic Covenant would one day give way to the superior New Covenant where God enables His people to obey Him. This is reaffirmed in Hebrews 8:8-13 where the New Covenant is said to make the Mosaic Covenant “obsolete” and “ready to disappear” (Heb. 8:13). So even the OT predicted that the Mosaic Covenant would be replaced by the New Covenant.

The pressing question is this: How can a statement that the Mosaic Law is a shadow of the New Covenant be taken to mean that all matters concerning Israel, Israel’s land, the temple, Jerusalem, etc. are shadows that should not be taken literally? 

The short answer is that it does not. Some are inferring things from Hebrews 10:1 that the writer of Hebrews was not intending.

The realities of Israel, the land, temple, Jerusalem, etc., transcend the Mosaic Covenant and are included in promises related to the Abrahamic Covenant, Davidic Covenant, and New Covenant—the covenants of promise.

For instance, Israel and Israel’s land are addressed in the Abrahamic Covenant which predates the Mosaic Covenant by several centuries (Gen. 12, 15, 22). Israel, the land, the temple, and Jerusalem are all addressed in the Davidic Covenant passage of 2 Samuel 7. The temple and Jerusalem are addressed in New Covenant passages. For example, Zechariah 6:9-15 says the coming Messiah will build a temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 36–40 links a coming temple in Jerusalem with New Covenant realities. Thus, a statement that the Mosaic Law is a “shadow” cannot be taken to mean that matters related to the covenants of promise are also inferior shadows. These matters transcend the temporary Mosaic Law.

In sum, a statement of the shadow nature of the Mosaic Law in Hebrews 10:1 should not be taken to mean most everything in the OT is a shadow. This approach sweeps too much under the rug of “shadow.”

This blog does not address all the issues concerning the relationship of the OT and the NT and there are many other passages that are relevant to this issue. But I do not accept the idea that Hebrews 10:1 implies that matters such as Israel, Israel’s land, the temple, Jerusalem, etc. are shadows with no future significance. The writer of Hebrews simply claims that the Mosaic Law and its sacrifices were a shadow of the greater New Covenant that Jesus brings.