Bible Scholar Dan Lioy Expounds Ideas of “Progressive Covenantalism” in Response

Posted: December 23, 2007 by Rick Hogaboam in Covenant Theology
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Dr. Dan Lioy was gracious enough to expound his understanding of the Old and New Covenants. To see the initial  post my myself, click: https://endued.wordpress.com/2007/12/21/book-review-part-3-of-dan-lioys-jesus-as-torah-in-john-1-12-chp-3-jesus-as-torah-in-john-1/

Rick,

I also wanted to respond to your comments regarding the new covenant, especially its relationship to the people of God today. My journal article titled “Progressive Covenantalism as an Integrating Motif of Scripture” deals with this and other interrelated issues. It was published in the March 2006 issue of Conspectus, the e-journal of SATS. Here’s the link: http://www.theological-research.org/conspectus.php

The abstract for the essay says the following:

>>>Progressive covenantalism is a new working model for comprehending the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. The goal is to articulate a consistent understanding of how to put together seemingly heterogeneous portions of Scripture. This integrating motif asserts that God’s progressive revelation of His covenants is an extension of the kingdom blessings He first introduced in creation. Affiliated claims are that the various covenants revealed in Scripture are interrelated and build on one another, that the people of God throughout the history of salvation are united, and that they equally share in His eschatological promises.<<>>Concerning Jeremiah 31:31-34, this arguably would have been the high point of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. By saying that a day will come, Jeremiah also indicated that the new covenant will be part of the future messianic age (v. 31; Feinberg 1976:6:574-575). More than a century before (722 BC), the Assyrians had defeated and removed the residents of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:5-6); however, even though the northern kingdom no longer existed, Israel would be included along with Judah in the new covenant (Jer 31:31). This indicates that it was to be for all God’s people. Indeed, “Israel” (v. 33) refers to the entire nation, which was divided into the house of Israel and Judah; also, the phrase “after that time” refers to the Jews’ return from exile and their repopulation of the promised land.

As Thompson (1980:580) points out, the covenant the Lord inaugurated between Himself and the Israelites at Mount Sinai forms the backdrop to Jeremiah’s announcement (Exod 19:1-24:11; cf. Keown, Scalise, and Smothers 1995:133). The limitations associated with the old covenant underscored the reason for the new covenant. In the former, which God originally made with the ancestors of the Jews, He took them by the hand (in a manner of speaking) and led them out of the land of Egypt (v. 32). Even though the Lord was like a faithful and devoted husband to Israel, the people continually broke the Mosaic covenant. The new covenant would have to address the problem inherent in the old one. In particular, it would have to compensate for the inability of the people to perform up to God’s standards.

It was never God’s intent that the Mosaic law be used as a means to obtain salvation; instead, forgiveness of sins has always been the Lord’s gracious gift to those who have humbled themselves before Him in faith (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3). The law was God’s way of pointing out the pathway that believers should walk (Rom 7:7; Gal 3:19, 24; for a detailed discussion of the biblical concept of the law, cf. Lioy 2004:13-34). Thus, the problem with the covenant at Mount Sinai was not in God’s provision, but in Israel’s response. Only the Lord could change the hearts and minds of His people; thus, a new covenant was needed.

In Jeremiah 31:33, the Lord pledged to do three things in the new covenant. First, He would put His law within His people; it would become a part of their innermost being. Second, God would write the law on their hearts; expressed differently, His will and Word would affect their thoughts, emotions, and decisions. Third, the Lord would be the God of the Jews, and they would be His chosen people. Jeremiah was echoing several Old Testament promises (cf. Gen 17:7; Exod 6:7; Lev 26:12). Nonetheless, the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah opened a new avenue for human beings to relate to their heavenly Father. Because of the salvation provided by the Redeemer, all believers can enter into God’s presence. Here is seen the essential difference between the old and new covenants. The new one would be primarily internal, while the old one was principally external. The new covenant represented a relationship, while the old covenant was more of a legal document. The old was written on tablets of stone, while the new would be written on human hearts (cf. 2 Cor 3:3). Once the law of God could be implanted within people’s hearts, their relationship with the Lord could be permanent (cf. Malone 1989:211-213).

Such distinctions, however, should not be overstated (Barker 1982:6), for there remains a fundamental unity between the old and new covenants. Indeed, embedded within the concept of covenant is “continuity in the divine purpose in history” (Campbell 1993:182). This observation implies that the new covenant is “not new in essence, but new in fulfillment” (Thompson 1979:1:792; cf. Dumbrell 1984:175, 184-185, 199-200). In Romans 11:11-24, Paul revealed that the Lord has grafted Gentiles into the people of God (that is, the stem of Abraham), like wild olive shoots into the main trunk of an olive plant. Similarly, the new covenant is “part of the same tree” as the old covenant, not “an altogether new stock” (McKenzie 2000:107; cf. Shelton 2005:49).

McKenzie (2000:59) explained that both the old and new covenants involve the same parties, namely, the Lord and His people. In the time of Jeremiah, the latter would have been “the descendants of the exodus generation, who were the recipients of the original covenant.” Furthermore, both covenants have God’s moral code as their ethical foundation, with the Mosaic law being the chief historical expression of it. As Barker (1982:6) noted, the Old and New Testaments alike “speak with a united voice on the importance—indeed, the necessity—of adhering to the spirit of the law.” Moreover, the new covenant, like its predecessor, is rooted deeply in the sacred traditions, writings, and communal life of ancient Israel (McKenzie 2000:89; cf. Kaiser 1978:233-234). . . .

Hebrews 8 provides additional commentary on the interrelationship between the old and new covenants. An examination of this passage indicates that God’s progressive revelation of His covenants is the integrating motif (or the determining, controlling concept) between the testaments. Verses 1-5 reveal that because Jesus’ ministry is heavenly and unlimited, it is superior to that of the Levitical priests. The Saviour, as the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5), has inaugurated a new and better covenant than the old one based on the Mosaic law. The new covenant is better, precisely because it is “established on better promises” (Heb 8:6). As deSilva (2001:24) noted, “Jesus is the focal point, the lens through which the light of God’s favor and promises come into focus and shine out to humanity.”

The writer of Hebrews argued that if the first covenant had sufficiently met the needs of people and had adequately provided for their salvation, then there would have been no need for a new covenant to replace it (v. 7). But the old covenant was insufficient and inadequate in bringing people to God, and therefore a new covenant had to be established. The nexus of the shortfall was not the covenant in and of itself, but those living under it. God had found fault with the Israelites, primarily because they did not continue in that covenant (v. 8). While God initiated the old covenant with His people, they also willingly agreed to it (cf. Josh 24). Thus, the covenant was a mutual obligation between God and the people. Nonetheless, the people often failed to live up to their part of the obligation (cf. Neh 9; Dan 9:1-19). As a result, human failure rendered the old covenant inoperative (cf. Rom 7:7-25). The establishment of a new covenant naturally implies that the old covenant is obsolete, needs to be replaced, and will eventually disappear from the scene altogether (Heb 8:13).

In would be incorrect to conclude from the preceding remarks that the writer of Hebrews disparaged or maligned the old covenant. After all, as Newman (1997:248-249) points out, the contrast is not between an evil system (namely, the old covenant) and a good system (namely, the new covenant), but between what is good and what is better. This train of thought, which was common among the Jewish people in the first century A.D., is an “argument from the lesser to the greater.” It is comparable to the rationale offered by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 on the subject of the greater glory of the new covenant compared to the old covenant. In the case of the Mosaic covenant, it was provisional in nature. With the advent of the Messiah, “a new day in salvation history has dawned” (cf. Jocz 1968:243-245; Malone 1989:211).<<<

Dan Lioy

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