A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

In greater evangelical Christianity there are two major systems of theology: Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Although there is a common thread between the systems (i.e., the glory of God), there is a major difference in how the glory of God is ultimately displayed. For the Covenant theological system, the glory of God is primarily redemptive. This redemptive plan according to Covenant theology is observed by God establishing two (or possibly three) covenants with mankind: The covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. In Dispensationalism, there are three qualities that govern the system: the doxological purpose of God (which this author would argue governs the two other  qualities), consistently observing the words of Scripture in their plain and normal sense (i.e., the consistent normal historical-grammatical reading), and the distinction between Israel and the Church (in plan and purpose). From a dispensational view, the glory of God in all of His works is the focus and not only the salvation of mankind. 

One of the common criticism from those who adhere to Covenant theology is dispensational thinkers have an Israel-centered hermeneutic rather than Christocentric hermeneutic, as one such website notes

The very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement.

The Hidelblog.com. Covenant theology is not replacement theology. Retrieved from: https://heidelblog.net/2013/08/covenant-theology-is-not-replacement-theology/

Even though the word “replacement” has not been used in the past, this particular use of the word has not been without reason. There have been theologians throughout history that have stated that Israel as a nation, in comparison with the church, is now irrelevant. Justin Martyr (130-202 A.D.) in Dialogue with Trypho wrote:

Then is it Jacob the patriarch in whom the Gentiles and yourselves shall trust? or is it not Christ? As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race.

Justin Marytr. Dialogue with trypho. Retrived from https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.cxxxv.html.

Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), another early theologian in his work An Answer to The Jews made a similar comment about Israel, using the historical narrative of Jacob and Esau he commented:

Accordingly, since the people or nation of the Jews is anterior in time, and greater through the grace of primary favour in the Law, whereas ours is understood to be less in the age of times, as having in the last era of the world attained the knowledge of divine mercy: beyond doubt, through the edict of the divine utterance, the prior and greater people — that is, the Jewish — must necessarily serve the less; and the less people — that is, the Christian— overcome the greater.

Tertullian. New Advent. An answer to the Jews.  Retreived from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0308.htm

Those who subscribe to Covenant theology connect their hermeneutic back to the early church fathers (e.g., Justin Martyr, Tertullian, etc.), as one author noted:

In the history of theology, the elements of what we know as covenant theology; the covenant of redemption before time between the persons of the Trinity, the covenant of works with Adam, and the covenant of grace after the fall; have existed since the early church…Indeed, Reformed readers who turn to the early church fathers (c. 100–500 AD) might be surprised to see how frequently they used language and thought patterns that we find very familiar.

Clark., S (2006). The history of covenant theology. Retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/history-covenant-theology/

However, when a person observes Scripture in its plain meaning there are promises that are explicitly given to national Israel. For example, God promised Abraham’s descendants physical land that stretches from Egypt to the River Euphrates (as far as Egypt to what is now modern day Iraq) (Gen. 15:18). 

future-map5
The future borders of Israel outlined in Gen. 15:18. Retrieved from http://www.ahavat-israel.com/eretz/future.

In addition, God promised David a physical King that would come from his line and rule Israel on his throne to usher in an everlasting righteousness (2 Sam. 7:8-14). Furthermore, the promise of the new covenant is given specifically “to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Ezek. 31:31). The future promises that are given to national Israel are associated with the consistency of creation itself described by the prophet Jeremiah!

Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease. From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the Lord

Jer. 31:35-37 NASB

How would a Covenant theologian explain the land promise found in Genesis 16:18? John Calvin in his works does not even comment on how much land Abraham’s descendants would receive but he comments the covenant in this specific text is essentially a shadow of the sacraments of the church. John Gill, another prominent theologian mentioned in his commentary that the River Euphrates was the boundary line during the rule of King David. However, there has never been a time in history where Abraham, nor Abraham’s descendants have received land by the Nile River in Egypt. The Covenant theologian, based upon a predominant “ecclesiastical” hermeneutic at the most replaces the promises given to Israel to the church, or at the least supersedes the promises of God that are given to Israel to the church.

By contrast, the dispensational view, consistently observing Israel in the plain normal sense, would recognize that these things mentioned above (land, king, and spiritual renewal) are given directly to this nation whom God has promised these things to. If God fails to give these things to those whom He has addressed, or if He exclusively transfers these promises to another group of people in effect this would diminish His very glory.  In short, the method a person uses to read the Bible (i.e., hermeneutic) is how one is going to explain the Scriptures.

The critique that dispensational thought employs an Israelological grid to explain the Scriptures is false. The system of dispensationalism has at its very core a doxological focus. It must be noted that Israel does figure prominently in the Old Testament and even the New Testament Scriptures. However, this is due to the promises God gave to them as a nation, and these promises are directly associated with His glory. 

There is no denying God’s redemptive work for mankind. Both Covenant and Dispensational systems acknowledge this. Both systems also recognize the glory of God as the ultimate end. How God’s glory is understood in relation to human history is determined on the method that is employed by each system. For the Covenant theologian due to the hermeneutic they use they observe the glory of God primarily in the salvific act of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. For the dispensationalist, the glory of God is observed in all His works, and this includes not only the salvation of those who are part of the church but God fulfilling the future promises to the people who will receive them, which is Israel.

Yet there are those who subscribe to Covenant theology that believe dispensationalists juxtapose Israel and the church. In the next article, this author will demonstrate from the Book of Ephesians that this is not the case.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

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Special Blog: The Overlooked Reality of Transgender Identity

Special Blog: The Overlooked Reality of Transgender Identity

The Miss Universe Pageant was held this past Sunday evening. The location of the pageant was held in Bankok Thailand and there were a total of 47 contestants that participated in this year’s event from all over the world. One of the pageant runners was a person who goes by name of Angela Ponce, who was a contestant from the country of Spain. Angela Ponce was not the actual winner of the of the 2018 Miss Universe pageant (this honor went to the contestant Catriona Gray from the Philippines). However, Angela Ponce is receiving massive media attention due to the reality Angela was the first transgender contestant in the Miss Universe Pageant. Ponce, who was crowned Miss Spain in June 2018, mentioned the desire for the world to progress further as it relates to transgender identity when Angela commented to the Associated Press after the contest

“If my going through all this contributes to the world moving a little step forward, then that’s a personal crown that will always accompany me,”

Fitzpatrick. H. (2018). Angela Ponce makes history as 1st transgender Miss Universe contestant. Retreived from https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Culture/angela-ponce-makes-history-1st-transgender-miss-universe/story?id=59859591

Angela Ponce’s attention and influence in regarding transgender identity and influence in women’s competitions has not been an isolated case. This year there was an event where a transgender wrestler in the state of Texas won a female wrestling competition. The previous year a transgender male won the girls state wrestling championship (it should be noted that she wanted to compete against the boys, but the competition would not allow her to do so because of her sex), and just last week a person by the name of Patricio Manuel became the first transgender male to win a professional match in boxing

How is transgender identity (or transgenderism) defined?  Transgender identity carries with it the idea that cultural norms and traditions have defined what one is to be when a person is conceived (i.e., a boy or a girl) in society. Transgender identity does not seek to be defined by these cultural and societal traditions as noted in this description below:

[Transgender is] an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Transgender. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions. Retreived from https://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-terminology-and-definitions

There may be those who are convinced due to these recent trends that the world is progressing forward. Some believe that this may be a healthy expression of psychological and sociological development. Many believe this trend actually promotes equality. However there is one fact that transgender identity fails to observe: That in attempting to promote equality, it actually undermines it. 

Take for example the Miss America Pageant. The reality is a man, who took hormone treatments that altered him into (somewhat) a woman who participated has now received worldwide attention and accolades in contrast to the winner, who by nature is a woman. Another example is the young woman who took testosterone treatments because she identified as he. As a result of this she was able to overpower the competition and as a result, the woman, who by nature was a female, lost the match. 

What about the woman who identified as a man and won the boxing match? There are two things to note here in this story: This also undermines females because the woman, who believed she identified as a man had to be modified as a man to defeat a man the boxing ring. This underscores the overall physical differences between men and women. In fact, Patricio Manuel’s coach commented after the match below

“This is bigger than boxing,” Gomez said. “It’s for all sports. The story is, I don’t care who you are, what country you come from, what nationality. It doesn’t really matter. If you’re good enough to compete, you’ll be able to compete. All you need is a chance. I’m just happy to be a part of it”

John. A (2018). First transgender male boxer wins in professional debut. Retreived from: https://www.stargazette.com/story/sports/boxing/2018/12/09/first-transgender-male-boxer-pro-debut/2256858002/

This is the irony and the sad reality found in this above statement. It really is not about if a person is “good enough” to compete. Patricio Manuel did not feel that she was good enough to compete unless she modified herself to become a man and compete like a man. She had to deny who she actually was in order to become what she felt she was. No matter the amount of hormones Patricio Manuel, or Angela Ponce injects into them this does not alter the chromosomes, which has determined their sexual orientation. No matter what, in these particular scenarios, and many others, when it comes to transgender identity, equality for women (and men) always loses, because who a person is by nature is eclipsed by how one feels.  

However, the biblical worldview promotes true equality between both sexes. True equality comes from the reality that we are created by God, and are made in His image (Gen. 1:27-28). The Scriptures also mentioned the uniqueness of women as the woman was personally fashioned (or built) by God in creation (Gen. 2:22). According to these truths, there are some points that should be underscored when observing the Biblical worldview concerning the sexual orientation of men and women: That God, not man, by these genetic and biological means determines the sex of an individual (c.f., Job. 10:8-11; Ps. 139:13-16). This is irrespective of how one may feel about their sexual identity. In addition, the physical bodies men and women naturally have magnified and made much of God displaying His power and divine nature because He has given us the physical body (c.f., Rom. 1:18-20). To deny this, or alter the physical body to reflect the sex we were not given does not honor Him, and in essence, denies the truth of God who created man and woman for His glory. 

In the paradigm of transgender identity, there is no room for true equality (in fact, if one was to raise these issues one would be criticized and observed as being intolerant of this position). True equality, from the Biblical worldview, comes from recognizing there is a Creator, who has made us according to His image and likeness. To deny this is to deny the very foundation of what true equality is based on, not “I feel,” but “God says…”

Let us continue to look observe who male and female are from what God has told us from His word. In this, we glorify God, recognizing the origin of true equality. In effect, we will serve one another rightly as we observe who we really are in light of His truth. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.