Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Putting together the Bible's Big Pieces
Ephesians 1:9-10 9He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him
Romans 9:4-5 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Defining the Bible's Big Pieces
Yesterday we looked at why Christians need to know the overall pattern and themes of the Bible. Today we want to begin defining what the Bible's big pieces are and how they fit together. In the realm of biblical theology, two schools of thought have emerged that attempt to define the message and purpose of scripture. Today I just want to give the general outline of each, leaving further details for later blogs down the road.
Scripture's message is framed by God''s reign or administration of His world - i.e dispensations
The first school of thought views the Bible as unfolding God's plan for the ages. History, redemption and the world are viewed by this
school as being likened unto a house over which God administrates His providential reign. In passages like Ephesians 1:9-10, this manner of God ruling His world like a "house" is referred to as His system of administrations, stewardships or as older versions call it: "dispensations". The term "dispensation" comes from a Latin term (dispensare) that we get our word "dispense" - thus a "soap dispenser" for example dispenses soap to wash hands, dishes or whatever we may need to clean things in a home.
This school of thought - called "dispensationalism", states that it is God's system of administrations or "dispensations" that is to be our focus in discerning the message of scripture. These dispensations or administrations are closely linked to God's progress of revelation through the ages. Teachers who espouse a dispensational understanding of scripture differ on how many such "ages", "administrations" or "dispensations" are outlined through the Bible. As I see it, the Bible defines five such ages:1
1. The Beginning Age (i.e creation) Genesis 1-2 (this theme of beginnings overlaps also into Genesis 3-11)
2. The Former Age (i.e Old Testament age) Genesis 3-Malachi (the former or Old Testament Age overlaps through the Gospels)
3. The Current Age (i.e New Testament age or church age) Acts -Jude (this age overlaps from the Gospels well into the Book of Revelation up through Revelation 19)
4. The Kingdom Age (i.e Christ thousand year reign following His second coming & restoration of Israel) Revelation 20 (This Age marks the end of the current age and bridges us into the Age to come)
5. The Age to come (i.e The New Heavens and New Earth) Revelation 21-22 (This final age will last forever and is essentially when all history is complete and the final judgment has occured, with unbelievers sadly but truly cast into the lake of fire, and believers in Christ being with the Lord for eternity).
Scripture's message and theme is centered around the biblical covenants
The second school of thought sees the message and themes of scripture centered not so much around the successive ages, administrations or dispensations of God as it does around the concept of Covenant.2 A covenant in the Bible is a binding agreement made between two people. Essentially in this view, covenant is how God relates to His world and to His people in particular. Like dispensationalism, I also find this second school of thought somewhat helpful, since the idea of Covenant is quite prominent in the Bible.
Since the theme of covenant is central, this system of Bible interpretation is naturally called "Covenant theology". Passages like Romans 9:4-5 are excellent examples of how the "covenants" play a key role in discerning the Bible's big picture. For now were are not going to go into extensive detail - rather I just want to introduce to you the two fundamental covenants stated by this system. The remaining covenants of the Bible are more fully revealed, and for now will only be listed, with a fuller treatment to come in future blogs.3
1. Covenant of works - This Covenant was given originally by God to Adam and his descendants. It was graciously givn by God, and its fulfillment was dependant upon Adam's obedience or disobedience to a handful of commands. Since Adam and Eve broke those commands in Genesis 3, the covenant of works was thus broken. The Covenant of works is taken by some to be repeated in principle is the Mosaic Covenant (i.e the Covenant at Sinai or The Law). The Mosaic Covenant's main function is to point people to God's salvation by grace through faith in Christ. More on this in later blogs.
2. Covenant of Grace - Covenant theologians state that God offered a second covenant- a covenant of grace - wherein the fulfillment of the Covenant was not going to lean on man's performance, but God's. God slayed two animals in Adam and Eve's place - laying the groundwork for this covenant - forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood. (Genesis 3:15, 20-21) Second, by grace through faith was the sole means by which Adam, Eve and any of their descendants could ever hope to be reconciled with God. These elements mark the Gospel message find their repetition in the covenants of God with Abraham and David, as well as the New Covenant.
3. Noahaic Covenant - Genesis 9
4. Abrahamic Covenant - Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22.
5. Mosaic Covenant - Exodus 19-20
6. Davidic Covenant. 2 Samuel 7:13-16.
7. New Covenant. Jeremiah 31-33; Ezekiel 36:22-38; 2 Corinthians 3 & 5. (4)
As in all systems of Bible interpretation, these two mains systems must each be judged by scripture. Both systems have their strengths and weakness. The point today is to show the reader ways in which we can begin to think of how we can fit together the Bible's pieces. May we all have a greater desire to study God's Word, know Him more and make Him know.
1. Though I did not mention this in the main body of today's blog, let the reader be aware that these five "ages" are not separate or cut off from one another. Its not like you could had told on a wrist watch or calendar when the Age of the Old Testament ended and when the Current Age had begun. The transitions between one age and the next is marked by gradual transitioning, not sudden abruptness. The Book of Acts is a prime example of this, since the Jewish believers in the Lord had to have a "dispensational upgrade" from an Old Testament anticipation of God's promises to a New Testament understanding of Christ's fulfillment of those promises.
2. In Covenant theology to say that the stress is placed upon the Covenants does not mean there is not also mention of distinct periods of progressive revelation throughout the Bible. The point on this comment is that the basis of the God's progressive revelation in scripture lies on the covenants moreso than the successive ages.
3. The reader may note that I did not mention other important covenants like the, the Priestly Covenant with Phineas in Numbers 25:10-18 and the Land Covenant with Israel in Deuteronomy 28-31. The reason being is that I am introducing this concept of Covenant theology to readers. Eventually in future blogs I may bring in these other covenants.
4. The New Covenant is revealed in Jeremiah 31-33 and Ezekiel 36:22-38 and other Old Testament passages with reference to God's promise to restore the nation of Israel. Four main promises are given in this covenant: a). Indwelling Holy Spirit b). Transformed heart c). Law of God written in the heart d). Personal Relationship with God and He with the believer. When we come to the New Testament we see Jesus asserting Himself to be the Mediator of the New Covenant. Bible scholars debate as to whether there is a separate new Covenant for the church from the Old Testament version for Israel or whether the one mentioned by Jesus is a spiritual inauguration of the one spoken of the in the Old Testament (i.e Two New Covenants or One New Covenant). Over the past fifty years, conservative biblical scholarship has more and more concluded that the New Covenant promises experienced in the New Testament church are an inauguration of the promises to be physically manifested in the future restoration of National Israel at Christ's return.