“It is widely held that the most obvious corollary to the Christocentric hermeneutic is the ‘theologia crucis’ that THE NEW TESTAMENT MUST ALWAYS BE OUR GUIDE TO INTERPRETING THE OLD TESTAMENT. But why would a rule be imposed on the revelation of God that demands that the Old Testament passages may not become the basis for giving primary direction on any doctrines or truths that have relevancy for New Testament times? This is only to argue in the end for A CANON WITHIN A CANON...we misjudge the revelation of God if we have a theory of interpretation which says THE MOST RECENT REVELATION OF GOD IS TO BE PREFERRED OR SUBSTITUTED FOR THAT WHICH CAME EARLIER” (W.C. Kaiser Jr., “The Land of Israel and the Future Return”; quoted by Barry E. Horner, “Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged.” Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007, page 183).
Today, I began reading the section “Kingdom Promises and the Testaments,” in John Feinberg’s “Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments.” Arguing for the promises as purely scriptural is Bruce K. Waltke, a covenantal theologian whose work I was exposed to this past semester in my OT theology course. The other theologian, writing for some discontinuity, was Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., whose quote is given above regarding a proper biblical hermeneutic.
In this post, I want to dive into Kaiser’s quote above, while also introducing the viewer to Bruce Waltke’s comments regarding the kingdom promises as spiritual. I want to establish that hermeneutics is the key to where one stands in the dispensationalism-covenantal theology debate. While arguing that hermeneutics determines perspective, I will also argue (however) that there is only one proper hermeneutic of the text that does justice to both testaments. Like the Calvinism-Arminianism debate, there is only one right theology in this debate; and it will all come down to hermeneutics, the method by which one interprets the biblical text.
Back somewhere around two years ago, I took Dr. David Hogg for my Theology III course, titled “The Church and Eschatology.” In my theology III class, Dr. Hogg covered the chapter on Romans 11 regarding Israel. In his lecture, he argued that “the church is taking the entire New Testament out of context.” According to Dr. Hogg, the church has become so “Gentile” in its outlook that, when Pastors witness, they carry around small pocket Bibles that only contain the Old Testament books of Psalms and Proverbs while carrying around ALL of the New Testament books without reservation. And why do we carry around only the OT books of Psalms and Proverbs? Because “we can sing the psalms and give wisdom with the proverbs,” he said. In short, he stated that preachers know so little about the Old Testament that they rarely preach out of it...and when they do, they only preach the narratives like Daniel in the Lions’ Den, or David fighting Goliath, or the Red Sea Experience, etc. There are other books, for example, like Leviticus, even Job, that are rarely ever preached on in pulpits across the country. Pastors rarely touch the other books of the Old Testament because they know so little about them. In my estimation, however, I think pastors and preachers alike rarely preach from those books because they don’t think the Word will be enough to “entertain” their congregations. It’s a sad day when the Word is only “good” when it entertains us and makes us feel good about ourselves (which is so contrary to what the Word is meant to do, which is instruct and correct us)...
Dr. Hogg’s lecture came back to the surface of my mind as I began to read Walt Kaiser’s words on Covenantal Theology and its need to create a “canon within a canon.” I think my former theology professor was right when he made it clear that most preachers preach the New Testament without realizing that the foundation for the New Testament is the OLD Testament! That’s right: were it not for the OLD Testament, there would be no NEW Testament! It seems then, that to preach the NT does not only compute to preaching only ONE-HALF of the counsel of God (instead of the whole), but also, to preach the “house” of the Scriptures without first “laying the foundation” thereof. How can a house stand if it has no foundation? In the same manner, how can the Word of God make sense if the foundation (the Old Testament) is not preached first?
Kaiser’s words come to an alarming climax when he writes,
“This is only to argue in the end for A CANON WITHIN A CANON...we misjudge the revelation of God if we have a theory of interpretation which says THE MOST RECENT REVELATION OF GOD IS TO BE PREFERRED OR SUBSTITUTED FOR THAT WHICH CAME EARLIER.”
Why is there a need for “a canon within a canon”? Why do evangelicals feel as though they need to decide which of the testaments is “more” important (as if to say that both are not equally important)? Let’s take Jesus for example: the early church declared that Christ was “fully God, fully man,” without any distinction to “this percentage God” and “this percentage man.” In the eyes of the early church, Christ’s divinity and humanity were equally important: Christ’s divinity, because only God, a perfect Lamb, could die for the sins of imperfect mankind; and Christ’s humanity, because only Christ could fulfill God’s Law---something required by all of human creation). Both were equally important to Christ’s mission as Savior on earth, and neither was to be disqualified or “substituted” for the other.
If Christ is the Word (John 1:1), and the Word reveals Christ, why then, must believers take the Word of God (God’s revelation to us in written form) and classify which testament is greater? Did not Paul say that “ALL SCRIPTURE IS GIVEN BY INSPIRATION OF GOD AND PROFITABLE for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, NKJV)? At the time Paul made this remarkable claim, all the New Testament church had was the OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES! So Paul’s words here to Timothy are to reveal that “all Scripture,” even the Old Testament, is inspired by God, or “theopneustos” (“God-breathed”) and useful for instruction. But what purpose does the modern-day church give the OT? How useful is the OT in today’s church? If the OT is useful, why then, do we not make use of it and use it in our teaching, preaching, and witness? Why is the OT considered by some to be just a “substitute teacher” until the NT came along?
What about Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1?
“BUT WE KNOW THAT THE LAW IS GOOD, if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate...ungodly and ...sinners...the unholy and profane...murderers of fathers and mothers...manslayers...fornicators...sodomites...kidnappers... liars...perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:8-10, NKJV).
The Law in question here is the Old Testament, for this is all the early church had as a formative canon. It seems that, since this is Paul’s introduction to his letter, the Old Testament Law was possibly being twisted in the name of false doctrine in the church at Ephesus: especially with “myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4), as well as with the creation account from Genesis, with Adam’s formation before Eve and Eve’s deception having to be defended as orthodox (1 Tim. 2:13-14).
Despite the twisting of the Law for bad use, Paul still believed the Law was good. Let’s check out these words regarding Law and sin:
“But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? IS THE LAW SIN? CERTAINLY NOT! On the contrary, I WOULD NOT HAVE KNOWN SIN EXCEPT THROUGH THE LAW. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’...therefore THE LAW IS HOLY, AND THE COMMANDMENT HOLY AND JUST AND GOOD...FOR WE KNOW THAT THE LAW IS SPIRITUAL, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:6-7, 12, 14).
As believers saved by grace through faith in the work of Christ on the cross, we do not have to offer the sacrifices of Leviticus, for example. However, while we are not bound to the sacrifices of Leviticus, we are bound to “the Spirit” of Leviticus, for as the writer of Hebrews tells us,
“By Him let us continually offer THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE TO GOD, that is, THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).
For Paul, the Law still served as a valuable guide to the Christian (whether Jew or Gentile); why then, have we become “post-Paul” in our thinking and decided that the Law serves no purpose for the modern-day church?
Ladies and Gentleman, this is what covenantal theology (often called “replacement” theology) is doing in its assessment of the Old Testament, with regards to Israel, Hermeneutics, etc. And herein lies the problem: that one part of the counsel of God is being ditched for the other.
I’ll conclude with words from Bruce Waltke regarding how dispensationalists view the implications of covenantal theology upon the biblical text:
“Amillennialists differ from dispensational premillenialists in their hermeneutics by calling for A SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION OF KINGDOM PROMISES OVER AGAINST A ‘LITERALISTIC’ (J.I. Packer’s term) INTERPRETATION OF THEM. Amillennialists emphasize with Augustine that ‘THE NEW IS IN THE OLD CONCEALED AND THE OLD IS IN THE NEW REVEALED,’ while dispensationalists complain that in the amillennial system ‘THE OLD IS BY THE NEW RESTRICTED AND THE NEW IS ON THE OLD INFLICTED’” (Bruce Waltke, “Kingdom Promises as Spiritual,” from “Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments” by John Feinberg, editor. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1988, page 272).
Ask yourself the following: Are both Old and New Testaments the Word of God? If you answer yes to this question, then one more remains: “Is Christ divided” (1 Cor. 1:13)? If Christ is not divided, then why treat God’s Revelation (The Word) as though IT is?