The King & His Throne

The King & His Throne

It was May 14, 1948, just a few years after the end of the war, when David Ben-Gurion declared Palestine to be an Israeli nation-state. Then U. S. President, Harry Truman, joined Ben-Gurion in recognizing Israel’s sovereignty. Since that time, discussion surrounding the biblical significance of the reconstitution of “Israel” has erupted. Trying to describe the extent to which this geo-political development has been shoved into biblical interpretation would perhaps be the understatement of the millennium (pun intended). Political Zionism has been fused with Christian theology in a sometimes unhealthy and, I would argue, an altogether wrong way.

The advent of the political nation of Israel spurred an immediate materialism in terms of what Jesus’ kingdom actually was/is. What do I mean? I mean that Christ’s kingdom, as well as His kingship, became nigh entirely visible, which meant that it could in no wise obtain at present. Christ is not yet king because He does not yet rule in Israel. Dwight Pentecost writes:

David’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ, must return to the earth, bodily and literally, in order to reign over David’s covenanted kingdom. The allegation that Christ is seated on the Father’s throne reigning over a spiritual kingdom, the church, simply does not fulfill the promises of the covenant … A literal earthly kingdom must be constituted over which the returned Messiah reigns (Things to Come, pp. 114,115).

For Pentecost, Christ has a non-literal (?) kingdom now, and will have a literal kingdom later. There is an implied reduction going on here between the Father’s kingdom, i.e. throne, on the one hand, and the Son’s (Davidic) kingdom on the other. And there is a distinction made in places like Revelation 3:21, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Christ’s throne, it is imagined, will be the throne established in political Israel, and the Father’s throne is the heavenly throne.

Some Clarity

It is fair to say Christ’s throne and the Father’s throne are distinguishable along the lines Revelation 3:21 distinguishes them. I believe it is also fair to understand a future element in the throne of Christ. The promise to the saints, after all, is, “I will grant the overcomers to sit with Me on My throne.” But to relegate the throne of Christ to some material and geographical thing is, in my estimation, to devalue the concept. Moreover, to make the throne of Christ entirely future neglects other texts found in Scripture which speaks to Christ’s throne. For example, “To the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom (Heb. 1:8).’” This is Christ’s throne being spoken of here. This is confirmed by looking at Psalm 45:6, 7, from whence Hebrews 1:8 is taken— “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” This throne, scepter, and kingdom are each part of a coextensive unit which came as a result of Christ’s finished work. Christ was victorious at His first coming, “Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than your companions.”

In John 1:49, Nathaniel declares Jesus to be the King of Israel. And in 12:13, on Palm Sunday, Jesus is announced, “The King of Israel!” In Matthew 2:2, the Wise Men came, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” In Zechariah 9:9, we read, “your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” This prophecy was fulfilled in Matthew 21, where Jesus is consciously declaring Himself to be King through His very intentional fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. When the Pharisees told Him to rebuke the disciples for declaring His royalty, He responded, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out,” signifying His kingship over, not only Israel, but all creation (Rom. 4:13).

The Good Confession

There are several places where Christ’s past, present, and future kingship are asserted. Yet one of the most striking places, perhaps one of the places less thought of as a “kingship” text, is 1 Timothy 6:13, “I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.” In v. 12, Timothy is said to have also confessed the good confession. It’s not immediately clear what these two confessions are. Assumedly, they are the same confession, or at least, what Timothy confessed was something first confessed by Christ. Timothy, then, followed in Christ’s footsteps by making this same confession.

Paul gives us a hint as to where to find this good confession. He says Jesus witnessed it “before Pontius Pilate.” And he hints at the confession’s identity in v. 15, “which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” Not only does Paul clearly understand Jesus as a King presently, and presently ruling, i.e. “only Potentate,” but he is also referencing a place wherein Jesus declared Himself to actually and presently be King. In John 18:37, we read:

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

What was the “good confession” Christ made before Pontius Pilate? It was nothing less than His kingship. In fact, Jesus goes further by saying, “For this cause I was born.” And, of course, this cause was declared in Luke 1:32 by the angel Gabriel, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” It is stated once more in Acts 2:30, “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne.”

Conclusion

I am perfectly fine with understanding a future, or consummative significance to Christ’s inherited throne, i.e. the throne of David. But what many in dispensational circles have done is move any and all of Christ’s kingly reality into the future—to the harm of the text of Scripture I might add. Instead, I think we should understand Christ’s kingship as having been inaugurated at His first coming, especially with the fulfillment of His work. Yet, we await the consummation, or completion, of that kingship upon His return.

I also do not see the need to locate Christ’s kingly rule in a political nation established through carnal means and built up by the hands of men. In fact, I believe that degrades the glory of Christ, and it also misunderstands the function of typology, e.g. that found in 2 Samuel 7 and elsewhere. Christ does not have to possess the throne of His father David as David possessed it. In fact, if David and His throne were typological of Christ and His throne, and they were, then the type necessitates Christ actually inherit something other and greater than what David had. Just as Christ hasn’t merely merited a return to the garden state, but something greater, so too Christ has merited a greater throne toward which David’s throne in historical Israel could only look.

Slaying the Nephilim

Slaying the Nephilim

This is a part 2 of 2 in my miniseries on giants.

In the last post, I focused on the immediate or historical sense of Genesis 6:4. In this post, I will look at the redemptive nature of the giant theme, which only just begins in Genesis 6:4, and then make application to our present day situation as Christians. Before I begin, let me first answer the charge of an “allegorical” or “spiritual interpretation” of the text, which is bound to be leveled at this post by some—

There is a difference between an unbridled and undisciplined or subjective allegorical interpretation of the text, where any conclusion goes on the one hand; and a historical text which lends itself to a deeper meaning or fuller sense on the other. Typology is like the latter. A type is often a historical person which looks past itself to something other and greater, the antitype. It is, in that sense, a historical substance being used by God as an allegory to teach something other and greater than itself. The New Testament authors assumed this manifold sense of Scripture when engaging Old Testament texts such as Psalm 110, 2 Samuel 7:14, and Hosea 11:1—Hebrews 1 making heavy use of the former two, and Matthew 2:15 making use of the latter. The scope of this article will not allow me to delve into a full-orbed defense of things like the historical-grammatical hermeneutic or the sensus plenior (fuller sense) of the text. These things will largely be assumed henceforth.

The assumption which will drive the following work is as follows: Every text of the Old Testament is applicable to the New Testament believer. I take this to be the meaning of Paul’s maxim set forth as such, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom. 15:4).”

Suffice it to say, I’m not doing anything different than what the apostles did in their interpretive work. Nor am I deviating from the hermeneutic utilized by our Baptist forerunners. I only hope to be consistent with their method.

Recapitulation of Previous Article

So that no one is lost, and so my last article is rightly understood—in it, I took the position that the giants were a people group. The sons of God were men, perhaps from Cain’s seed. The daughters of men were probably descended from Seth’s righteous line. Some understand the sons of God who mated with the human women to be angelic beings. I argued against this on the basis of Genesis 1. Each living thing begets its kind according to the creation narrative. It, therefore, would be non-sensical to suggest angels could produce human offspring, which no doubt occurred, i.e. the men of renown. The sons of God “married” the daughters of men and produced the men of renown who took on the wicked properties of the giants who were then living.

Some other reasons the sons of God and the Nephilim must be human—angels, per Matthew 22 do not marry. Dr. Peter Gentry discards this reason on the basis that only angels “in heaven” are said to not marry. Restriction on marriage, therefore, does not apply to those angels who have left. However, he continues to be faced with the rule set down in Genesis 1. Even if fallen angels could procreate, they would only be able to do so according to their kind.

Some would opine angels, while not able to marry, can nevertheless procreate, much like animals procreate yet never marry. However, exclusively spiritual substances cannot, by definition, procreate. Procreation is germane to bodies, not spirits. To suggest spirits procreate would be to suggest spirits are embodied beings.

Tracing the Giant Theme

Genesis 6:4 is the only place the term Nephilim is used until we get to Numbers 13:33. It is no mystery that the giants and the men of renown—who eventually joined with them in their folly—played a causal role in the judgment of God through the great flood. It is, after all, v. 4 which sets up vv. 5-8, culminating in God’s announcement of judgment, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them. (v. 7)” The giants were evil and God judged their wickedness, which apparently had spread to all mankind by Noah’s day.

As mentioned above, we once again encounter the giants in Numbers 13:33, where the same term is used, Nephilim. The scene is one of anticipation and fear. The Lord has just instructed Moses to send out spies to perform reconnaissance on the land of Canaan. “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them (Num. 13:2).” In v. 22, the text notes “the descendants of Anak, were there.” In v. 31, after the spies returned, and after Caleb expressed desire to press forward with the conquest, the spies respond, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” And then in v. 33, we see the reason for the hesitancy, “There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

The people of Anak were historically tall men and, at the time, inhabited Philistia, which is the homeland of the Philistines—what is now modern Palestine.[1] The connection between Anak, the giants, and Philistia lends itself to a further connection between the Nephilim and Goliath. His stature is described in 1 Samuel 17:4, “Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” Goliath was, no doubt, a Philistine. And though he is never explicitly called Nephilim, the connection is made naturally based on his nation of origin and his recorded stature. First Chronicles 20:6 makes yet another connection, though using the term Rapha for giant, instead of Nephilim, “Again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature who had twenty-four fingers and toes, six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot; and he also was descended from the giants.”

Goliath, then, is a descendant of the Nephilim, or at least a descendant of the sons of God who procreated with the daughters of men in Genesis 6:4. The David/Goliath narrative is the climactic head of the giant theme in the Old Testament. The giants had been a problematic force for the people of God since the days of the flood. And here, represented by David, the people of God win a decisive battle against the tyrannical Philistines and their oppressive, secret weapon, a giant.

Moving from the Historical to the Fuller Sense

Now that we’ve seen some thematic development of the giants, it’s time to tie the giants in with the broader redemptive narrative. In accordance with the Romans 15:4 maxim, what do these giants mean for us? If the giant theme appears in Scripture for our redemptive benefit, what is that benefit?

The giants were obviously formidable opponents for Israel, and they would have occupied a significant space in the Israelite mind. This is probably part of the reason Moses, in Genesis 6:4, doesn’t pain himself specifying details about the Nephilim. His audience would have been well-acquainted with them. Israel’s familiarity with the giants is not a kindred one. The giants always played the role of a major obstacle, standing between the people and the consummation of covenant promise. This is most clearly seen in Numbers 13:33, with the spies’ fearful and hesitant reaction at the sight of the Nephilim. Every time the Nephilim are mentioned, which is admittedly few and far between, they represent a threat to the purposes of God. In Genesis 6:4, they are tyrannical instigators and were one of the reasons for the flood judgment. In Numbers 13:33, they stood between Israel and the attainment of the land of promise.

The giant as obstacles before God’s people becomes redemptively significant, because the historical development of Israel’s place within the overall biblical narrative lends itself to a typological association between herself and Christ. In Matthew 2:15, the apostle quotes a text about Israel in Hosea 11:1, but applies it directly to Jesus as He and his parents were to return from their flight to Egypt after the death of Herod (Matt. 2:13-15, 19-21). Other themes in Matthew tie Israel and Jesus together into a typological relationship—the mass genocide of infants, the temptation in the wilderness, and even the situational context of the Sermon on the Mount to name a few. These and other situations are situations Israel and Christ share.

Israel, because of sin, was unable to defeat her enemies. She failed to expel them from the land of promise. Thus, the people hoped for someone who would finally subdue their enemies. God had indeed promised to do so in places like Hosea 2:18, “Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, To make them lie down safely.” Notice in Hosea, the twofold promise of defeated enemies and subsequent peace has a global, not local, scope. Isaiah 2 and Ezekiel 39 contain similar divine promises to subdue Israel’s enemies, not to mention the promise of Messianic dominion given in Psalm 110. And as we know, this global achievement of peace is brought by Christ alone (Matt. 5:5; Is. 6:3).

The giants were key in the development of Israel’s obstacle between her and her rest, and though the giant theme itself becomes less of an explicit factor as the Old Testament progresses, it sets an early tone for Israel’s burden—defeat the giants, inhabit the land; fail to defeat the giants, fail to properly inhabit the land. As we know, because of Israel’s disobedience, while Nephilim are less mentioned later on in the Old Testament, Philistia is a constant adversary of Israel’s enjoyment of peace. The antagonism of Philistia is made plain in the narrative of David and Goliath.

Here, another obvious typological relationship arises. Christ is the other and greater David. In Ezekiel 37, the renewed and restored kingdom of David is prophesied. “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them (v. 24).” We know this king isn’t going to be the literal David, because the true king is the Lord Jesus Christ, and this becomes all the more clear in the New Testament (Rev. 19:19). Christ is called the only sovereign in 1 Timothy 6:15. This is further strengthened by the eternality of “David’s” future rule. “They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever (Ezek. 37:25).”

Israel is a type of Christ. David is a type of Christ. Christ is the other and greater version of both. But what about the giants? Is it possible to make an appropriate typological connection between them and a more perennial adversary such as sin or death? I think so. Remember, the land promise entailed rest from enemies, “The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers (Jos. 21:44).” But the rest from temporal, political foes only looked forward to an eternal rest from the perennial adversaries of sin, death, and Satan. This becomes abundantly clear in Hebrews 4, where true rest is fulfilled in Christ, “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His (Heb. 4:10).”

There is then a direct typological connection between the penultimate giants, Philistines, etc., and the ultimate, perennial enemies of sin, death, and devil. In the earlier conquest narrative, giants were the preeminent obstacles in attaining a full-fledged enjoyment of the land rest, itself being only typical. So too, sin, death, and the devil must be defeated if God’s people are to enter ultimate and eternal rest. Giants and the Philistines would eventually give way to other adversaries that would essentially share the same typological purpose, to point toward the real enemy of sin and its birthchild, death (Jas. 1:15).

Conclusion

All things considered, there is ample application to be made from the historical account of giants. They were enemies of God’s people and enemies of God Himself. The people of God today have a similar yet more dreadful enemy which, unlike the giants of old, cannot be defeated by the sword. These ultimate and seemingly-invincible giants must be destroyed by God the Father, through the death of God the Son, and the application of that death by the ministry of God the Spirit.

Therefore, giants remain to this day. But they are even stronger than the descendants of Anak. We need someone to go before us and sign their death certificates. And Christ has done just that. Now, having grace sealed to us in the blood of Christ and continually poured out upon us by the Spirit, we can slay these giants (Rom. 8:13). But we do not slay them by the conventional means of warfare, we slay them through the due use of means appointed for the people of God within the context of the local church (Acts 2:42). We fight them and claim victory by Word and Spirit. And we shall not be put to shame. For Christ has inaugurated the death of death in His death, and we now look forward to the consummation of that decisive victory, which will ultimately prevail in the resurrection of the saints.

Resources

[1] Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 814). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

There Are Giants In the Earth

There Are Giants In the Earth

This is a part 1 of 2 in my miniseries on giants.

There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. ~ Genesis 6:4

Many of us have probably heard numerous interpretations of this passage over the years. In fact, as part of my undergraduate requirement, the capstone included a relatively lengthy discussion on the Nephilim (giants). We were divided into groups. Some groups thought the Nephilim were angels and others believed they were kings. I’ve even heard aliens suggested. One thing is for sure, there is no lack of opinionated diversity when it comes to Genesis 6:4.

The over-complication of the identity of the giants, however, runs the risk of destroying the actual significance of the text, and the significance of giants. In this article, I want to make an attempt at obviating some distracting interpretations so that we can get to the core message, which I believe is the destructive and tyrannical power of human sin (this will take the form of a second article). This text, then, is ultimately a call, through an historical description of types, to fight the antitypical reality of a remaining sin nature and the effects of sin throughout the world (Ps. 110). This is a call purchased by Christ, who is the great Giant Slayer, the Conqueror of sin, death, and the devil. Giants continue to exist in the earth. Yet, their death certificates have been signed in the blood of Christ, and our ability to fight them has been secured. The inauguration of the giants’ extinction has commenced, and now we look to the consummation of it. More on this in a later piece. In the meantime, let’s explore the immediate sense of Genesis 6:4—

Hermeneutical Assumptions

I want to begin with a basic affirmation of the analogia fidei, or the analogy of faith, which confines our interpretation of any given text to within the context of the whole of Christian doctrine, or the Christian faith. A basic way this plays out is as follows: If the doctrine of the Trinity has been established beyond the shadow of a doubt, according to the overall biblical witness, then my interpretation of, say, John 1:1-3 cannot contradict that doctrine, since it has been established elsewhere on the basis of other texts. Of course, behind this is an assumption that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and thus without contradiction.

Contextualization

Flowing from this assumption, which is often summarized by the maxim, “Scripture interprets Scripture,” I will now turn to Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, we find the initial, or summary, creational account. Within that account, we discover a general rule which should guide our interpretation of Genesis 6:4, that is, each kind of living organism, from plants, to fish, to mammals, and to humans produce after their own kind.

Genesis 1:11—Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth…

Genesis 1:21—So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:24—Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind.

Genesis 1:27, 28So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

It is no problem that the words “according to their kind” is not repeated verbatim during the creation of humans. The text clearly defines an ontology of humanity, noting its final cause is dominion through means of procreation.

Whatever the Nephilim are, they cannot be anything inhumane, since clearly, they are either the cause or the result (or both) of human procreation depending on how one reads the text. This point is further strengthened by Jesus’ words when, speaking on the resurrection, He says, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven (Matt. 22:30).“

The Bible clearly tells us that creatures reproduce after their own kind, and also that angels do not marry. For this reason, we should not think angels are endowed with any kind of reproductive means since they were not intended to reproduce in the first place. And this appears to eliminate one interpretation of this passage, namely, that the Nephilim are fallen angels. If this were true, the rule in Genesis 1 would not hold, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 would be inaccurate.

The Identity of the Giants

Turning now to the text in question. There are four groups mentioned: giants, sons of God, daughters of men, and the men of renown who were the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men. Questions abound as to whether or not the giants and the sons of God are one and the same, or whether they are distinct groups—the sons of God being unrighteous persons and the daughters of men being a preserved line from Adam. It seems as if the giants and the sons of God, if not totally identical, are at least overlapping groups of people.

Some have suggested the sons of God descended from Cain, and the daughters of men were descended from some other of Adam’s posterity, Cain’s seed being corrupt with some exceptions (e.g. Enoch, Lamech, etc). Adam and Eve bore another son, named Seth, who’s seed we know became distinguished by its devotion to God (Gen. 4:25-26).

It is possible, even likely, that Cain’s seed is the “sons of God,” the “daughters of men” deriving from Seth. The “sons of God” could be taken in different ways. The title is certainly given a negative connotation in Job 1, 2, and 38. They seem to be those who take a stand against God. The plural elohim is used, which makes provision for the rendering “sons of gods,” which may denote idolatrous persons who exalt themselves against the knowledge of Yahweh, the general trend of the world to be sure (2 Cor. 10:5).

If the sons of God and the giants are two distinct groups, this is no problem because the point of the text seems to liken the unholy offspring, i.e. “men of renown,” to the giants. The giants were tyrannical oppressors and immoral men. The term Nephilim itself refers to one which falls upon something leading to its destruction.[1] John Calvin refers to them as robbers:

To me there seems more truth in the opinion of those who say, that a similitude is taken from a torrent, or an impetuous tempest; for as a storm and torrent, violently falling, lays waste and destroys the fields, so these robbers brought destruction and desolation into the world.[2]

For this reason, Calvin places less emphasis on the size of the giants (though they may have really been large people), and more upon “their robberies, and their lust for dominion.”[3] Rousas Rushdoony, in his commentary on Genesis, says something similar:

Old Testament references such as Numbers 13:33 do indicate that the Nephilim were mighty men in their rebellion against God, and this was their renown. The Hebrew root naphal means to fall upon, to attack. This means that the true focus should not be on their physical size but on their religious and moral hostility to God. Their attack was directed against God above all else.[4]

I tend to believe, as Calvin did, the giants preexisted the men of renown. And, the men of renown being a result from corrupt, unequally yoked sexual unions, were then likened to or even became part of that group referred to as Nephilim. The corrupt giants, who were tyrannical and powerful men, were enlarged by these men of renown, who eventually joined them in their wickedness. Misery loves company.

Conclusion

Understanding our text as we have, there is a perfect and consistent foundation set down for v. 5, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It would certainly be odd if angels, being the main culprit in the wickedness observed in v. 4, were the ones to give way to such an extreme judgment upon only men. However, if the giants and the unholy offspring simply points to multiplies offenses among mankind, the judgment announced in vv. 5-8 flows forth without any issues or questions.

There is also the question of the angels mentioned in Jude and the identity of the sons of God in Job. And while I may address those two related instances in a future article, I believe I have succeeded in addressing the foundation here. Thus, whatever the meaning of Job and Jude, the sons of God and the men of renown in Genesis 6 must be human.

Resources

[1] Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 658). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
[2] John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Book of Genesis, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 244.
[3] Ibid., 245.
[4] Rushdoony, R. J. (2002). Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Genesis (p. 62). Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books.

John Owen & 11 Differences Between Old and New Covenants

John Owen & 11 Differences Between Old and New Covenants

John Owen lists eleven ways in which the Old and New Covenants differ.

(1) They differ in their circumstance or timing.

(2) They differ in their place—the first was declared from Mt. Sinai, the second was declared from Mt. Zion (Is. 2:3).

(3) They differ in their manner of establishment. The old came with terror. The new came with meekness and grace.

(4) They differ in their mediators. The old covenant had Moses as a mediator (Gal. 3:19). The new has Christ.

(5) They differ in their subject-matter.

(6) They differ in the way they were sanctioned—the old was sanctioned by blood from animals; the new by blood from Christ.

(7) They differ in priests—the Levites in the old, Christ in the new.

(8) They differ in the nature of the sacrifices.

(9) They differ in the way they were written. The old covenants were written in stone. The New Covenant is written in the heart of man (Jer. 31:31-34).

(10) They differ in their purposes—the old covenants imposed laws which conditioned man’s participation therein; the New Covenant gives grace sufficient for man’s inclusion.

(11) They differed in effect. The Old Covenant was a ministry of death, signed in circumcision of the flesh and animal blood (2 Cor. 3:7). The New Covenant, on the contrary, gives life and liberty to all believers.

Cf. Nehemiah Coxe & John Owen, Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ, (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005), 200-205.

Are Israel and the Church Always Distinct?

Are Israel and the Church Always Distinct?

The question depends entirely upon in what sense we understand the terms Israel and church, respectively. If we mean Israel and church absolutely, as in true Israel and the true church, then they are one and the same thing (Gal. 6:16). If we only mean by Israel a political entity in which was found the visible artifacts of the Old Covenant administration, then there is an obvious distinction. The church in itself is no political nation, though it once existed under a covenant through which a political nation was instituted.

To dispel any doubts as to whether or not Israel and the church are ever identified with one another, it cannot be denied that Israel is called a church and even the church of God (cf. LXX, 1 Chron. 28:8). For example, Hebrews 2:12, quoting Psalm 22:22 says, “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the church I will sing praise to You.” In the LXX version of Psalm 22:22 (LXX, Ps. 21:23) the same term is used (ekklesia), indicating the author of Hebrews used the LXX rather than the Hebrew text in his quotation.

So, to answer the question, “Are Israel and the Church always distinct?” No, they are not. Israel is the church of God (2 Chron. 30:25; 1 Chron. 28:8). Thus, the question becomes, “Were there two churches, then? One for the Old Covenant and one for the New?” But, to ask this question would be like asking, “Does God have two brides?” Or, “Does Christ have two bodies?” The answer to either is most obviously “no.”

In Hosea 2:1-13, God appears to write off His bride. But then, starting in v. 14, He promises her restoration and purification (v. 19). Finally, He promises she will “know the LORD,” an echo from the promise of the New Covenant seen in Jeremiah 31:31-34, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me…” It is this bride for whom Christ died, and also this bride who is called the church (Eph. 5:25-33; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9).

In Hebrews 3:1-6, we are told of one house over which Christ now presides, but before Christ there was Moses, who presided over that same house as a servant. What is this house of God over which Moses first served and then over which Christ now rules as a Son? “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God… (1 Tim. 3:15).” The house of God is the church.

Thus, God has only ever had one true church—spiritual Israel—which has existed under both Old and New Covenants. The difference is not in the kinds of churches, as if there were different churches altogether. The difference is found in the two covenants, Old and New, under which the one church of God has existed since the fall of Adam.

Slaying the Nephilim

A Biblical Case for Disputation

Disputes are not preferable.

Be that as it may, the prophets were involved in disputes. Jesus and His apostles were involved in disputes. And the church has been embroiled in dispute ever since. The early church fathers were involved in dispute. The medieval theologians were involved in dispute. The Reformers were involved in dispute. The post-Reformed were involved in dispute. Our forerunners, the particular Baptists, were involved in dispute. While not preferable, and while unfortunate, dispute is nevertheless biblical, and it is a perspicuous article found in play throughout church history. Like self-defense and giving to the poor, dispute is something the church must engage as a result of the fallen nature of man.

From this, however, we need to distinguish between holy dispute, or dispute for a noble cause performed in a noble manner, and unholy dispute, or dispute for an ignoble (not noble or honorable) cause. There is a biblical kind of dispute, a dispute which Jesus Himself and His apostles engaged in. This is incontrovertible (Matt 12:34; Lk. 13:32; Jn. 2:15; Acts 17). Yet, there is a wicked kind of dispute, characterized by Scripture as quarrelsomeness or controversy for the sake of controversy (1 Tim. 3:3; Prov. 20:1).

Because there is a holy kind of dispute, this being beyond controversy, we need now concern ourselves with the nature of it. We will begin negatively.

What Holy Disputation Is Not

In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, Paul writes:

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.

When Martin Luther penned the Ninety Five Theses, he was engaging in a methodology referred to in the Latin as disputatio or, in English, disputation. Unfortunately, men who now claim to follow in the Protestant tradition have almost entirely done away with the practice or art of disputation. Failing to recognize the distinction between holy and unholy disputation, many men, many pastors, have come to think of all disputation as wicked—and the church is worse for it.

We need to be careful, however, lest we ruin ourselves upon the jagged rock of what holy disputation is not. In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, Paul begins with the character of a person who “does not consent to wholesome words.” Here, we find that Paul is talking about those who do not submit to, nor do they embrace the gospel—the epitome of wholesome words. He goes on to add, “even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness…” Paul is not talking about a person who is a professing believer, much less a person who’s life is marked by gospel obedience.

He goes on to remark on this person’s pride. This person is puffed up and conceited. They know nothing. They are obsessed with dispute. In other words, they live for the argument. A more wooden reading might say, “[he] is sick with disputes…” He vomits up disagreement. That’s all he can do. This person is a contrarian. More interestingly is the kind of disputation Paul identifies in v. 4. Paul is not outlawing all disputation. But he does indicate a repudiation of diputes about words, signified by the word arguments (λογομαχία). These are useless, semantic disputes. In this passage, Paul by no means makes all disputes unlawful.

Therefore, holy dispute cannot be characterized by dispute for dispute’s sake. Holy dispute is not engaged by unholy people. Moreover, holy dispute cannot be about trivial things, like semantics, word battles, competition of sheer rhetoric, etc. Those are all insufficient explanations for disputation.

What Holy Disputation Is

Paul expressly helps us with a definition when he writes:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:4-6

And also an example of disputation among believers, “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed (Gal. 2:11).”

There are about three characteristics of dispute gleaned from these two passages. First, holy disputation casts down unholy arguments raised against God. Second, holy disputes are useful for bringing minds into compliance to Christ. Third, holy disputation can, and often does, take place among brethren. Therefore, I offer a concise and positive definition of holy dispute as follows:

Holy dispute is that Christian practice of bringing thoughts into captivity to Christ through honest disagreement and argumentation conducive to resolving such disagreement.

Holy disputation, on the Christian’s part, can be either intermural or intramural. Intermural dispute would entail a Christian disputing with a non-Christian interlocutor. Intramural dispute would be when two or more Christians dispute with one another over doctrine and/or practice.

When to Dispute & When Not to Dispute

Now that we’ve at least started a discussion concerning the nature of disputation, it would now be prudent to identify some criteria which might help us decide when and when not to dispute.

There are three questions we all must ask prior to entering into dispute:

1) Is the dispute concerning what is true? The goal of all holy disputation must be an arrival at the truth. Any other intention or purpose of dispute is insufficient and self-refuting. For disputation presupposes the categories of truth and falsehood, and disagreements arise precisely because one party believes the truth is being misrepresented by the other, and visa versa.

2) Is the dispute about God’s revealed doctrine? This could be doctrine revealed through nature or doctrine revealed through Scripture. Either way, God’s teaching is always worth discussion, and when a correct understanding thereof is at stake, it is always worth disputation. This is the very reason Paul confronted Peter to his face, in public I might add.

3) Is your intention to love your neighbor through dispute? If you are not disputing in an effort to love your neighbor to the glory of God, you might as well call it quits. Our intention, as Christians, must be in the right place prior to entering into disputation. Therefore, if your intention is any place other than obeying the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39), you ought to reassess yourself and, perhaps, change course.

These criteria are not exhaustive, but they might be helpful in deciding when to enter into dispute, whether that be dispute over social media or in-person. Disputes can be powerful things. They can rip apart churches, but they can also mature and secure churches, strengthening them for future challenges. Disputation, even holy disputation, ought to be the last resort. But if a disagreement arises, it is holy dispute alone that will serve as the acceptable means of conflict resolution.