Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Summary of the New Covenant Paradigm

My current doctoral thesis is concerned to develop something of the bigger biblical-theological flow of salvation history in the Bible under the rubric of justification. I have called the resulting model the new covenant paradigm. The model can be summarized under 15 main theses as follows:

1) The condition of justification inside the garden of Eden was perfect (holistic) faith;

2) The condition of justification outside the garden of Eden is imperfect (holistic) faith;

3) The primary dispensational distinction in the Bible is that between the old covenant and the new covenant;

4) The condition of justification for Israel under the old covenant was not perfect faith but imperfect faith, as the presence of a system of sacrificial atonement within the law proves;

5) Under the old covenant, the condition of faith, being holistic, was characteristically described in terms of doing torah;

6) Hence, a legitimate doctrine of justification by the works of the law existed under the old covenant;

7) The old covenant is, therefore, a covenant of grace; but Israel's continuation in grace was conditional upon Israel continuing in imperfect (holistic) faith (i.e., doing torah);

8) But Israel as a nation broke the covenant by not doing torah;

9) Therefore, the Mosaic covenant of grace functioned historically primarily as a covenant of condemnation and death, compounding the original transgression of Adam;

10) The failure of the old covenant was part of God’s plan to highlight the supreme expression of the grace of God to be revealed under the new covenant in Christ;

11) Because the new covenant solves the problem of the failure of the old covenant, and is the fulfillment of the old covenant, the new covenant exhibits the same relational dynamics as the old covenant;

12) Therefore, justification under the new covenant is also justification by imperfect faith;

13) But with the coming of a new revelation in Christ, the content of faith has been redefined in terms of this new revelation (the gospel), which can be contrasted with the previous revelation that came via Moses (the law);

14) The new covenant definition of faith can be contrasted, therefore, with the definition of faith that was understood to apply under the old covenant, hence the covenantal distinction between justification by faith in Christ under the new covenant and justification by the works of the law (i.e., Mosaic faith) under the old;

15) Under the new covenant (like under the old), perseverance in faith is necessary in order to experience the fullness of salvation at the time of the consummation of the new covenant.


In other words, what I am suggesting is that, outside of the garden, justification has always been by (imperfect) faith. But because faith is typically viewed in the Old Testament in a holistic manner, justification by faith under the old covenant was typically thought of as being by way of obedience to the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant in the context of grace, what came to be known in Jewish parlance as justification by the works of the law. The New Testament works of the law versus faith in Christ distinction, therefore, is primarily a terminological distinction that expresses pragmatically the element of discontinuity between the covenants on the level of the mediator and content of revelation. In sum, if you wanted to be right with God under the old covenant, you had to follow the revelation that had been given to Israel via Moses (Deut 6:25; Rom 10:5); but if you want to be right with God under the new covenant, you need to follow the revelation that has been given to the world in Christ (John 8:31–32; Rom 10:8–13).

1 comment:

sujomo said...

Steve,

Thanks for setting down for us the summary of the main theses of your new covenant paradigm for understanding the message of the Bible as a whole.

Lots of interesting ideas to think further about. I think there is some measure of similarity with Bullinger’s approach. Perhaps I might word things somewhat differently from the way you do.

Your comments re torah and ‘doing torah’ stimulate further thought and discussion. Bullinger argues that God’s word (and, therefore, torah was written on the heart from the very beginning from the time of Adam. The torah was enscripturated at the time of Moses because of the idolatry of Israel. Of course, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31 the coming of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit means the writing of God’s word (in terms of the new torah or consummated torah) on the hearts of men and women.

Bullinger’s focus on the covenant is God’s grace initiating a restored relationship – ie infralapsarian. God graciously binds himself to man and pours himself into the relationship. The covenant is the background to justification or restored relationship with God which is evidenced by walking righteously (integer) before God. So, for Bullinger, right living (doing torah or doing good works) cannot be separated from gift of salvation given to the elect. Thus, scholars such as Mark Burrows talk of Bullinger juxtaposing justification and sanctification – ie Bullinger speaks of sanctification in essential identity with justification. But it is in the context of sola gratia and sola fide. There is no room for synergism. Bullinger’s favourite verse is Mattew 17:5 which he interprets in terms of ‘hearing’ (ie obeying) the ‘word’ of Christ (ie the new torah that Christ brings and encapsulates in himself). There is thus continuity and discontinuity between the old covenant and the new covenant. The link is Christ, the Second Adam who overturns the curse brought about by the serpent.

I would like to argue that Bullinger’s writings set forth the Protestant understanding of Scripture as being faithful to Scripture itself rather than the errors of the 16th century Roman Church. Hence the emphasis on justification by faith alone by grace alone. The overall message of the canon from Genesis to Revelation develops the theme of covenant and kingdom as the context for expressing justification by faith. Kingdom is both about God’s rule and living obediently as his elect. Hence the emphasis on righteous living.

Cheers, sujomo