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Archive for September, 2011

Biblical Theology Basics #8

8. Comments on The Covenantal Gospel by Cornelis van der Waal

by James B. Jordan

This is an excellent book, and every Bible student should read and master it. Cornelis van der Waal was a Dutch theologian who lived much of his life in South Africa. He lived from 1919 to 1980. This was his last book and he died before completing it.

Thinking on the covenant has continued since his death, and the few comments I have included here are intended to express places where some slight improvements in his book can be made. These minor criticisms do not take away from the great value of the book. I shall proceed section by section, since the English translation will not have the same pages as the original Dutch.

Introduction section 2. The statement in 2 Cor. 3:14 about the “old covenant” does not refer to all the books of the Old Testament, but as the next verse shows, to “Moses.” We should really think of the Ten Words, the heart of the Sinaitic Covenant. We can say that there are two covenants, but we can also say that there is one covenant in two phases. Both phases are revealed and discussed in all the books of the Bible, but of course the second phase, the “new covenant,” receives the most attention in the New Testament books. Van der Waal sometimes writes of one covenant, and sometimes of two, but he always means one covenant in two historical phases.
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1. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come. This hymn by Henry Alford is found in many hymnals, including Cantus Christi. Yet, the last stanza radically contradicts the theological perspective of the historic faith and of the editors of this hymnal. It is a witness to how we tend to bounce along unthinkingly through metrical hymns, which is something we would not do when chanting a text. The fourth stanza says:

Even so, Lord, quickly come. Bring thy final harvest home.

Gather thou thy people in, Free from sorrow, free from sin,

There, forever purified, In thy garner to abide.

Come, with all thine angels, come; Raise the glorious harvest home.

Now, as we’ve had occasion to say before, the Biblical expectation is that Jesus will successfully disciple all the nations of the earth, making all into theocracies under His rule, before any final apostasy and His return to judge the living and the dead. The “quick coming” in the book of Revelation has to do with the events of AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Oikumene. Asking Jesus to come quickly and end history is very wrong. It is asking Him to fail, asking Him not to evangelize the heathen. The fact is, though, that the first three stanzas of this hymn are excellent, for they only state that Jesus will someday return to judge. We should keep this hymn, but omit the last stanza.

2. Lo! He comes, with Clouds Descending. This is a second-coming hymn, and like many Arminian hymns, this by Charles Wesley, the assumption is that Jesus will return to the earth to reign. This is completely false. According to 1 Corinthians 15:24, when He returns, having destroyed all enemies, He gives the Kingdom to the Father. According to the catholic faith, Jesus is presently seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling as King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus, any hymn that teaches us that Jesus will return to reign is communicating false teaching.

The end of stanza 1, “God appears on earth reign,” can be changed to “Christ the Lord forever reigns.”

The final stanza is more of a mess: “Saviour, take the power and glory, Claim the kingdom for thine own. O come quickly, O come quickly, O come quickly! Alleluia! Come, Lord, come.” Well, no. That’s all very bad. Change to this:

Lord, Thou hast taken all the pow’r and glory,

Thine the Kingdom e’er shall be!

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou dost reign, and we with Thee!

 

By the way, the best tune for this is Helmsley by Arne.

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7. The Literary Shape of the Covenant

As we have seen, there is a succession of covenants in the Bible, each more glorious than the previous, each absorbing and transfiguring the previous, until finally we come to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. We now want to look at the shape of covenant documents. Generally speaking, the order of presentation in the covenant document is the same as the sequence of events in the covenant’s establishment. The Spirit shapes the history and the Son shapes the Word. God is One, living in the One Covenant, and thus the shape is the same. The shape of the various covenants is always fundamentally the same, because the same God is acting and speaking each time, and the same human consciousness is being addressed.

Because the Sinaitic Covenant is the covenant that is most fully presented in literary form, scholars look at its presentation in Exodus 20-24 and in the book of Deuteronomy to discern the basic covenant shape. After we have been instructed by this part of the Biblical revelation, we can discern the same shape in the other covenants.

This shape, this order of presentation, has been analyzed variously by different scholars. Some have seen three, some four, some five, some six, and some seven aspects of the covenant. We can say that in its fullest manifestations, God’s covenant with man, which we can illustrate from the Sinaitic Covenant, entails the following steps and aspects:
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This book, described on this blog August 30, is now available. A copy signed by J. B. Jordan can be ordered for $40.00 from

 

Biblical Horizons

Box 1096

Niceville, FL 32578

 

or with paypal at www.biblicalhorizons.com

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6. Covenant Phases in the Bible

Thus far we have spoken of only three phases in the history of the one covenant. We must now divide the third phase into two parts. We can begin by looking at human life. Human beings do not die and become fully mature in glory while they are in their prime as adults. Rather, at some point human beings begin to lose their strength; they begin to die in preparation for their final death and transformation into glory. Sometimes this death begins with some kind of mid-life crisis. With women it is associated with menopause. When men it is associated with the loss of power and the realization that they will not accomplish everything they had hoped to accomplish when they were young.

This is when human beings start to become elders. Their kingly wisdom matures into prophecy, the ability to speak life-changing words. Their hair turns white, and white hair is glory (Revelation 1:14). Thus, at the very time human beings begin to lose their kingly power and ability to act, they increase in their God-like glory and power to speak.

We can see this in Israel’s history. When we look at the Kingdom period, we see that it started in kingly glory. Then it split, and then each kingdom became weaker and weaker as well as more and more sinful. It is as the kingly power of Israel diminishes that the prophets emerge in the Remnant period. There is still a kingly aspect, but the more mature prophetic phase of the covenant is becoming more and more important. The kingdom of God is maturing into eldership. Then comes the death of Israel, in the exile. After this, the Jews are no longer kings. They no longer have a nation of their own. They can no longer act. They are spread out into the nations as prophets. The Oikumenical age is an age exclusively of prophecy.
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5. Priest, King, and Prophet

We can begin with the phrase “prophet, priest, and king.” This is the order normally heard from preachers and theologians. But it is not really the Biblical order. The age of priests ran from Moses to Saul, the age of kings from Saul to the end of the Kingdom, and the age of prophets from Elijah to Jesus. If we believe in any kind of development and maturation of the kingdom of God in history, we shall have to admit that king is more than priest, and prophet more than king. Since, however, the prophetic function is associated with predicting the future, it has often been abstracted from its historical context and placed at the beginning. At the same time, as we shall see below, the prophet does come at the beginning as well as at the end, to close one period and begin a new one, so that usual ordering of these terms is not so much erroneous as incomplete.

The Larger Catechism produced by the Westminster Assembly in England in the 1640s, and used by Presbyterian churches and some others, follows the order “prophet, priest, king.” Let us look at what it says about them.

Q. 43: How does Christ execute the office of a prophet? Christ executes the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and word, in diverse ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation.

Now, as a matter of fact, these things are not unique to prophecy at all. According to Malachi 2:7, “The lips of a priest should preserve knowledge; And they should seek the teaching from his mouth; For he is the messenger of Yahweh of armies.”
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This is a fine hymn by John Mason Neale, based on an ancient Greek church hymn. The opening question is particularly powerful: “Christian, dost thou see them on the holy ground, how the powers of darkness compass thee around?” Yes, the devil strikes in the very church and her worship as much as he can, just as he struck in the holy garden in the beginning.

Good words, but too often cheesy goofy music by John Bacchus Dykes. You may know the tune:

Spooky, spooky, spooky; spooky, spooky, spoooooook.

Spooky, spooky, spoooookeeeey; spooky, spooky, spoooook.

Happyhappyjoyjoy, happyhappyjoy!

Happyhappyjooooyjooooy, happyhappyjoy!
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