Covenants

(note: these are my preliminary thoughts on the subject. They are preliminary because they need to be matured and expressed in more academic way. I hope to do it in the future. )

Integrative Dispensationalism, following a traditional hermeneutics, understands that certain elements (not all) of Davidic and New Covenants are being fulfilled in this dispensation, without incurring in a spiritualization of textual meaning of the Old Testament.

How can it be so? Many scholars have overlooked a very important fact about the Biblical Covenants. The fact is that we must distinct two classes of people related to the three main Biblical Covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenant):

  1. The recipient of the terms of the covenant (Jews): to whom the promises was ratified by a formal covenant. The recipient of the terms of the three main Biblical Covenants is the Jews.
  2. The recipients of the blessings contained in the terms of Promise (Jews and Gentiles): The Jews was ratified the three main Biblical covenants. These covenants contains promises that are not limited only to the Jews. On the contrary, the Bible is very clear in affirming that these terms contain blessings that will reach all peoples of the Earth (Jews and Gentiles). This will happen through the mediation of the Jews.

With this distinction in mind, we can properly say that a Gentile today, which belongs to the Church, can participate of some benefits contained in the Covenants ratified with Israel. Note that I said “some promises,” and not all promises. To understand that, we need to make another distinction:

  1. Promises with one recipient (Jews) and two beneficiaries (Jews and Gentiles): The promise ratified with Israel that was intended to benefit both Israel and Gentiles. For example, Genesis 12:3, a promised made to Abraham and ratified only with him, was intended to bless all people the Earth, through his seed, Jesus Christ. Even though the promise has one recipient, Abraham, to whom it was ratified, its beneficiaries will be all people of the Earth.
  2. Promises with one recipient (Jews) and one beneficiary (Jews): In this category, we can cite the Canaan Land promise, which the Bible makes clear that Israel is the only beneficiary. In any way, we can apply this promise to the Church. 

With this division in mind, we can conclude that the Church is not beneficiary of all elements contained in all the three main Covenants. However, the Church it is a rightful and a literal beneficiary of some of the promises contained in these Covenants. This means that ID claims a literal fulfillment of all OT promises. Therefore, in ID view, Israel have a special and singular place in the future dispensations.

This also means that when the Church, in the present Dispensation, participates of some benefices of the New Covenant, through the mediation of Christ (the Abraham’s seed), this does not contradict the original intent of the promise. This fact is not also a spiritualization of the promises or an expansion of the promises boundaries, as some critics has claimed. Even though the Covenant was ratified only with Israel, the interconnection of the New Covenant and the Abrahamic covenant already pointed out that all people of the Earth would participate of some benefices of the Covenant. A participation through the mediation Jesus (Abraham’s Seed).

 

A Proposed Illustration to Understand Integrative View Of the Recipients of the Terms and The Recipient of the Blessings contained in the Terms 

The Integrative Dispensationalism separates these two classes of people that can relate to a Covenant. The logic of ID view can be illustrated in the following example.

  • Person A makes a promise to person B, and ratified that promise with person B, through a written contract;
  • The promise of the contract contains blessings that will reach person B and, through him, will also reach a person C.

Considering that information, we can ask the following questions:

  • Who is the recipient of the written contract or to whom the contract was ratified? The answer, obviously, is person B.
  • Who will be the recipients of the blessings contained in the terms of the contract? The answer, obviously, is person B and, through his mediation, person C. 

Thus, person C can literally and rightfully participate of some benefices contained in the contract, even though the contract was not ratified with him.

This means that the statement that ‘Jews are original recipients the terms of the covenant’ do not contradicts that fact that Gentiles, today, might be participant of some blessings contained in the Covenants. Therefore, to say that the Bible Covenants are being fulfilled in the church today, through the mediation of Christ, the seed of Abraham, is not something contrary to the Literal Interpretation of the Bible, because this is exactly what some of the terms of the Covenants are literally saying to us.

 

A Proposed Illustration to Understand the Interconnection of the Covenants and its Implication

It is a known fact that the three main biblical covenants, Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenant, are interconnected. Indeed, the last two are a development of the first one. These interconnections, certainly, have some implications. Therefore, I will propose an illustration that explain those implications.

Imagine that a couple have just one son. For some adverse circumstance, the couple receives a nephew at their home and raises him as a son. The two boys, who are cousins, feel like brothers. One day, the couple got divorced and the little son and the nephew went to live with the mother, in a place far away from the father. At the time of separation, the father, feeling the pain of the loss, made a promise to his Son, through a letter that contained the following words: “My son, I’ll do my best to help and bless you, in order to provide a great future for you. And, through you, I also intend to bless your cousin.” – Note that the letter was destined and received only by the son.

This first letter was a general promise made at the time of separation. However, in a certain day, the father decides to ratify this promise with his son, i.e., to give him a physical sign that will ensure the fulfillment of his promise. Thus, he sent gold ring to his son. Whenever the son looked at his ring at the finger, he would remember of the promise and the commitment of the father to fulfill it. – Note that just the son received the ring, or the physical sign.

After five years, the father sent another letter to his son, with the following words: “Son, I will buy for you a house in the city, because you are almost concluding your high school, and you need to move to a city, in order to go to a university. As your cousin is concluding his high school as well, both of you can move and live together in your house.”  For the child to remember this second promise, the father sent a silver ring.

Some days later, the father did exactly what he said. He bought a house and gave the title deed to his son. However, his son failed in his final exams of the high school and had to attend another year. The nephew, by the contrary, was approved in his exams and moved to the house, in order to go to the university. He stayed there solely for one year.

Now some interesting facts are occurring: the promise of the second letter present both boys moving and living together. However a contingent fact occurred and just the nephew moved to the house until the son conclude his high school. He lived there for one year alone. The plan presented as whole in the second letter (both boys living together), now is been fulfilled in stages, because a contingent factor (the son failing at the final exams).  

Now this raises some questions: should this one year intermediate period be considered a partial fulfillment of the second promise? Does the father in changing his promise made in the second letter remain destined and ratified only with his son? Does the fact of the cousin moving to the new house before the son be considered a beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of the second letter (while the letter presented both moving and living together)?

Well, to answer those questions, we must obverse some important facts. We have two covenants in this illustration and we need to understand their natures. Let’s analyse the first one:

  1. Recipient of the Letter of the First Covenant: Son;
  2. Recipient of the Signal that Ratified the First Covenant (Gold Ring): Son;
  3. Terms of the covenant: the father promised to bless his son and, through him, his nephew.
  4. Recipients of the Blessings contained in the First Covenant: Son and, through him, his cousin.
  5. General Nature of the First Covenant: This covenant has a general nature that reveals the father’s intention in his future actions, to bless both boys, through the mediation of his son. Therefore, the future covenants would be based in the generic intent presented in this first covenant.

Now, let us look at the Second Covenant:

  1. Recipient of the Letter of the Second Covenant: Son;
  2. Recipient of the Signal that Ratified the Second Covenant (Silver Ring): Son;
  3. Terms of the covenant: the father promised to buy a house to his in order for him and his cousin move and live together in the city, to attend the university.
  4. Recipients of the Blessings contained in the Second Covenant: Son and, through him, his cousin.
  5. Nature of the Second Covenant: The second covenant is a development of the first General Covenant.

Considering all of the elements above and the one year intermediate period, we observe that the nephew is already participating of the blessings contained in the second covenant. This fact is indeed a partial and a literal fulfillment of the Second Covenant. The fact that the son is not living at the house, by a contingent event, does not mean that the convent is not been partially fulfilled (or even some type of spiritual fulfillment). We must agree that this intermediate period is a literal partial fulfillment. It is literal because it expresses the intention of the father (the nephew is already in the house). It is partial because there are more elements to be fulfilled in the future (the son moving to the house will be literally fulfilled yet).

That is exactly the view of Integrative Dispensationalism on the three main Bible Covenants. The first Covenant of our illustration can be compared to the Abrahamic covenant. The Davidic and New Covenant may be compared to the Second Covenant of our illustration.

As well in the illustration above, the Bible presented the Covenant promises as a whole. However, by some contingent factor (a factor also revealed in the OT, Isaiah 53), the rejection of the Messiah, the promises of the Covenants are been fulfilled in stages, rather than at once.

Considering the classification of the recipients of the Terms of a Covenant (to whom the Covenant was ratified) and the participants of the blessings contained in the Terms of the covenant, we can represent the New Covenant as follow:

  1. Recipient of the of the Terms of New Covenant: Jews;
  2. Recipients of the Blessings contained in Terms of New Covenant: Some promises a exclusively to the Jews (national restoration) while other promises, through the Jews, will reach all people (Indwelling of spirit, forgiveness etc.). Therefore, the gentiles, even though not being the original recipients of the terms of Covenant, are participants of some benefices contained in the Covenant terms.

Therefore, Integrative Dispensationalism understand that the New Covenant are been initially and partially fulfilled in our time, according the God’s intend to bless all families of the Earth, through Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ. This initial and partial fulfillment, we believe, it is a literal interpretation the Biblical text.

Integrative Dispensationalism also believes that the Davidic Covenant has been initially fulfilled since the first Coming of Jesus. However, we must be very careful at this point because this statement, in Integrative View, does not mean that Jesus is already at the Davidic Throne. To understand this, Integrative Dispensationalism differentiates some expressions that commonly has been taken as synonymous.

 

Defining the expressions ‘Davidic Covenant,’ ‘Davidic Promises’ and ‘Davidic Kingdom’.

For Integrative Dispesantionalism, these three elements exist in the hierarchical order that they were placed. That is, the ‘Davidic Covenant’ is formed by all the Promises made to David, and most of these promises refer to the Davidic Kingdom. When we recognize this distinction, we can ask the following question: did the Davidic Covenant begin to be fulfilled? If a single promise made in this covenant is been fulfilled, then, logically, we can say that the Davidic Covenant has already begun to be fulfilled in a partial way.

In the history, the Davidic Covenant was been fulfilled when the Temple was built by Solomon, because this building was one of the promises that compose the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:13). Therefore, the building of the temple was partial fulfillment of this specific Covenant.

The Davidic Covenant not just have promises that deals with the Temple, but also promises that deals with Israel Kingdom. That is the reason that not all promises of this Covenant are directly related to the Davidic Throne or Davidic Kingdom.

We must observe that the fulfillment of some promises made to David does not imply the reestablishment of the Davidic Kingdom. In that point, the Integrative Dispensationalism differentiates of Bock’s system. The Integrative believes that Jesus was raised and ascended to heaven in fulfillment of promises made to David (Atcs 2-3). Therefore, ID believes that the Davidic Covenant is been partially fulfilled in present Dispensation. However, the fulfillment of these two promises made to David (resurrection and ascension of Messiah) does not  imply the beginning of the Davidic Kingdom.

We think that it is a logical error to believe that a partial fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant imply a partial reestablishment of the Davidic Kingdom. We must separate these two concepts. For example, even the punishment and the loss of the Davidic Kingdom by Israel (seen in history) can be considered a partial fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:14), because this penalty was one of the terms or promises of the Covenant.

This shows us that we must be cautious at this point and define which promises of the Davidic Covenant that, when fulfilled, will result in the (r)establishment of the Davidic Kingdom. The ID agree with all connections that Bock makes in Luke-Acts with Davidic Covenant. We also agree that they are partially fulfilling the Davidic Covenant, but we disagree that this initial fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant implies the beginning of Davidic Kingdom.

The Davidic Covenant is partially fulfilled because the David Tend (i.e., his descendent) has been rebuilt (Acts 15).  However, in ID view, the Davidic Kingdom will be re-established only in the Millennium.


 

Author: Leonardo Costa