Monday, May 21, 2012

What is "New" about the New Covenant?

"There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines so much differ, as the stating the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ." ~ Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (vol. 1, p. 160)

Those who have spent significant time in the Reformed tradition are likely aware of covenant theology and that there are not "two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations." (WCF, VII.6)  They would probably be able to tell someone that the Church is under the new covenant, which was ushered in by Christ through His work of redemption. But, if one were to ask them what is "new" about the new covenant, one would probably get many different vague answers. Many would be able to point someone Jeremiah 31 as the Old Testament (OT) prophecy about the new covenant, yet the "newness" of it would probably still be hazy. Christians in the Reformed tradition are often taught that OT saints were redeemed on the basis of Christ’s (future) work of redemption just as present-day saints, yet this teaching often leaves the specific details of the old and new covenants under a cloud of confusion. And, as Edward's says (above), the specifics of the "newness" of the new covenant are hotly debated.

I have written a paper on this subject that, hopefully, will help clear up some of the confusion. I do not want to claim that this paper in any way settles the debate because there are many that would disagree with me. However, it gives my take on the issue, which I believe to biblical. Below is a little bit of the introduction:
The question must be asked, then, "What is 'new' about the new covenant?" A quick survey of the New Testament (NT) use of [Jeremiah 31] will show the importance of this question. At least ten NT passages quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34 directly or allude to it.  It is also the longest section of the OT quoted in the NT,  found in Hebrews 8:8-12 where the author uses it to show that Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant. Christ Himself alludes to it in His institutions of the Lord’s Supper (Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; Lk. 22:20; 1 Co. 11:25). The breadth of the impact of this passage on the NT alone shows the importance of this question. It is this question that the author will attempt to answer in this paper. In this paper, the author will show that the "newness" of the new covenant is not a matter of essence but a matter of degree and form: the old expands in the new through a more substantial administration of salvation, greater fellowship with God, particularity giving way to universality, and shadow and promise giving way to substance and fulfillment. To use the Dutch Reformer Herman Bavinck’s illustration, in the old covenant the fruit was still in the husk but with the new covenant the fruit was ripe and broke through the husk.
You can read the rest of the paper here. I pray that it will not only clear up some confusion you may have on this subject, but bring your heart to praise of God's glorious revelation of Himself and His grace to men in His covenants.

By His Grace,

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