Understanding The Bible
Rodney J. Decker
Conclusion to: The Church's Relationship to The New Covenant
Based on the material presented in these two
articles, the following position regarding the relationship of the New Covenant
and the church would seem to be both defensible and adequate to account for the
The New Covenant, prophesied in the Old Testament to be made with Israel, was ratified at the Cross and implemented as a replacement of the Mosaic Covenant. It is presently the basis o which anyone relates to God and it governs the life of all believers. The church, though not a formal partner of the New Covenant, participated in the covenant both as a subject of its rule of life and a recipient of promised Abrahamic Covenant blessings for Gentiles that have come through the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
This explanation does not demand that the church "fulfill" the covenant; that remains for national Israel in the future millennium. It does acknowledge that there is more involved in the New Covenant than could have been known simply from the Old Testament. This in no way changes the meaning of those passages, but does allow for God's ding more than He promised (thought it will be no less than promised). The term "partial fulfillment" is not necessary. If fulfillment is used to describe the relationship of the covenant partners, then fulfillment in any respect should be viewed as future (1). "Participation" is a better term to describe the present aspects as it both avoids replacement concepts (the church replacing Israel in fulfilling the covenant) and also explains the partial nature of the obedience evident in the experience of the church. Even though the ministry of the Holy Spirit has changed dramatically, based on the ratification and implementation of the New Covenant, the full ramifications of that ministry will not be experienced until the covenant enters the fulfillment stage in the future messianic kingdom.
Some protest that if the church is related to an Old Testament covenant in this way the distinction between Israel and the church is endangered (2). In response the following points may be briefly noted.
The church is a mystery and thus was not revealed in the Old Testament (3). Ephesians 3:2-6 argues that the church ("the body," v. 6) is a mystery (v. 3) that was not made known to people in earlier generations (v. 5). The Gentiles and Jews are joint heirs in one body, namely, the church (v. 6). Paul did not use the word "mystery" to mean something difficult to understand. It is rather something that was formerly hidden -- unknown by humankind (although known by God) -- but now revealed to man. The significance of this passage is that information about the church should not be expected in the old Testament. It was unknown, for God had not revealed that His eternal plan included the formation of a group of believers drawn from both Jews and Gentiles following the coming of Christ. From an Old Testament perspective, it was unexpected that a different group, related to God in a different way than Israel, would be God's vehicle for taking the gospel to the world in the interval between Messiah's first and second advents. That does not mean, however, that this was unexpected or unplanned by God, nor should it be viewed as an interruption in God's program,. If the church was a mystery in the Old Testament, how could the Old Testament indicate any relationship between the church and the New Covenant? (4)
The Old Testament prophets ministered specifically to Israel and were concerned primarily with Israel's relationship to the New Covenant. Even if the prophets had known that there would be a church and that the church would participate in the New Covenant, that could not require that they mention the church's involvement.
The Old Testament does not say that only Israel will participate in the New Covenant. The Old Testament does say that the New Covenant is made with Israel. That is different, however, from saying that the New Covenant is only from Israel. The New Testament does not violate Old Testament statements when it includes more than was revealed in the Old Testament.
inclusion of remnant Jews in the Church during the present dispensation does not
demand partial fulfillment, for they are incorporated into the body of Christ as
are all other believers. There is no distinction in the church between Jew and
Greek (Galatians 3:28). These Jews participate in the New Covenant today on the
same basis as Gentiles who are baptized into Christ, not as inaugural
representatives of the covenant partners.
2-Cf. the quotations from Chafer and Stanford in Notes 2, 11-16
3-This is the traditional dispensational definition of "mystery." The progressive dispensational definition of mystery as proposed, for example, by Saucy, is that the church was a mystery in the Old Testament in the sense that Old Testament prophecies of the church had not yet been fulfilled. However, this has not been universally adopted by dispensationalists.
4-The definition of "mystery" is clearer in Colossians 1:26, since there is no comparative word to suggest anything other than an absolute contrast. The word was (gk) in Ephesians 3:5 has been understood by covenant theologians to suggest that the church was revealed in the Old Testament, but not as clearly as in the New Testament. Saucy says the statement must be absolute not relative (The case for Progressive Dispensationalism, 152), but the practical import of his explanation allows for prophecy of the church in the Old Testament. He concludes that "a New Testament mystery can have some clear relation to previous prophetic Scripture" and that "the church is involved in the fulfillment of the messianic promises of the Old Testament, Messianic days have dawned, albeit in a way or clearly seen in the Old Testament.
It seems best to understand "mystery" i Romans 16:25-26 as referring to the relationship between the various aspects of Messiah's Person and work (which were revealed in the Old Testament) and how they would be realized in one individual, Jesus Christ (i.e., how the pieces would fit together rather than to conclude that "mystery" refers only to the fact that these prophecies had not yet been realized (as does Saucy, "The Church as the Mystery of God," 144)
Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December
Volume 152, Number 608, Page 454
Conclusion to: The Church's Relationship to The New Covenant
By Rodney J. Decker, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Calvary Bible College and Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri.