Covenantal Typology: A Proposal

Often times, when we discuss types in Scripture, we may assume that an Old Testament type passes away when the New Testament antitype brings it to fulfillment. Often times, this is the case. Here are some examples:

  • The Old Testament Levitical priesthood has now passed away. It pointed us forward to Christ, who is now our permanent high priest in the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 7). Fulfillment requires the passing away of the type.
  • The Old Testament sacrificial system has now passed away. It pointed us forward to Christ, who is now our permanent sacrifice (see Hebrews 10). Again, fulfillment requires the passing away of the type.
  • The Old Testament holy places (tabernacle, then temple) have now passed away. Jesus is the true Temple, the new covenant locus of God’s presence with us. Fulfillment requires the passing away of the type.

Some Dispensationalists have argued that we should expect a rebuilt temple, with a re-established sacrificial system, which would presumably require a reconstituted priesthood, in the millennial kingdom. Yet the purpose of the sacrifices will not be atonement but rather public testimony to the finality of Christ’s sacrifice (and yes, I realize how ironic that concept is). Overall, however, this has been a minority position in church history, and I do not regard it as biblically persuasive.

So, most Christians agree that a number of Old Testament types pass away when the New Testament brings them to fulfillment. But does this mean that all types pass away? Is it possible that at least some types do not pass away but rather are incorporated into the fulfillment? And if so, by what principle could we determine types that pass away from types that don’t?

I have a proposal on this question, but first, let me give two examples:

(1) Israel is a type of Christ. As God’s son, Israel is by and large disobedient. But Christ is the true, obedient Son who succeeds where Israel failed. The 40-day wilderness temptation narrative in the Gospels clearly echoes the 40-year wilderness wanderings of Israel, but the two stories have very different results. Christ transcends and surpasses Israel as antitypes always transcend and surpass their types. In doing so, he unites in himself “one new man” of Jews and Gentiles, a worldwide, redeemed family, the church.

And yet, this does not entail the elimination of Israel as such. In fact, the argument of Romans 9-11 strongly affirms that God’s gifts to and calling of Israel are irrevocable. National Israel still has an important role in God’s plan, and God’s promise of redemption to the nation will be fulfilled (I know there are other ways of reading Romans 9-11, but I find them unpersuasive). The antitypical fulfillment of the Israel type in the New Testament does not entail the passing away of Israel as such. Instead, national Israel will be incorporated into the fulfillment at the return of Christ.

(2) The Davidic dynasty as a type of Christ. This too plays on the themes of sonship (2 Sam. 7:14). On the whole, the Davidic dynasty failed, sending Judah into exile. Christ has come as a new David, an obedient Son, not to eliminate the Davidic dynasty, but to bring it to fulfillment. Interestingly, there will be no son of Aaron representing us as a priest forever; that priesthood has passed away. But there will be a Son of David representing us as a king forever. David’s line remains covenantally significant into the new creation.

By what principle can we distinguish between a type that passes away, such as the Levitical priesthood, and a type that is incorporated into the fulfillment, such as the Davidic dynasty? I would argue that we should give attention to the particular covenant to which the type is connected, and determine whether or not that type is bound up with an everlasting promise. Covenants that make everlasting promises will have everlasting types. The covenant that was specifically designed for a temporary role (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant) will have temporary types.

The priesthood is bound up with the Mosaic Covenant. Now that the covenant, having fulfilled its role in history, has passed away, so has its priesthood. Type has given way to antitype. The Davidic dynasty, on the other hand, is bound up with the Davidic Covenant, which in turn represents an extension of the promise to Abraham. These two covenants do not pass away, and so their types remain.

I would argue that the same is true for national Israel. Although many aspects of Israel’s national identity are bound up with Mosaic Covenant, there are also numerous promises to national Israel tied to the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Therefore, Israel as such does not pass away but will be incorporated into the new creation in Christ.

One proposal that is more controversial involves the land promise in the Abrahamic Covenant. If the principle I have articulated is applied consistently, we would have to conclude that it has ongoing significance. In fact, it is difficult to imagine how a corporate salvation of “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) could occur apart from a land in which Israel may be constituted as a nation. The inheritance of the land of Palestine for a restored kingdom of Israel seems to be entirely in keeping with consistent principles of biblical typology. Of course, the New Testament does expand the land promise to encompass the whole earth (Rom. 4:13), but just as the redemption of the Gentile nations in Christ does not entail the exclusion of Israel as a nation, neither does the inheritance of the whole earth entail the exclusion of one portion of the earth for one particular nation in the consummated kingdom.

Does this sound like a two-tiered kingdom, with Israel getting a real sonship status and the Gentiles getting left to a lower form of the inheritance? Before making that charge, consider the fact that Israel undeniably has at least one privilege over all of the other nations in the kingdom: Jesus is, and forever will be, a Son of David, one who belongs to the nation of Israel. In addition, most commentators on Romans today agree that Romans 9-11 entails the fulfillment of a national promise to Israel, and if that is indeed the case, it would mean that God has promised something to Israel that he has promised to no other nation on earth, namely, the salvation of that nation as a nation, and not merely as a collection of individual representatives from that nation. If we accept both of these premises, are we really going too far if we suggest that Israel’s connection to the specific land promised to them remains intact in the eschatological fulfillment of the promises to Abraham?

As a Gentile believer in Christ, I rejoice in the reestablishment of the Davidic dynasty, the promised future salvation of Israel, and the anticipation that God’s everlasting promise of land to Abraham will be fulfilled. As an heir of the new creation, I don’t see the promise of land to Israel as excluding me, but rather including me through the expansion of the land promise to incorporate the whole earth, but not the exclusion of Israel’s particular inheritance in Palestine. Gentile believers are saved in Christ, not through the obliteration of or replacement of Israel, but through incorporation into a renewed Israel. We are wild olive branches whose only hope is that we may be grafted into the cultivated olive tree.

 

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6 thoughts on “Covenantal Typology: A Proposal

  1. I like your theory here, but I have some questions.

    1. How could the Davidic dynasty discontinue after fulfilment in Christ? He truly is a Davidic King. Other types are actually two separate things – even the priesthoods – which allows the type to discontinue. Is it right to call the dynasty a type?

    2. The idea of passing away needs clarification for me. For instance, while there are a number of important differences in detail, you could argue that the need for sacrifice has not passed away, either. The need is there, but it has been fulfilled in Christ, and we demonstrate that need publicly every time we appeal to that sacrifice through communion. We don’t need to make any more sacrifices, but neither do we need any more kings.

    It is true that there is a diiference between the passing away of the sacrificial system and the non-passing away of the dynasty, but the difference seems to have to do with the nature of the thing being fulfilled: “sacrificial system” refers to a system of repeated sacrifices which are over when the last sacrifice is complete; “dynasty” refers to a line of kings which is over when the last king dies. The fulfilment of the former requires it’s end – a sacrificial system is not fulfilled without a finished sacrifice. The fulfilment of the latter requires it’s continuation – a dynasty cannot be fulfilled without a continually living king.

    So, again, the continuation of the thing depends on the thing being fulfilled it would seem.

    None of this is to say I disagree with your theory, it just occurs to me that it may not be so neat.

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  2. Thanks for the feedback. I think these observations are really just different ways of looking at what I have argued here. You have pointed out how the nature of the dynasty requires its continuation over against the nature of the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system. I agree, and I think that is why the former is tied to promises of the two everlasting covenants to Abraham and David, whereas the latter is tied to the temporary Mosaic Covenant.

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  3. But the nature of Israel does not require its continuation, (even though I agree it continues), does it? In fact, it is quite plausible that God could destroy Israel, cutting them off and create the new Israel through Jesus a la Exodus 32:10, which is not, I believe what you mean by Israel continuing.

    Neither is the nature of the land of Israel such that it must continue.

    So, I’m not sure the nature of the sacrificial system and the davidic dynasty explains why they belong to their respective covenants. I would want to look elsewhere for the why.

    Again, I believe your proposal has merit. I’m just pushing against to see if it holds. And I’m uneasy about the priests and sacrifices in Ezekiel being read non-literally, though I accept they have passed away…

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    • Two points here in response:

      (1) I agree that Israel and the land do not continue perpetually in terms of their absolute nature. However, if we regard what they are in relation to what God has promised, that is what I mean. So there is nothing in the nature of Israel that requires its existence at all, but the nature of the promises made to Israel by God does require it. So “nature” must be read in light of what God has already decreed and promised. The same, I believe, is true of the Davidic dynasty here.

      (2) I think it’s possible to read the vision of Ezekiel’s rebuilt temple as a conditional promise (I’m still mulling this one over, so I’m not entirely convinced yet). On this reading, the temple/priest/sacrifices represent to the exiled Jews what will occur if they repent and purify their hearts upon their return to the land. Sadly, such did not occur, and thus the vision was never realized in the Second Temple.

      The vision holds out hope, not only for a restored Israel with a restored priesthood/temple/etc., but also for blessings to flow from Israel to the nations (the river flowing out of the temple symbolizes this). But since the returned-from-exile Israel did not realize this vision, Jesus Christ has fulfilled it as the true Temple, Priest, sacrifice, etc. John 7:37-39 (when properly punctuated) seems to identify Jesus himself as the source of the water that flows to the world. And John particularly notes that blood and water flowed from his side when we he crucified.

      See this article for a more extended argument: http://www.equip.org/article/making-sense-ezekiels-temple-vision/

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      • Ok. I agree that the promises of God will determine the continuation or not of each type. I agree that we need to look more closely at that. But Ezekiel’s vision and our understanding of it impinges on this in a major way. If, as you are tentatively suggesting, Ezekiel’s prophecy was conditional and didn’t come true because the conditions weren’t fulfilled, doesn’t that just return us to the original question, except, instead of trying to figure out what is analogical, we need to figure out what is conditional and what is not?

        Having said that, it occurs to me again that Jonah’s prophecy was conditional and not fulfilled, despite the warnings in the Law about prophets whose words do not come to pass…

        Intriguing…

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      • I think it does return us to that original question, but I think covenantally, we can say that the Abrahamic, Davidic, and new covenants are all unilateral (I like that word better than “unconditional”). By “unilateral,” I do not mean that there is no human element of obedience involved at all; I mean that they are covenants that God has personally guaranteed that he will fulfill, even to the point of supplying the human obedience necessary (e.g., God has supplied the faithful Son of David who brings the Davidic covenant to fulfillment).

        The Mosaic Covenant, on the other hand, is bilateral, meaning the inheritance of the blessing depends on Israel’s obedience.

        Viewed from this perspective, Ezekiel’s prophecy may represent the hope of new blessings on the other side of the exile if Israel obeys the Mosaic Covenant. In other words, it is a vision that shows that the promise of blessing laid out on Deuteronomy 28 is still there, even though they have already experienced the curse. And if they obey, it will have ramifications not only for Israel but for the world. Sadly, they did not/could not obey, and the hope of Ezekiel 40-48 must be transposed into a new covenant key, where the heart will be changed.

        With regard to Jonah, I think the implicit condition of every prophecy of judgment (“unless you repent”) explains why he was not a false prophet. The purpose of prophecy is not merely to foretell what is going to happen; it is to lead people to repentance. The fact that Jonah (in spite of himself) led the Ninevites to the one true God is proof that he was not a false prophet.

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