God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? [Numbers 23:19]*
And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man that He should relent. [1 Samuel 15:29]
Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. [Psalm 119:89]
The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. [Psalm 119:160]
Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and the waves roar (the Lord of hosts is His name):
“If those ordinances depart from before Me,” says the Lord, “then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the Lord.” [Jeremiah 31:35-37]
Thus says the Lord: “if you can break my covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season,
then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers. [Jeremiah 33:20-21]
Thus says the Lord: “If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth,
then will I cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.” [Jeremiah 33:25-26]
For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. [Malachi 3:6]
Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. [Galatians 3:15]
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. [2 Timothy 2:13]
… in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began…. [Titus 1:2, emphasis added]
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. [James 1:17, emphasis added]
I have examined several systematic theology texts [Grudem, Ryrie, Grenz, Erickson, and Enns], along with several of the more noted creeds and confessions [Westminster Larger and Shorter catechisms, the New Hampshire Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, and the Baptist Faith and Message], and while some of them make mention of God’s essential integrity, that Truth is essential to His being, not one of them fully develops this attribute of God or the implications of that attribute when we seek to understand, interpret, and apply His word in other areas of theology.
I recently received a comment to another post here which stated: “However, you seem to assume that dispensationalism (of Ryrie, Hodges, etc.) is a serious theological system that deserves to be treated with anything other than ‘undisguised scorn, sarcasm and bombast’. It isn’t.”
This is one of the more polite comments the sender wrote. And, for someone who claims to have a Ph.D., he seems to have missed the main point of the post in order to create straw men arguments.
This is part and parcel of the methodology of covenant theologians when dealing with dispensationalism: never debate based on sound exegesis of the text, never look at the logic and the facts. Instead, the approach of covenantalists is to use defamation of character, overreaching and unprovable generalizations, and invective. In other words, they prefer to play postmodern language games.
Let’s look at how the language game is played.
The dispensationalist approaches the task of interpreting Scripture by looking first at the nature of Scripture and the rules of language. The first priority is maintaining a high view of Scripture—that is to say, dispensationalists are firmly committed to the doctrine of the plenary, verbal, Divine inspiration of Scripture. In other words, every word, the grammatical structures, and syntax of Scripture were superintended by God through the Holy Spirit. The Dispensationalist also maintains the doctrine that Scripture is without error in all that it affirms.
In keeping with this high view of Scripture, the Dispensationalist also affirms and maintains that God, being the ultimate Author of Scripture, is the ultimate interpreter of Scripture, and that any human interpretation, in order to be accepted as accurate, must be fully consistent with what has been revealed by God concerning Himself as to His essential being.
What this means is that God, the Creator of language, is the final arbiter of the rules by which language is to be interpreted.
Although I did not major in communication studies when I was in college or graduate school, this is beside the point. Every student in the public school system where I grew up was expected to learn written communication skills from the time one entered first grade until one graduated from high school after 12 years. In addition, the college I attended expected every graduate with a four-year degree to have, at a minimum, three courses in written communication [nine semester hours] and at least one course in oral communication skills. Of course, the demands were actually far more extensive no matter what one’s major field, because as one advanced to upper level courses, one was required to engage in research, write papers, and deliver presentations in class—all requiring the refining of the skills acquired in 12 years of education prior to entry into college.
The fundamental rule of all communication which was drummed into us was this: In the absence of clear signifiers indicating figures of speech, idiomatic usage, allegory, or other esoteric uses of language, communications are to be interpreted according to the plain usage of words, as commonly defined and understood. Given the fact that this appears to be a universal concept which applies to all languages, it serves as notice that it must be fundamental to the nature of language itself, as given by the Creator.
Given the title of this article, and the points I have been making about the fundamental nature of language and the general view of dispensationalists concerning language and Scripture, I now charge that covenantalists, want to change the rules of the game. Covenantalists play language games with Scripture. While they will not be intellectually or morally honest enough to admit it, their approach to Scripture is to interpret it literally except when it comes to prophecies in the Old Testament which have not yet exhibited any indication of having yet been fulfilled. The game they play follows the doctrinal innovations of Origen and Augustine, as derived from the philosophy of Plato, and filtered through the gnostics. That game is to assert that such prophecies were fulfilled in and meant to be applied “spiritually” to the Church, and that no literal fulfillment was necessary or even desirable. The question which goes unanswered to this day by covenantalists is this: why should the Church be bound to a system of interpretation based on a pagan school of philosophy rather than letting the word of God speak for itself?
Let’s think about it for a moment without the emotionalism that covenantalists are prone to exhibit when their sacred cows are butchered for hamburgers. Look at the prophecies I cited earlier from Jeremiah. According to covenantalist interpretation, those prophecies have found their fulfillment in the Church. But let’s examine the language of the prophecies themselves without the accretions of the pagan hermeneutical philosophy advocated by covenantalists.
In Jeremiah 31:36-37; 33:20-26, God has made specific promises to the family of David, the tribe of Levi, and ethnic Israel. Moreover, those promises are linked to the natural order of creation. God has said, if those promises are not kept, the natural order of creation itself will be undone. In other words, if God goes back on His word, creation itself would cease to exist.
These prophecies were given at a time when the nation of Israel had ceased to exist as a political entity. The northern kingdom had ceased to exist in 722 BC after the Assyrian invasion. The southern kingdom and the Davidic dynasty were coming to an end as these prophecies were written as the Babylonians had Jerusalem under siege just prior to its destruction in 587 BC.
But these words were intended to bring hope to Jeremiah’s immediate hearers—the hope that in the midst of what appeared to be certain doom, God would preserve His people, ethnic Israel, and restore the dynasty of David AND the Levitical priesthood. Were the prophecies ever fulfilled?
According to dispensationalists, they have not been fulfilled—yet. The covenantalist would say the prophecies are fulfilled in the church. Using an allegorical [“spiritual”] interpretation, the covenantalist claims that Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven fulfills the requirements of the return of the Davidic dynasty, that followers of Christ are a kingdom of priests and therefore fulfill the promises to restore the Levitical priesthood, and that the Church itself is the new Israel and therefore fulfills the promises made through Jeremiah.
What the covenantalists are not being honest about is the implications of their method of interpretation. The implication behind their interpretation is that God did not have the same meaning in what He told Jeremiah to prophesy as Jeremiah and the people of Judah would take from the words. If such were to be the case, and as God is omniscient, and would know the meaning taken by Jeremiah and the people to these words, the covenantalist is forced into an implication that God deliberately misled Jeremiah and the people of Judah, telling them something which they would have understood literally, all the while fully intending that there would not be a literal fulfillment of those prophecies. In other words, if the covenantalist interpretation is to be believed, then God deceived Jeremiah and his hearers—He lied to them.
There is no other possibility—either God’s word actually means what it says in the words inspired and superintended by God following ordinary, commonly accepted definitions of the words, or God engages in linguistic subterfuge and duplicity. The inescapable conclusion is that if one is going to adopt the theology of covenantalism, one must deal with the implication that God may stoop to deception contrary to what He has stated is His very nature.
This brings us back to the correspondence I received from the covenantalist. He stated that dispensationalism is not worthy of serious consideration and that it [and, by extension, those who accept it] are worthy of being treated with sarcasm, scorn, and bombast. This is an attitude unworthy of someone who pastors a congregation according to Scripture [1 Timothy 3:1-7]. The inference is that those who promote and accept dispensational theology are not intelligent or capable of serious thought. This tells us more about the inherent arrogance of those who criticize dispensationalism than it does to reveal any alleged exegetical flaws in the eschatology/ecclesiology of dispensationalists.
While it is true that there have been some who style themselves as dispensationalists and who have been not merely intemperate, but unscriptural in their application of eschatological teachings [such as Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping, Tex Marrs, J.R. Church, et al], the truth of the matter is that there are many dispensationalists who are highly intelligent, well-read, men and women who are as skilled in research and who have just as many intellectual and academic attainments [if not more] as my critic [Daniel Wallace, Thomas McCall, Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, Ed Hindson, J. Dwight Pentecost, Thomas Ice, J. Randall Price, James Price, Paul Enns, Mark Hitchcock, Norman Geisler, and Paul Benware–to name a few]. Of course covenantalists can marshal a list of theologians in their camp who are every bit as academically qualified, but that again misses the point—because I have never claimed or inferred that covenantalists are illiterate or unintelligent. They are simply unwilling to face the theological fallacies and conclusions which exist in their construct in a responsible and intellectually honest manner.
The difference is that dispensationalists teach that the Scripture was given by God in plain language with the intention that His people would be able to clearly understand it. Covenantalists, on the other hand, teach that Scripture cannot be understood correctly in plain language—it must be understood according to some sort of esoteric “spiritualized” allegorical language games, for which only they know the rules.
In this sense, covenantalism is nothing more and nothing less than a revival of the early gnostic heresy. Just as the early gnostics looked down on the “mere” Christians who interpreted Scripture according to the rules of plain language and common, ordinary usage of words, so the covenantalists do with those Christians who refuse to accept the pronouncements of their higher, “more spiritual” understanding of Scripture.
This is clear proof of the language games being played by covenantalists. When confronted with sound exegesis and logic from the dispensationalists, the covenantalists attack them in other areas of theology—even if they have to resort to slander and false accusations in order to do so. The critic who wrote to me accused me of wrongly defining “antinomianism” in the article he thought merited rebuttal. My only error in the definition was failing to attribute the definition to a source. Since the definition came from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, it is hardly an incorrect definition, unless the critic wishes to assert that he is a greater authority than the dictionary—an assertion which would be not merely debatable, but palpably absurd.
Covenantalism is, by implication and inference, an insult to the veracity and integrity of God. Covenantalism, because of its philosophic ties to Gnosticism and paganism, breeds arrogance and a haughty pride rather than a proper humility. In addition, because of its philosophical heritage, Covenantalism glorifies human wisdom against the Holy Spirit. Covenantalism deserves no recognition as a “Christian” form of theology.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.