By: Raymond Harris
First Entry: Theology: A Root of Argumentation
Second Entry: Dispensational Theology
Third Entry: Replacement (Supersession) Theology
Fourth Entry: Cessation Theology
Fifth Entry: Covenant Theology
Sixth Entry: Olive Branch Theology
Seven Entry: Continuation Theology
NOTE: Remember that it is not my intention to compose a thesis giving a critical examination of theological perspectives; my reasoning is somewhat simple, doing such an investigation seems to appeal to a small audience. Instead, I am attempting to reveal how I believe the theology is attempting to process biblical teachings. Within that framework, I will reveal some of my thoughts about why I agree or disagree about the theological perspective.
Before I Begin
I almost hate to even provide my conclusions in a separate article. Yet, as the reader can obviously see, My Conclusion is in a separate article; but I argued with myself for a bit, because I really have this feeling that future readers will begin with My Conclusion, never having read any of my previous thoughts, and will send me some type of correspondence about why I am mistaken. Yet, we continue.
While it can be successfully argued that all Bible readers are theologians to one degree or another, I am using the term Theologians to refer to those individuals who have dedicated themselves to a Theological Degree Program.
Theologians are tremendously helpful because they help develop mechanisms for the human intellect to process the Scriptures. Even though many Theologians have advanced studies and decrees, this does not mean that Theologians always agree; this is why there are areas of study like Cessation Theology and Continuation Theology. But it is interesting to make note that just because two Theologians believe in Covenant Theology does not automatically mean that they both agree on all the details of Covenant Theology.
There are two other items that non-theologians should also keep in mind. One, just because I am not fully recognized as a Theologian does not mean that my ideas and/or interpretations are any less or any more valid regarding theological discussions. Two, just because some of my readers are non-theologians does not mean that their Biblical interpretations are any less or any more valid than a Theologian’s.
All believers are, in some way or another, students of the Scriptures and that makes each believer a theologian, even if they are weekend warrior theologians. As mentioned previously (see Theology: A Root of Argumentation), theology simply means one’s thinkings (one’s sayings) about God. When done considerately, mindfully, prayerfully, and spiritually, all believers can contribute to an ongoing dialogue about God and His Scriptures.
However, I would like to add a last thought about Theology and Theologians: those men and women who have dedicated their lives to the daily study of Scripture, generally speaking, have a much greater knowledge of biblical detail. Consider any professional occupation, the honest person in any full time occupation (e.g. engineering) should have far greater ability and skill than the hobbyist or “weekend warrior”. This does not mean that the hobbyist or “weekend warrior” is incapable, but they, generally speaking, do not have the same skill set. This, in no way, makes make them inferior, simply skilled to a lesser degree.
The readers should keep in mind that as I was discussing the various theologies, I did so based upon how I understand them. This means that there are aspects of each theology that I did not discuss or I may not have fully addressed. My articles also reveal my understanding of these theologies (as studied since 2004 but composed as written material during the 2010-2011 Winter), which means that at some point in the future my understanding may change and therefore my conclusions may become modified or “outdated”.
Remember, I, too, am still a learner, as every quality minister and Bible student should be. As such, this may leave the reader with questions that they want answered, I respectfully request the reader to continue their own investigations in order to locate those answers.
So the big question becomes: Can we all understand the Bible the same? As much as I struggle with this and I want an answer of yes; I feel compelled to answer, no. We must recall that theology is simply the beginning method for the intellect to understand what God has revealed in the Scriptures. As we have seen from this excursion into the waters of theology, theology motivates interpretation; interpretation gives doctrine.
If one Bible interpreter works from Replacement and Cessation Theologies and another Bible interpreter uses Covenant and Continuation Theologies, the two will argue the supremacy of their interpretation and, if cordial, they will be forced to agree to disagree; unless one Bible interpreter is willing to be convinced of the supremacy of another theology. Therefore, the reason why Bible interpreters argue is because they are arguing from different theological standards.
Consider as a parable, the Metric System (based on 10s) and the English Standard System (based on 12s). No matter how close 13mm socket is to a ½” socket, they are technically two different measurements coming from two different standards. Which one is correct? Technically the 13mm socket should be used on a 13mm bolt, and the ½” socket should be used on a ½” bolt; but experience has proven that people often interchange the two, believing they are the same.
Theology: The Reason Behind The Doctrine
While similar, Theologies, like the different Measuring System Standards, are different, and the differences are the reason(s) why people argue and debate. The theological standard used by the disciple and the church establishes doctrine. Theological differences and preferences seem to be espoused from Bible classes, commentaries, debates, and pulpits, but it seems rare that the theological positions themselves are evaluated. This is what I have attempted to do.
From all my studies, it appears that theology is the motivator for biblical interpretation; which then gives doctrine and tradition. It seems impracticable for the process to work in the reverse.
However, the following is possible. In order to support a biblical doctrine, the church and/or the disciple goes to the Bible, reads and interprets the Bible through a theological perspective (whether known or unknown; recognized or unrecognized) establishing doctrine; which may or may not be fully accurate when the theological perspective is more fully examined. This is why it is important to not just recognize theological perspectives, but to understand what each specific theology promotes and how it promotes biblical doctrine.
Again, theology gives biblical interpretation; biblical interpretation gives doctrine; and doctrine is what individual disciples and (denominational, non-denominational, and inter-denominational) churches argue and debate. Theology gives churches practices and worship practices; and Theology drives definitions for which day to worship, holy day observances, and the definition of Christian; and vast are the areas affected by Theology.
As thoroughly stated, Theological differences are the motivating force behind many arguments and debates about biblical doctrine.
Cessation Theology affirms that miracles, signs and wonders have ended and are not part of the modern church; where Continuation Theology affirms that miracles, signs and wonders have not ended and are part of the modern church.
Dispensational Theology interprets the Bible through time periods where God manages (oversees) humanity. Covenant Theology interprets the Bible through the Biblical accounts referring to the ideas of God’s Covenants (examples: Noah, Abraham, the Nation of Israel, and the New Covenant). Olive Branch Theology is closely interconnected with Covenant Theology, but Paul discusses Olive Branch Theology in Romans Eleven where he describes the Gentile Believers as having been grafted into a Holy Root System.
Replacement Theology posits that Jesus is a new lawgiver therefore the NT replaces the OT, requiring the disciples to locate and identify God’s commands, to which some have suggested there are now 1050 commands1 verses the rabbinical enumeration of 613 for the OT.2
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5.17-18)
as meaning what Jesus said. Jesus claimed that he came to fulfill not to abolish, and that since heaven and earth are still here, then the OT still has purpose.
Therefore Covenant Theology views OT commands, without animal sacrifices, as righteous instructions for the New Covenant, wherein a believer is justified by God’s grace through Christ (as opposed to the exactitude of following commands) and that love fulfills the commands of the OT.3 This is why Paul says that “15…the holy scriptures [by literary context, Paul is specifically referring to the OT], which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God [and by extension, the church of God] may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3.15-17 KJV) This means that the OT Commands instruct the disciples how to love, how to live, and how to worship, in essence the OT reveals in detail what is pleasing to God.
Since Covenant Theology and Olive Branch Theology refer to the OT, and insinuate OT purpose, this means that God does not have “to repeat” commands in the NT that were found in the OT. This means that we, Gentiles, can and should refer to the OT for understanding what pleases God, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”4
Jesus said “not one jot or one tittle” would disappear until all things had been fulfilled, which included the Heaven and Earth passing away. Heaven and Earth have not passed away; consequently everything cannot be fulfilled, even if it is simply waiting for the Messiah’s return.
Simply stated, it seems appropriate to conclude that the NT does not indicate or insinuate that the NT writings would supplant and abrogate the OT writings, but that the NT writings complement and fully reveal OT meaning. Even James, at the Jerusalem Council, stated that the Gentiles should learn from the Scriptures (the OT), “for Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath.” (Acts 15.21, cf. Acts 15.13 to know it is James)
Animal sacrifices are not needed in the New Covenant, because Jesus represents the fullness, the completion of animal sacrifices and offerings, making full atonement for sin. However, the NT does not say that disciples are no longer without offerings. New Covenant offerings include, at least, three things: the disciple’s life,5 the fruit of the lips,6 and the freewill offering from the fruit of labor.7
With the New Covenant, there is no longer a distinction between Jews and Gentiles,8 that distinction has been torn down by the body of Messiah.9
It seems there is no longer a distinction between tribes, one tribe for priestly duties and the other tribes not being priests, because Peter reasons that all disciples are a “royal priesthood”.10
It would seem that the OT moral instructions are not abrogated by the NT. Matthew 7.12 encapsulates the intention of every OT command, law, statute, and/or code; every line was to teach Israel “how to treat others”.
The OT is still quite valid in teaching the disciples of Jesus “how to treat others;” it does not seem proper to conclude that these lessons are diminished simply because Messianic prophecy is fulfilled.
Paul and the OT
Paul seems to be widely interpreted as “nailing the OT to the Cross”. Perhaps this is true if one “nails to the cross” righteousness earned by attempting to observe every aspect of the Law, but it is simply unfounded to interpret Paul’s statement as “nailing to the Cross” OT influence.
Paul, throughout the NT, utilizes the OT to preach Jesus as the promised Messiah (e.g. Acts 13.13-41, Acts 17.1-3), and then turns around and uses the OT to prove doctrinal positions within the New Covenant. This is certain because in the NT, the phrase OT is never found, the OT is referred to as Scriptures, Law, Law and Prophets, among others (see this article for in-depth listing).
Paul refers to the OT in Romans 13.8-10 and states that in the New Covenant love is the fulfillment of the OT. I would like to go into this further, but this is probably best left for another article.
Romans 15.4 KJV is a verse that has been drilled into my head, the “things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” But what is important about Romans 15.4 is that Paul uses an OT passage in Romans 15.3 to prove his statement in Romans 15.2. So the Holy Spirit, through Paul, provides an example of how to use the OT in Romans 15.2-4.
Another great passage from Paul that becomes another example of how to use the OT is 1 Corinthians 10.1-14. Paul refers to several specific narratives found in the Books of Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy) in order to teach the Corinthians important spiritual lessons, among which is this “things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction”.
Simply stated, Paul is never dismissive of the OT. He refers to it, quotes it, and utilizes it for New Covenant faith, life and worship.
The Gentile’s Responsibility to the OT
For the Gentile Christian, adherence and observance of the OT is not bound per the Jerusalem Council’s decision;11 but what is bound on Gentile Christians is that we are to learn from the OT.12 Which seems more than evident by the way Paul uses the OT in Romans and First Corinthians. Also based upon Paul’s statement to Timothy about the OT,13 Gentile Christians are permitted, in fact, encouraged to use the OT.
The Gentile Christians can use the OT as instructions for faith, life, and worship (sans animal sacrifice), doctrine, corrective ideas for faith, and instructions concerning the things that God considers righteous. This simply means that the Gentile Christian and Church are expected to utilize the OT.
After seven long arduous years of lengthy in-depth study, these are my conclusions. My presentation, at the time, should not be construed as my final say, because, God willing, after more years of study, I may have additional thoughts; but as for now, these things reveal why we as churches are arguing and dividing.
For a moment, I would like to refer to a thought from the first article:
In some ways, it gives us confidence and comfort to have rock solid infallible theology, but we are people, and as people we fail and fall short in our understandings. But it seems proper that theology should be consistent and coherent. Inconsistency and incoherency lead to misunderstandings; worse they can lead to hypocrisy. At the end of the day, and perhaps at the end of time, theology represents humanity’s finite capabilities to grasp and understand the Infinite Creator, and therefore theology seems to take a back seat to faith. Yet. Yet…
As a conclusive statement after this long study, it seems intellectually and spiritually proper to conclude and posit that Theology must meet at least two qualifications: consistency and coherency.
In order for Theology to have the power of truth, then Theology:
- Must remain consistent with intended biblical meaning, and Theology must also have consistent church and disciple application.
- Must have coherency of meaning, and coherency of thought, even if that meaning and thought is non-western.
As one who grew up in the church of Christ, I did as instructed: read the Bible and seek the first Century Church. After doing those two things, and seeking reconciliation for doctrinal differences, My Conclusions find their significance in Theological perspectives that drive biblical interpretations. If the foundations that support the details are not first discussed and examined, discussions about details are inappropriate and unproductive.
I seek unity; I seek harmony, but incomplete theology is, well, incomplete. As a disciple who was taught, “speak were the Bible speaks, and be silent were it is silent” I remain silent no longer. Dispensational and Replacement Theologies seem inadequate for resolving certain biblical interpretation. Scriptures seem to lend far greater support to Covenant, Olive Branch, and Continuation Theologies, and using these Theologies has demonstrated a resolution of some biblical interpretation issues.
It becomes significant and spiritually important that Paul affirms that disciples should utilize the OT for their faith (as previously discussed about Romans 13.8-10, 15.2-4, 1 Corinthians 10.1-13, 2 Timothy 3.15-17). Yet, it is Paul who affirms that the OT does not justify, faith in Jesus as sin atonement is what fully justifies the sinner (Romans 3.20-26).
It is important to grasp that what Paul tells Timothy about the OT certainly has application to the modern disciple:
15…the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. 17That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work. (2 Timothy 3.15-17 ASV)
Simply stated, the “sacred writings” are not limited to the New Testament writings, the “sacred writings” include the Old Testament. So, according to Paul, the OT can teach, reprove, correct, and instruct how to worship, when to worship, acts of worship, modes of worship, in addition to righteous instructions for daily living. This situation is true because Paul, in this exact same passage, said Scriptures come straight from God, and God gave them so that the “man of God” (whether the individual disciple, or the church manifesting itself as the “body of Christ”) “may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” which includes worship.
Initially, that went against everything I had ever been given, but Paul is either correct or he is not. And since I have been given the adage “the Scriptures are true, whether I like it or not” then Paul must be accurate, fully inspired, and honest about the NT’s intended use of the OT. To make a small application specific to worship (without writing an entire article) it can be stated rather simply: since my church of Christ heritage has taught me to generally reject man-made councils, synods and theologies and to do “Bible things in Bible ways” then Paul’s statement insinuates that any argument for or against musical instrument use that utilizes support from “church history” (according to the events and writings of the Second and Third centuries to the present) has little impact on church worship; the appeal to post-apostolic historical authority simply is not as authoritative as the appeal to Scripture.
An Addendum thoughts about:
Where Do We Go From Here?
1. 1050 NT Commands. “New Testament Commandments”, Shalach Ministries; “1050 NT commands”, Google Search.
2. 613 OT Commands. “613 Mitzvot”, Wikipedia; “613 commands”, Google Search.
3. Love fulfills the commands of the OT. Romans 13.8-10.
4. God, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1.17 KJV.
5. New Covenant offerings include: the disciple’s life. Romans 12.1-2.
6. New Covenant offerings include: the fruit of the lips. Hebrews 13.15.
7. New Covenant offerings include: the freewill offering from the fruit of labor. 1 Corinthians 16.1-2.
8. In the New Covenant no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11.
9. Jew and Gentile distinction was torn down by the body of Messiah. Ephesians 2.13-22.
10. Peter reasons that all disciples are a “royal priesthood”. 1 Peter 2.9-10.
11. The Jerusalem Council’s decision. Acts 15.1-29.
12. Gentile Christians are to learn from the OT. Acts 15.21.
13. Paul’s statement to Timothy about the OT. 2 Timothy 3.15-17.
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