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Are Adventists Old-Covenant Christians? (part 2) — 22 Comments

  1. Marcos:

    Not being a theologian, I have a few questions after reading your second article. Although the word covenant is used repeatedly, I do not find a definition of the terms Old Covenant and New Covenant. And then there is mention of "OT covenants" which I presume refers to Noachic, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants. I may have heard of Adamic covenant too elsewhere.

    My understanding, as an Adventist, is that the Old Covenant refers to the one made at Sinai and described in Exodus 19 when the PEOPLE PROMISE TO OBEY THE LORD AND FAILED. The New Covenant on the other hand is when GOD THROUGH HIS SPIRIT WRITES HIS LAWS IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS (Jer. 31:31-34, Hebrews 8 & 10). And it has nothing to do with compartmentalization into the OT and NT.

    In addition, as I had earlier quoted from ST August 24, 1891 para 10, EGW uses the following three terms interchangeably: the covenant of redemption, the covenant of grace and the everlasting covenant.

    Is there a simple answer to my musings?

  2. "I will be their God, and they shall be My people."

    While looking for another passage that contained certain Hebrew words found in Dan. 9, I found 2 Sam. 5 and 1 Chr. 11, where David made a covenant with the people who wanted him to be king. Why did these passages use the same sort of language found in a Messianic prophecy? I didn't know.

    But then it became clear. And one point was that David's covenant with the people contained the same element found in all of God's covenants with us, whether old or new. David agreed to be their king, and the people agreed to be his loyal subjects. That's the same as "I will be their God and they shall be My people."

    Therefore, it makes no sense whatsoever to try to use the covenants to say that the law isn't binding or that the Sabbath has been abolished. The new covenant doesn't put us in charge. We're the people, not the God, in the agreement.

    What we have today is the same problem the Jews in Christ's time had. They wanted a Savior from the Romans, not a Savior from sin. In other words, they wanted to be part of the kingdom without having to obey the king.

    By definition, a covenant in which we pledge that God is our God, and we are His people, necessitates a Savior from sin, since the only way He can be our God and we can be His people is if we are brought into repentance and obedience to His law. How could the Jews have missed this key point? But then, how could so many professed Christians today miss this key point?

      • Your welcome.

        There are many ramifications to it, including for the Sabbath. The idea that we can pick whichever day we want puts us in charge rather than God, and is thus contrary to true new covenant theology.

    • Bob, the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant or the Davidic, according to Scripture.
      The NC is based on the *promise* to Abraham: “ In you and in your seed (CHRIST) shall ALL nations be blessed”(Gal 3:8,14,16). Its ratification involved one party only, God (Gal 3:19,20). This was an unconditional promise of blessing requiring nothing from any other party. This was the strength of the promise: everything depended on God and nothing on man. The living figure and example of it was the promise of a son, Isaac, to Abraham. When Abraham tried to fulfill the promise by his own works, he produced Ishmael - eternal trouble for the Middle East and the world. When he decided to wait on the Lord (Rom 4:19,20), Isaac was born of God, the Spirit. [When Jacob and his mother attempted to secure the firstborn blessing, although God had promised that the literal firstborn would serve the younger, God’s firstborn, only trouble resulted. He never saw his mother again, and enmity between him and his brother ruled. God’s way rules.]
      On the other hand ratification of the Old Covenant involved mediators, the Angels (for God) and Moses, for the ONE nation of Israel. This occurred because Israel, due to their slavish fear of death, committed themselves to WORK hard to obey all that God said. This covenant will be fulfilled only if both parties completed their part of the agreement. God knew, from the outset, that they could not keep their part of the agreement (Dt 5:29). Their spiritual condition was “dead in trespasses and sins, slaves of sin”. As in Egypt when in physical slavery, they could not produce their quota because they were not provided straw as before.
      We must accept God’s purpose for the Law (Gal 3:19). There is no getting around it for any thing good. The law was intended to reveal sin in its true character as transgression. Until the law came man did not recognize sin as transgression. Adam transgressed in violating a positive, known law. The law was given to a nation of slaves of sin who, therefor, could not obtain righteousness by it. It was meant to show men what hopeless sinners they were, so they would cry out to God to save them by His grace - just as they cried out under physical slavery in Egypt; like the Rom 7:24 man who got relief through the ministry of the Spirit under the grace of God in Rom 8. This covenant resulted in cursing and condemnation. God’s covenant with Abraham was a promise of blessing. The ministry under the Law demonstrated the unworthiness of man to receive free and unconditional blessing. Man will be blessed only by the grace of God.

      • Hi Kenny.

        Of course there are differences between the various covenants, but there is at least one basic similarity:

        "I will be their God" (Gen. 17:8).

        "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I ... will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33).

        Anytime you read the words "their God," "my God," "His people," "I am the God of Abraham thy father," etc., it implies this aspect of the covenant relationship between God and His people.

        The promises of the New Covenant are not unconditional.

        "From a sense of thorough conviction, you can then testify to men of the immutable character of the law manifested by the death of Christ on the cross, the malignant nature of sin, and the righteousness of God in justifying the believer in Jesus, on condition of his future obedience to the statutes of God’s government in heaven and earth" (RH April 24, 1888, par. 15).

        A principal difference between the Old and the New is who does the writing of the law in our hearts. Under the Old, the people tried. That never works. Under the New, God does the writing, and that works, if we allow it to.

  3. An excellent summary of the two major Protestant positions, historically speaking. Today many of us see the covenants in two other contexts which influence our understanding: history and literature.

    First of all, since the work of Mendenhall and others, it is important to acknowledge that concepts of treaty and covenant are part of the political language of the Ancient Near East. Various Bible covenants are to some degree modeled upon (but also modifications of) treaties and covenants made between various parties. The Holy Spirit chose to use existing cultural forms, which the writers and readers of ancient scripture readily understood, even though these ideas might be difficult for us today.

    Secondly, as these ancient covenants no longer neatly fit modern life, modern approximations must be made if we want to produce language that makes sense today. In our political system, contracts play an important part in economic, political, economic and social life, but how these might apply to the divine-human relationship is difficult to ascertain. One method is to affirm the metaphoric power of "covenant" in our life and thought. Literary analysis of many of the Bible's key covenant concepts, along with their controlling narratives, might help us here.

    With these two to aid us, we might better understand scripture than if we naively read the texts and try to apply them literally to modern Christian life.

  4. What do you think the purpose is of the number of different covenants that God provided from the first to the last as recorded in the Holy scriptures? If you think you have the answer, I would expect it will be forth coming. God's Plan of salvation may be different than your definition based on a finite mind. Isiah 55 :8,9. seems to agree.

    • All through human history we have been on a learning experience. God had been trying to drum into out thick heads that he loves us and has our best interests at heart. The covenants were/are an expression of that relationship. None of the covenants were ever intended to be the final epitome of knowledge and relationship. Just as marriage is only a step along the way of our love relationship with our spouse, so each covenant is a step along the way of humanity's relationship with God. Definitions, by their very nature, are somewhat static in their expression and should always be viewed as only a step in the journey. Nobody suggests that once you have participated in the wedding ceremony, you have arrived in your relationship with your spouse. It is, or should be a growing relationship. Likewise our relationship with God is not limited to the statement of a covenant, but is, or should be a dynamic growing relationship.

      Yes there is a difference in God's thoughts and our thoughts, but God has bent over backwards in his effort to give sufficient evidence of his love so that we can understand the plan of salvation. it is not rocket science, it is an expression of selfless love that we can appreciate, even if we cannot communicate it eloquently.

    • Not sure who your question was addressed to, Paul, but here's my response:
      Covenant language was already in widespread secular use in the Ancient Near East, covering all kinds of relationships from marriage to international treaties. When the ancient Israelites wanted to redefine or stipulate their relationship to the divine, they looked to use such language. The many covenants in the Bible are occasions when the relationship of the people to God was redefined for new times and new circumstances.

  5. Interesting, the differences we view on just about any given subject that comes to mind. Our solutions and opinions are often based on experiences we have encountered at one time or another. However when considering the purpose for a number of covenants, there is usually a certain amount of conjecture involved on an finite mind. The answer that seems to be logical is because we humans are the other part of the covenant and as such are responsible for any failures that have occurred. Do we not have to consider that God is all knowing and these failures do not come as a surprise? That is another well worn discussion. If we thought as God thinks there wouldn't be any questions would there? Wasn't the covenant that we see and have seen since Noah was given the first and maybe the most important one. There were similar reasons for each covenant. Idol worship of some form was always the reason for The grace and love that is given to fallen man.

    • The most important covenant for us now is the New Covenant. "The great law of love revealed in Eden, proclaimed upon Sinai, and in the new covenant written in the heart, is that which binds the human worker to the will of God." {DA 329.3}. This is the purpose of the everlasting covenant "according to the eternal purpose which (God) purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:11) in the council of heaven. All the different covenants in the Scriptures are iterations of it.

      • Pramod, the Lord made definitive distinctions between the covenants we are addressing. If there *are* distinctions, wouldn’t it be best if we acknowledge them and proceed to where they lead?
        God says in Deut. 5:2,3: “The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The Lord DID NOT make this covenant with our fathers, but with US, with all those of us alive here today.”
        And Jer 31:31-34: “... I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, NOT like the covenant that I made with the their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put MY LAW within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be My people. And they will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother... they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more,” declares the Lord.
        The new covenant law is the Spirit of Life of Christ Jesus. The old covenant was the ministry of the Letter, a ministry of death and condemnation.
        It’s interesting that God, who is SPIRIT, makes a distinction, also, between His Rest of Gen 2:2,3 and the rest He gave to Israel - Dt 5:15; Ex 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Ezk 20:20. He states: “Therefore I swore in my wrath, truly they shall not enter into My rest.” Psa. 95:11 But they were resting every sabbath, meanwhile.

        • Hi Kenny:
          Having read up a little more, I do see clearly the way the Scriptures differentiate between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant both in the OT and the NT. And reading from EGW, it appears that through the Old Covenant "they were brought to feel their need of the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic covenant" which, by the way, "is called the 'second' or 'new' covenant, because the blood by which it was sealed was shed after the blood of the first covenant". {PP371}
          It is interesting that God refers to "my covenant" in Ex. 19:5 which I suppose is a reference to the Ten Commandments. In Deut. 4:13, these are called "his covenant".
          Thanks for helping me see the distinction between the Old and New Covenants.

  6. Hi Kenny:
    I understand that there are different ways of looking at some of these covenants, e.g., the problem with Old Covenant, as I understand it, was that the people misunderstood their role and said, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do", not realizing that they could not do it.
    I have heard of various covenants such as Adamic, Noachic and Abrahamic covenants in addition to the everlasting covenant, the covenant of redemption, the covenant of grace and, of course, the Old and New Covenants. I ask myself, "Did God have different plans for mankind at different times?" My own conclusion is that God's plan from eternity has been the same: for us to be reconciled to Him---to be at one with Him---that He would be our God and we would be His people (Ex. 19:8, 1 Pet. 2:9, Col. 1:19-20, Eph. 1:9-10 & Rev. 21:3). And the way He accomplishes that is through the New Covenant in which He writes His law of love in our hearts (Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8:10 & Heb. 10:16).
    The same idea of at-one-ment is recorded in the High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 where He repeatedly says that the Father, the Son and His disciples may all be in one another and "that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26).

    • Pramod,

      When you read, ponder a bit. There may be fewer differences between these various covenants than what some say.

      Take for example the Noachic covenant. The giving of that covenant is one of three stories in which (a) God is manifesting grace already, (b) a sacrifice is offered, and (c) after the sacrifice is offered, promises are given. The other two stories are the offering up of Isaac, and the cessation of the plague after David numbered Israel. Each of these stories shows that the blessings come through sacrifice, since promises are made and blessings are given after the sacrifice. But since grace was already being shown before the sacrifice, the sacrifice in the story wasn't what would bring the blessings, but only a symbol of the sacrifice that would.

      In Noah's story, it is clear that being cut off is a punishment for sin, and the covenant is a way to escape that penalty.

      It seems that Moses picked the stories from the first 2000+ years of history that would best teach us about salvation, amongst other things. This is why Stephen, when defending his faith in Christ in Acts 7, though he never mentioned Christ during his discourse, cited Joseph being sold by his brothers in order to prevent from being fulfilled the prophetic dreams of Joseph's becoming their lord. But the brothers thereby brought about the fulfillment of those dreams, making him their savior during the famine. Stephen said they sold him out of envy, and Pilate, the gospel says, knew the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to him out of envy.

      Stephen said God promised to give land to both Abraham and his descendents, but never gave Abraham any. This is true. This is what Genesis says. Why does Genesis teach this, and why did Stephen point out this fact? Because Genesis is thereby teaching that there will be a resurrection, and Stephen in his defense had to lay a foundation for belief in the resurrection.

      Thus the story of the Noachic covenant is really teaching us about the new covenant, and was meant to do so. We are even told in the SoP that it is through the plan of salvation that the wicked come forth from their tombs after the millennium, and the Noachic covenant might indirectly be referring to the fact that it won't be water, but fire next time.

      • Thanks, Bob. That's a lot to chew on.
        I am beginning to look at covenants as follows: The Old Covenant was meant to make us realize our need of a Saviour. In the New Covenant the Saviour brings about the change that is needed in our hearts and minds. In other words, a Christian must experience both the Old and New Covenants in his life---first the futility of his own efforts to save himself (legalism) and, secondly, a surrendering to the Lord to change him (righteousness by trust).
        Let us see what Marcos has to say in the 4th instalment of his series.

        • Yes, that seems a good way to think about them in a homily. However, as a Gentile Christian "we" were never under any of the Old Testament covenants. They were mostly for the Jewish people. Perhaps if you are Jewish you may see it differently.

  7. Great comments everyone! We are fast approaching part 4 of the series where I share that SDA understanding of the covenants. Some of you seem eager to get to that! haha.

    In the meantime, check out part 3 which covers the other 2 popular covenant thelogies in the christian world today. Understanding these will help answer the "Are Adventists Old-Covenant Chrisitians" question which I dig into in part 4. Hopefully it will be up next week.



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