Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "ESCHATOLOGY 1"
SECTION 1A - INTRODUCTION
Return to Syllabus
BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
Edited by Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
- PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS
- Definition and Scope of ESCHATOLOGY
Eschatology is that branch of theology which deals with the doctrine of last
things (future things), that is, prophecy. The word is derived from two
Greek words, eschatos (last) and logos (word, discourse), which together
mean "a word or discourse about last things."
In our study, however, the term prophecy will not be limited to that which
is future from the standpoint of the-present age (the approach followed in
most theologies), but it will include all that was prophetic when God first
caused it to be written. This vast area of truth is subject to a twofold
division, both fulfilled and unfulfilled prophecy.
At this point, study ADDENDUM I, at the end of this syllabus, and ADDENDUM
- The Importance of Prophecy
The importance of prophecy is evidenced by the fact that a large portion of
God's inscripturated revelation is devoted to the subject. Prophecy claims
16 Old Testament books and 1 New Testament book as well as large portions of
the Psalms and other O.T. and N.T. books. In all, about 1/4 of the Bible is
prophecy; therefore, Biblical interpretation is incomplete without a
thorough study of prophecy (1 Tim. 4:1-6; Acts 20:27).
Another indication of the importance of the subject is the statement found
in Revelation 19:10 that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
All major prophetic themes are related in some way either to the first or
the second advents of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures speak preeminently of
Him, His Person and His work (as Prophet, Priest, and King). Therefore, the
neglect of prophecy involves the neglect of some aspects of the work of
A further testimony to the importance of prophecy is seen in the ministry of
the indwelling Holy Spirit to the believer. According to John 16:13, it is
within the province of the Spirit to guide the believer into all truth and
to show him things to come. In this day of completed revelation this work is
related to the Spirit's illuminating ministry. Therefore, the neglect of
prophecy necessarily limits the light which the Spirit can throw upon
Some discourage the study of prophecy because of varying views. Disagreement
in other areas of doctrine does not prevent our study of them. Why should
disagreement in the prophetic field dissuade us from study?
It should also be observed that unfulfilled prophecy is as credible as Bible
history, though it does impose a greater test of faith. Prophetic language
is accurate, and does not call for spiritualization. Past prophecies were
fulfilled literally; why not the future ones?
- Perspective and Procedure
The usual Protestant approach is based on the Romanist misconception and
error that the kingdom prophecies (and particularly the Davidic Covenant)
are fulfilled in the Church during this age. While the Reformation restored
many doctrines from Roman corruption, the work was not completed, and
Eschatology was left deplorably incomplete and unpurified.
Our approach in this course will be to trace carefully the steady
progression of God's announced future purpose, resting the bases of our
interpretation on the study of the Ages, Dispensations, and Covenants. With
these guides, we shall proceed along the main track of the chronological
order of prophetic events beginning, after some introductory observations,
with the FIRST ADVENT of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Various Prophetic Views
The terms discussed in this section have come to designate whole systems of
theology. However, originally they were limited in their significance to the
time of the second advent of Christ (and/or the events associated with it).
The definitions given here are in the latter, more limited sense. We shall
consider them in more detail later in the course.
Premillennialism designates that teaching which maintains that
Christ's second advent precedes, and is the basic factor in, the
establishment of the predicted glorious 1000 year kingdom of righteousness
and peace upon the earth. During that time Christ, with His saints, will
exercise His kingly authority over the earth from Jerusalem (cp. Isa.
11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6; Micah 3:8-4:5; Rev. 19:11-20:10). This view is based
upon the literal, grammatical, historical method of interpretation of
Scripture, which is the normal method of interpretation.
The word Premillennialism is derived from the Latin words (mille,
thousand; annus, year) meaning a thousand years, to which the prefix pre-
(from Latin, meaning before) and the suffix -ism (from Greek, denoting a_
doctrine) have been added. Therefore, the word designates the belief that
Christ's second coming will precede the millennium or the 1000 years
mentioned in Rev. 20:1-6. (In the early Church this view was called
Chiliasm, based on the Greek word for thousand.)
Of course, the kingdom to be established by Christ will be an everlasting
kingdom, for the millennium is just the first phase of that eternal
kingdom. The word premillennial merely pinpoints the time of the predicted
second coming of Christ to the earth as related to the establishment of
Postmillennialism is the teaching that Christ's second coming will be
after (post-) the millennium has been established through the preaching of
the gospel or through human ability, or after that kingdom has run its
course of a thousand years. The keynote of postmillennialism is progress.
According to post millenarians, the millennium is not ushered in by a
cataclysmic coming of Christ, but through human endeavor, which includes
but is not limited to the preaching of the gospel. This view is not widely
Postmillennialism is based upon a figurative method of interpretation
which is called spiritualization.
Amillennialism is a theological position which denies that Christ will
reign personally upon the earth for a thousand years following His second
coming. It views the present period between the two advents as the
millennium and holds that Christ is now fulfilling His kingly office as He
rules from heaven over the saints on earth. The binding of Satan (Rev.
20:1-3) is taken to mean that Christ through His work on the cross has
broken the power of Satan over man. Amillennialists are not optimistic
about man's ability to convert the world through the gospel. They believe
that a period of tribulation will precede the second coming and that
following His coming there will be a general resurrection and a general
judgment which will conclude time and introduce the eternal state.
Amillennialism would be better described as non-millennialism. (The a at
the beginning of the word is a Greek way of making it negative.) The
position is also based upon a figurative method of interpretation.
- The Hermeneutics of Prophecy
The principles of interpretation used in the interpretation of prophecy are
exactly the same as the principles used in the interpretation of other forms
of Biblical revelation. Walvoord has said that "the Bible should be
interpreted in its ordinary grammatical and historical meaning in all areas
of theology unless contextual or theological reasons make it clear that this
was not intended by the writer" (Millennial Kingdom, p. 128). This is the
only sound method of interpretation.
To interpret literally simply means to interpret words and sentences in
their normal, usual signification. This method is the proper approach to a
literary work in any language. This approach recognizes that the Bible
frequently uses figurative language, the figure being merely the vehicle for
the conveyance of some other fact. Figures of speech are legitimate literary
devices which occur in all languages and in practically all literature. They
are readily discernible and, being viewed as figures, are interpreted
accordingly. The resultant meaning is the normal meaning; therefore, the
existence of figurative language in the Bible does not militate against the
validity of the literal method of interpretation.
To interpret grammatically means to interpret a passage in the light of
grammatical considerations, that is, on the basis of grammatical principles.
For example, the tense, voice, and mood of verbs, the case of nouns, and the
identification of purpose, result, conditional, and temporal clauses are all
of significance and ofttimes vitally affect the interpretation of Scripture
(cp. Mt. l6:18's tense).
To interpret historically means that one's interpretation of a passage
should always take into consideration the historical setting or context of
the passage. For this work the interpreter would do well to study Biblical
history, geography, and cultures. Prophecy, like all Scripture, must be
rightly divided, observing dispensational distinctions. Therefore, the
interpreter should pay careful attention to the period involved and the
The student at this point is urged to review his Biblical Introduction
syllabus on the subject of hermeneutics for a detailed consideration of the
specific rules governing the literal, grammatical, historical method of
interpretation. In addition, Walvoord's Millennial Kingdom, pp. 128-133,
Pentecost's Things to Come, pp.1-64, and Ramm's Protestant Biblical
Interpretation (Rev. ed.), pp. 85-143, are also recommended.
- Important Terms Defined
- PURPOSE (of God)
- Original words: (See Arndt and Gingrich, p. 713)
Pro thesis is the word used of the divine purpose in Rom. 8:28; Eph.
1:11; 3:11; and 2 Tim. 1:9.
(a) Derivation: pro (before) and tithemi (to place)
(b) Meaning: a setting forth (of something), a plan, or a purpose.
- Usage of the word purpose:
When used of God's purpose, it is evident that it refers to a divine
determination made in eternity past, Eph. 1:4,9,11; 2 Tim, 1:9.
- This purpose is related to:
(a) The individual, Rom. 8:28-30
(b) The nation Israel, Rom. 9:11
(c) The Church, Eph. 3:11
- Definition of purpose:
The divine "eternal purpose, " or "the purpose of the ages" of God, is
that sovereign determination of the Triune God before man's creation (or
at least before the ages of time began) whereby, through the incarnation
of the Son as the "last Adam, " "the second man, " of the line of
Abraham and David, He was in grace to accomplish for the individual, for
Israel as a nation, and for the Church as His bride, in His own time and
by His own undertaking (and in the power of the Spirit), all the
promises of His grace that in many portions of Holy Writ are revealed to
us. It is revealed that this purpose as related to the gospel of His
grace and the position (etc.) of the Church "was kept secret" (Rom.
16:25), "hid in God" (Eph. 3:9), and "not made known" (Eph. 3:3-11) in
past "ages and generations" of man (Col. 1:26). During those times God
placed man under various dispensational responsibilities or
stewardships, and though He kept in mind His eternal purpose, He
schooled man that he might know his utter worthlessness and be cast upon
- That part of God's purpose, not previously revealed, relates to His
Church and may be charted as follows (on page 5):
2 Tim. 1:9 -- Greek, pro chronon aionion - "before the age times,"
Titus 1:2 "before the times of the ages, " or "before the ages of time."
Rom. 16:25 -- Greek, chronois aioniois sesigemenou - "in or through
(the) times of the ages having been kept secret,"
Eph. 3;3-5 -- Greek, en heterais geneais ouk egnoristhae tois huiois tou
anthropou - "in other generations not made known to the sons of men."
Eph. 3:9 -- Greek, tou apokekrumenou apo ton aionon en to Theo "which
has been hidden from the ages in God."
Col. 1:26 -- Greek, to apokekrummenon apo ton aionon kai ton geneon -
"which has been hidden from ages and from generations."
|"Before the times of the ages" (ages of time)
||"during the times of ages" (ages of time)
||"NOW" in this present time
|"Saved. . .called... given in Christ" 2 Tim. 1:9
||"NOW made manifest by appearing of JX" 2 Tim. 1:10
|"eternal life... promised" Titus 1:2
||"in due time manifested. .. His word" Titus 1:3
||"kept secret in times of the ages" Rom. 16:25
||by "my gospel.. .NOW made manifest" Rom. 16:25-26
||"in other generations not made known..." Eph. 3:3-11
"from the ages hid in God" Eph. 3:9
|"As it is NOW revealed" Eph. 3:5
"NOW... might be known" Eph. 3:10
||"hid in generations and ages" Col. 1:26
||"NOW made manifest' Col. 1:26
- Original words:
(a) aion (noun) "age"
(b) aionion (adjective) "eternal"
(Note: genea is also sometimes translates "age, " but usually means
"generation, " signifying (all the people living at a specified time, or
(ii) the span of 30 to 33 years which marks the approximate period of a
generation. Cp. Thayer, p. 112, 4th usage of genea.)
- Thayer's description of usage of aion (pp. 18-20):
(a) "An unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity." In this sense, it
refers to eternal verities, as in Mt. 25:46, where it refers both to
"eternal" life and to "eternal" punishment.
(b) "A shorter period, even that of a human lifetime." It is the second
sense of a shorter period, not definite as to the number of years, that
applies to our present study. When aion refers to a specific period of
more or less limited duration, the context will make plain that meaning.
- Usages in connection with the idea of "eternity." It is used:
(a) In reference to eternity, John 6:51,58; 14:16; Heb. 5:6
(b) In reference to eternity past, 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9
(c) In reference to eternity future, Mt. 25:46; Eph. 2:7; Rev. 22:5;
- Usages in connection with the idea of "the ages of time." It is
(a) God is said to be the "king of the ages, " 1 Tim. 1:17 (marg.)
(b) It was on account of the Son that God "framed the ages, " Heb. 1:2;
11:3, according to Westcott.
(c) God planned these things "before the ages of time began" (AV, "the
world began"), 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2; Lk. 1:17; Acts 3:21; 1 Cor. 2:7
(d) During the various ages past, God "kept secret" the "mystery" of
"the glad tidings, " Rom. 16:25
(e) The present age is pictured as being "at the end of the ages
(past)," the thought actually being "at the fulcrum, the juncture, the
meeting place of the ages" (according to Way), Heb. 9:26; 1 Cor. 10:11
(f) This present age is said to be "evil, " Gal. 1:4; it has "cares,"
Mt. 13:22; Mk. 4:19; it is full of "lusts," Tit. 2:12, and "darkness,"
6:12; it has its "wisdom, "i.e., philosophy, 1 Cor. 2:6-7; believers
must not be "fashioned" like it, Rom. 12:2.
(g) There are numerous references to the "end of the age," Mt. 13:39;
24:3, etc. This is synchronous with the coming of the Lord. It is most
unfortunate that the King James translators blundered with "the end of
the world." It has led to all kinds of mistaken notions of the future of
God's plan. When Christ comes, the earth still has 1000 years to run.
(h) The coming Kingdom Age is sometimes referred to, Lk. 20:35; 18:30;
Mk. 10:30; Heb. 2:5; 6:5 (AV, "world to come").
- DEFINITION of "AGE"
As generally used, the time-ages are small slices of the pie which we
call eternity. An age is an indefinite period of time, either past,
present, or future, to which God definitely relates man. It has been
commonly used as though synonymous with "dispensation," but its emphasis
is rather on the specific period of time than on the area of truth (some
particular stewardship or dispensation of light) for which man is made
responsible to God. The introduction of a new age indicates that man has
failed in his response to (the special revelation characterizing the
previous period of time (age).
- DISPENSATION (or Stewardship)
This word is a translation of the Greek words oikonomia, oikonomos
(nouns), and oikonomeo (verb). The words are made up of oikos, "a house,
" and nemo," to dispense or to manage." (nemo comes from nomos meaning
"custom, usage, law, anything established." Thayer, p. 427, also shows
nemo to mean "to divide, distribute, apportion.")
- New Testament Usage (20 times in various forms)
(a) Verb - oikonomeo (1 time only) Luke 16:2 - "to be a steward"
(b) Noun - oikonomia (9 times)
Refers to the office or function Luke 16:2 "stewardship"
1 Cor. 9:17 "a dispensation (ASV, 'stewardship') of the gospel is
entrusted to me"
Eph. 1:10 "the dispensation of the fullness of times"
3:2 "the dispensation (RVM, 'stewardship') of the grace of God"
3:9 "fellowship" (Greek, koinonia) [RV has "dispensation (m.
stewardship) of the mystery "]
Col. 1:25 "dispensation (RVM, 'stewardship') of God"
1 Tim. 1:4 "edifying" (AV, oikodomia - noun for verb and noun phrase
oikos-demo, "to build a house"). The RV uses oikonomia, a "dispensation
(m. stewardship) which is in faith."
(c) Noun - oikonomos (10 times) Refers to the person Luke 12:42
Rom. 16:23 "chamberlain" (RV, 'treasurer')
1 Cor. 4:1 "stewards" (of the mysteries of God)
4:2 "stewards" (required to be faithful)
Gal. 4:2 "governors" (RV, 'stewards')
Tit. 1:7 "steward" (bishop must be blameless as God's steward)
1 Pet. 4:10 "stewards" (of the manifold grace of God)
No translators treat the word with any consistency. Sometimes it is
translated "dispensation," sometimes "stewardship" or "administration."
Thayer explains oikonomia as "the management of a house or household
affairs, " "the management, especially oversight, administration of
others' property" ;"the office of a manager or overseer, stewardship."
The English word economy, which is the Anglicized form of the Greek
oikonomia, now means frugality, but originally meant "administration."
It is used today in such phrases as "a domestic economy" or "a political
economy." "Economy" or "administration" would have been very acceptable
We may gather together from the story of our Lord concerning stewardship
(Lk. 16:1-13) what are some of the basic characteristics of a
stewardship (sometimes translated 'dispensation'):
(a) One who delegates to another the administration of something, (1),
The '-rich man.' represents God, 1 Tim. 1:4,12; Acts 9:15; Eph. 3:2.
(b) A person who is set over the affairs of another (v. 1), A 'steward''
represents us believers, Eph. 3:2, 9; Tit. 1:7; Col. 1:25.
(c) A definite responsibility toward the owner (v. 1): "accused ...
wasted his goods," Lk. 12:42; Acts 26:16-18; Eph. 3:9.
(d) A specific test of faithfulness (v. 2): "give an account. " 1 Cor.
4:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:10.
(e) A day of reckoning is sure to come(v,2): "no longer" "he called him"
"how is it?" 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 9:17; 2 Cor. 5:10
(f) A final sentence of judgment: v.2, "thou mayest be no longer
steward. " 1 Cor. 3:13-15 v.3; "my lord taketh away from me the
To keep the details above carefully in mind will help, especially in the
study of the successive dispensations or administrations under which man
is seen in the Scriptures
- Comment of writers
R. HOLDEN, The Mystery: A dispensation "looks at the world as a great
household or stewardry, in which God is dispensing, or administering,
according to a rule of his own establishing; and in whose order he has
from time to time introduced certain changes, the understanding of which
is consequently needful, both to the intelligent interpretation of his
word and to intelligent action under him."
W. GRAHAM SCROGGIE, Ruling Lines of Progressive Revelation, pp. 62-63:
"The word oikonomia bears one significance, and means 'an
administration, whether of a house, or property, of a state, or a
nation, or as in the present study, the administration of the human,
race or any part of it, at any given time. Just as a parent would govern
his household in different ways, according to varying necessity, yet
ever for one good end, so God has at different times dealt with men in
different ways, according to the necessity of the case, but throughout
for one great, grand end."
H. A. IRONSIDE, In the Heavenlies, p. 67: "An economy (oikonomia) is an
ordered condition of things, there are various economies running through
the Word of God. A dispensation, an economy, is that particular order or
condition of things prevailing in one special age which does not
necessarily prevail in another," (Ironside's chapter "Reaffirmation of
Dispensational Truth" in Lamp of Prophecy is well stated.)
- DEFINITIONS (and EXPLANATIONS) of "DISPENSATION"
The Practical Standard Dictionary, p. 339:
(1) "One of several systems or bodies of law in which at different
periods God has revealed his mind and will to man, or the continued
state of things resulting from the operation of one of these systems;
as, the Mosaic Dispensation.
(2) The period during which a particular revelation of God's mind and
will has been operative on mankind, as, during the Christian
C. I. SCOFIELD, Scofield Reference Bible, p. 5: "A dispensation is a
period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to
some specific revelation of the will of God." Also cp. New SRB, p. 3,
with my definition.
C. E. Mason, Jr. "The word dispensation means literally a stewardship or
administration or economy. Therefore, in its biblical usage, a
dispensation is a divinely established stewardship of a particular
revelation of God's mind and will which is instituted in the first
instance with a new age, and which brings added responsibility to the
whole race of men or that portion of the race to whom the revelation is
particularly given by God.
"Associated with the revelation, on the one hand, are promises of reward
or blessing for those responding in the obedience of faith, while on the
other hand there are warnings of judgment upon those who do not respond
in the obedience of faith to that particular revelation.
"However, though the time period (age) ends, certain principles of the
revelation (dispensation or stewardship) are often carried over into
succeeding ages, because God's truth does not cease to be truth, and
these principles become part of the cumulative body of truth for which
man is responsible in the progressive unfolding revelation of God's
redemptive purpose. Some of these principles are carried over intact
(as, e.g., conscience, human government, Abrahamic covenant) and some
are passed on adjusted (law, church) to the age(s) which follow(s)."
- Original words
(a) berith is translated 271 times out of its 290 usages in the Old
Testament as "covenant." It comes from the Hebrew word "barah, " which
means "to cut asunder, " and refers to the cutting in pieces of the
victims which were sacrificed at the conclusion of a solemn covenant,
and between the divided parts of which the contracting parties were
accustomed to pass. See Genesis 15:10-17, Jer. 34:18-19. Of the times
used in the Old Testament not translated "covenant" it is translated
"league" (16 times), "confederacy" (1 time), "confederate" (2 times),
thus retaining the same essential idea.
(b) diatheke. The Greek word comes from dia, "two, " and tithemi, "to
set, put, place, " and therefore means "a covenant or contract between
two." (By classical writers, it is used of a will which becomes
operative at death. It is used this way in some places where the AV
translates "testament.") This word is used 33 times, and should have
been translated "covenant" uniformly. (Some debate Heb. 9:16-17, but
Westcott argues for "covenant" there also.) The Greek word suntheke
signifies an agreement between two parties of equal rank, importance, or
authority, while diatheke indicates an agreement in which one only of
the parties is determining the conditions. Thus is seen the
appropriateness of the use of the latter word rather than the former.
(Diatheke is almost uniformly used in the LXX to translate berith.)
- Proper translation of these words
The Hebrew word berith and the Greek word diatheke, which is usually
used in the Septuagint to translate berith, should always be translated
by the word "covenant." The Old Testament and the New Testament are
human designations, but "covenant" would have been even more accurate.
- Former definitions
According to Lincoln, unconditional and conditional covenants were
(a) Unconditional: "A covenant is a sovereign disposition of God,
whereby He establishes an unconditional or declarative compact with men,
usually Israel, obligating Himself in grace (by the untrammeled formula,
"1 will'") to bring to pass of Himself definite blessing for the
covenanted ones, or
(b) Conditional: "A proposal of God, wherein He promises, in a
conditional or mutual pact with men, usually Israel, by the contingent
formula, "If ye will, " to grant special blessing to the covenanted
ones, provided they fulfill perfectly certain conditions, and to execute
definite punishment in case of their failure."
- New definitions (Mason) See New SRB definition, p. 5 (Gen. 2:16).
(a) A covenant is a sovereign pronouncement of God by which He
establishes a relationship of responsibility (1) between Himself and an
individual (e.g., Adam in the Edenic Covenant), (2) between Himself and
mankind in general (e.g., in the promise of the Noahic Covenant never
again to destroy all flesh with a flood), (3) between Himself and a
nation (e.g., Israel in the Mosaic Covenant, Ex. 19:3ff.), or (4)
between Himself and a specific human family (e.g., the house of David,
in the promise of a kingly line in perpetuity through the Davidic
Covenant). A covenant of one category may overlap with other categories,
as in the case of the Davidic Covenant where the promise of a continuing
kingly house to David has tremendous results to the nation Israel and
the whole world of men in the eventual reign of Jesus Christ,
(b) The covenants are normally unconditional in the sense that God
unilaterally announces that He purposes to obligate Himself in grace (by
the unrestricted declaration, "I will") to accomplish certain announced
results, despite any failure on the part of the person or group with
whom He covenants. The human response to the divinely announced purpose
is always important, leading as it does to blessing for obedience and
discipline for disobedience. But human failure is never permitted to
abrogate the covenant nor block its ultimate fulfillment.
(c) A covenant is conditional when its establishment is made dependent
upon man's acceptance of the terms of a bilateral contract proposed by
God. The classic example is the case of Israel's acceptance of the terms
of the Mosaic Covenant, as evidenced by the words:
"if ye will obey ... then ye shall be," i.e., God's offer followed by
the words of Israel's acceptance of the compact: "all the people
answered ... all the LORD hath spoken, we will do," i.e., man's response
(Exodus 19:5, 8).
- Reason for change of definitions
(At this point, read ADDENDUM III, page8Aff., on the subject, "Was the
Abrahamic Covenant Conditioned?")
The new definitions take issue with Dr. Lincoln's idea that a
conditional covenant is distinguished from an unconditional by the fact
that God promises blessing for obedience and warns of punishment for
disobedience. We argue that this principle is true of all of God's
dealings with men regardless of whether the covenant is conditional or
unconditional. Even in the Church age where we consider our position in
Christ one of unconditional grace and therefore unchangeable, because
the benefits of the new covenant in His blood have been applied to us,
we nevertheless recognize that blessings (such as fellowship, answered
prayer, the smile of the Father's approval) are dependent upon walking
in obedience, whereas grieving the Spirit, unwillingness to do the known
will of God, walking in a self-chosen way, or other forms of
disobedience elicit discipline upon the believer. Hence, the idea that a
conditional covenant is to be distinguished from an unconditional
covenant on the basis of blessing for obedience and discipline for
disobedience is in our judgment an untenable distinction. The truth is
that these principles apply to both unconditional and conditional
We, therefore, include this idea under an unconditional covenant in our
new definition. Also, we fail to see the validity of Dr. Lincoln's
clause, "fulfill perfectly certain conditions" in the old definition of
a conditional covenant. Who or what group could possibly "perfectly"
fulfill any covenant? Thus, since no one could "perfectly fulfill" a
conditional covenant, it can only assure punishment. If no one can keep
the condition, what is the point in making the covenant in the first
place? I feel it more reasonable to define a conditional covenant as one
which requires acceptance by man of a condition proposed by God before
God ratifies the covenant, rather than some judgment or blessing
conditioned on failure or obedience after the covenant has been
Hence, we argue that the distinction between a conditional and an
unconditional covenant is to be found elsewhere. We suggest that the
point of distinction is to be found by contrasting the method God used
in establishing the covenant in the first instance. In the case of an
unconditional covenant, He simply announces unilaterally what He
purposes to do without any request made of man to accept any condition,
on the basis of which an agreement is made between God and man. God
simply says He will do it.
In the case of a conditional covenant, the establishment or enactment of
the covenant does not take place in this way. On the contrary, God
offers or proposes something to man and man must accept the conditions
of the proposal before there can be a covenant established. Thus, at
Sinai God said, "If ye will obey, certain things will be done for you, "
and Israel responded, "ALL the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:5,
8). This was the ratification or acceptance of God's proposal. There was
no covenant until they accepted God's condition of implicit obedience to
His offer. This is a conditional covenant.
Thus, the word condition is not with reference to what happens after the
covenant is made. It is rather the issue of whether or not there is a
condition presented which must be met or accepted by man before there is
It might well be pointed out further that equally untenable is the old
idea That another distinction between an unconditional and a conditional
covenant lies in the thought that a conditional covenant has a cut-off
point which may lie brought about by human failure, whereas an
unconditional, covenant, has no such cut-off point, as illustrated;
This is not the case. Actually the only conditional covenant (the
Mosaic) has no cut-off point brought about by human failure, for human
failure took place even before Moses brought down the tables of stone
from the mount, nor to mention (lie continual declension and ultimate
apostasy of the northern and southern kingdoms. Calvary was God's
appointed time for the cut-off of the Mosaic Covenant. Israelitish
failure did not and could not bring the covenant to an end. God
disclosed that the covenant was to be in force "until the Seed should
come ... when the fullness of the time was come" (Gal. 3:19; 4:4).
Thus, again it is emphasized that the distinction between the
conditional and unconditional covenant is the method of its institution
by God, rather than the content of the covenant itself or its
implementation in human experience.
- Observations on the covenants
Just as Luke 16 (pages 7-8) gives us certain features which are
distinctive regarding a stewardship (dispensation), so a consideration
of the Scriptures which establish the various covenants will assure us
of the specific characteristics of a covenant.
(a) A covenant may be either unconditional (in which case God
unilaterally determines to fulfill certain promises) or conditional (in
which case the covenant people accept God's proposed conditions for the
covenant, thereby making it a bilateral arrangement). The terminology
which characterizes the former is the "T will" of God. The latter is
characterized by, "If you will etc., I will." It is significant that God
rebukes Israel for having broken the conditional Mosaic covenant, but He
never rebukes Israel for breaking the Abrahamic covenant.
(b) The Scriptures state plainly that God's covenant people is Israel
(c) There are no hidden covenants in Scripture. When a major covenant
relationship has been established, the parties to the covenant are
specified and the terms of the covenant are disclosed. Therefore,
whenever a covenant is mentioned in Scripture, it is always possible to
go back in the Scriptures to the place where that covenant was
instituted. This fact is important for, as we shall observe later, a
whole system of theology has been built upon the supposed existence of
certain extra-Biblical covenants.
(d) Two things should be noted to avoid confusion and unwarranted
criticism often leveled by opponents of our view of the covenants: i. It
is not necessary that the actual word covenant be used at the time of
its institution (e.g., in Gen. 12, the word covenant does not occur,
though it is plainly an unequivocal commitment of God; but in Gen. 15
and elsewhere, it is called a covenant); ii. It should be observed that
we do not pretend to include all covenants (e.g., Isa. 24:5; Jer.
33:20), but only the major covenants of Scripture.
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