Legitimate Discontinuities Between The Testaments -- By: Mark W. Karlberg

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 28:1 (Mar 1985)
Article: Legitimate Discontinuities Between The Testaments
Author: Mark W. Karlberg

Legitimate Discontinuities Between The Testaments

Mark W. Karlberg*

Kenneth Barker in “False Dichotomies Between the Testaments,” a stimulating and informative article published in JETS 25 (1982) 3-16, invites an amillennial covenant theologian to address in reciprocal fashion the topic of legitimate discontinuities between the OT and NT or, more properly, between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant in Christ.

Federal theology has been known for its emphasis on the unity and continuity of the two covenants. Critics frequently charge covenant theology with minimizing meaningful discussion of legitimate discontinuities between the covenant of law mediated through Moses and the new covenant administration of grace established by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Charles Ryrie asserts: “Covenant theology can only emphasize the unity, and in so doing overemphasizes it until it becomes the sole governing category of interpretation.”1 Dispensationalism has rightly insisted on the importance of the law-gospel distinction in a comparison of the old and new covenants. This distinction, deeply rooted in Protestant theology since the beginning of the Reformation, highlights the antithesis between the blessing of God received on the ground of law-keeping (merit) and blessing received on the basis of Christ’s atonement for sin (redemptive grace). (The latter way of divine blessing rests on the merit of Christ, the ground of soteric justification and life.) Had Adam before the fall remained faithful to the covenant with his God, he would have merited eternal life for himself and all his posterity. With the entrance of sin into the world, the reconciliation between God and the sinner has been secured through the redemptive work of Christ. As an aspect of the atonement, Christ satisfies divine justice by rendering full and perfect obedience to the law of God and, so doing, fulfills the covenantal-legal obligations. A parallel obtains here between the first and second Adams as representative heads under two distinct covenants (commonly called the covenant of works and the covenant of grace). There is a similar parallel between the first covenant with Adam at creation and the later giving of the law at Mount Sinai. A principle of works-inheritance operative in the original covenant with Adam is reestablished in the Mosaic covenant, although this principle is restricted in its field of operation. Different explanations for the apparently contradictory data in Scripture descriptive of the Mosaic covenant have led to two distinct schools of interpretation within evangelicalism—namely, dispensationalism and covenant theology. Fortunately the current theological scene evidences remarkable change, particular...

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