Contributing Author

God’s written revelation displays an amazing unity from Genesis through Revelation. The Scripture reveals a grand vista which focuses on the message concerning Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. As Messiah and Savior, Jesus fulfills the prophetic word of God (cf. Rev 19:10). The full scope of Scripture is God-centered, proclaiming a message about knowing God. Indeed, to know God is to know Christ, His Messiah; and, to know Christ is to know God the Father (see John 6:45; 14:7; 17:3). From start to finish, progressive revelation finds its completion when the created potential of the sinless, pre-fall Adam is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Likewise, Israel’s covenanted potential comes to full fruition in and through Jesus Christ. These represent the two realms of biblical prophecy: the universal realm commencing with Adam and the more limited realm focused on God’s program for the nation of Israel. What is Israel’s ultimate theological potential? How can we understand its significance for God’s programs of kingdom and redemption? The answers to those questions can be found by studying the Old Testament covenants. Those covenants provide us with knowledge concerning Israel’s potential as part of God’s theological program.

Our search for knowledge about the Biblical covenants must begin with a proper understanding of their meaning and purpose. First of all, of what does a Biblical covenant consist—how can we identify them? Second, why did God enter into covenants with His people? Third, how has God, does God or will God fulfill His covenants? Lastly, how do the Biblical covenants relate to the theological concept of dispensations? A careful study of the Scriptures can illumine the believer’s mind regarding the covenants and their interrelationship with Biblical dispensations.

Some readers might wonder why dispensationalists would even want to focus on the identification of Biblical covenants, because they think that covenants relate only to covenantalism (or covenant theology) rather than to dispensationalism. Dispensationalists who recognize the significance of the Biblical covenants perceive a distinct relationship between the covenants and the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Indeed, redemptive history is best tracked through the interpretive lens of the Biblical covenants. Maurice Pugh explains it this way: “The biblical covenants reveals

[sic] the promises and agreements that God makes, while divine prophecy reveals the predication, fulfillment, and the unfolding aspects of biblical covenants.”[1] Students of the Bible must not fail to note its use of the term “covenant” and its progressive presentation of a number of covenants with Israel. Dispensational theology must include the Biblical covenants, because the Biblical writers actually speak far more often of the covenants than of dispensations.

According to Scripture, God established six covenants with the nation of Israel: the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic (or Sinaitic) Covenant, the Priestly (or Zadokite) Covenant, the Deuteronomic (or Palestinian) Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant. The Noahic Covenant is the only other covenant definitively revealed in the Old Testament—however, God established that covenant with all mankind and all animal life (cf. Gen 9:8–17), not with Israel. Through the Noahic Covenant God obligated Himself to preserve, provide for and rule over all that He had created in the beginning. The rainbow became the sign of the Noahic Covenant and a reminder of the constancy of the Divinely-established environment which makes the planet hospitable to life in all its amazing forms. The purpose and content of the Noahic Covenant set it apart as a different covenant than those which God later made with Israel. Certain covenant elements present in the Israelite covenants are absent from the Noahic Covenant. These elements include a “seed” (that is, offspring or descendants), blessing, land, nation and kingdom.

An argument can be made that the Noahic Covenant implies a relationship to God’s kingdom program by means of its mandate. According to Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellums the Noahic mandate indicates that, “The human community must express obedient sonship in faithful love to the creator God and rule over the creation with humble servanthood and responsible stewardship.”[2] Thus, regardless of what we might think of Gentry’s and Wellums’ ultimate conclusions, they draw attention to the Biblical truth that the Noahic Covenant is not totally unrelated to God’s kingdom program, even though that program might be more clearly seen in the covenants with Israel. The Noahic Covenant serves as a reminder that the universal kingdom of God is the over-arching purpose of God, while the Messianic (or millennial) kingdom of the Israelite covenants is but the temporary, earthly and specialized expression of that universal kingdom as it relates to God’s program of redemption.

(Read Part 2)

Dr. William D. Barrick served as professor of Old Testament and director of Th.D. studies at The Master’s Seminary from 1997 to 2015. He remains active in ministry as a theologian and a linguistics expert whose service, writings and translations have spanned numerous nations and languages. He is also the Old Testament editor of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary from Logos Bible Software. We are most grateful to include him as a contributing author to Dispensational Publishing House.

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. William D. Barrick. Used by permission of the author.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Maurice Pugh, “Dispensationalism and Views of Redemption History” in Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption: A Developing and Diverse Tradition, edited by D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015), p. 234.

[2] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellums, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), p. 174.