Biblical Theology and Covenant Theology (1)

Biblical Theology and Covenant Theology (1)

Yesterday we began our latest course at Emmanuel Training and Resources, Biblical Theology and Covenant Theology. Here's the handout from the seminar:


This course is structured to provide a theological foundation for a Reformed evangelical doctrine of salvation based on a systematic reading of the whole Bible, taking into account the progressive character of God’s revelation to humanity and the coherence and interconnectedness of the Scriptures. It may be helpful to give a brief overview of the shape of the course:

Biblical theology. We begin with Peter J. Leithart, A House for My Name, which helps us to read the Scriptures as an integrated whole by highlighting some of the important biblical images and themes that highlight how the Bible hangs together.

Covenant theology. We turn next to the topic of covenant theology with O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants. Historically, Reformed theologians have recognised that the apparently diverse strands of the Bible’s teaching may helpfully be integrated by tracing the theme of God’s covenants with man. This enables us to see how the Bible’s story reaches its climax in Christ, while at the same time giving a fully biblical picture of Christ’s work by setting it in the context of the whole Bible.

Divine election. Standing behind God’s purposes in history (revealed in the unfolding plan of his covenants with humanity) are God’s purposes in eternity – in particular, the decree of election. It is appropriate, therefore, to conclude this course by exploring the relationship between covenant and election (Barach, “Covenant and Election”), and the doctrine of election itself (Calvin, Institutes, III.xxi-xxiv).

Having completed this material, we’ll then be in a position to examine in more detail the saving work of Christ in the following course, The Doctrine of Redemption (T1.5).

Introduction to Peter Leithart, A House for My Name

Peter Leithart’s book is quite easy to read, but is so full is stimulating and thought-provoking material that it’s unlike you’ll have time to reflect in detail on everything. I therefore suggest you don’t try. Instead, here’s an approach you may find useful: (1) Read a chapter through; (2) Look at the questions for that chapter, and reflect on a few of them as your mood takes you; (3) Move on to the next chapter.

I’ve tried to help a little by providing a summary of the introduction (pp. 17-42), so though it’s very worthwhile you may wish to skip that section of the book and come back to it another day.

One more word of advice: Keep your Bible open as you read this book. Even more than with other books, Leithart’s work is designed to get you thinking about the Bible, so take advantage of what he has to say by turning frequently to the Scriptures.

Introductory questions

a. What do Genesis 3:19; Ezekiel 44:18 and Luke 22:44 have in common? Try to tell the story of human history with reference to only these three texts.

b. What does Genesis 3:24 have to do with Genesis 22:6? What might have entered Isaac’s mind when he looked at his Dad?

c. What light does Genesis 3:18 shed upon Matthew 27:29?

d. How would you respond to someone who thought that the texts cited in the previous questions were completely unrelated to one another?

Outline of the introduction (pp. 17-42)

The introduction to Leithart’s book is well worth reading, though we won’t spend much time on it during the seminar. At times it feels a little technical, so here’s a rough outline to guide you on your way:

Leithart outlines two main mistakes in reading the Old Testament:

(1) Liberalism and Marcionism consign the Old Testament to irrelevance. Alarmingly, some contemporary evangelicals look little different in certain respects (pp. 17-21).

(2) Antisupercessionism, exemplified by Kenneth Soulen, claims that ethnic Israelites are still in covenant with God irrespective of their response to Jesus (pp. 21-26).

To read the Old Testament as Christians, we must get beyond the so-called “grammatical-historical” method of exegesis, which, though fine (indeed, necessary) as far as it goes, doesn’t go far enough. In particular, it fails to place sufficient weight upon the recurring types and images of Scripture, and upon the storyline of the whole (pp. 27-40).

The rest of the book is a whirlwind tour of the Bible, highlighting many of the themes, storylines, images and types that give coherence and meaning to the whole. The following questions are designed to encourage you to reflect upon some of the themes Leithart identifies, and to work out whether you agree with the direction in which Leithart takes them.

Study questions on chapter 1: Book of Beginnings

1. Leithart suggests that the world is depicted in the Bible as a three-storey house (p. 43). How is this reflected in:

  • the days of creation (pp. 44-45)?
  • the second commandment (p. 45)?

2. “Sometimes the Bible talks about a nation or empire as if it were a three story house” (pp. 46-47). How does this help us to understand the first nine plagues on Egypt (pp. 47-48)?

3. “Very often the land pictures Israel and the sea pictures the nations” (p. 48). (This is particularly clear in Psalm 65:7-8, and also in Isaiah 5:30; 17:12-13; 57:20; Jeremiah 6:23; Daniel 7:2-3; Luke 21:25). How does this help us understand Assyria’s assault on the land of Israel (pp. 48-49)?

For reflection: Does this shed any light on the vision of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21:1, “there was no longer any sea”?

For reflection: If the sea represents the nations, what might fish represent? Does this help us understand why Jesus called his disciples to be “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17)?

4. Can you explain what Leithart means by the three-fold structure of the earth: “the Garden, the land of Eden, and the larger world” (p. 52)? How does this relate to the three “falls” described on p. 56?

5. “Throughout Genesis, the patriarchs ... meet their wives by wells in oases” (p. 54). What light does this shed on John 4?

6. “Joseph is a picture of what Adam is supposed to become” (p. 64). How (see also p. 65)?

Study questions on chapter 2: Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son

7. How does Leithart understand Genesis 31:33-35 (pp. 71-72). What do you think of this interpretation?

For reflection: Does this text surprise you? Why do you think the LORD chose to critique idolatry in this way?

8. Why does Exodus 1:7 use so many words to say so little (p. 74)? What about Exodus 1:13-14 (p. 74)?

9. How is Exodus 20-24 like a marriage feast (pp. 78-80)?

*10. The tabernacle is like a house (p. 83); Mount Sinai (pp. 83-84); the people of God (p. 84); the whole world (p. 85); heaven (p. 85); and the Garden of Eden (p. 85). Pick one or two of these, and try to summarise how the tabernacle corresponds to them.

*11. “Since Jesus has come, there is no longer a tabernacle or temple on earth” (p. 85). What are the implications of this (pp. 85-86)?

12. What do the terms qorban and “bread of God” tell us about the significance of Israel’s sacrifices (pp. 87-88)?

13. “Jesus is always eating fish” (p. 88). Why?

Study questions on chapter 3: From Sinai to Shiloh

*14. “The big sin of Israel comes ... when Israel arrives at Kadesh” (p. 103). What is this “big sin” (pp. 103-104). How does it show a lack of faith (p. 104)?

*15. “Instead of organising the army, Joshua focuses on what the priests are going to do” (p. 110). Why is this significant (see also p. 111)? What implications might it have for the contemporary church?

*16. What did Gideon do right? What did he do wrong (pp. 115-118)?