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A Division Ignored in the Covenant-Dispensational Debate

By Justin Johnson

It is commonly said that the Old Testament was for Israel, while the New Testament is for the Church. This wrong division has led to one of the most lengthy and heated rifts among Christians regarding the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies given to Israel.

Covenantalists say that the Old Testament promises and prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament Church. Dispensationalists (of the popular and historical Acts 2 variety) say that the promises and prophecies are not fulfilled by the New Testament Church and will be fulfilled by a return of Israel as a nation into their land.

Both positions have their problems, and neither has it right. The Covenantal position must spiritualize plain prophetic passages in the Old Testament that speak about Israel. The Dispensational position must explain why many prophecies speak directly about the New Testament, Jesus’ earthly ministry, and Pentecost.

There is a third answer to the dilemma that has largely been missed or ignored, because it requires a dramatic change in the way the scriptures are divided.

Whereas both camps have tried to answer the question of prophecy by dividing the Old Testament from the New Testament, there is a better way to divide the scriptures: a division between prophecy and mystery.

Reinterpreting the New Testament

Covenantal teachers advocate reinterpreting the Old Testament by their supposed New Testament spiritual fulfillment.

Many Dispensational teachers take the Old Testament literally, but find spiritualizing New Testament passages necessary in order to apply it to the Church. Both must spiritualize portions of scripture.

The answer to the dilemma lies in rightly dividing both prophetic testaments from the Church, which is a mystery, and leaving both testaments in the hands of Israel, to whom they were given.

The Church, which is the Body of Christ, was revealed to Paul and is described as a mystery (Eph 3:6, Col 1:27, Eph 5:32). It is not the subject of prophecy, whether the prophecy is the Old Testament or its fulfillment in the New (Rom 16:25, Col 1:26).

After all the New Testament was never intended for the Church, but was prophesied and reiterated in Hebrews to be applied to Israel:

“For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:” – Hebrews 8:8, quoting Jeremiah 31:31.

Both Right, Both Wrong, Neither Work

The Covenantalists are right that the New Testament will fulfill the Old Testament promises and prophecies, but they are wrong that we need to alter the original prophetic meaning for it to do so.

The Dispensationalists are right that the prophecies are not fulfilled in the Church, but they are wrong when they try to apply New Testament doctrine to the Church.

The necessary division for proper interpretation of the Bible is not between the Old Testament and the New, as if one was for Israel and the other for the Church. Neither testament speaks to the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ.

The most important division to make is between both testaments (subjects of prophecy to Israel) and the Church (the subject of the mystery).

Prophecy vs. Mystery

Rightly dividing the New Testament from the Church is what separates mid-Acts Pauline dispensationalists from every other dispensational or covenant teacher.

Instead of interpreting the Old Testament by the New, or the New by the Old, we interpret the entire Bible through the lens of what is the prophecy and what is mystery; what is earthly, and what is heavenly. These are the necessary divisions that remove the confusion of so-called Christian scholars.

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Published: June 23, 2012
Last Modified: August 9, 2012
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