Pastor-evangelist in Montreal, Canada; presently writing An Introduction to NCT in French
New Covenant Theology (NCT) is a Christocentric, Christotelic and Christodoxal systematic Christian theology, historically Baptist, with precursors in the Patristic era, among the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century and the first generation of Particular Baptists in the seventeenth century. Proponents of NCT have several theological domains in common with Covenant Theology (CT) and Dispensational Theology (TD), particularly the doctrines of sovereign electing grace (TULIP).
But NCT is distinct from CT and DT in hermeneutics. NCT reads the Bible according to a progressive salvation history interpretation and values the hermeneutics of fulfillment in Christ and the New Covenant. Thus, NCT gives precedence to the Gospels and especially to the apostolic epistles of the NT to interpret the OT.
NCT believes that CT levels the two Testaments while DT defers the OT prophecies to literal fulfillments at the end of this era without taking into account the fulfillments in the spiritual realities of the first coming of Jesus Christ. NCT proposes elements of discontinuity AND continuity between the Old and the New Covenants.
Before discussing the continuity of the New Covenant with the Old, discontinuity needs to be established.
NCT is distinct from CT in three major points. First, NCT does not adhere to the doctrine of a single supra-historical covenant of grace, which would encompass all of the OT alliances and including the New Covenant itself. NCT accentuates the newness of the New Covenant and thus the discontinuity between the two covenants. Secondly, NCT is different from CT because it considers that the law of the Old Testament was completely fulfilled in Christ and the New Covenant. Believers of the New Covenant are no longer under Mosaic Law. They are not without law but rather under («inlawed to») the law of Christ which fulfills and does not continue that of the Old Covenant. Thirdly, NCT does not see Israel as the church of the OT and considers that the Church, including the elect from Israel and the elect from the nations, is the new Israel. There is a break in the make-up of God’s recognized people.
NCT sees the NT as God’s final revelatory word and looks for the conclusive interpretational verdict on all matters addressed in the OT. For example, the Sabbath question seems to be part of an irreducible law according to the Ten Commandments. However, in the NT, Paul’s teaching in Romans 14.5, 6, Galatians 4.10 and Colossians 2.16, 17 demonstrates that the New Covenant believer is no longer required to keep the Sabbath. The Law is not divisible into compartments. There is no continuing impingement on the believer’s conscience of the so-called moral component of the Law as resumed in the Ten Commandments.
NCT takes the moral value of the New Covenant as higher than the Old. If the Ten Commandments are the excellent revelation of the law and character of God for His people in OT, the life, work, and teaching of Christ, as well as the writings of His Apostles, reveal a greater and incomparable glory in the new covenant.
NCT sees the New Covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31 as being finally fulfilled 600 years later at the crucifixion of Christ when the veil was rent in two, having been announced by Jesus in the Upper Room the night before as he passed the cup of the NEW COVENANT IN HIS BLOOD to his disciples. The book of Hebrews quotes the passage from Jeremiah 31 and states that the Old Covenant is replaced by a second because the old one has aged and is ready to disappear, that it has a new mediator and that it is NOT like the one given to the fathers. This is clearly discontinuous. The law given at Sinai identified the people of Israel, while the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ identifies the Church and is based on the gospel of God’s grace.
What precisely was the law written by the Holy Spirit on the believer’s heart instead of tablets of stone? Investigating the answer to this question brings the importance of continuity/discontinuity discussion into focus.
NCT also values continuity. NCT does not speak only of discontinuity between the OT and the NT, between Moses and Jesus Christ (John1.17). The continuity between the two Testaments is manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, born under the law and sent first to the sheep of Israel but carrying the mandate of a new covenant in his blood for the true Israel, made up of all peoples. And the connexion is manifest in His words: «And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself» (Luke 24.27).
Jesus himself makes the link of continuity between all the strands of Old Covenant pattern, picture, plan, project, prophecy, purpose and promise on the one hand, and his New Covenant coming, fulfillment, revelation, realisation, perfection, antitype and completion, on the other. His inauguration of the New Covenant was not random or unconnected. It was NEW, but there was cohesive design, linkage and interrelationship with the OLD.
NCT explores all types, trajectories and allusions to the new covenant found in the old. NCT especially emphasizes the prophecies expressly predictive of the new covenant in Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. But how can discontinuity AND continuity coexist?
Discontinuity/continuity is possible in the NCT vision because this continuity undergoes transformation by entering the era of fulfillment in Jesus Christ. NCT points to transformation since one passes from shadow to reality (Co 2.17), from promise to fulfillment (Mt 5.17) and from temporal to permanent (2 Co 3.11) in the transition from the Old to the New covenant.
Paul says that Christ is the telos of the law (Romans 10.4 τελος γαρ νομου χριστος). He is the goal and the end. He is the goal in the sense that He is the culmination of the Law of Moses, the law having always anticipated and looked to Christ. But Christ is also the “end” in that his fulfillment of the law brings to an end the period of time when it was a key element in God’s plan. The period of obeying the Law of Moses upon penalty of death was replaced by the new period when the coming of the Messiah meant the “justification of all who transferred their full trust in Him”.
Three examples will illustrate this principle of continuity through transformation:
- The Mosaic Law has lapsed since the coming of Jesus Christ (Romans 10: 4). God gives an important time marker in Galatians 3.24, 25. We are no longer under this pedagogue. One of the obvious divinely ordained signs of this end of the regime is seen at the very moment of the crucifixion of the Mediator of the New Covenant: the veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies is rent from top to bottom without a human hand. So there is discontinuity. However, consider the example of one of the Mosaic Law’s commands, the one called in the NT, ‘the New Commandment’. It is Old, as the apostle John says (1 John 2: 7). Deuteronomy 6:5 ordered supreme love for God and Leviticus 19:18 called the Israelites to love their neighbour as themselves. How is it then New? Indeed, this ancient commandment to love God and one’s neighbor is made new (transformed) by Jesus himself who becomes the new model of the old commandment in flesh and bone. He gives it a new dimension: “as I have loved you”. He also gives it a new emphasis (1 John 2.8a) because in the OT, it was one of many commandments. But in the new covenant it stands ABOVE the others: “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Ro 13: 8-10). This is the law par excellence, the royal law (Jc 2.8). It is also a transformed commandment because it is in a new indissoluble link. Jesus amalgamates the two aspects of the new commandment (towards God and towards one’s neighbour) in Mt 22: 37-40. This old commandment also becomes radically new in that it has a new scope (not only brothers and sisters and neighbor, but even the enemy), a new promise: “To this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another “(Jn 13:35) and a new experience:” he who loves his brother abides in the light “(1 Jn 29-11). Finally, this Old commandment is transformed in the New Covenant because the love so commanded in the old is actually empowered since the divine enabler brings it forth in the heart of the New Covenant believer as His fruit (Galatians 5.22). So there is discontinuity/continuity as the Old is transformed, nuanced and powered up by the New.
- Mosaic Sabbath observance is past because reality has overshadowed the shadow. However, even though it has past, it is also transformed from a literal and temporary day of rest from the workweek into the final and permanent rest of faith in Jesus Christ from our works. This is a much higher observance, spiritually (Hebrews 4:11). We enter into this rest, into this finished crosswork of Christ by grace and by faith. Again, there is discontinuity/continuity as the old covenant symbol of the Sabbath is transformed into the new covenant reality in Christ.
- The people to whom Jeremiah’s prophecy was originally addressed are transformed when the writer to the Hebrews reinterprets it in the new covenant. The “house of Israel and the house of Judah,” that is, the ten tribes together with Judah (and Benjamin) were clearly the hearers when Jeremiah prophesied (31: 31-34). When inaugurated, the new covenant was literally with Israel. But in the argument of the author of Hebrews, the new covenant is made with “those who come to God through Him … the mediator of a most excellent covenant … the first covenant … [being] replaced by a second … not as the covenant I made with their fathers “(Hebrews 7.25, 8.6, 7, 9). The new people of God, the new and true Israel is composed of all the elect of Jewish origin and all the elect of pagan origin reingrafted or grafted into the same olive tree, the Lord Jesus Himself.
How do NCT proponents describe the transformation of the Old Covenant to the New? Different illustrations have been proposed.
- Kenneth H. Good uses the idea of the charcoal sketch to final painting. Other NCTers have embellished the illustration. The artist starts with a pencil or charcoal sketch, he carefully outlines the picture in grey-black strokes. Those sketches can be pretty impressive – actually works of art in their own right. But then, he begins to paint. The picture takes on a fullness in those sketched shapes, and blossoms into colour. On he works – until nothing of the original sketch is visible. It has been overlaid by the complete beauty of the picture. The Divine Artist first outlines his scene with the sketch of the Old Covenant then paints the actual colours and shadings, according to plan, but completely transformed in the New Covenant. Christ fulfills the Law with a righteousness that is not confined to its raw pencil-strokes, yet they are ‘beneath’ it – a required and necessary foundation and background. But His fullness outshines the shadows of what, after all, was just preparation for the finished work.
- Geoff Volker is presently writing a book on Picture/Fulfillment, A Study of New Covenant Theology. That idea of the Old Covenant providing pictures which then are fulfilled in the New Covenant is tempered with his observation that the pictures are not perfect. Israel, for instance was predominantly unbelieving. However, the fulfillment of this imperfect picture is perfect, just as Jeremiah promises that “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD.’ For they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them,” saith the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
- Some NCT writers such as John Angus Harley refer to the seed and mature tree illustration. Others use the child to mature adult.
- Wayne Jackson writes: “God in the types of the last dispensation was teaching His children their letters. In this dispensation He is teaching them to put the letters together, and they find that the letters, arrange them as they will, spell Christ, and nothing but Christ.”
- The shadows/reality illustration is very telling. The outline of the shadow configures the reality but has absolutely no resemblance to it in substance. It has the advantage that it is found in Scripture: Colossians 2.17 and Hebrews 8.5 and 10.1.
- The caterpillar/butterfly illustration. Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel both highlight this transformation from the old to the new through the illustration of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. This image features continuity and discontinuity. The regime of the old covenant, the law, and Moses are like the caterpillar. The butterfly represents the new covenant, the gospel and Jesus Christ. In a sense, the caterpillar and the butterfly are two different creatures. But in fact they have the same identity. The reality is that there was a profound transformation of the first one to be metamorphosed into a new creature.
Covenant Theology (CT) insists that Jeremiah’s prophecy specifies the Mosaic Law as what is written on the hearts of those who will make up the New Covenant. Thus CT neglects the transformation of this Law. Admittedly, CT sees here an interiorization of the Law on the heart. But why insist on the literality of the Ten Commandments as the substance of what is inscribed, when it is obvious that the Mediator is new, the recipients are new and the adjoining clauses are new (new heart, complete forgiveness, all are taught of God)? Why insist that the caterpillar remain present as is? It is not present in its old form but is transformed! There is discontinuity.
On the other hand, if some followers of New Covenant theology insist only on the repeal of the Mosaic Law, then, conversely, they neglect continuity. The butterfly is actually the same caterpillar that has gone through a profound transformation. Take the seventh commandment given on Mount Sinai: «Neither shalt thou commit adultery». That is the OC formulation. Now Jesus ushers in the promised blood-bought New Covenant for all who believe on Him. The believer’s heart, through the inscribing work of the Holy Spirit, is under Christ’s law given on another Mount «But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. » There is continuity and there is transformation.
So, it is not a question of maintaining that the Decalogue is inscribed on the believer’s heart in the new covenant. Nor is it a question of saying that the law inscribed by the Holy Spirit on the heart of the Christian is a completely New Covenant code, altogether alien to the Ten Commandments.
How can we solve this difficulty? It is not a question of opting for the radical continuity of the 1st position (CT) which insists on the literality of the 10 commandments inscribed on the heart. But neither is it a question of opting for the 2nd option: radical discontinuity that rejects any reference to the law already promulgated by God through Moses.
The third option is the best. The law written on the heart of the believer redeemed by Jesus Christ is the Divine Law, as expressed in the Mosaic Decalogue, BUT ON THE CONDITION OF ITS FULFILMENT AND TRANSFORMATION IN CHRIST. The theology of the new covenant endorses the continuity and discontinuity between the old and the new covenant in Him who is “born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, that we may receive adoption.” Ga 4.4, 5). He is the new Adam, the desire of the OT, the new Moses who says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21: 5).
 “The Gospel of Matthew, more clearly than the others, makes us see Jesus as the true Israel himself, and he makes us see those who, as true remnant of the people of God, have responded to his mission … Thus, to be the true people of God is no longer a question of nationality, but it is a question of relationship with Jesus “, F. France, New Bible Commentary, InterVarsity Press.
 Randy Sievers says, “There has been a lot of discussion about the meaning of «telos» in Romans 10: 4 … Usually, one takes one of two positions regarding the meaning in which Paul uses the word «end». Some argue that he used it in the sense of «purpose», that is, Christ is the one to whom the law points and in whom it is performed. Others have claimed that he used it to indicate that the law was over and done. The truth is that if the purpose of the law was to designate Christ as righteousness, then, since he came to fulfill it, the law, fulfilled in him, has no more reason to be. Thus, Christ would be both the “purpose” and the “end” of the law for justice.” The Fullness of Time, A Biblical-Theological Study of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, http://www.cet.com /~dlavoie/solo.christo/theology/nct/fullness/full.3.html
 «Let no man judge you concerning eating or drinking, or about a feast, a new moon, or Sabbaths: it was the shadow of things to come, but the body is in Christ» (Co 2.16, 17). «One man esteems one day; another considers them all equal. Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind» (Romans 14: 5-8).
 The early church was made up of the Messiah from the tribe of Judah, of twelve Israelite apostles plus the apostle Paul (having been educated by the most famous of the Jewish rabbis: Gamaliel), the 70 disciples, the 120, the 3000 Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem at Pentecost, then the 5000, and afterwards a large crowd of priests (Acts 6.7). The New Covenant truly began with Israel and Judah (Hebrews 8: 8) in accordance with the Old Testament prophecies.
 Romans 2.29, 4.12, 9.6-8, 11.5; Galatians 3.7-9, 29, 6.16; Philippians 3.3; 1 Peter 2.5-10…
 Kenneth H. Good Are Baptists Reformed ? Lorain, Ohio: Regular Baptist Heritage Fellowship, 1986) p.24.
 https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/126-study-of-biblical-types-a accessed February 25th 2019.
Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel New Covenant Theology (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2002) Wells describes this illustration on pages 170-173. It is well worth reading and re-reading. When the book came out, there was a review by the reformed Baptist champion, James M. Renihan: Caterpillars and Butterflies: A Review of New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel.
http://irbsseminary.org/caterpillars-butterflies-review-new-covenant-theology/ Renihan did not give careful consideration to this illustration, belittling it and setting it aside too hastily. He was calling for scholarly exegesis of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant, and its corollary in the Hebrews passage, which is a legitimate concern for NCTers, but the continuity/discontinuity illustration which he disdained was obviously not amenable to the Reformed doctrine of predominant continuity.