Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Missionary Nature of the Church--Analysis of Continuity and Discontinuity

Which view is right? Is there continuity between mission in the Old Testament and mission in the New Testament? Is there anything wrong with positing discontinuity between the Testaments? Honestly, one must assert that there is a degree of continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments. The question remains: how to resolve the differences?

Blauw sought the resolve the differences from understandings of the mission of the Jews in the Intertestamental period. For Peters, his dispensational system resolves the conflict. Israel had been put on hold until a future date. Senior and Stuhlmueller, on the other hand, did not find a resolution. They took a merely descriptive approach which results in subjective theology. Their methodology should be rejected. Kaiser does not find conflict between the testaments—God’s plan has always been missionary. Köstenberger and O’Brien, however, see the prospect of discontinuity, but uncover a consistent message throughout scripture that points to the Messiah Servant King. Finally, Wright assumes that the Bible is one continuous narrative from creation of the nations to consummation of the nations when the nations will be ingathered into the Israel.

Overall, theological discontinuity should be handled carefully. The danger is that Christianity could be considered just a heretical Jewish sect. Peters concern for the universal nature of the gospel is commendable, but, in light of the detailed analyses of Köstenberger and O’Brien, ignoring the eschatological nature the future ingathering of the nations and the restoration of Israel does not do justice to the message of the Old Testament. One might ask: What is meant by eschatological? Köstenberger and O’Brien do not make it clear if the Old Testament is speaking of a time to come or the eschaton. They seem to imply both. They see a fulfillment in the one coming and in the new heavens and the new earth. Wright also notes that the Old Testament predicts a future ingathering of the nations. If they are correct, then the reader of the Old Testament is given a taste of God’s eternal plan, but is pointed forward to the New Testament. Here theological continuity is found. It is not discontinuity, because this eschatological emphasis is the author-intended meaning.

Ultimately, theological continuity has to be found in the inspired words of Scripture. Since the message of the Old and New Testaments points to the mission of the Messiah, then any theologies that point to mission elsewhere are suspect. Given Kaiser’s good intentions, he still falls short. He argues for continuity between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Great Commission, for he believes Israel was equally responsible as the church to go to the nations, but mission is not possible unless it is inline with the mission of the Messiah. The message of the Abrahamic covenant was to point to the “seed” (singular) in whom all the nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3).[1] Though Kaiser, Köstenberger and O’Brien, and Wright all note the relationship between the covenants, Kaiser set himself on proving his thesis that the Great Commission was given in 2000 BC. Had he not been trying to prove this point, perhaps he would have found continuity in the singular Servant, not the corporate identity.[2] In order to move toward a solution, a fresh look at the Davidic Covenant is needed. It will be my thesis that the mission of God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament finds continuity in the coming Davidic Servant King. Primary to my thesis will be the theology of the Old Testament prophets that confirm that God's plan for Israel and the nations is consummated in the Messiah King.

[1]T. D. Alexander, “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” Tyndale Bulletin 48 (1997): 363–7.

[2]Kaiser may have been influenced by the concept of “corporate solidarity” in which the individual can represent the group or visa versa. See Richard D. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 93. I am indebted to Dougald W. McLaurin III for this reference cf. McLaurin, Is Paul Doing Fuzzy Hermeneutical Math? A Dialogue Between New Testament Scholars and an Old Testament Enthusiast Concerning Galatians 3:16 and Paul’s Interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant (Wake Forest: by the author, 2006).


dwmIII said...


Are we living in the last days? I think Jacob and Balaam would agree.

So, when did the last days begin?


Alan Knox said...

Wes and Dougald,

Doesn't Scripture answer that question? In Acts 2, Peter reminds those listening that God said, "In the last days I will pour out my Spirit..." Peter thought he was living in the last days. I think we still are.


wlh said...

Alan and Dougald,

I agree. The last days began with the coming of the Messiah (Gen 49; Num 24; Isa 2, etc). Acts 2 confirms Joel 2 that the Spirit would be poured out in the last days. Yes, we are in the last days.

How did this become a question?


dwmIII said...


This became a question because I was just asking in relation to the view of eschatology explained in your post. Sorry, for this becoming a bit off subject.