75: Covenant, Promise and Mystery

In this episode John and Gregg continue their discussion about the relationship between the covenant with Moses and the promise made to Abram (Abraham) in Gen 12:1-3, to bless all the nations through Abraham and his offspring.

John wonders how Gregg would present the gospel, and this past week Gregg spent a number of hours compiling a variety of Accordance search on the subjects of the promise and the blessings (or benefits) promised to the Israelites at the covenant at Mt. Sinai, through Moses as an intermediary). Gregg’s question: how much of the promise to Abraham is included in the (eventual) covenant blessings?

Gregg begins by noting how, in past podcasts, he has presented the relationship between covenant and promise in two ways (presenting them as being both distinct and then overlapping) and so needs to be definitive on this matter. Gregg indicates that further research does not seem to show that the promise (to bless all the nations through Abraham and his offspring) is among the covenant blessings. Instead, the promise of blessing, through Abraham’s offspring, to the whole world, is re-iterated through Genesis (Gen 18:18-19, 22:17-18, 26:4-5, 28:13-15) but then not picked up again until the prophets (particularly Isaiah) seem to pick up and enlarge upon this theme, and Gregg wonders: are the prophets expounding the relationship between the covenant and the promise?

Gregg also notes that the discussion about promise and covenant came up in the context of the Christmas event pamphlets that John had picked up, and that these pamphlets focused on the idea of mystery, but that the “mystery” actually seems quite different from what he pamphlets indicated. So where the pamphlets indicated that reasons for God going to such lengths (i.e., the life and death of Jesus) for the sake of humanity was a mystery, Gregg demurs.

Instead, looking at Eph 2:11 – 3:6 Gregg argues that mystery is not how much God loves us nor that God chose to seek relationship non-Jews (both of which are clearly present in the Hebrew Bible) but that God chose to make no distinction or priority between Jews and gentiles (nor indeed between male or female, slave or free person, as in Gal 3:28-29, Col 3:11). In this case, the promise is linked to the promise to Abraham but rounds out that promise in this most unexpected way.

Gregg goes on to note how the dissolution of categories and hierarchy between Jews and others reinforces the notion that God, in seeking the Jews in order that all humanity should be blessed through them, did not seek out one small group of people in order to replace them with another small group of people. In other words, God’s plan as laid out in the Bible is that right relationship with God should become possible between for all people, on the basis of faith.

In this way Gregg does not accept the Calvinist or Reformed perspective that would see God aiming to choose or “elect” certain of God’s followers and to reject all others. Such a reading makes less sense (and takes less consideration) of the full context of this plan, as laid out within the biblical text.

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