The intro to this series may be found here.
In a recent journal article, Kaiser explores whether the object of faith in the OT is the same as in the NT. This query is usually, as it is in Kaiser’s article, discussed along the lines of Dispensational Theology (DT) vs Covenant Theology (CT). There is not really any debate as to whether salvation is by grace through faith, but rather what the object of saving faith was in the OT. That Jesus is set forth as the object of saving faith in the NT is beyond dispute. However, Dispensationslists have often denied that Jesus is the object of saving faith in the OT. Instead, it is proffered that faith in God in general, and derivatively faith in whatever he promised at the time, is in fact the object of saving faith which OT saints possessed.
Kaiser cites Ryrie as representative of the common DT position, “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement of salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age [however,] is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations.” Kaiser then cites the Westminster Confession (Chapter VII, section 3) as representative of the common CT position,
Man by his Fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
In his article, Kaiser goes on to discuss the implications of some who have gone beyond Ryrie and adopt an inclusivist approach: whereby it is argued that anyone who comes to believe in monotheism is basically exercising the faith of Abraham and the rest of the OT saints. Our interest here, however, is the continuity/discontinuity contrast between CT and DT. It should be pointed out that Kaiser’s antithesis appears to only take into account classical and revised DT. A progressive dispensationalist position would not necessarily understand the content of faith as changing over the various dispensations. As such, Kaiser’s antithesis is a false one in terms of CT vs DT.
I find both the CT and DT positions that Kaiser mentions to be synthetic, but not in the same way. The DT (classical/revised, not necessarily progressive) position that Kaiser mentions simply ignores the organic continuity of the content of faith that Scripture reveals both implicitly and explicitly. In classical and revised DT this blind spot seems to stem from a rejection of CT claims, rather than an organic continuity of the content of faith between the OT and NT saints being ruled out by a consistent application of a historical-grammatical hermeneutic. I argue here that a consistent use of a historical-grammatical hermeneutic will actually lead to embracing an organic continuity of the content of faith between OT and NT saints.
I find CT’s position to be synthetic as well because the continuity of the content of faith proposed is on the basis of God’s dealings with men according to the covenant of grace in lieu of the covenant of works. The problem, as I see it, is that the entire framework of those two covenants is basically a theological fairytale. Scripture knows nothing of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. As such, the apparent continuity of the content of faith between OT and NT saints flows from an artificial framework rather than Scripture. There is a better way.
Kaiser’s own promise-plan theology is basically an alternative to both the CT and DT positions he mentions in his article. Kaiser accurately identifies the big picture organic continuity that unites all of Scripture when he defines what he calls the promise-plan of God as follows:
The promise-plan is God’s word of declaration, beginning with Eve and continuing on through history, especially in the patriarchs and the Davidic line, that God would continually be in his person and do in his deeds and works (in and through Israel, and later the church) his redemptive plan as his means of keeping that promised word alive for Israel, and thereby for all who subsequently believed. All in that promised seed were called to act as a light for all the nations so that all the families of the earth might come to faith and to new life in the Messiah.
The “word of declaration” that Kaiser speaks of is essentially God’s declaration that he would put enmity between the seed of the woman and the serpent, and that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent while the serpent would crush the seed’s heel (Gen 3:15). It is actually quite astounding just what is included in this simple declaration. I would go so far as to say that the entirety of God’s plan is summarized here at the beginning of history.
It is argued here that revelation subsequent to this declaration is simply the progressive unfolding of what is here revealed. The rest of Scripture reveals with growing specificity who the seed will be (the story of his lineage from the woman and of God’s preservation of that line), what he will do (king, priest, and prophet are helpful categories for thinking about this), and what the results of his coming and doing will be.
Ostensibly, Eve understood a little more than she is given credit for. When Cain was born she could be understood to have said, “I have gotten (obtained, created?) a man, even Yahweh” (Gen 4:1). In other words, it is possible to understand this comment of Eve to mean that she thought she had just given birth to a man that was Yahweh. This, of course, depends on whether one understands את to be formed from the preposition אתת (with), or is the direct object marker which might be based on the root אות.
I opt for the latter, and see this as a statement of Eve’s hope that the child she had just given birth to was the promised seed. She was wrong. Cain was not the seed, but she appears to have believed the promise. Because of what is said, I also think it likely that Adam and Eve understood that the seed would be Yahweh in the flesh. I hypothesize that this understanding of Adam and Eve is the source of every known incarnation myth. These myths formed as the truth of what was promised was corrupted by man as it was passed down from generation to generation.
This hope in the promise of the coming seed of the woman also seems to appear in Lamech. When Noah was born to Lamech he said, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands because of the ground that Yahweh has cursed” (Gen 5:29). Again, he was wrong, but there were apparently some looking for the fulfillment of the promise. It is with this promise and hope in mind that we can understand the significance of what God promised Abraham.
When God promised Abraham that he would inherit a land, a great nation would come from him, he would be divinely favored, all the nations would be blessed through him, that his heir would be one from his own lineage, and that he would have a multitude of descendants (Gen 12:1-3; 15:4, 5), Abraham understood God to be saying that the seed of the woman was going to come through his physical line after that line had become a nation. So, when we are told that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6), the object of Abraham’s faith should be understood as the coming seed of the woman. God had simply revealed to Abraham the part he would play in God’s bringing of that promised seed into the world.
I believe that such an understanding of the situation with Abraham is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Galatians that God preached the gospel to Abraham when he told him that through him all the nations will be blessed. This is why Abraham is an excellent example of justification by faith, since the object of his faith is the same as ours: the seed of the woman (Cf., Gal 3:3-9). God was simply revealing more to Abraham about this coming seed than had been previously been revealed. It was now known by Abraham that the seed of the woman would one of his descendants that would be from a nation that God would form from his descendants.
This “seed of the woman theology” was ostensibly believed by Moses as well. During his formative years in Pharaoh’s house he was informed (probably by his mother, cf., Ex 2:5-9) of how this seed of the woman would one day come through Abraham’s descendants. As Moses did the calculus he came to the conclusion that suffering with the people through whom the seed would come, and for the sake of the seed, would have a better pay off than all the sinful pleasures he could have indulged in at the time (Cf., Heb 11:24-26).
David also seems to have shared a belief in “seed of the woman theology.” When God made a covenant with him, David appears to understand God to be speaking of the fact that the seed of the woman would come from one of his descendants. This can be seen in David’s reaction to God making the covenant with him. David recognizes that the covenant involves a descendant in the distant future (Cf., 1 Sam 7:19). Further, David seemed to recognize the global implications of the covenant (i.e., all the nations being blessed through this descendant), when he says of the content of the covenant, “This is the charter for humanity” (possible translation of the latter half of 1 Sam 7:19).
The examples could be multiplied many times over as long as one does not insist on imputing ignorance to the OT believers concerning the coming seed of the woman. It seems to me that it would be better to understand the OT believers as having shared this (what Kaiser would call) antecedent theology concerning the coming seed of the woman. Consequently, it may be said with some confidence that the OT believers simply put their faith in Jesus for salvation. They just didn’t know that his name would be Jesus, that he would be born at the time he was, and all the other concomitants of his coming unless they had been revealed previously. The faith of OT believers and NT believers have the same content: the person of Jesus. The level of specificity in one’s knowledge of his person an work is simply a function of where one stands in relation to what was progressively revealed about him in Scripture. “Seed of the woman theology” is, perhaps, the greatest example of organic continuity one may find in Scripture.