In Granite or Ingrained? "Chapter 4: New Covenant DNA in the Old Covenant" by Skip MacCarty (Andrews University Press, 2007)
~ Review by Christopher Lee ~
A full review of Skip MacCarty’s work In Granite or Ingrained? is beyond the scope of this brief article. While this review focuses on just one key chapter, “New Covenant DNA in the Old Covenant,” the theological confusion that surfaces in this chapter is arguably representative of the whole. In his introduction to In Granite or Ingrained?, MacCarty speaks of reading a book on the covenants. He candidly admits, “Many times the meaning of certain scriptural passages baffled me. Most commentaries didn’t help much, and some just added to my confusion. I often had to pray my way toward an understanding of Bible passages that appeared to contradict each other” (xiii).
MacCarty’s confusion in approaching his study of the covenants appears to be the direct result of his a priori assumption, which is visually captured on the cover of his book. MacCarty comes to the material with a preconceived belief that the ten commands found in the Decalogue are specifically the law which is written in the hearts of New Covenant believers. Of special concern to MacCarty is defending the a priori conviction that the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath is written in the hearts of all true believers.
Such unfounded and unbiblical assumptions will naturally lead to cognitive dissonance when one reads passages of scripture, not to mention a host of evangelical commentaries, which clearly contradict such an erroneous belief. MacCarty attempts to alleviate this dissonance by focusing in chapter four on the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
MacCarty rightly points out that the ten commandments (more literally “the ten words,” aseret haddebarim, indicating that the Decalogue was a covenant document whose form follows ancient Near Eastern treaty tradition—Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1571) were the “essence of the Sinai Covenant” (37). In regards to the commands in Ex. 20:22-23:33, which follow the Decalogue, MacCarty quotes Daniel I. Block, “[They] may be interpreted as elaborations and practical explications of the Decalogue” (Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians, 10). With these prima facie facts in evidence, MacCarty then goes about building a case for the continuity of the Old and New Covenants.
In chapter three, MacCarty lays out what he believes to be the four key promises/provisions of the New Covenant. In chapter four MacCarty demonstrates that references to these promises/provisions, or what he calls “New Covenant DNA,” may be found in the Old Covenant as well. MacCarty compares New Testament passages dealing with sanctification, reconciliation, mission, and justification with Old Testament passages on the same topics. Much is made of the fact that New Testament authors frequently quote from the Old Testament when dealing with these topics. In this way, MacCarty hopes to demonstrate that the Old Covenant, and the Decalogue in particular, is as much grace-based as the New Covenant.
It should be noted that no New Covenant scholar denies that the Old Testament is full of God’s grace and mercy. In fact, all of the law, prophets, and writings foreshadow the ultimate act of grace, the coming of the second person of the Trinity to live, die, and rise again for our salvation. It should come as no surprise to any Bible student that the Old Testament writers proclaim God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness repeatedly. It should also surprise no one that the New Testament authors quote from the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of all that was promised in the Old Testament. MacCarty appears to be defining a point of disagreement where none exists.
New Covenant scholars further affirm that all people of all time are saved in the same way, by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Messiah alone. However, Old Testament saints placed their faith in the promise of a coming Messiah who had not yet appeared. New Testament Christians place their faith in the finished work and person of Jesus Christ. MacCarty’s error appears to be in assuming that those things which were promises in the Old Covenant were also fully realized at that time. He fails to see that that the promise of grace and forgiveness is not identical to the accomplished reality of grace and forgiveness. MacCarty’s error can be seen in his confusion of verb tense. Consider the following passage from chapter four, page 47:
“Throughout the 1500 years between the giving of the law on Sinai and the advent of Christ, God continued through varied imagery to assure His covenant people that their sins were forgiven [past tense]: ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be [future tense] white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be [future tense] like wool’ (Isa. 1:18). ‘Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will [future tense] tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’ (Mic. 7:19).”
Notice that while MacCarty speaks of forgiveness as a past tense event in the Old Testament, the very Bible texts that MacCarty cites speak of forgiveness as a future tense event. This is what scripture has to say on the topic:
Romans 3:21-26 (NASB)
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The Law and the Prophets only foretold the justification that would come through faith in Jesus. During the Old Testament period God “passed over” the sins that were committed in anticipation of a time when His righteousness and justice would be demonstrated in the propitiatory sacrifice of the Son. The Old Testament sacrificial system did not itself forgive sin, it only foreshadowed a once-for-all forgiveness that would come through Christ.
MacCarty also appears to misunderstand the difference between the way in which Israel was ceremonially set apart under the old covenant and the work of sanctification achieved in the lives of New Covenant believers via the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The former is the shadow while the latter is the substance. MacCarty quotes 1 Peter 1:15-16, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; it is written: ‘Be Holy, because I am holy.’” MacCarty notes that Peter is quoting Leviticus 11:45 and 19:2, then goes on in the next paragraph to draw a link between holiness and Sabbath keeping (39).
MacCarty fails to note that God’s admonitions to the Israelites in Leviticus 11 and 19 are accompanied by assorted commands which include such things as ceremonial washings, being unclean until evening after touching certain animals, eating sacrificed meat within three days of the offering, rules for crop planting, fruit trees, mixing materials in garments, breeding animals, rules for hair and beards, and guilt offerings. To be sure, these passages also contain eternal moral precepts which are intermixed with ceremonial elements, but all these commands were combined to set Israel apart.
The transliterated Hebrew word in Leviticus, translated as “holy,” is qadosh. According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, “A definitive use of the term occurs in Numbers 16:38. The censers of the Korahites were regarded as holy because they had been devoted to the Lord. They were thus regarded as having entered the sphere of the sacred by virtue of cultic ritual.” Many things in Leviticus that are called holy are designated as such because of their ritualistic significance, not because they are inherently moral. Presumably MacCarty does not believe that God’s commands to the Israelites to be holy by not trimming their beards or mixing fabrics in clothing are a required sign of holiness for New Covenant Christians. Assuming this to be the case, MacCarty’s argument for Sabbath keeping as a sign of holiness, based on Peter’s quotation of Leviticus, becomes a non sequitur.
MacCarty’s failure to see the difference between shadow and substance leads him to minimize the difference in covenants. MacCarty strongly implies that those who see significant differences in the Old and New Covenants are guilty of describing the Old Covenant in inaccurate ways. For instance, MacCarty states that the “old and new covenants have been pitted against one another by some Bible students” (37). One need look no further than the third chapter of 2 Corinthians to see that the Bible itself compares and contrasts the old and new covenants. The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls the old covenant “the ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7, NASB) and “the ministry that condemns” (2 Cor. 3:9, NIV) while stating that the new covenant is “much more glorious” (2 Cor. 3:9, NIV). One can hardly fault any Bible student for restating what the Apostle Paul states in Holy Scripture.
MacCarty also faults those who disagree with his position for describing the old covenant as “bondage-producing” (37). However, this is the same terminology used in Gal. 4:3 and is the main message of the entire fourth chapter of Galatians. He continues, on the same page, to critique author Dale Ratzlaff for stating that the requirements of the law can only be fulfilled within the arrangements of the New Covenant (Sabbath in Christ, 203). However, this is exactly what Romans 8:1-17 teaches.
MacCarty seems to be aware of the problem he faces in critiquing those who simply restate what the Bible states. His response is to create an inexplicable dichotomy between the Old Covenant itself and what he calls the “old covenant experience” (38--see chapters 6 and 7 for more on this). This appears to be a device manufactured for the sole purpose of diffusing the force of scriptural statements dealing with the Old and New Covenants. One need only briefly read through 2 Cor. 3, Gal. 4, and Rom. 8 to see that none of these passages are talking about a purely subjective old covenant experience which is apart from the covenant itself. All of these passages are referring to the preeminence and superiority of the New Covenant over the Old.
Perhaps one of the more startling statements in Chapter 4 comes on page 49.
“Had Israel, under the supervision of the Holy Spirit, been faithful to this pure gospel covenant, faithfully teaching and modeling its essential message to their children, the Spirit could have used it to instill within their successive generations a saving ‘trust in God’ and a heart inclined to ‘keep his commands,’ His ‘living word.’”
This statement appears to undermine the absolute necessity of a substitutionary savior. Jesus did not come only to die and pay the penalty of death, but to live the perfect life in our place, fulfill all the righteous requirements of the law, and credit His righteousness to our account. One wonders what need there would have been for a substitutionary savior if Israel had been able fulfill the terms of the covenant themselves.
Ultimately, a fundamental misunderstanding of the uniqueness of the work of Christ, and the covenant He ushered in, underlies MacCarty’s work. Without an understanding of why and how Christ is the mediator of a truly new and better covenant (Heb. 8:6, 9:15, 12:24), one is doomed to perpetually find scripture baffling and confusing.
by Christopher A. Lee, submitted to Sabbatismos June 2, 2010
You may read more from Chris at his excellent blog, Berean Mind.
Skip MacCarty, author of In Granite or Ingrained? contributes to a book called Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views by B&H Academic, 2011. MacCarty explains the Seventh-day Adventist position, and Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary presents the fulfillment model that Sabbatismos Ministries promotes.