Peter Gentry on the New Covenant

Peter Gentry exposits the new covenant as found in Jeremiah in his book, Kingdom through Covenant. After placing the classic new covenant text of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in its literary structure, Gentry proceeds to walk through the various elements of the covenant. Gentry contends that the phrase “days are coming” refers to a time in the indefinite future (539). When God makes this new covenant he will reunite the previously divided kingdom, the house of Israel and the house Judah (540). Gentry spends significant time in the New Testament to show that the human party in the new covenant is anyone who places their faith in Christ, the church of Jesus Christ (541-46).

After speaking of the timing and the parties of the covenant, Gentry sets out the continuity and discontinuity the new covenant has with the previous covenants. Should the covenant be considered new or renewed (a renewed version of the Mosaic covenant)? Gentry contends that the text itself must show what is really new about the new covenant (457).

First, the new covenant speaks of God’s resolution to Israel’s rebellion. The contrast in the text isn’t between the old and new covenant, but the new covenant and the broken covenant (549). In the new covenant, all the covenant members are faithful (549). He writes, “the new covenant entails a new era in which all covenant members are faithful” (551). Second, the new covenant will “internalize” God’s torah (551). The people will have the will and motivation to obey God’s instruction from the heart. Third, the new covenant binds God and the people together in covenant relationship (552). The people will be family again. Fourth, the new covenant creates a new community, a regenerate one (554). Whereas under the old covenant people became members by being born into the community, in the new covenant community, “all members are believers, and only believers are members” (555). Members of the new covenant won’t need to urge each other to know the Lord, that is, evangelize those within the community because all will be believers.

The believing nature of the new covenant community is often challenged by Presbyterians. Many Presbyterians view the new covenant community as being “mixed” with believers and unbelievers. Presbyterians like G. K. Beale believe when they Jeremiah speaks of the “least and greatest” knowing the Lord is speaking of all kinds of people can know God in the new covenant, not literally every single person in the community (557). In addition, many Presbyterians also apply an “already/not yet” hermeneutic to Jeremiah 31:31-34, claiming that the community will remain mixed until the Last Day (557).

While certainly the text does speak of “least to greatest” meaning all kinds of people can receive forgiveness, the fact that they are forgiven means the community is made up of all believers (559). In addition, Gentry contends that the Presbyterians confuse the kingdom with the new covenant. While the kingdom may be “already/not yet,” the new covenant comes in one package (559). Gentry points out that the New Testament teaches us that forgiveness comes to us now, in Christ (560-61).

The final point that Gentry makes is that the new covenant is “cut” and thus really new (562). God is not merely renewing or upholding a previously cut covenant. He is beginning something new. Gentry then summarizes the similarities and differences between the old and new covenants (563):

Similarities between Old and New Covenants:

  1. Same basis – God’s grace
  2. Same purpose – a holy people
  3. Same initiation – by blood
  4. Same character of God’s instruction – his righteous standard

Differences between Old and New Covenants:

  1. Better mediator (without sin)
  2. Better sacrifice (Isa 42:6; 52:13-53:12; Heb 9:6-10:18)
  3. Better provision – the Spirit of God
  4. Better promise – new heart (Ezek 36:24-28)

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