William Dumbrell on the New Covenant

William Dumbrell has an extended discussion on the new covenant in his OT survey, The Faith of Israel. Dumbrell points out that while Jeremiah 31:31-40 doesn’t explicit speak in global terms, the emphases of the text affirms “an international context” (144). The new covenant brings with it a new creation and a New Jerusalem, the center of the world. The new covenant, then, has implications not only for Israel but also for the whole world (144). The new covenant, however, still has connections to Israel’s past. It is “new” in that a new dimension of faith is imported to Israel, but it is also not a radical disruption from the previous covenants. The new covenant is connected to Israel’s history by confronting the division between the northern and southern kingdoms. The new covenant speaks to the reunification of God’s people (145). In dealing with Israel current plight as well as future, the new covenant confronts its readers with its relationship to the “old” covenant.

Dumbrell seeks to clear a misconception between the two covenants, as if the old covenant was all about works and the new covenant is all about grace (145). The difference between the two covenant is not in their nature (works vs. grace) but between their partners. In the new covenant, “both parties will keep the new arrangement” while in the old covenant, the people broke it (145). Besides clearing up the misconceptions of the nature of the covenants, Dumbrell also wants to dispel an unsatisfactory view of the heart within both covenants. Some scholars may be tempted to think that the old covenant did not involve the “heart.” Dumbrell explains that “the salvation of the individual in the OT always presupposed the ‘law in the heart'” (145). What is needed and demanded under the old covenant is a heart oriented toward the Lord. But the tension that arises is between the Lord placing the law in the heart and carrying out its obedience (146). The biggest difference between the old and new covenant isn’t really the matter of the heart. Both covenants speak of the heart.

The biggest difference between the covenant then was the forgiveness of sin and not remembering sin. The old covenant was “mediated” and needed constant support, from the sacrificial system and the temple, etc. (146). But no such support would be needed in the new covenant (146). Dumbrell sees significance in the fact that God will not “remember” Israel’s sins any longer: “For God not to remember means that no action in the new age will need to taken against sin. The forgiveness of which this verse speaks is so comprehensive that sin has finally been dealt with in the experience of the nation and individual believer” (146). For Dumbrell, Jeremiah is speaking of the “final” experience of God’s grace and mercy (147). Dumbrell sees Jeremiah speaking of the consummation of God’s forgiveness, life in the new creation (147). What is really “new” is not necessarily the forgiveness of sins, but instead, the full and complete transformation of God’s people (147).

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