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What Is New Covenant Theology?

By Emily Daw
Updated May 23, 2024
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New Covenant Theology is a view of biblical and world history that is held to by some Calvinist Christian circles, especially in Reformed Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist groups. Its uniqueness consists of its view of a definitive break between the Old Testament and the New Testament. While other groups, such as dispensationalists, hold a similar view, New Covenant Theology also maintains that certain promises in the Old Testament refer to the church — or spiritual Israel — rather than to the literal ethnic or national Israel. This view is sometimes seen as a middle ground between two older theologies: Covenant Theology and dispensationalism.

Followers of New Covenant Theology believe that the Old Testament was a temporary covenant, designed to be replaced by the New Testament. They argue for a definitive break between these two periods of salvation history. In this view, the church, which began at Pentecost, replaces Israel as the recipient of any promises made in the Old Testament that had not been fulfilled by the time of Christ.

New Covenant Theology retains some similarities to Covenant Theology, which is another Calvinist viewpoint. Both views allow for the salvation of Jews before the time of Christ, but argue that they were saved under the Covenant of Grace — the Covenant of the New Testament — even though they did not know of its existence at that time. Significantly, however, Covenant Theology sees more continuity between the two time periods than does New Covenant Theology. Whereas the latter sees the Old Testament as abolished, the former sees it as completed. Covenant Theology also argues that the church existed during the Old Testament rather than being founded after the time of Christ.

Another similar but competing view is that of dispensationalism. Like New Covenant theologians, dispensationalists see a definitive break between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and see the day of Pentecost as the beginning date of the church. However, dispensationalists believe that covenants made with Israel will be fulfilled with Israel — the literal descendents of Abraham — rather than with the church as a spiritual incarnation of Israel. Dispensationalists, rather than believing in two major salvific time periods — Old Testament and New Testament — believe in seven total dispensations, some of which, including the millennium, have not yet come into being. This view is popular in both Calvinist and other Protestant groups.

Crucial to an understanding of any of these theologies is an understanding of the word "covenant," which is synonymous with "testament." Both words are sometimes simply defined as "promise," but actually a covenant is a bit more complex. A covenant is an agreement between two or more people or groups that can be either conditional or unconditional, eternal or temporary. Some of the many theological interpretations of covenant argue that the covenants God made with Israel in the Old Testament continue to be valid today. Others views claim that these covenants are now void, or that they actually now apply to the church rather than to ethnic or national Israelites. These promises include both spiritual and physical salvation.

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