This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2009 vol. 166 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
New Covenant, New CommunityPaternoster Press, Waynesboro, GA January 1, 2006
This book is an ecumenical plea for the church based on a descriptive study of covenant theology. The New Covenant is the central motif of the book, but there is no exegesis of the central biblical passage in Jeremiah 31:31–34 or any other passage. Instead the book describes what interpreters have said about the passages that mention the covenant or seem to be related to the covenant. Gräbe researches comprehensively what contemporary German scholars (primarily) are saying about the covenant, along with scholars from early Judaism and from second-century patristic fathers.
This study of covenant theology poses these and other questions: Are Israel and the church members of one covenant? Is the New Covenant reserved for Christians? Do covenants belong only to Israel as the people of God? (p. xvii). Answering these questions Gräbe discusses what is said about the New Covenant in the Old Testament, the Gospels, Pauline literature, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and Johannine literature.
He follows Gerhard von Rad, who considered the New Covenant a “reinterpretation” of the Mosaic Covenant (p. 205), which accounts for its being with Israel. Then the covenant is expanded to include the people of God everywhere, as introduced at the Lord’s Supper. Yet the nation Israel has a future guaranteed by the Abrahamic Covenant. This “trajectory of the meaning of the new covenant” is based on Hans Georg Gadamar’s view of the universal impact of ancient classical documents.
The relevance of the New Covenant today may be summarized in three points. First, Gräbe’s view of covenant theology, distinct from traditional Reformed covenant theology, adopts Barth’s view in which God’s election of the “community” occurred before His election of individuals (p. 202). Second, Gräbe says the Abrahamic Covenant “with the forefathers has never been annulled. Rom. 9–11 points to the continuing (lasting) bond of the church to Israel” (p. 196). Third, he proposes a theological framework for the New Covenant that includes both Israel and the church. The relevance of the New Covenant for the church rests in the “trajectories” introduced within the biblical canon. However, this calls for reinterpretations of many biblical texts.
—Elliott E. Johnson