Covenant Creation as Taught by Dr. John H. Sailhamer
by Tim Martin
March 9, 2009
Last weekend I did some more study in preparation for the upcoming Covenant Creation Conference. What is remarkable about the Covenant Creation view is how it builds on the long-established framework of traditional Christian theology. The logic of Covenant Creation derives from the (often explicit) biblical connection between the "beginning" and "end."
Jeff Vaughn and I are hardly the first to recognize this element of structure in the biblical story. The early church fathers, who viewed the creation week as programmatic for all of history, talked about the structure a great deal. They viewed the consummation in terms of the Seventh Day, the fulfillment of Creation. The "beginning" and the "end" were directly related to each other according to the earliest Christian teaching.
Augustine also viewed the end in relationship to the beginning. Modern theology, though gravitating more toward a "literal" approach to Creation and Consummation, reinforces what the Bible makes pretty clear: the beginning and the end are connected. We cited a few representative examples in Beyond Creation Science, pp. 351-354. Both young-earth and old-earth creationists make conspicuous use of this relationship, even though their conclusions differ radically about the details being described in the creation account. They do agree, however, that it is all about the physical universe, beginning and end.
We merely claim that the subject is covenant history, not world history... on both ends of the Bible. It is that simple.
Given the framework of Christian theology over the millennia, it should not surprise me when I run across statements that affirm the logic of the Covenant Creation view. Jeff and I have said for a long time that matching Covenant Creation with Covenant Eschatology is really the only way to honor the framework of traditional theology. Blending those two views avoids the problem of "de-coupling" the beginning from the end. That is what a handful of our preterist critics have been attempting to do in order to preserve the belief that Genesis 1 describes the creation of the physical universe in literal, scientific detail. Yet, that attempt voids the framework Christian theology has always taught regarding the story of Scripture. The "beginning" and the "end" are married to each other. Those who pronounce their immediate divorce have quite a theological mess on their hands!
So consider the remarkable citation below as a demonstration of Covenant Creation even though the author, John Sailhamer, is a dispensational futurist. This Hebrew scholar is working within the well-established and time-tested framework of Christian theology when he writes:
"The term beginning in biblical Hebrew marks the starting point of a specific duration, as in 'the beginning of the year' (Dt. 11:12). The end of a specific period is marked by its antonym, 'the end,' as in 'the end of the year' (Dt. 11:12). In opening the account of Creation with the phrase 'in the beginning,' the author has marked Creation as the starting point of a period of time. 'Hence will here be the beginning of the history that follows.... The history to be related from this point onwards was heaven and earth for its object, its scenes, its factors. At the head of this history stands the creation of the world as its commencement, or at all events its foundation.' By commencing this history with a 'beginning,' a word often paired with its antonym 'end,' the author has not only commenced a history of God and his people but also prepared the way for the consummation of that history at 'the end of time.'
The growing focus within the biblical canon on the times of the 'end' is an appropriate extension of the 'end' already anticipated in the 'beginning' of Genesis 1:1. The fundamental principle reflected in 1:1 and the prophetic vision of the end times in the rest of Scripture is that the 'last things' will be like the 'first things': 'Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth' (Isa 65:17); 'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth' (Rev 21:1). The allusions to Genesis 1 and 2 in Revelation 22 illustrate the role that these early chapters of Genesis played in shaping the form and content of the scriptural vision of the future."
John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary, pp. 83-84.
I read that statement in awe. I have never seen it put
better. However, Sailhamer makes it clear that he is drawing from a variety of scholarly sources. That citation alone references four others: Muller, Delitzsch, Procksch, and Boklen. Of particular significance is Sailhamer's footnote citation of Otto Procksch who wrote:
"Already in Genesis 1:1 the concept of 'the last days' fills the mind of the reader."
Yes! That is exactly what Covenant Creation is all about.