IV. 40. Objection 5.34
“If the death of Jesus really inaugurated the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, then why hasn’t it been fulfilled?”
Brown summarizes his response with the following words: “In short, the new covenant was established two thousand years ago in incipient form and it continues to advance to its ultimate fulfillment.”
Brown bases his reasoning on the fact that a simple reading of Jeremiah (as well as some of the other prophecies in the Jewish Bible) would seem to indicate that the return from the Babylonian exile would usher in the ultimate Messianic era. Since this did not happen, Brown contends that there was a partial fulfillment with the return from Babylon while the full fulfillment is yet to come.
To quote Brown again: “Jeremiah (much like Ezekiel) expected that the return of the exiles from Babylon would be so glorious that it would be followed by the transformation of the nation – through the inauguration of the new covenant (see also Ezekiel 36:24-32) and the reign of the Messiah – leading ultimately to the transformation of the world. Were Jeremiah and Ezekiel false prophets? God forbid! Rather, what they prophesied did happen only not in the expected measure or scope. In other words, in the same way that the return of the exiles did happen, but not in the expected measure or scope, and in the same way the prophesied rebuilding of the Temple did take place, but not with the expected glory (see esp. Ezekiel 40-48, and cf. vol.2, 3.17), in the very same way the Messiah did come and inaugurate the new covenant – just as was prophesied! – but not with the expected glory or scope.”
There are three critical flaws in Brown’s interpretation of the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah.
The first flaw is that the Scriptural problem that Brown addresses with his interpretation was already addressed in the book of Daniel (ch. 9). Daniel expected that all of the prophecies of comfort will come to fruition at the close of the Babylonian exile. God sent an angel to inform him that this was not to be. The nation will have to undergo a preliminary purging process of 490 years before the final purging process can begin. Only with the close of the 490 years, the destruction of the city and the Temple and a lengthy refining process will it be time for the final redemption (Daniel 9:24-27, 11:31-35, 12;1-3). Daniel uses the exact same phraseology that Jeremiah uses to introduce the new covenant prophecies to let us know that he is talking of the same end-time event (Daniel 12:1 – Jeremiah 30:7).
According to the simple reading of Scripture, any prophecies of comfort that are not explicitly associated with the return from the Babylonian exile, do not apply to that return, but rather to the future, final return, as explained in the book of Daniel.
The second flaw with Brown’s interpretation is internal inconsistency. There are many features of the new covenant prophecies, and if we accept the interpretation that requires a partial fulfillment with the return of the Babylonian exile, we will realize that all of these were fulfilled soon after the return, and in direct relation to the return. Why then should we assume that the new covenant aspect of the prophecy is separated from the rest of the predictions by several centuries, and unrelated to the return in any way? How would this comfort those who returned from the exile?
For the record: The new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31 is also described in Deuteronomy 30:1-10, Jeremiah 3;14-18, 32:36-44, 33:1-26, Ezekiel 11:17-20, 34:20-31, 36:1-38, 37:15-28, (see also Hosea 2:16-22, Jeremiah 50:4,5).
Some of the central features of these prophecies are:
Return of the exiles – Jeremiah 31:7,22 – Deuteronomy 30:3, Jeremiah 3:14, 32:37, 33:7, Ezekiel 11:17, 34:13, 36:24, 37:21.
The planting of Israel in their land – Jeremiah 31:26 – 32:41, Ezekiel 34:29.
A great blessing of abundance – Jeremiah 31:11,24 – Deuteronomy 30:9, Jeremiah 33:9, Ezekiel 34:27, 36:35.
The joy of God in bestowing the blessing – Jeremiah 31:27 – Deuteronomy 30:9, Jeremiah 32:41.
Affirmation of the unique position of Israel as God’s nation – Jeremiah 31:35 – Jeremiah 3:17, 32:38, Ezekiel 34:30, 36:28, 37:28,
Unity amongst the tribes of Israel – Jeremiah 31:30 – Jeremiah 32:39, 33:7, Ezekiel 34:23, 37:15-20.
The beauty and glory of Israel and her land – Jeremiah 33:9, Ezekiel 37:36.
Peace and security – Jeremiah 31:39 – Jeremiah 32:37, 33:6, Ezekiel 34:25, 37:26.
Israel’s repentance – Jeremiah 31:18 – Deuteronomy 30:2, Jeremiah 3:14.
All of these are directly related to the return from Babylon (if we are to assume a partial fulfillment). So why should we assume that the new covenant stands as an unrelated event? The fact is that the Scripture itself describes a partial fulfillment of the new covenant at the time of the return from Babylon. In Haggai 2:5, God declares that His spirit stands in our midst (compare with Ezekiel 26:27). This declaration was proclaimed to the generation that returned from the Babylonian captivity, centuries before the inception of Christianity.
The Talmud relates that the urge to worship idols was purged from Israel during that generation. In fact, in the prophetic books (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah) that address the generation who returned from Babylon we find no criticism of Israel for worshipping idols. This stands in stark contrast to the generations which preceded the return from Babylon. Since the return from Babylon, idolatry has not been a Jewish vice. If there had to be a partial fulfillment of the new covenant with the return from Babylon, this would be the Scriptural explanation.
The third critical flaw with Brown’s interpretation is that he turned the new covenant on its ear. The prophet describes the new covenant as something that is unique to the Jewish people. It will set them apart from other nations (Jeremiah 31:32 – and THEY shall be to Me for a nation). According to Brown, the new covenant joins the Gentiles with the Jewish people. The prophets describe the new covenant as a positive development in the history of Israel. Brown’s version of the new covenant ushered in a period of darkness for Israel (in the sense of persecution), and for the Gentiles (in the sense of crooked theology, and the guilt of persecution). The prophets describe the new covenant as something that is impossible to disobey. Brown’s version of the new covenant is easily disobeyed. (Those Christians who claim that followers of Jesus who leave the following: “never really believed”, just reveal their own pettiness. While these followers were part of the following, no one identified any fault in their loyalty.) Finally, the prophets describe the new covenant as a time when it will no longer be necessary to teach the knowledge of God amongst the people of Israel. According to Brown, the new covenant launched the most intense missionary campaign that the world has ever seen.
A straightforward reading of the new covenant prophecies in context reveals that the advent of Christianity is the polar opposite of the new covenant promised by the Jewish prophets.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal