Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dispensationalism vs. Covenant Theology

There is a debate in Christendom over how God has interacted with mankind. The two prevalent theologies reflecting this are dispensationalism and covenant theology. What I would like to do is present the two and see whether either one is actually fully correct. (Just as a heads up for this article, I will tell you in advance that I do not find either one completely correct.) I have already covered a good deal of covenant theology in this blog under the titles “Replacement Theology” and “How to interpret the Bible – Literal or Allegorically.” That covers two of the main tenets of covenant theology, as their method of interpretation is allegorical, and they believe the church has replaced Israel in God's plan. To that end, I will not repeat those same arguments here, but ask the reader to read both articles before continuing on. Both can (or at least should) be found on this page: http://bibleconundrumsandcontroversy.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html . If the link does not work, they can be found under the month of March in the archives.

Having read the above two articles, we now can see that there are some major problems with covenant theology, one being that they take an allegorical approach to the Scriptures and next, they believe Israel has been replaced by the church. The third main tenet of covenant theology is that God has dealt with man through covenants. All of the covenants have to deal with redemption. They basically teach that all of God's plan has only to do with the redemption of mankind. The three main core covenants are not explicitly laid out in literal terms in the Bible, but are named based on the descriptions of the difference in how God decided to deal with man's fall. They are the covenants of redemption, works, and grace. The first is said to be the covenant that God made with the Godhead as to how the plan of redemption would take place. The Son agreed to become the substitute for mankind by fulfilling the next covenant to perfection (the covenant of works) thereby allowing the third covenant (grace) to take place. In the covenant of works, Adam had to keep the one work or law that God gave him of not eating of the fruit of the tree. Obedience to this law brought life, and disobedience brought death. As Adam broke this law and fell, passing this sin onto mankind, God had to institute a new covenant, the covenant of grace. The covenant of works (first by conscience and eventually the 10 Commandments) then became the moral law for man, rather than the means of life eternal. In the covenant of grace God offered man salvation from his sin and death by faith in a Redeemer whom we know to be Jesus Christ. Although the Old Testament saints had to look forward to this promise and we look back, this promise of a redeemer and grace was given to and applied to everyone since Adam that believed in it.

The next phase in the teaching of covenant theology is that the covenant of grace became the basis for a few more covenants. In particular the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenant with Yeshua. Because each of these covenants are explained in the Bible, they are called biblical covenants. As covenant theology believes in replacement theology, and no millennium, the passages in Scripture about Israel and their future kingdom during the millennium are allegorized to deal with the problem of its speaking to these things. This creates a problem in that God must break one of His covenants (Abrahamic) in order for their theology to work. This theory that there is no millennium, merely the return of Christ and judgment is a belief called amillennialism (meaning no literal millennium). This belief says that the Church Universal is the Messianic Kingdom and that is has existed since the first coming of Christ. This belief requires taking all of the eschatological passages, as well as references to Israel throughout much of Scripture, allegorically. This in brief is a definition of covenant theology.

Now for a definition of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism had its roots in the teachings of John Darby, the originator of the pre-tribulational rapture. Under this theology God deals with mankind in different ways under the dispensations. There are four basic dispensations (with some smaller ones inserted within the larger ones) - man's conscience, the Law, Grace, and the Kingdom, the latter of which they do not really define as to whether it is law or grace. Up until Moses, God dealt with man by man's own conscience and that was one dispensation, however within that dispensation are smaller dispensations and covenants. The covenants that were made during that time ( Edenic, Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic) fell under that dispensation. When God gave the Law, that was another way of dealing with man, so that was another dispensation and the covenants made during that time (Mosaic, Davidic) fell under that method of dealing with man. Then when Christ came, God instead of dealing with man by Law, has been dealing with man by grace. This is the third dispensation. The covenants are tied to the dispensations in which they fall, so when the next dispensation is enacted, these covenants made during that dispensation are no longer applicable to the believers in the next dispensation. However, like the promise made to Israel for a kingdom, the covenant may be fulfilled in another dispensation designated for that purpose (the millennium). As these covenants are seen as only applying to the group to which it was originally given, the nation of Israel is seen as a distinct entity apart from the church. This means that there is no crossover between the covenants made to either one, and they cannot exist as entities [the state of Israel (secular) is not the same as the nation of Israel (spiritual) in this belief] with which God is interacting simultaneously. Dispensationalism takes a mostly literal approach to Scripture and believes in progressive revelation. The dispensations are as follows: 1) Mans' Conscience: Edenic (innocence), Antediluvian (individual conscience), Civil government (man's laws), Patriarchal (promise from God to a particular family), 2) The Law: Israel from Moses to Christ, 3) Grace: the Church until a pre-tribulation rapture, and 4)The Kingdom: Millennium and eternity. One of the main outcomes of this view is to set law against grace instead of seeing the two as working in tandem – the law showing us our sin and giving us a moral law, up to which we must live, and grace to actually bestow salvation through faith. It also teaches God has two distinct peoples, Israel and the Church and that they are completely separate from each other. Each is seen as having their own promises and destiny. The dispensations from Eden to the Church are seen as having been under some form of law. This means that man had to keep the law of his conscience or the Law of Moses for salvation. Then there is the Church period which is said to be under grace and not beholden to the law. As grace is seen to end with the Church, they merely call the millennial time “the kingdom.” As they believe grace has ended, and they do not believe people go under the law again, there seems to be no explanation for what they think the people during this time are under. The only explanation I have heard is for them to simply say that Christ will reign, so they are under Christ. That still doesn't explain if that is through the law or grace. Dispensationalism teaches premillennialism (Christ's return before a literal millennial reign) and the vast majority of those also follow the Darby teaching of a pre-tribulational rapture.

I believe the truth is, as it always seems to be, somewhere in the middle.

To begin we will go over the major covenants which are the same for both covenant theology and dispensationalism. There are two kinds of covenants, conditional and unconditional. The first (conditional) guarantees that God will do His part when man meets the requirements of his part. The second is dependent upon God only, and does not depend upon man doing anything for its fulfillment. God in His sovereignty will accomplish what He has promised.

The first covenant, the Edenic covenant, (Gen. 1:26-31; 2:16-17) was a conditional covenant and was not a promise toward redemption as the rest were, as Adam and Eve were not in need of redemption at the time. The condition of this covenant for blessing was contingent upon Adam and Eve fulfilling their part by being obedient. This covenant was the opposite of the redemption covenants in a way. If they obeyed all would remain as is, but more importantly it was a promise that if they disobeyed and ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would surely die and things would drastically change. This was the most important part of this covenant as everything depended upon their obedience. The other conditions that Adam and Even were given were that they were to have dominion over the earth, they were to be fruitful and multiply,and they were to be vegetarian. The sign of this covenant was the Tree of Life and their access to it. Adam and Eve broke this covenant and lost access to the Tree of Life. It will not be restored until Yeshua returns and restores all things.

Covenant Theology sees this as the only covenant of works, teaching that everlasting life was dependent solely upon obedience to God. This was true at that time, as Adam and Eve were created in perfection, not fallen and did not need redemption. So in this respect, Covenant theology is correct. As for Dispensationalists, they see that man was under law (one law), the rest being guided by his conscience, and it was a dispensation of innocence or perfection. Again, this was true, so both theologies, though describing the situation differently, are correct as far as they take it.

My belief on this is that they were under God's grace, having been extended the option of free will choice to obey or disobey, with God knowing they would choose to disobey. They began in perfection with unmerited favor (grace) and faith bestowed on them (they believed because they knew God personally) without having done anything to earn it, without having had to request it, and having the option of rejecting it. This is similar to the condition we find ourselves in today in that we have grace through faith offered to us should we choose it by accepting Yeshua as our Savior, we do not have to and cannot earn it, and we can choose of our free will to reject it. The difference is, we do not start with it. We have to request it by believing and repenting. Their eternal life was dependent upon obedience. Maintaining our justification to obtain salvation is also dependent upon continued repentance and obedience. So in a way, God is not dealing much differently with us now than He did before sin entered the world.

Next there was the unconditional Adamic covenant, (Gen. 3:16-19) of which the main promise was for a Redeemer to pay for their sins and restore their relationship with God. Along with that promise came some fairly nasty punishments for their sin. The Tree of Life was now off limits which meant death was inevitable, not only for them but for everything. There would be enmity between Satan and his seed, and Eve and her seed. She would endure painful childbirth. She would have to answer to her husband and have him be over her, which history shows has caused problems. Yet in spite of these two things she would have an innate desire to have a husband and seek to please him. The ground would be cursed and bring forth weeds making growing food a difficulty, which was supposed to be Adam's part of the curse. Oddly enough, it seems that today many women bear the burden of all the curses, hers as well as Adam's. Women have to be the breadwinners in many families as well as having the children.

The sign of this covenant was the beginning of sacrifices, as this (a blood sacrifice) was what was required to literally cover Adam's and Eve's bodies, as well as substitute for their sin. It was the sacrifices which taught that there needed to be a blood sacrifice or death (as that was the punishment) to atone for sin (disobedience and separation from God). By allowing physical death, God made it possible for their souls to inhabit a perfect body again one day, if they restored their spiritual relationship with Him through faith in the Redeemer God promised. Without the new body, we would forever find ourselves in the state we are now, fighting against the flesh and never able to be perfectly in harmony with God. In getting them to sin, Satan had won their souls by getting them to reject God in favor of him. He then owned them, as he owns all of us until we accept the Lord. As the life is in the blood, (Leviticus 17:11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”), their life's force or blood was forfeit (as atonement) and their souls given to Satan (by their making him their new master). By all rights, Satan was owed their lives immediately, (they died spiritually that day) as he owned their souls and could take them by inflicting death, but God arranged for a substitute for their physical lives (blood), as it was not His will to have them die right then. Satan can have a person's soul when they die, if they have not accepted God's substitute(Yeshua) for their sins, but he can't have their physical lives until God allows it. When a sacrifice was offered for a sin, that blood was in lieu of the person's blood, which was the payment (death) for the sin. Whenever anyone offered a blood sacrifice, it was in faith that there would one day be a Redeemer who would offer the ultimate sacrifice that would once and for all be sufficient to cover all their sins (or replace their blood which was due), redeeming them and thereby freeing them from the claim of Satan. As Yeshua would keep the law perfectly (a much harder proposition than Adam had been given) and never sin, thereby not deserving the penalty of death, His life and soul would not be forfeit to Satan, so to offer His blood in our place would cover our sins. He had to die and shed His blood to satisfy God's need for atonement on our behalf, but Satan could not claim that it belonged to him in any way. It was not a life due him, so the blood covered us instead.

Covenant Theology sees this as the first in the line of covenants that are administered in the overarching theological covenant of grace. This covenant of the promise of a Redeemer and the penalty for sin being death, is seen as applying to all of mankind (which indeed it does). Dispensationalism sees this as a time where man was being responsible to the law in as much as the law was revealed to him. Although a Redeemer was promised for the future, their sacrifices would be the cover for their sins. Each sin requiring a new sacrifice. They would be judged by the law as revealed to them through their conscience and keeping these self-realized laws was the means of salvation along with the animal sacrifices. We are told in Romans 2:14-15 that the Gentiles, before and without the law, did those things contained in the law, showing the law written in their hearts when their consciences bore witness and accused or excused them.

Covenant Theology is correct in that this does apply to all mankind. Everyone is born in sin. Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Dispensationalists believe this too. In this both are right. While Covenant Theology says that this was the product of God's grace and that from this point on, man's salvation would come from God's grace and believing or having faith in the promise and being obedient (by offering sacrifices), dispensationalism says that man's salvation came not from God's grace and faith, but from offering a sacrifice and keeping their consciences clean. Here is where the two theologies part company. One is salvation by grace, and the other is salvation by works, which is odd considering dispensationalists do not believe you can get salvation through works.

My own personal belief is that God had revealed to Adam and subsequently all of his descendants that there was a Redeemer promised and therefore by God's grace, their faith in that future promise being fulfilled was what determined their salvation, not their upholding of some law determined by their own conscience or the animal sacrifices. Their keeping the law of their conscience was the working out of their salvation, just as we are told to work out ours. Faith without works is a dead faith. The sacrifices were only a temporary blood application that really was not effective toward salvation. It was merely a stopgap to keep their physical lives from being taken in payment for that sin. It was their faith that was effective. Our conscience reveals the existence of God to us, and it helps us keep the moral laws that God would have us keep, but it is by faith and God's grace that salvation has always occurred. Abel and Enoch fell under this “dispensation,” but God tells us that it was their faith in Him and His promise by which He judged them, not their response to the law of their own conscience. Hebrews 11:4-6 “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. [The blood sacrifice was the manifestation or witness of his faith, but not the means of God's grace. That came by his faith. Cain on the other hand offered fruits, not blood. He did not understand or have faith.] By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Again, his testimony gave witness to his faith. Without faith the sacrifices would have been meaningless as without faith one cannot please God. Noah lived before the Flood as well as after, but God had this to say about him before the Flood. Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Hebrews 11:7 “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. Noah's work of building the ark was the testimony or witness of his faith and it was this faith that gave him grace in the eyes of the Lord. I believe it is clear from these Scriptures that this was not a dispensational time of salvation by the law of conscience and sacrifice. The sacrifices were offered out of faith, looking forward to Yeshua's sacrifice, and it was the faith that pleased God so that He extended grace. The sacrifices did offer a temporary atonement cover for the blood that was due for man's sinful nature (which is why every sin required a new sacrifice), but they did not give man salvation. His salvation came in believing and having faith that there would be an ultimate sacrifice that would permanently atone. That is exactly the same way that God deals with us today, by grace through faith. So there is no difference in how God treats us from the way He treated them. It is by faith in the supreme sacrifice of the Redeemer and God's grace that Abel, Enoch, Noah, and we are saved.

According to dispensationalists, covenants only apply to the dispensation in which they occurred, but no dispensationlist will argue that man is not sinful and in need of redemption. That part of the Adamic covenant will overlap everything and continue until eternity. The other part of the covenant, far from ending with the next dispensation of Law, overlaps it until the ultimate sacrifice was offered so that sacrifices could stop. However, according to the Scriptures, sacrifices will be re-instituted in the Millennium. Ezekiel 45:17 “And it shall be the prince's part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the meat offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel.” Many dispensationalists have a real problem with this as Yeshua was supposed to be the final sacrifice, so there should no longer be sacrifices. It is in understanding that sacrifices did not actually cover sins (Hebrews 10:4 “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”), and were really only to remind people of the penalty of their sins (death) and the need to look forward to Yeshua's sacrifice, that it can be reconciled that God would again have the sacrifices at the temple. People will still have to pay a penalty for their sins, which is what the animal sacrifices are. Death will not reign during the millennium except for those who are so bad that they must be dealt with by execution. Everyone else will live through the millennium, as the leaves of the trees on the banks of the river of life (Ez. 47:12) will heal infirmities. Therefore we can see that dispensationalism's premise that the covenants made in one dispensation do not carry over into the next is in fact erroneous. Even the sign of this covenant continued through the next “dispensation of Law.” They do overlap. I think it is clear from Hebrews that salvation has always been by grace through faith, so up to this point, Covenant Theology is still in line with Scripture, while dispensationalism has gotten off track as to how God was dealing with man.

The next covenant was the Noahic covenant, (Gen.9:1-18) which was also unconditional. Although there were some other things involved in this covenant, the main point was that God would never flood the earth again to destroy it. The other conditions of this covenant were that they were to be fruitful and multiply on the earth again, and they could have of any plant or animal to eat (as long as they did not eat blood). The eating of animals' flesh was a new thing as man was to be a vegetarian up until this point. The animals would now fear man, but man would still rule over them, only now by fear, not by gentleness and love as before the Flood. They were not to commit murder. Capital punishment was the sentence for this crime and it was to be carried out by man, which means that God was setting up a system of governmental law. The sign of this covenant was the rainbow. This covenant as well as its sign still exists today, so it overlaps all of the following covenants and “dispensations” including the New Covenant. With the earth in all probability reverting back to an antediluvian state during the millennium, this covenant sign would disappear as it requires the particular atmospheric conditions that exist in the present world to become visible. However God's bow also exists over His throne so it is not really gone.

Covenant theology sees this as just the next step in the overall plan of redemption by the grace of God. The reason for the Flood was that is was necessary to cleanse the earth to continue the plan of redemption by grace, as God had to have an untainted bloodline through which the Messiah could come. (see article Giants, Nephilim, Aliens -Do They Exist). The promise was to the world and still applies. Dispensationalists see this as a time when God moved from law by conscience to human government either through civil government in cities, or patriarchal government among tribal people. The tower of Babel is a demonstration of a city state with Nimrod at its head. From Babel the world was divided into seventy nations. Besides cities, family clans would have established their own governments as such. The head of the city or clan would be the one to decide the laws and punishment of the group. Even clans had their own armies when needed to go against a foe. As such people were subject to the laws they were given rather than their own conscience. Sacrifices were still required to cover sins, so obedience to the laws of man and sacrifice were the method of salvation, according to dispensationalism.

My view remains the same as already stated. Noah and his family fell under both the antediluvian and post-diluvian “dispensations,” a problem for dispensationalists who say they do not overlap. We already know what God had to say about how He dealt with the antediluvians. They were judged based upon their faith (Enoch and Noah for example). As Noah did, Abraham likewise fell into two “dispensational” times, (again a problem for dispensationalists) the post-diluvian and Abrahamic “dispensation” of promise. So the way that God dealt with Abraham during the “civil government dispensation” before the promise would tell us how He dealt with both Noah and Abraham (and all mankind) during this period of time post-Flood before the covenant with Abraham. Again we are told in Hebrews 11:8 “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; [this was before the promise] and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” So before the “dispensation of promise” we are told that God dealt with Abraham (and by extension Noah) by grace through faith. We are told how God dealt with Abraham after the promise in the following verses. Hebrews 11:9-13 “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all ( Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara) died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.In both of these cases of Abraham, whether before or after the promise, and in all the cases of the people listed in this chapter, God dealt with them the same way. Because of their faith in the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God's grace they all received salvation. So as far as Scripture is concerned, all of the covenants so far are for everyone, [believers, whether Jew or Gentile are children of Abraham, so fall under this promise] and God is dealing with man the same way He always has, by faith through grace. So still we see that Covenant Theology has it correct, and dispensationalism has some major problems and flaws in their concept, for these “dispensations” do overlap and apply well beyond the “dispensation” in which the covenant was given.

The next covenant was the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:1-4; 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-8) which said that God would make a great nation of Abraham and that his seed would number so many that it would be like numbering the stars. Then the world through this nation would be blessed. This was an unconditional covenant also. God would make of Abraham's descendants a great nation and give them the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, and the redeemer would come through this nation. The entire world would be blessed because of this covenant. This covenant was reconfirmed with Isaac and Jacob. It guarantees Israel's permanent existence as a nation, and their permanent ownership of the promised land. God signed this covenant with the sign of circumcision. While they were dispossessed from the land for a while in punishment, they have come back and eventually will possess all the land promised. This covenant will continue through the millennium.

Again, for Covenant Theology this is another step in the overall plan of God. It is a continuation of the moving toward fulfilling that first covenant of a promised redeemer. Salvation continues to be matter of faith by grace. Now an actual bloodline has been chosen through which to bring the Redeemer. For dispensationalists, this covenant was the origin of the nation of Israel. From this point on, according to dispensationalism, God would only deal with man through this nation. It would be a time of the “dispensation of patriarchs and the promise” starting with Abraham and ending with Moses. Now they see salvation as coming through sacrifices and living out the promise, while keeping the law of their conscience and obedience to whatever God directly spoke to them.

My own point of view continues as before. The covenants are just the unrolling and continuation of the original promise in Genesis for a redeemer. Salvation was by grace through faith. As Hebrews 11 said, it was by faith that Abraham and Sarah found grace. It was by faith that Abraham prepared to offer Isaac. One problem with the idea that God only dealt with man through Abraham and his descendants (again a problem for dispensationlism) is negated by the entire book of Job. Job was, by scholarly determination, a contemporary of Abraham. Yet he was the most righteous man on earth. So much so that God held him up to Satan as an example, which led Satan to goad God into letting him test Job. So God was not restricting salvation to a particular family through whom He would bring the Redeemer. He still had believers in the world outside of Abraham's line. They would not be given the Law of Moses (down the line), yet they still qualified for salvation. By what right? By the right of faith through grace. God had priests other than the eventual Levites who ministered to people on earth. One's name was Melchizadek. (Who Is Melchizadek). These other followers offered sacrifices in obedience, and lived righteous lives, but it was their faith that saved them, as it is only due to faith that one would live righteously and offer sacrifices for sins in obedience. Job was one of these. This is a serious problem for dispensationalism that says that salvation was now through Abraham's line only and it was the dispensation of promise. Job also believed in that promise given in Genesis, but he was outside of the line.

Where CT (for short) gets off from this point is that they do not accept this as an everlasting covenant, even though it is stated by God that it is one for the nation of Israel, those who are of the natural, (not the spiritual) seed of Abraham. It is an everlasting covenant, and it will be fulfilled. This is where CT errs. For to not understand that this is an eternal covenant, changes their very theology and understanding of God's plan for mankind. As for dispensationalists, they are now making salvation a very exclusive thing to one family alone, which it was not. They also believe that this covenant has a hiatus and was discontinued when Yeshua died on the cross, but will be renewed during the millennium. It has not been discontinued, Abraham's seed has continued to grow through the last 2000 years. They have been set aside as the people through whom the gospel of salvation to the world comes, and were displaced from Israel for 2000 years, but part of the promise is still in force and active. Therefore it will overlap until it is fulfilled. The fact that the secular nation of Israel was not dispersed until forty years after Yeshua died, and has come back into being after 2000 years shows that this covenant does overlap the Church, two times very visibly.

There followed the Mosaic covenant which said that God would make Israel a special people out of all people. They would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:6 “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” Zechariah 9:20-23 “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and their inhabitants of many cities: And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” This is clearly speaking of the millennium when Israel will be a holy nation, not a rebellious one, and all nations will seek God through the Jews who will all be priests, not just the Levites. They will all be priests, not in the temple with the Levites, but just as we now are all priests, in that we are followers of Yeshua and minister on His behalf, bringing people into the kingdom. This has yet to happen, so is still in the future. This is not speaking of the Church; the Church is not and will not be a nation during the millennium, it is the Bride of Christ. The Church will be living in New Jerusalem, not earthly Jerusalem.

This covenant also came with a blessing and curse for obedience and disobedience. The sign of this covenant was the Sabbath. Again, this covenant is still waiting to be fulfilled in completion, as Israel has not become a kingdom of priests yet. It is said that Yeshua’s resurrection on Sunday superseded the Sabbath, but this is an eternal sign. For CT that does not work, as they say that all the promises and covenants made with Israel now apply to the church. Therefore as the "New Israel" they should be beholden to keep this covenant, as it is an eternal one, but they do not. For dispensationalists the excuse is that the Church is not Israel so the Sabbath doesn’t apply to us. It is true that the nation of Israel (natural seed of Abraham) and the Church are different as corporate groups, however there again is an overlap of the two, so they cannot fall into two different dispensations. There are Messianic Jews and Hebraic Gentile Christians. My questions are to those who say they do not overlap: How are Messianic Jews supposed to deal with this discrepancy? Do they observe the Sabbath which is an eternal command for them, or Sunday? And if it is important for them to keep the Sabbath, and it is, then why do Gentile Christians think it is not? Are there ten commandments for Messianic Jews and nine for Gentile Christians? Are we not all the Bride of Christ under the same ordinances? Why if it is one of the commandments, and we as Christians are supposed to keep the commandments (“If you love me, keep my commandments” John 14:15) does the church completely ignore this one? Two more questions are, why will people be again commanded to observe the Sabbath, not Sunday in the millennium, (Israel has to keep this as an eternal covenant, which requires that it be instituted during the Millennium) and why was Christ expecting His followers (who were not just Messianic Jews but Gentiles) to be observing it at the time of the tribulation which is still future? (Pray that your flight be not on the Sabbath day). Where did Christ or any of the apostles ever teach to stop observing the Sabbath? Was it not man who changed the tradition to Sunday, not God? I do not intend to get into a full discussion on this here as it can be found on my blog in the archives at Sabbath or Sunday, but the questions do beg to be considered. This covenant also overlaps all the following covenants and “dispensations” and will last through the millennium.

Covenant Theology continues to say that salvation is by grace and that the Law was given as a moral code for man to follow. Yeshua seems to verify that this is the correct interpretation, as He tells us that if we love Him, we will keep these commandments, but they are not the source of our salvation. So the Law was not the source of salvation from the start. It was faith that saved people, but the Law was given to show our sins and be a moral code to follow. Yeshua was the only one to ever keep it perfectly. Dispensationalism teaches that the Law was given as a source of salvation, but that as they could not keep it, they had to offer sacrifices to cover their sins. Again, sacrifices never covered man's sin, it was only a temporary measure while awaiting the true sacrifice. Those who believed and looked forward to that true sacrifice were saved by their faith through grace, thus this was not a different dispensation as far as God was concerned. It was just the continuation of His plan to bring the Redeemer into the world. As He had first chosen a man, then a family, and now that family had grown into a nation, they needed laws to control their behavior and lives so that they would grow into a large, healthy, spiritual nation. Thus the 613 laws of the Torah which governed their health, their hygiene, their eating habits, their civil laws, their spiritual obligations, etc. This was God's government as just like any other government, it needed laws.

On this covenant, it is my belief as per my article, that all Christians should be observing all the commandments as commanded by Yeshua. So we should still be observing the fourth commandment. Yeshua did not rescind any of the commandments, including the fourth. Man is the one who decided to rescind the fourth commandment with absolutely no authority from God or Yeshua to do so. The excuse is used that the New Testament church changed days, but history shows that is not true. The churches did not start observing it until several hundred years later. The question is, did God or Yeshua give the command anywhere,even through the apostles to change the Sabbath. No, they did not. Man and man alone was responsible for this change, violating the fourth commandment. Both covenant theology and dispensationalists reject part of this covenant, that of the fourth commandment. I believe both are wrong. As for the rest of this covenant, God promised the nation of Israel, not the church, that they would be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests to whom all the world would come to seek salvation. That has not occurred, and God keeps His promises. While Israel was a nation, it was not a holy nation, but a nation that spent most of its time in rebellion against God worshiping pagan gods. Israel has been promised a time when they will be under the reign of their Messiah, a time of peace when the world will bother them no more. 2 Samuel 7:10 “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime,” They are still looking for the promise, which is part of the reason they do not accept Yeshua as the Messiah. They know what has been promised to them. They ignore the first promise, of a Redeemer for their sins, because all they care about is the Messiah that will make them the premier nation on earth. While the knowledge of Yeshua and the way of salvation is taught in some churches (but actually not in the vast majority of them), so the gospel presently comes through the Church, God did not give the promise to be a holy nation to the Church, and the Church has no right to claim that this promise is for them. Christendom is not a nation. It is the bride of Yeshua, and His body, but it is not the nation of Israel, nor will it ever be the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel is an entity unto itself and it still exists. Dispensationalism is half right in that respect. There will always be a natural seed of Abraham, but that does not negate the overlapping of the people of Israel being part of the Church. The world has never run to the nation of Israel to find salvation, as Israel rejected her Messiah, therefore there still exists a time in the future when this will occur. It is called the Millennium. This negates the idea of covenant theology in that the Church has not replaced Israel, thus there is a millennium to come. As far as dispensationalism is concerned, it is taught that this was the beginning of the time of the law, (which would continue until Yeshua's crucifixion) when people were given salvation based upon the keeping of the law and sacrifices. But as already seen above, salvation was not from keeping the law, which no one could do, or the offering of sacrifices, but by having faith that one day a Messiah would come, and working out their faith through obedience to God's laws and ordinances. As this was not really a time of law, but still grace through faith this does not count as a separate time when God was dealing with man in a different way. While the outer trappings may have been different from how man had worshiped God to this point, now introducing the temple, the priesthood, the many governmental, hygienic, dietary, and other laws, the method of God's salvation had not changed since Adam. God was offering grace and salvation to those who had faith, and who followed Him in obedience. That is made clear in Hebrews 11. So to call this a dispensation in which God is dealing differently with mankind is to not understand how God deals with man at all. It was merely the outer trappings of man's worship of Him which changed, not how He dealt with man. Therefore there was no new dispensation. As to the new trappings, the tabernacle and temple and all that came with it was a pattern of what was in heaven. The feasts were given as a foreshadow of the first and second comings of Yeshua. All of it together was to make it more real to the people of what heaven was, and what to look forward to - the Redeemer. The sacrifices were a constant reminder of the fact that the people could not keep the 10 Commandments given, and that they needed that Redeemer that had been promised. The rest of the laws were civil laws and for the sake of making the nation big and healthy, God laid out hygienic laws, dietary laws, and such to keep them healthy and procreating.

The Davidic covenant said that God would establish David and his descendants as the rightful kings of Judah. The greatest sign that would confirm this would be the giving of the Messiah (a Virgin will conceive) who will reign on the throne forever. This covenant is still to be fulfilled also, as Christ has not been crowned King of Kings yet and given the Kingdom. That will come with the millennium. He was the Lamb, now He is the Priest, and shortly He will reign as King. This covenant is eternal. Christ will always sit on the throne.

2 Sam.7:9-17 “And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime, And as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.”

Again we see that there is a promise that there will be a kingdom on which Yeshua will reign and that it will be first over Israel and then the nations. If this were referring to the Church as Israel, then why does it say that they will have to move no more. It is not the Church that has been displaced from its land several times, but Israel. They have been brought back, they will be displaced once more during the tribulation, but will be brought back where they will dwell and move no more. Therefore Covenant Theology has it wrong when it says that the Church is Israel. As for dispensationalism, it posits that this is still the time of law, as that dispensation existed from Moses to Yeshua. As already discussed, David's salvation was not contingent upon his keeping of the law, for God clearly showed us how far short he fell when he committed both adultery and murder. Yet God called David a man after His own heart. 1 Samuel 13:13-14 “And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man (David) after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.” David was a man after God's own heart, because David was a man of faith. He also repented his sins. It is through repentance and faith that we obtain grace, so it can be seen that God dealt with David the same way He deals with us, by grace through faith. By law, David should have been stoned for his sins of adultery and murder, and yet he was not. So God was dealing with David as He deals with us when we sin and repent, He may allow the consequences of those sins (David's son died), but He does not have us stoned. Neither did He have David stoned, even though David was supposed to be “under the law” by dispensationalism. So both CT and dispensationalism do not line up with Scripture. Both have gradually gotten off track as God has worked down through history. Again, God is still dealing with man in the same way He always has, but man is responding differently to God. But is that entirely true either? Israel is responding differently to God as they have been chosen to be the nation through which God would bring ultimate salvation, but what about those outside Israel. We have already seen that Job as a contemporary was a man of great faith, yet not of Abraham's line. Another person, although many would argue this, that was a prophet of God outside of Israel was Balaam. Everyone knows the story of Balaam and his ass. He was hired to curse Israel. Now while he did a very bad thing in giving the advice to send women to intermarry with Israel, thus corrupting them with pagan ways in that way, he was in truth a true prophet of God. I realize many people do not think of him in that way, as many, especially dispensationalists, think he was a pagan prophet, but the fact is, God did talk to him.Quite a bit in fact. Balaam told the king that he could only prophesy what God told him to. God was the author of his prophecies, which made him a true prophet. That he was disobedient at times is true, but that seems to be a problem for many true believers. The fact still remains that he could only prophesy what God told him to prophesy and God did talk to him. This means that there were people outside of Israel, not under the Laws of the Torah, who had faith in the one true God. They were not under the Law, so they were not under the “dispensation” of the Law, which dispensationalists say was the only means of salvation at that time.

So we have gone through all of history and all of the covenants up to the last one, the New Covenant. We can see that God has dealt with man in one way, by grace through faith, and that the covenants all are overlapping and still existing. There are no dispensations as far as God is concerned, but man has altered the way he has responded to God. This was because God was working out the plan of salvation by choosing a man, a family, and a nation and separating them from the rest of the world to be able to bring the Redeemer into the world. That is the only reason God gave them a different way of worshiping Him, not because He was dealing with man differently by giving man different ways of obtaining salvation. He was showing them through this change in worship what exists in heaven, as the temple and priesthood were patterns of the real thing in heaven, and the feasts were symbolic of the two comings of the Messiah. Everything was given to help them in their faith, not as a substitute for it.

The last major covenant is the New Covenant. Christ established a permanent way of reconciling us to God by His death and resurrection. He wrote the Law on our hearts. The sign of this is the Holy Spirit who helps us to keep that Law. This covenant is also eternal.

According to CT, this was the covenant that changed the status quo. They see this covenant as making the Church replace Israel, but nowhere in Scripture is that indicated. First we have seen that the promises to the nation of Israel must be kept, or God is a liar. Second, Paul has told us in Romans 11:16-29 “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” We are not to boast or be highminded about our salvation and election over the Jews, for we are told that if they were set aside because of unbelief and we were grafted in, not being the the natural branches, how much easier will it be for them to be grafted back in as natural branches. And, if he would cut off the natural branches, should we not be exceedingly careful not to get arrogant as we may find ourselves lopped off, given that we are not the natural branches to start. Then Paul tells us that we should not be conceited thinking we were wiser to recognize the Messiah, but that blindness has happened to them so that we could be brought into the fold. But Israel still will be saved. The Deliverer, at His Second Coming, will turn godliness away from Jacob. They will see Him whom they have pierced and repent. Why? Because that is God's covenant with the nation of Israel. He will remove their sins, for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Zechariah 12:10-11a " And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem." Zechariah 13:1-2,8-9 " In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land...... And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God." One third of the Jewish people will survive the Day of the Lord to go into the millennium.

Concerning dispensationalism, this is where the supposed Church Age begins which is under grace, not law. But is that really correct? We already saw that God always has dealt with man by grace through faith. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He wasn't keeping the Law, because the Law did not yet exist. He wasn't a Christian, because Yeshua had not yet come. Yet Noah had grace. But the trappings have now been changed. Why? Because the temple had to be destroyed so that Israel could no longer continue to sacrifice. There was no need for it anymore. Yeshua was the sacrifice for sins and they needed to see that God no longer needed the temple. His presence had left it a long time before, and now sacrifices were no longer a necessity either. Salvation was going to go out into the entire world, not just be for a single nation, and the requirements of Judaism and the feasts and sacrifices could not be done by the rest of the world by virtue of distance. Salvation would be a simple matter of repentance and faith. The sacrifices were not essential. We as believers are now considered the temple of this age, for God lives in us through the Holy Spirit. He does not need a Holy of Holies to meet with us. We can all approach the throne of God without a human intermediary of a priest. Yeshua is our high priest. The trappings changed, because Israel rejected the Messiah and the world could not meet the requirements of temple worship. People however feel the need for trappings, so the church developed other trappings which are used to worship God, however, none of these trappings (with the exception of the Lord's Supper and baptism) were ordained by God as the tabernacle or temple were. Therefore to point to any church, with any traditions and say that this is the way we have to worship God is wrong. Likewise we need to be extraordinarily careful to not accept the pagan traditions which were brought into the church, as that is as bad as what Israel was doing with their pagan high places instead of following God's command to only worship Him, and only at the temple. As for being under the law, did Yeshua not tell us that if we love Him we should keep His commandments? Is that not what Israel was supposed to do? So is God not dealing with us still in the same exact way as He dealt with Israel? He extended grace and repentance when they showed faith and obedience to His Law. God extends grace to us when we repent and show faith and show our love to Him by keeping His commandments. I see no difference there. The only difference is the outward trappings which we use to show our worship to Him, but that is how we react to Him, not how He reacts to us. That is where the mistake comes in when trying to say that there were different dispensations. The outward trappings are not the issue on which our salvation lies, they are only the reminders. How God deals with us is, and He has always dealt with us in the same way, by faith through grace. Messianic Jews still celebrate the Jewish festivals, so not all of these ordinances have gone by the wayside. It is not just unbelieving Jews, but Jewish believers in Yeshua who keep these things alive, overlapping the paganized Gentile Christian Church "dispensation of grace" as the dispensationalists refer to it.

The last stage of God's plan is the Millennium. It is the kingdom of God on earth, not in a metaphorical way, but in an actual way. There will be a thousand year reign of Yeshua over the world. Israel will be back in the land, the temple will be rebuilt. The last ten or so chapters of Ezekiel tell all about this, as do some of the other prophets such as Zechariah, and also the book of Revelation. Before that time begins though, God will again have to cleanse the earth as He did when He sent the Flood. This time the world will be cleansed by fire during His wrath. Before that wrath, there will be a time of judgment and purging of first the Church, then Israel. Then before the wrath of God commences at the last trumpet (7th trumpet) the Church will be raptured out and Israel, seeing her Messiah, will be saved and protected through God's wrath. (See my other blog endtimesstudies.blogspot.com to see why the rapture is not pre-tribulation, but at the 7th trumpet. To understand fully, one must start at the introduction and work through the entire series.)

CT does not see this happening, so they have to completely ignore all the Scripture mentioned above. Dispensationalists do not understand that Israel and the Church will go through the tribulation or time of Jacob's trouble together, as both need purging, so they have developed an erroneous theology about a pre-tribulation rapture that sees them escaping any hard times. Given the state of the Church, the fact that God says judgment begins with the House of God (1 Peter 4:17), and Christ told us we would go through the tribulation before He returned (Matt. 24:21) it is a form of blindness to believe in dispensations. However, when dispensationalists say that the Church and spiritual Israel cannot exist at the same time, therefore that is why the Church will be raptured, in a way they are correct. Israel as a completely spiritual nation will not exist until they see their Messiah at the Second Coming and repent and accept Him. But that will not happen at the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel. It is clear from Scripture that they do not do this until God's wrath at the seventh trumpet is poured out. That is at the end of the 70th week, so if the Church is supposed to continue until spiritual Israel begins, then by their own definition, they have to endure through the tribulation. When one does not understand how God works, then one develops wrong theologies which then lead to more wrong theologies. Both of these groups have made errors that have led to opposite beliefs.

As for the list of covenants, we can see that the covenants overlap each other, in fact they all continue through the millennium and some beyond. God does not abruptly stop one thing to start the next. That negates the whole idea of dispensations, as they must come to an end. The plan of God is fluid and constantly moving forward. It does not abruptly stop and start something new. As for covenant theology, God is not done with Israel, the Church has not replaced her, and she is promised a kingdom yet to come where the Messiah will reign over her. That kingdom is known as the Millennium. So neither CT nor dispensationalism is completely correct. Both have some correct concepts, those which they hold in common. Both also have some serious errors, which lead to other errors. The error of CT leads to the conclusion that there is no millennium. The error of dispensationalism leads to the belief in a pre-tribulational rapture, which is also a serious error. The truth, as often seems to happen, is found somewhere in the middle.

2 comments:

  1. Student at Dallas Theological Seminary, here.

    I would say your description of dispensationalism is mostly correct, though with a few major misunderstandings which are key.
    1) Under Mosaic Law, salvation was still by grace through faith. Since no one could keep the Law, there was no way it could be the means of justification. This is Paul's point (and James' point). To fail in one aspect makes us guilty of the entire Law, therefore the Law was a tutor to show Christ and God's character. So then, Israel was saved by faith, but the Law was a covenant of blessings. Forsaking the Law brought curses and separation of fellowship from God.
    In essence, the Law was an issue of experiential sanctification and fellowship with YHWH, but never the road to justification. If it had been, no one would be saved - not even Moses. Sacrifices and sacraments restored FELLOWSHIP with God, but faith secured the eternal RELATIONSHIP. As Abraham believed God and was credited with righteousness,so too was Israel, and the Church. This was possible because Christ paid the debt for all sins for all time past and future. Thus, pre-messianic Israel received salvation by faith on a Spiritual credit card whereas we have our debt paid up front.
    Sorry, that was a lot.
    2)In the kingdom we will have glorified bodies and will be like Christ - perfectly righteous. Therefore we will not be under Law or grace, because we will live righteously. There will be no need to regulate morality (Law) or forgive immorality (grace), because He will "transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory" (Philippians 3:21)

    As for covenant theology, I know many who profess a literal interpretation and conservative approach to the Bible who are covenant or amillenial, and only read Revelation as fully or partially allegorical. (I still disagree with this approach, but should note that the divide is not so clean cut as liberal allegory or verbal plenary.)

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    1. I have had others tell me that I misrepresent dispensationalism. And those who tell me that it is how they were taught it, as was I. So maybe there are two teachings out there on this. I do know that I was repeatedly told that we are not under the law, we are under grace. I disagree. The law was given to show us our sins. Sin by definition is lawlessness, so we are under the conviction of the law, but we have all been under grace for salvation from the beginning. Hence if we want to not sin, we need to be obedient to the Ten Commandments, as Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." The difference being that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit enables us to keep the Commandments in a way that Israel did not have the benefit of, for the new man seeks after the things of God (while still having to battle the flesh). In the kingdom WE will have glorified bodies, but those who live on earth in the millennium will not. They will still have to abide by the laws which God set up for His theocracy. The civil laws, the liturgical laws, the sacrificial laws, observing the feasts, etc.

      With dispensationalism, you put this dividing line between Israel and the Church which you say cannot be crossed. That is not Scriptural. It took 40 years after Christ's death for God to eliminate the nation of Israel. In that time many Jews became followers of Christ and Jews have continued to become followers of Christ ever since. God still deals with the Jews as individuals, but he stopped dealing with the nation for the time being. Back in 1917 God started dealing with the nation of Israel again with the Balfour Declaration. It has been almost 100 years now that God has been dealing with Israel as a nation, albeit at the moment an unbelieving one. There are believing Jews, but they do not represent that nation. The nation will become a believing nation when Christ returns at His Second Coming at the end of Daniel's 70th week according to Scripture - when the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled. It is then they will look up and mourn for their Messiah as they realize who He really was. There is no dividing line that says that you are being a get out of jail free card by being raptured before that 70th week. There is no pre-trib rapture. During the tribulation it is the saints, Christians who are being martyred in Satan's wrath. It is not God's wrath. Read the Scriptures. The unbelieving are living, marrying, partying, and doing just fine under his reign, because they take his mark. The fifth seal is aimed solely at Christians, not unbelievers and they ask God when He will start getting vengeance for them. It isn't His wrath yet. The huge multitude on the sea of glass are those who have died for Christ during the tribulation. It isn't God's wrath. They are not appointed to wrath. So dispensationalism teaches something that does not exist. The complete separation of Israel and the Church. We overlap.

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