Covenant Theology and Old Testament Ethics:
Meredith G. Kline's Intrusion Ethics
Jeong Koo Jeon
Kline's 'intrusion ethics' is certainly startling and innovative. He published his first landmark article on the subject in 1953.1 However, there has not been much subsequent discussion on this important issue since then. Greg Bahnsen, a Reformed theonomist, provides a brief but severe criticism of Kline's intrusion ethics.'2 But his criticism fails to penetrate and understand the exact nature of Kline's thought on this relatively complicated issue. Despite Bahnsen's criticism, Elmer Smick indicates that Kline's intrusion ethics is one of the most innovative aspects of his biblical theology. "Kline has written one of his most creative essays on the ethics of consummation in contrast to the ethics of common grace. He wisely warns about the danger of our assuming the prerogative of God to abrogate the principle of common grace."3 Recognizing disparate opinions, it is the present writer's hope to explain and evaluate Kline's biblical theological rationale for his notion of 'intrusion ethics' as revealed in Old Testament history.4
I will argue that Kline's 'intrusion ethics' is the proper way of understanding Old Testament ethics, which is based on redemptive historical hermeneutics. Examining Kline's intrusion ethics, we will let Kline speak in his own words, adding some clarifications alongside the critical evaluative interaction.
A. The Eschatological Kingdom and the Idea of Intrusion
Kline's baseline presupposition in interpreting the complicated nature of Old Testament religion and ethics lies in the idea that God's ultimate design for redemptive history is the consummation and bestowal of the eschatological kingdom. The means of attaining the eschatological glorious kingdom in the prelapsarian state was 'the covenant of works' (foedus operum), while in the postlapsarian state it is 'the covenant of grace' (foedus gratiae). In a sense, eschatological vision moves back to creation, and the first Adam stood under "a covenant of works," which was the door to reach eschatological blessing. Due to the entrance of sin, the attaining of the original eschatological vision through Adam's perfect obedience to the law was canceled. The fall, however, did not delay "the consummation" because "the prospective consummation was either/or" according to the conditions prescribed in the covenant of creation. "It was either eternal glory by covenantal confirmation of original righteousness or eternal perdition by covenant-breaking repudiation of it." A realization of the curse of the covenant might have followed the fall. A gracious God, however, introduced the antithetical way to the eschatological blessing, which is the redemptive covenant in which we find the biblical rationale for the delay of judgment. "The delay was due rather to the principle and purpose of divine compassion by which a new way of arriving at the consummation was introduced, the way of redemptive covenant with common grace as its historical corollary."5
It is important to recognize in Kline's biblico-covenant hermeneutics that the role of common grace is extremely crucial to the right understanding of the complicated nature of redemptive history after the fall. In other words, a distinction between the covenants of works and grace, and common grace and special grace, are closely connected to the unfolding mystery of the eschatological kingdom which is the ultimate goal of history. In this sense, we may identify Kline's biblical hermeneutics as covenantal eschatological kingdom hermeneutics.
One of the most distinctive contributions of Reformed theology and hermeneutics for the community of Christ's church is the bold recognition that there is a distinction between common grace and saving grace. In his presuppositional apologetics, Cornelius Van Til applied this crucial distinction as one of the essential ingredients of the Christian world view. However Van Til was not clear whether common grace was covenantally arranged after the fall. As a student of Van Til, Kline even correcting and advancing his view on the issue, utilized the distinction between the covenants of common grace and saving grace as one of the key biblical hermeneutical tools. Kline addresses and captures the importance of common grace in his analysis of redemptive history, especially with respect to the proper understanding of the covenant and the eschatological kingdom. Kline notices that after the fall a gracious God introduced the common grace covenant (Gen. 3:16-19) along with the redemptive covenant (Gen. 3:15). The consummated blessings of the eternal kingdom and the curse of an eternal hell are delayed by the principle of common grace introduced after the fall. In this sense, "the delay and common grace are coterminous." Certainly, there is "the positive contribution of common grace" to the redemptive eschatological program. Common grace as God's mercy and grace provides "the field of operation for redemptive grace, and its material too." The delay in relation to common grace provides a solid historical ground for "a consummation involving an extensive revelation of the divine perfections, a glorified paradise as well as a lake of fire." Therefore, the delay is not only "the delay of mere postponement but the delay of gestation." Kline sees the common grace order within redemptive history, and it will be terminated when the ultimate judgment comes. In that respect common grace is "the antithesis of the consummation, and as such it epitomizes this world-age as one during which the consummation is abeyant."6
According to Kline, from the perspective of eschatology, common grace is the means of its delay while from the vantage point of history common grace provides an important background for the continuation of human history as well as the application of salvation to the elect. Thus, the ultimate goal of redemptive history is the execution of divine judgment represented by the dual sanctions of the eschatological blessing and curse. Its delay, due to the divine introduction of common grace as the historical playground of the application of redemption, is the biblical theological background of Kline's 'intrusion ethics.'
From this concrete biblical-theological concept of the eschatological kingdom, Kline begins to elucidate the general picture of an eschatological intrusion phenomena in redemptive history, tracing it to the Old Testament. "The Covenant of Redemption all along the line of its administration, more profoundly in the New Testament but already in the Old Testament is a coming of the Spirit, an intrusion of the power, principles, and reality of the consummation into the period of delay."7 Kline shows that the intrusion phenomena of eschatological blessing and curse under the Old Testament is vividly manifested in types and shadows. In short, it is the manifestation of eschatological realism, typologically pictured in the history of the Old Testament, especially under the Old Covenant. This intrusion of the eternal kingdom blessing and cursing was an intrusion into the realm of common grace, which is the divine means of delay of the coming of eschatological judgment through blessing and curse.
The eschatological kingdom which is the ultimate goal of redemptive history is pervasive in the Old Testament. Indeed, Kline's eschatological understanding of the Old Testament is nothing but a flowering and maturing of the covenant hermeneutics developed and adopted in the Reformed covenant tradition under the rubric of the distinction between the covenant of works and covenant of grace (spanning creation, fall, redemption, and consummation as already indicated).9
Alluding to Hebrews 9:23-24, Kline argues that the role of typology is essential to the proper understanding of the eschatology of the Old Testament. There are two stages in the fulfillment of the types of the Old Testament. One stage was fulfilled at the first coming of Christ, and another will be fulfilled and fully realized in the Parousia. Kline notices that the New Covenant church is still under pilgrimage, which depicts the semi-eschatological stage. So, "the apocalypse of Jesus Christ and his kingdom is still in the category of Intrusion rather than perfect consummation." This is rather clear when we see that "the present age is still characterized by common grace," which may be identified as "the epitome of the delay." We are living in the semi-eschatological stage because we are still waiting for the coming of the exalted Son of Man. Old Testament types such as "the sacrifice of the Passover lamb" were fulfilled by the first coming of Christ. The visible possession of the promised land by the covenant people as the antitype of Old Testament type, however, will be realized only in the age to come. Kline observes that the theocratic kingdom of Israel is, in a limited sense, closer to the reality of eschatological kingdom than the church under the New Covenant. "While, therefore, the Old Testament is an earlier edition of the final reality than is the present age of the new covenant, and not so intensive, it is on its own level a more extensive edition, especially when considered in its own most fully developed form, viz., the Israelite theocracy."10
The Garden of Eden, according to Kline, was an earthly projection of the heavenly kingdom and the eschatological kingdom was offered as the reward of a successful probation by the first Adam. On the other hand, Kline notices that God revealed the concrete reality of eternal heaven and hell in the postlapsarian state, and that this is shown through types and shadows. The typological kingdom in the form of Noah's ark was a most vivid and visual manifestation of the eschatological kingdom in pre-Consummation history, along with the typological kingdom of Israel, shaped and maintained in the promised land. In this respect, that the theocratic kingdom of Israel intruded into a common grace world is a vital element in comprehending intrusion ethics. Kline elaborates that the theocratic kingdom of Israel was the intrusion of the eschatological heavenly kingdom in a typological manner.
Bahnsen's most serious critique of Kline's intrusion ethics necessitates interacting with him and others especially on the issues of theocracy, and covenantal continuity and discontinuity, which are crucial for interpreting Old Testament eschatology and intrusion ethics. William Barker and W. Robert Godfrey summarize succinctly the heart of the problem of theonomist hermeneutics in the following manner. "Particularly, we believe it [theonomy] overemphasizes the continuities and neglects many of the discontinuities between the Old Testament and our time."12 In short, it fails to provide a hermeneutical balance between the continuity and discontinuity in relation to the Old and New Covenants, exclusively emphasizing the continuity. The brilliance of classic covenant hermeneutics, however, as developed in the Reformed tradition, has endeavored to maintain a comprehensive balance between the continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Covenants. As a result, covenant theologians have found the reality of the eschatological kingdom as one of the most concrete reference points both for the Old and New Testaments throughout redemptive history.13
Both Kline and Bahnsen claim the influence of Geerhardus Vos and Cornelius Van Til.14 Bahnsen appeals to Vos and others to emphasize the covenantal continuity without considering the covenantal discontinuity. Certainly, Vos emphasized covenantal continuity in respect to the unique way of salvation as the covenant of grace in the postlapsarian state, including the Old Covenant. Vos, however, put the emphasis on the covenantal discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. The covenantal discontinuity was crucial to Vos's covenant hermeneutics in expounding the Old Covenant eschatology. Vos argued that the theocratic kingdom of Israel was governed and maintained by the principle of the law, administering blessing and curse, which points to the eternal heavenly blessing and hellish curse. The obedience of Israel was not meritorious because it was applied to the continuation of symbolico-typical national blessings and curses. Meanwhile, Kline locates the corporate obedience of Israel to the covenant of law under the Old Covenant, applied to the typological theocratic kingdom blessing and curse as meritorious. This is the difference between Vos and Kline. I think Vos's approach is more suitable to the understanding of biblical revelation because the obedience of Israel at its best was never perfect. Thus I limit meritorious obedience to sinless obedience of the two Adams though it was not performed by the first Adam due to the entrance of sin. The balanced understanding of the covenantal continuity and discontinuity in Vos's biblical theology was picked up by Van Til. Van Til applied this principle to Christian theistic ethics as T. David Gordon correctly argues.15
Vos identifies the organization of Israel under the Old Covenant as a theocracy. He emphasizes that the purpose of the theocratic kingdom of Israel was not to teach ideal government in the world but to teach an absolute ideal of heavenly religion and kingdom: "The chief end for which Israel had been created was not to teach the world lessons in political economy, but in the midst of a world of paganism to teach true religion, even at the sacrifice of much secular propaganda and advantage."16
The divine intention for the theocratic kingdom of Israel was to typify the eschatological kingdom of Heaven which will be consummated in Christ. In this respect, Vos develops Old Covenant eschatology in relation to the typological kingdom of Israel:
Van Til, following the footsteps of Vos's biblical theology, recognizes the typological and temporal nature of the theocratic kingdom of Israel. The presence of the theocratic kingdom of Israel, argues Van Til, justifies the eschatological interpretation of the Old Covenant. The theocratic kingdom of Israel is not a model for earthly nations, but a type of the eschatological heavenly kingdom.
Van Til's recognition of the typological character of the theocratic kingdom of Israel led him to read Old Testament theistic ethics with redemptive historical sensitivity and development.
However, this redemptive historical understanding of the theocratic kingdom of Israel is generally lacking in theonomy, and in particular in Greg Bahnsen's thought. Bahnsen fails to read eschatology under the Old Covenant because he sees only continuity between the Old and New Covenants. This similar problem has been seen in Murray's biblico-systematic theology. John Murray tried to apply Vosian biblical theology to his systematic theology. However, he tried to revise the classic covenant theology in respect to the original covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant. His rejection of the covenant of works (replacing it as an "Adamic administration") and the exclusive emphasis on the covenantal continuity between the Old and New Covenants have provided great confusion to his followers.20
In this way, Bahnsen's theonomic vision is not compatible with Vos and Van Til as Gordon correctly realizes.21 Bahnsen's understanding of theocracy does not grasp eschatology under the Old Covenant because he does not see the uniqueness of theocracy, which is radically different from nations under the common grace realm. In essence then, he misses an important concept of redemptive historical understanding in respect to the typological kingdom of Israel.
Likewise, Bahnsen fails to understand the unique character of the typological kingdom of Israel in redemptive history which points to the eternal ideal kingdom. This hinders him from reading eschatology under the Old Covenant, which is crucial for a proper understanding of Old Testament ethics. In Bahnsen, the Old Testament theocracy becomes "a Christocracy with international boundaries" in the New Testament. Thus the theocracy of Israel does not prevent "the application of God's law to the civil magistrate today."23 Bahnsen's theonomic and postmillennial visions are the hermeneutical barriers, not adopting adequate typology, which is so crucial to redemptive historical hermeneutics represented in classic covenant theology and amillennialism. Although Bahnsen does not specify it, he is critical of the covenantal and amillennial hermeneutics, categorizing it as "the typologist."24 It is, however, the present writer's estimation that the most profound understanding of covenantal redemptive history has been demonstrated in the classic covenant theology and amillennialism, avoiding legalism through the proper adaptation of typology. Likewise, the sound recognition of the typological nature of the theocratic kingdom of Israel is a hermeneutical key to a better understanding of Old Testament ethics. In this regard, I agree with Gordon's analysis that Kline matures and advances Vos's biblical theology and Van Til's theistic ethics.25
Advancing Vosian biblical theology, Kline defines theocracy as a visible and external holy kingdom realm which is composed of King, land and holy people. As such, theocracy applies to "an external realm," and it does not describe "a spiritual reign of God in the hearts of his people by itself, but includes the geopolitical dimension."26 In this sense, it is a special and unique kingdom which separates it from common grace nations.
It is important to note that Kline maintains the uniqueness of the theocratic kingdom because that aspect is vital in understanding the typological character of the theocratic kingdom of Israela kingdom which foreshadows the eternal, heavenly and cosmic kingdom of God. It is interesting to observe that while Vos identifies the theocratic kingdom of Israel as a fusion between church and state, Kline, avoiding Vosian language, says that it is a unique cultic kingdom.
Having defined and understood Israel under the Old Covenant as a theocracy, Kline rightly identifies the theocratic kingdom of Israel as an intrusion which is a type of the eternal heavenly kingdom realm which will be consummated in Christ. Kline's intrusion ethics stands or falls together with the typological character of the theocratic kingdom of Israel. Indeed, Old Covenant eschatology is summed up in this typological kingdom through dual sanctions such as blessing and curse which were the pointers to the eternal heaven and hell. This eschatological motif under the Old Covenant was governed by the principle of the law which can be described as 'the covenant of law' (the foedus legale) in Kline's biblical theology. He notices that the reality of the eschatological kingdom blessing and curse intruded into Old Testament history through typological modes. This concrete historical reality is the presupposition and biblical-theological background for the discussion and development of intrusion ethics. "Perez makes the breach in the Old Testament; that is, the consummation intrudes itself there. This Intrusion has realized eschatology as its core, while its symbolic surface (the sacramental aspect thereof excepted) forms a typical picture of eschatology not yet realized."28 Thus, Kline establishes the biblical notion of the intrusion of the eschatological blessing and curse into the common grace realm throughout Old Testament history after the fall. Having defined and explained the intrusive phenomena into the realm of common grace, Kline guides us in a discussion of the relationship between eschatology and ethics.
B. The Intrusion and Its Implication for Ethics
Kline finds apparent problems when he surveys Old Testament history in respect to God's law and its application by divine sanction to many situations. It appears that a divinely sanctioned action is not "consonant with the customary application of the law of God according to the principle of common grace"29 on many occasions. This apparent discrepancy can be resolved, Kline suggests, by the application of the concept of the eschatological intrusion.
Having evaluated Charles Hodge's classification of the biblical laws30, Kline further states that biblical laws, including the Ten Commandments, have "multiple aspects of one law which may then have both a mutable and immutable aspect." As an illustration, Kline notices that "laws five through ten in the Decalogue" have both mutable and immutable aspects. Kline explains this double aspect as follows: "For they simply apply to specific cases the grand principle that man must reflect the moral glory of God on a finite scale. This principle is immutable because it concerns the relationship of man to God. On the other hand, the relations governed by this immutable principle are themselves mutable."31 Likewise, Kline suggests that the application of the law as a whole has both immutable and mutable aspects which are the reflection of redemptive historical sensitivity in its applications.
For an example, Kline proceeds to discuss the definition of our neighbors for the application of the fifth to the tenth commandments. According to Kline, the concept of neighbor must be viewed and understood from the vantage point of redemptive history, especially in reference to the eschatological kingdom. Under the New Covenant, according to the principle of commandments five through ten, we must "love our neighbor as ourselves." "The unbeliever is the believer's neighbor today; but the reprobate is not the neighbor of the redeemed hereafter" because God will set a great chasm between them. God, who hates evil according to his immutable nature, "withdrawing all favor from the reprobate," will himself hate unbelievers when the Parousia comes. Glorified believers, following the pattern of God's attitude to unbelievers, will change "their attitude toward the unbeliever from one of neighborly love to one of perfect hatred, which is a holy, not malicious passion." Because "the grand principle" of "laws five through ten is immutable," the implication of these laws has to be changed according to "the changes in the intracreational relationships for which they legislate."32
Thus, Kline suggests that the definition of neighbor must be determined by redemptive historical sensitivity. The grand principle of the laws is immutable in the sense that it is the imitation of God principle while the application of the laws is mutable in terms of the intracreational relationship. The glory of God is "a terminus ad quem" (an ultimate goal) of the laws.
Having clarified both mutable and immutable aspects of the law, Kline argues that the presence of the eschatological Kingdom in the Old Testament must be understood as the intrusive phenomena into a common grace world. And it anticipates the eschatological judgment characterized as eternal blessing and curse.
Having explained the relationship between the idea of intrusion and its ethical application in redemptive history, Kline guides us into some specific examples. These examples are divided into the two categories of eschatological blessing and curse under the principle of the dual sanctions. Let us examine Kline's redemptive historical analysis of the examples of intrusion ethics in Old Testament history.
C. Intrusion of Eschatological Curse
The covenant community of the Israelites entered into the land promised to Abraham by the oath of God (Gen. 15). In the process of the conquest of Canaan, however, there was an ethical problem which puzzles average readers of the episode. Kline asks a question: How can we justify "the Israelite dispossession and extermination of the Canaanites over against the sixth and eighth words of the Decalogue?" To resolve this ethical problem, Kline suggests that we have to distinguish between normal or common grace war and holy war. Kline describes common grace war as follows.
However, the common grace war justified by God in international relationships, Kline argues, cannot explain the total destruction involved in the war between the Israelites and Canaanites during the conquest. The conquest of Canaan by the Israelites "before an assembly of nations acting according to the provisions of common grace" would not be justified as "an unprovoked aggression." Furthermore, the conquest violated the basic requirement to show mercy "even in the proper execution of justice."35
Thus, Kline argues that the conquest of Canaan was not a common grace war but a holy war which is an anticipation of eschatological judgment. God's command to the Israelites was clear not to make covenant with Canaanites, and show mercy to them during the conquest (cf. Ex. 23:22-33; 34:10-16; Deut. 7:1-10; 20:10-18). The holy war was the war of "total destruction" (cherem). Achan, who preserved some of "devoted things" against God's command, provoked God, and the Israelites could not defeat Ai until Achan and all the devoted things were destroyed (Josh. 7-8). When the covenant community showed mercy, making covenant with Canaanites in the midst of conquest, God rebuked them, pouring out covenant curses upon them (Jdg. 2).
It is clear that the conquest of Canaan was a type of eternal judgment which is a vivid manifestation of the eschatological curse. In short, there was an eschatological realism presented in the history of Israel. From the redemptive historical point of view, we must recognize, argues Kline, that the requirements of ordinary ethics were abrogated temporarily and "the ethical principles of the last judgment" were introduced such that God's promises and commands to the covenant community of Israel in respect to Canaan and the Canaanites became their own. Kline goes on to say: "Only so can the conquest be justified and seen as it was in truth not murder, but the hosts of the Almighty visiting upon the rebels against his righteous throne their just desertsnot robbery, but the meek inheriting the earth."36
Kline further shows that the dispossession of the Canaanites by the Israelites during the conquest (also involving the temporary abrogation of the eighth commandment) was also related to the tenth commandment. According to Kline, the violation of the eighth and tenth commandments through the conquest was not sin because the neighbor concept under common grace was abrogated by God's command, intruding the neighbor concept of eschatological judgment.
The apparent violation of the tenth commandment by the covenant community through God's command, Kline argues, was an intrusion principle which had the divine purpose of establishing and maintaining the theocratic kingdom as a type of the eternal kingdom: "When the Old Testament believer, at the Lord's command, took his typical stand beyond common grace, to covet the property of the unbeliever was to be in harmony with God's purpose to perfect his kingdom."38
Kline traces the Psalms and finds imprecations in Psalms 7; 35; 55; 59; 69; 79; 109 and 137. The imprecations by covenant people such as David and Asaph are troublesome for many who face cruel elements of prayer and song against their enemies in the name of God. In the beatitudes, Jesus explains the attitude of the covenant community to their neighbor and enemy under the Old Covenant saying "love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Matt. 5:43; cf. Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 23:6). However, he proclaims a radical new approach to his followers under the New Covenant, commanding "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44; cf. Lk. 6:27-38). This apparent contradiction creates difficulty for Bible readers and interpreters. Kline argues that the best solution to this problem is to understand the imprecations from the perspective of redemptive history and eschatology.
As such, Kline understands the imprecations in the Psalms as the intrusive phenomena of the ethics of eschatological consummation, which is sharply different from regular ethics under the principle of common grace. So, he suggests that we have to distinguish the consummation ethics from common grace ethics because "the imprecations in the Psalms" are the unusual pattern of ethical conduct which informs "the ethics of the consummation." The intrusion by divine inspiration constitutes "a divine abrogation, within a limited sphere, of the ethical requirements normally in force during the course of common grace."40
Furthermore, Kline argues that the imprecations in the Psalms inspired by the Spirit of God were conducted within the typological kingdom of Israel which is the type and intrusion of the eternal kingdom. Therefore redemptive historical interpretation of the imprecations is a concrete hermeneutical principle which ought to be applied.41
Kline argues that ethical anticipation of the eschatological judgment of the reprobate is seen in the examples of Old Testament history "involving all the rest of commandments five through ten, excepting the seventh." The seventh commandment could not be altered in redemptive history. The reason, argues Kline, is explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. It is especially because "every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body"(1 Cor. 6:18).42
Under the principle of the common grace realm, Kline suggests that Rahab had a duty to obey "the civil authorities of Jericho." The civilian duty to the civil authorities is well taken and explained by Paul under normal circumstances (Rom. 13:1-7). But, Kline argues, Rahab was not in a normal circumstance when she encountered the spies and her own civil authority figures. Rather she participated in the shaping of the theocratic kingdom as a Gentile and became an agent of the judgment which was the type of the eschatological judgment. In addition, the inspired authors of Hebrews and James approve Rahab's action as faithful because biblical authors read her episode from a redemptive historical perspective.
Thus, Kline directs us to think that Rahab's deception of her civil authority figures should be understood in light of the eschatological judgment. Certainly, at surface level, her deception was a violation of the ninth commandment. But at a deeper level, her deception should be justified because it was done for the benefit of the theocratic kingdom and the glory of God. When the Parousia comes, there will be ultimate judgment for those who have hostile intentions against the eternal theocratic kingdom. Although Rahab's deception was involved with the mutable principle of the ninth commandment, she was not violating the immutable principles of the first three laws.
Thus, Kline suggests that God approved Rahab's deception against the civil authority which displayed a hostile intention against the theocratic kingdom at that specific moment in redemptive history. This same understanding may be applied to the episode of the Hebrew midwives' deception against Pharaoh (Ex. 1:15-21) and Samuel's deception against Saul (1 Sam. 16:2).45
The penal sanctions regulated under the old covenant have been the object of serious debate between Bahnsen and Kline. For example, Bahnsen insists that the death penalty against the violators of the first four, fifth, sixth, and seventh commandments under the Old Covenant must be applied under the current state. Bahnsen's penology is a result of the lack of redemptive historical understanding on the penal sanctions and covenantal discontinuity.46
Kline suggests that the intrusion principle was applied against the members of the covenant community under the Mosaic or Old Covenant. The death penalty was applied to the violators of the first four commandments: "In the area of penal sanctions against offending covenant members, the Intrusion principle again manifests itself. It is especially significant that among the offenses for which the death penalty was prescribed are violations of the first four laws of the Decalogue (see, e.g., Ex. 31:14ff.; 35:2 [cf. Num. 15:32ff.]; Lev. 24:16; Deut. 13:5ff.; 17:2ff.)."47 Why do we have to see this ethical principle as an intrusive phenomena? That is the question Kline himself asks and he answers it. It is because such a violation cannot be a capital punishment under the New Covenant age either by the state or the church. Rather, it should be the subject matter of church discipline: "In the present age such violations are subject to ecclesiastical discipline, but the sword may not be wielded by either church or state in punishment of such offenders, according to the principle of common grace."48 In this respect, capital punishment against the violators of the first four commandments under the theocracy of the Old Testament was the intrusion of the final judgment against those who violated these laws from their heart.
So far, we have traced Kline's biblical-theological logic on the intrusion of eschatological curse. Now, we move on to some episodes of the intrusion of eschatological blessing in relation to the Old Testament ethics.
D. Intrusion of Eschatological Blessing
Kline argues that God's command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac confronted him with "a contradiction of previous revelation concerning human life, revelation later formulated in the sixth word of the Decalogue." It is "the Creator's prerogative" to designate such importance "to his creatures as he will," and it is man's responsibility "to accept the divine interpretation." "The more unaccountable to man" God's interpretation may be, "the better calculated" it is to highlight in man's heart "the necessity of thinking and living covenantally, that is, in the obedience of personal devotion to his God."50
Even though Abraham was faced with this striking command which was apparently contradictory to the sixth commandment, Kline suggests that "Abraham must not make an abstract idol out of the customary prohibition against human sacrifice but must listen to his Father's voice."51
Here, Kline suggests typology: Isaac was the type of Christ who was sacrificed by his Father as a substitute in the place of sinners. In that sense, God's command to sacrifice Isaac was "the ethics of the Cross, itself an intrusion of final judgment into mid-history, that was intruded into the Old Testament age in the divine command to sacrifice Isaac." However, "the provision of the sacrificial substitute" teaches us "the inadequacy of sinful human life for making atonement" after Abraham had demonstrated "the obedience of faith." God did not identify "Isaac's life as the life that was actually to be sacrificed as an atonement for sin." Meanwhile, Abraham's obedience to "the Intrusion's demand" demonstrated that he was the father of believers living by every word which came from the mouth of God.52
Kline interprets Exodus through Malachi under the rubric of the Old Covenant, which is patterned by the standing and falling of the theocratic kingdom of Israel. Under the theocratic kingdom, Kline argues that there was not a fusion between state and church but sui generis. However, Kline suggests that the present church age is radically different from the covenant community under the Old Covenant. In that sense, we have to distinguish carefully between church and state. And it is an adequate implication of the fifth commandment under the New Covenant.
However, at the consummation, the common grace order, and with it the common grace institution of the state, will be terminated and all things will be under the authority of the visible reigning of Christ. Likewise, the theocratic kingdom of Israel was the type of the eternal Kingdom.
The intrusion of Christ's universal reign over the eternal kingdom was manifested in the famous cylinder of Cyrus king of Persia (2 Chr. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11).
Furthermore, Kline adds that later a Persian king supported the rebuilding and maintaining of the temple. Moreover, they contributed "from government funds for its ritual." The famous Cyrus cylinder instigated by God reveals that Cyrus as a pagan king actively supported the theocratic kingdom of Israel. This process, argues Kline, "is obviously not normative for civil governments in the New Testament dispensation." This is an example of "Intrusion ethics in connection with the Israelite theocracy as a type of the heavenly kingdom into which 'the kings of earth do bring their glory and honor'" as that is revealed in Revelation 21:24.56
Kline evaluates the prophet Hosea's marriage with the harlot, Gomer (Hos. 1:3)57 within the historical reality of the Old Covenant which was directly applied to the covenant community of Israel. Accordingly, Kline argues that the Mosaic law prohibited prostitution which was a violation of the seventh commandment that resulted in expulsion from "the theocratic congregation"(Lev. 19:29; Deut. 23:17). In that sense, the marriage episode of Hosea, Kline suggests, is not an episode under the circumstances of common grace but an intrusion of the ethical principle of God's eschatological saving of sinners. "It was certainly implied in this that a harlot might not be espoused by a covenant member. Nevertheless, in contradiction of this ordinary requirement, the Lord commanded Hosea to marry the harlot, Gomer. In so doing, God was again anticipating an ethical principle entailed in his saving of the elect."58
Following the redemptive historical logic, Kline argues that Hosea's marriage must be understood in light of "the eschatological context of divine revelation." Thus it fits the pattern of intrusion ethics. Hosea's marriage is a type of the eschatological marriage between Christ and a church-bride that will include a multitude of forgiven sinners (Matt. 25:1-13; Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:6-9). The glory of the eschatological kingdom marriage was vividly manifested in the episode. So Hosea as the prophet of Israel was not offended by God's striking command to accept Gomer as his wife, anticipating himself "in the great marriage celebration" of the eschatological kingdom Lamb. Likewise, the episode of Hosea's marriage provides the eschatological outlook that "the consummation of God's grace" will be realized when Christ as heavenly bridegroom welcomes "a church-bride composed of a multitude of defiled sinners to be his own."59
As we have traced and explained Kline's intrusion ethics, we have seen that it is simply an adequate application of covenant theology to the area of the Old Testament ethics. In fact, Kline as a classic covenant theologian flowers and matures covenant theology, developed and adopted in the Reformed tradition, applying its rich insights to the area of Old Testament ethics. Thus, Kline's intrusion ethics is an important contribution to our understanding of the application of covenant and eschatological kingdom ideas in resolution of some of the most difficult ethical issues revealed in Old Testament history. In conclusion, I may identify Kline's intrusion ethics as covenantal eschatological kingdom ethics, based on redemptive historical hermeneutics. I hope that scholars will further develop Kline's intrusion ethics through more discussion and research.
1Meredith G. Kline, "The Intrusion and the Decalogue," Westminster Theological Journal 16/1(1953): 1-22. This important article can be found, with minor modifications, in The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1997), 154-71. For a comprehensive and critical analysis of Kline's biblico-covenant theology in the light of modern criticism and the historical development of covenant theology as a whole, see Jeong Koo Jeon, Covenant Theology: John Murray's and Meredith G. Kline's Response to the Historical Development of Federal Theology in Reformed Thought (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1999). The book is a slight revision of my 1998 Ph.D. dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
For a brief summary of Kline's contribution to Reformed systematic theology from a Klinean perspective, see Lee Irons, "Redefining Merit: An Examination of Medieval Presuppositions in Covenant Theology," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift For Meredith G. Kline. eds. Howard Griffith & John R. Muether (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 2000), 253-68; Mark W. Karlberg, "Reformed Theology as the Theology of the Covenants: The Contributions of Meredith G. Kline to Reformed Systematics," ibid., 235-52. Mark Karlberg presents provocative arguments and statements on relevant issues of covenant theology against revisionist and radical revisionist background in his recent book, Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000).
2 Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics: Expanded Edition with Replies to Critics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1984), 571-84. A constructive criticism of theonomy from a Reformed perspective can be found in William S. Barker & W. Robert Godfrey eds., Theonomy; a Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1990); Meredith G. Kline, "Comments on an Old-New Error" (review of Greg L. Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics) Westminster Theological Journal (1978/1979):173-89.
3 Elmer B. Smick, "The Psalms as response to God's Covenant Love: Theological Observations," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, 83.
4 Old Testament history covers the postlapsarian history of the Old Testament thus eliminating the prelapsarian state.
5 Kline, Biblical Authority, 154-55.
6 Ibid., 155. Cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 217-19; Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations For a Covenantal Worldview (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2000), 153-211, 244-62; Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1972); The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1967), 151-78.
7 Kline, Biblical Authority, 156.
9 I have argued against the background of Kline's critiques that Kline is a true successor and consummator of Geerhardus Vos's biblico-covenant theology although I would require a minor revision of his thought. In fact, Vos's biblical theology is carefully enshrined and guided by hermeneutical principles such as the distinction between law and gospel along with the antithesis between the covenants of works and grace which Kline has defended and promoted through his entire career and writings. As such, we cannot promote Vosian biblical theology without these concrete hermeneutical reference points. In other words, if we want to promote the Vosian eschatological kingdom vision in redemptive history, the above mentioned hermeneutical principles must be presupposed. Cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 79-102, 279-334.
10 Kline, Biblical Authority, 157.
11 Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 158.
12 Barker & Godfrey eds., Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, 11.
13 Jeon, Covenant Theology, 1-102.
14 Kline dedicated The Structure of Biblical Authority to Van Til in the preface to the 1971 version: "Cornelius Van Til stands as the prince of twentieth-century Christian apologetics. He has had by far the most profound impact on my own thinking of all my teachers. His theological insight and prophetic witness have been a conscience, if not canon, and his warmly human and gracious godliness has been an inspiration for the life which is in Christ Jesus" (Kline, Biblical Authority, 15). In addition, Kline indicates that his biblical theology is an expansion and development of Vos's biblical theology in his magnum opus, Kingdom Prologue, 7: "More, specifically, biblical theology in the classic tradition of Geerhardus Vos has as its distinctive feature a concern with the historical progress of special revelation as disclosed in the Bible . . . . For Vos, then, delineating the progress of special revelation is broadly the same as expounding the contents of the several divine covenants . . . . What is in Vos's Biblical Theology the infrastructure, the particular historical pattern in which the periodicity principle gets applied, becomes here the surface structure." Meanwhile, Bahnsen recognizes the influence of Vos and Van Til in his thought: "Past authors such as Calvin and Fairbairn, as well as current writers like Kevan, H. Ridderbos, Cornelius Van Til, and especially John Murray, have been of great instructional value to me along the way to authoring this study" (Bahnsen, Theonomy, xxxiii). Bahnsen identifies with Vos when he emphasizes exclusively covenantal continuity between the Old and New Covenants (Ibid., 56-7, 86, 121-22, 218-20). But, I have endeavored to prove that there is a balance of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants in Vos's biblical theology (cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 85-91). When Bahnsen provides biblical theological analysis and discussion, in general he is not reliable because he is not clear on the issues of the law and gospel, and covenantal continuity and discontinuity. Paradoxically, as a presuppositional apologist, he shows a comprehensive understanding of philosophical and apologetical issues as he lays it out in his magnum opus, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998). This inconsistency may create a continuing confusion to Bahnsen's followers. In this sense, it is fair to say that Bahnsen as a theonomist does not follow the classic covenant tradition of Vos, who maintained a comprehensive balance of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, but a revisionist covenant tradition, represented by Murray, exclusively emphasizing a covenantal continuity. To be sure, Murray was not a theonomist as Bahnsen correctly recognizes. So, pushing himself in a theonomic direction, Bahnsen provides a critique of Murray's position that "the penal sanctions of the Older Testament law have been abrogated in this age" (Bahnsen, Theonomy, 458).
15 T. David Gordon, "Van Til and Theonomic Ethics," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, eds. Howard Griffith & John R. Muether (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 2000), 274: "Vos's discussion of the distinctive or particular contribution of each redemptive/revelatory era introduces an element of general discontinuity or development between the eras. For Van Til, it is this aspect of development which is critical for interpreting the Old Testament ethic correctly."
16 Vos, Biblical Theology, 125.
17 Ibid., 125-26.
18 Cornelius Van Til, In Defense of the Faith: Christian Theistic Ethics, vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980), 98.
19 Ibid., 93-4.
20 I have evaluated John Murray as a revisionist covenant theologian over against classic covenant theology, which firmly maintains the original covenant of works, and a balance of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. Murray, however, as an orthodox Reformed theologian, maintains the temporal and logical order of law and gospel, and law and grace not vice versa, which are the crucial hermeneutical tools for the proper understanding of the historia salutis and ordo salutis. Furthermore, the distinction between law and gospel or grace has been a vitally important hermeneutical key for the doctrines of justification by faith alone, the substitutionary view of atonement, sovereign grace in divine election, and the covenant of grace (cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 103-90). Unlike Murray, it is evident that Bahnsen moves in a radical revisionist direction in his view of law and gospel. Bahnsen's covenantal unity obscures the historical or temporal order of law and gospel as the means of eschatological blessing from creation to fall to redemption. What is important to him is 'persevering obedience' in all the divine covenants including the prelapsarian covenant: "Continued blessing for Adam in paradise, Israel in the promised land, and the Christian in the kingdom has been seen to be dependent upon persevering obedience to God's will as expressed in His law. There is complete covenantal unity with reference to the law of God as the standard of moral obligation throughout the diverse ages of human history" (Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 203). Exegeting 1 Timothy 1:5-10, Bahnsen erroneously stresses that the law and the gospel are completely harmonious: "Paul urges Timothy to demonstrate that there is a complete agreement between the law and the gospel which he has taught" (Ibid., 196). "In Biblical perspective, grace and promise are not antithetical to law and demand. The law and the gospel both aim at the same thing" (Ibid., 183). Meanwhile, interpreting Galatians 3:10-21, Bahnsen appears to maintain that grace and law are antithetical in relation to the way of salvation: "Although the law is not against the promise of God (3:21)since they both aim at the same thing the fulfillment of the promise cannot be made dependent upon obedience to the law, for in redemptive history the law came after the promise (3:15-22). Grace (the promise) and law (the demand) cannot be mixed together as ways of salvation; the man who is saved by grace cannot have anything added to his salvation by law. The promise grants what the law could only aim at: righteousness and salvation" (Ibid., 132-33).
21 Gordon, "Van Til and Theonomic Ethics," 275: "It is this emphasis on the typological character of theocratic Israel, on her temporary character, that we perceive a difference in the way Vos influenced Van Til and the way he influenced Bahnsen. That the purpose of Israel was 'not to teach the world lessons about political economy' seems to us incongruent with the perception of theocratic Israel espoused in the Theonomic view. For Theonomy, the civil precepts of the Old Testament 'are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals,' a 'model to be emulated by non-covenantal nations as well.' For Vos and Van Til, the theocracy and the theocratic legislation are viewed in terms of being 'stepping stones to a higher and even to an ultimate ideal.' The theocracy is a 'model' of the perfect Kingdom in glory; for Theonomy, the theocracy is a 'model' for all other earthly governments. This difference influences the respective ethical programs of Van Til and Theonomy."
22 Bahnsen, Theonomy, 427-28.
23 Ibid., 432.
24 Ibid., 455-58.
25 Gordon, "Van Til and Theonomic Ethics," 278: "Van Til's ethic is in fact best preserved in the writings of one of Theonomy's most notorious critics, to whom this volume is dedicated. Meredith G. Kline had advanced the position of Vos and Van Til not only in the realm of ethics but in the realm of biblical theology more generally considered. In the writings of Meredith G. Kline, one finds not only agreement with Vos and Van Til regarding the Theocracy, but one finds this agreement to be programmatically significant. For those interested in knowing what Vos and Van Til would have written in the areas of biblical theology and ethics had they each lived another generation, we can think of no better recommendation than a reading of Kline."
26 Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 49.
27 Ibid., 50-1.
28 Kline, Biblical Authority, 158. Likewise, a proper application of typology in relation to the exposition of the development of the eschatological kingdom motif through redemptive history is crucial as well. The brilliance of covenant hermeneutics developed in the Reformed tradition lies in the fact that covenant theologians carefully applied typology in their understanding of the eschatological kingdom idea especially under the Old Covenant. For the significance of typology in biblical and systematic theology, see Jeon, Covenant Theology, 6-8.
29 Kline, Biblical Authority, 158.
30 Charles Hodge categorizes biblical laws into four areas. (1) The laws based "on the nature of God" belong to "the command to love God supremely." These laws bind "all rational creatures, angels as well as men." The principle of these laws is "absolutely immutable and indispensable." (2) The laws based on "the permanent relations of men in their present state of existence." These laws concern "property, marriage, and the duties of parents and children, or superiors and inferiors." (3) The laws founded upon "certain temporary relations of men, or conditions of society, and are enforced by the authority of God." Many of "the judicial or civil laws of the ancient theocracy" belong to this category. (4) These are the positive laws which come from "the explicit command of God" such as "external rites and ceremonies, as circumcision, sacrifices, and the distinction between clean and unclean meats, and between months, days, and years." Hodge argues that the laws of categories 2,3, and 4 are mutable while the laws of category 1 are immutable. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 3:265-70.
31 Kline, Biblical Authority, 159.
32 Ibid., 159-60.
33 Kline, Biblical Authority, 160. Recognizing a possible misunderstanding of intrusion ethics, Kline emphasizes several points to consider carefully. (1) The demands of intrusion ethics in the Old Testament cannot be "a lower or laxer order." (2) The concept of intrusion ethics is not "prejudicial to the permanent validity" of Mosaic moral law. The distinction is not "one of different standards but of the application of a constant standard under significantly different conditions. It is evident that such a distinction must be made between the period of common grace in general and the age of consummation." So, there was "an anticipatory abrogation of the principle of common grace during the Old Testament age." (3) The presence of intrusion ethics in the Old Testament does not interrupt "the unity of the Covenant of Redemption" revealed and begun in Genesis 3:15 which has been known as the protevangelium (Ibid.).
34 Ibid., 162-63.
35 Ibid., 163.
36 Kline, Biblical Authority, 163. For a fine discussion of the divine warrior motif in holy war throughout redemptive history from an evangelical perspective, see Tremper Longman, III and Daniel G. Reid, God Is a Warrior (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995).
37 Kline, Biblical Authority, 166.
38 Ibid., 166.
39 Kline, Biblical Authority, 161-62. According to Kline, the covenant is "the Psalter's sphere of existence" since the temple was the central place for the religious and sacramental life of Israel and the psalms have a cultic orientation in general. "The psalms of praise" were "a continual resounding of Israel's 'Amen' of covenant ratification" as a means of "private and public devotion." Psalms such as 78, 105-106, 135-136 rehearsing "the course of covenant history" were "confessional responses of acknowledgment to the surveys of Yahweh's mighty acts" on behalf of Israel. So, when the covenant community of Israel used psalms extolling God's law, Israel made a new commitment "to the stipulations of the covenant." Furthermore, "plaint and penitential psalms" are closely tied to "interaction with the prophetic indictment of Israel in the process of the covenant lawsuit." It is quite natural then that the Psalter begins with an image of "the treaty blessings and curses and the declaration that judgment hinges on man's attitude towards the law of the covenant" (Ibid., 62-64). Likewise Kline suggests that we have to interpret the psalms from the perspective of the Old Covenant and its relation to the eschatological kingdom in redemptive history. Elmer Smick briefly summarizes and analyzes Psalms from the perspective of Kline's approach; see Elmer B. Smick, "The Psalms as Response to God's Covenant Love: Theological Observations," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, 77-86.
40 Kline, Biblical Authority, 162.
42 Ibid., 164.
43 Kline, Biblical Authority, 164.
44 Ibid., 164-65.
45 Ibid., 165.
46 Bahnsen argues that the justification of "theonomic punishment" is based on "the principle of equity, no crime receives a penalty which it does not warrant." Therefore, penal sanctions under the old covenant must be directly applied to contemporary civil law: "This comes to expression in the civil realm as just recompense (Heb. 2:2), as in the lex talionis (Ex. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). Consequently the death penalty is to be viewed as the appropriate response of the magistrate to violations against the purity of the God-man relation (e.g., idolatry, witchcraft, etc.), the sanctity of life and its sources (e.g., murder, adultery) or authority (e.g., striking one's parents). In the areas of theft and property damage, then, full restitution or compensation is the standard of punishment (e.g., Ex. 21:22; Lev. 24:21) . . . . Knowing that God's standard of righteousness (which includes temporal, social relations) is as immutable as the character of God Himself, we should conclude that crimes which warrant capital punishment in the Older testament continue to deserve the death penalty today" (Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 437, 439, 442).
47 Kline, Biblical Authority, 166.
48 Ibid., 166-67.
49 Ibid., 167.
50 Ibid., 168.
51 Ibid., 169.
52 Kline, Biblical Authority, 169.
53 Ibid., 167.
56 Ibid., 168.
57 Hosea's marriage to Gomer as an illustration of intrusion ethics, according to Kline, depends on whether Gomer was a harlot when Hosea married her. Recently, Kline has moved away from his previous position that Gomer was a harlot before marriage. As a result, Kline does not consider Hosea's marriage any longer as an example of intrusion ethics. However, I am tracing Kline's biblical theological explanation if we consider that Gomer was a harlot at the moment of her marriage.
58 Kline, Biblical Authority, 170. Kline's approach to the prophetical books is quite profound. He suggests that the prophets be read in light of the Old Covenant and eschatological kingdom. The motif of covenant lawsuit is a vital part of the prophetic message based upon the Mosaic Covenant and was constantly applied throughout the history of Israel. The message of judgment characterized in dual sanctions such as blessing and curse is thoroughly reflected. "The peculiarly prophetic task was the elaboration and application of the ancient covenant sanctions. In actual practice that meant that their diplomatic mission to Israel was by and large one of prosecuting Yahweh's patient covenant lawsuit with his incurably wayward vassal people. The documentary legacy of their mission reveals them confronting Israel with judgment . . . . Manifestly, then, these writings of the prophets are extensions of the covenantal documents of Moses. They summon Israel to remember the law covenant of Moses commanded at Horeb (Mal. 4:4) and to behold the eschatological future whose outlines were already sketched in the Mosaic curse and blessing sanctions, particularly in the covenant renewal in Moab (Deut. 28ff.) . . . . While relating the prophetic office to covenants in general, all such literary and technical parallels pointing to the political sphere of suzerain-vassal relationship as the formal background for the prophetic office serve also as another link, even if indirect, connecting the prophets with the covenants of Moses, inasmuch as the form of the latter, too, derives from that very same background of covenantal statecraft" (Ibid., 57-62).
59 Ibid., 170.