Have you ever wondered why literal readings of Genesis don’t match up with what science says about the age and origin of the earth? Have you also wondered why doomsday prophets are always wrong about their end-of-the-world predictions? The conclusions of these overly literal readings of the Bible will never match what we see around us in the world. Why? They’re looking for the wrong stuff. They are seeing the Bible as a story of material beginnings and endings. Instead, it makes more sense when Scripture is read as a story of covenantal beginnings and endings.
What is a covenantal view of Scripture? Here is as an explanation by way of analogy. We all know what this is, right? This is a U.S. map or… a covenant map. You see how all the states are in different colors? I am in Minnesota. You see how Minnesota is red? But if we go outside right now and look around, it’s not red everywhere. If we travel around, we’re not going to see all those black lines separating the states either.
But Minnesota is red on the map. Is it a true map? Yes, it’s a true map. It’s showing the boarders and covenants between states and countries. But it’s not a ‘literal’ map in the sense of physical or material realities. It’s a covenant map. It is giving us a picture of the political and societal order of our land.
This map is showing an order that had a beginning, in 1776. Then it had a Transition Period, because between 1776 and 1789 we had a different form of government, so we had a Transition Period. And in 1789, a new world came into being. This new world was dictated by new laws, namely, the Constitution.
No matter where you go on earth, if you’re American, you’re a part of THIS covenant WORLD. Your passport says ‘United States Citizen’. But the physical land of North America existed long before America or the Constitution existed. So it goes with the Bible. The earth existed long before God gave holy functions to the forms of the universe. Earth and sun, making day and night, were given a holy purpose; to keep the Jewish calendar and set God’s covenant people in the rhythm of Old Covenant life.
We don’t think of the formation of the universe as the beginning of the United States. Though there is reason to believe that the ancients spoke of things that way. Hence, the Bible’s language, which sounds universal and cosmic to modern ears. So this is a covenant map, like Scripture is a covenant map for the Kingdom, and for our faith.
The map in literal terms is false. If someone tried to take this map, not knowing our cultural context, or how we used it, and they went outside to try and see if it’s true on THEIR terms, a map of literal physical things, they’re going to be disappointed. They might come to the conclusion that either the map is false in literal terms, or it’s not mapping what they’re looking for.
But, once the map reader understands the cultural context, they can see that the map, in covenantal terms, is true! Hopefully they won’t come to the conclusion that they need to chuck the map. And they don’t need to insist that ‘all the ground is red!’ The key to understanding the way we use and interpret this map in our culture is figuring out the way the writers intended it to be used. Likewise with Scripture.
A covenantal view of scripture sees the Bible as our covenant map. It sees Scripture as one story with a covenantal beginning and a matching ending, told in prophetic and symbolic terms. This story explains the beginning, development and consummation of the Old Covenant world. And presents the manifestation of the New Covenant world. It helps paint the picture of redemptive realities in the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth.
So, in redemptive terms, a question one might ask is, what does your ‘passport’ say? To what land do you belong?
This is a transliteration of a presentation by Tim Martin from the Covenant Creation Conference 2010, and his book, Beyond Creation Science (Martin/Vaughn).