I have to apologize; in my last post I made a statement that as it turns out isn’t going to be true. I said that my next post would examine O. Palmer Robertson’s definition of a covenant; however I have since realized that in order to properly interact with his reasoning on that matter, I need to first develop the biblical concept of a shadow.
So what do I mean when I use the word “shadow” with respect to Shadow Covenant Theology? Well, a shadow is one means that God often uses to reveal spiritual truth.
Take a look at Jesus for example. We know that Jesus is God’s perfect representative, and that He only does what He sees His Father doing (John 5:19, Col 1:15), so any attempt to understand how God communicates truth should begin by examining how Jesus does it. How does Jesus communicate truth? One major method He uses is parables, as discussed in Matthew 13.
And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
A parable is a story used to illustrate some sort of precept or idea. My pastor has noted that the greek word for parable means “to cast alongside,” that when Jesus speaks in parables, He is casting spiritual truth alongside a concrete, visible example. As the master teacher, Jesus will often forgo speaking plainly and instead convey a pattern that the hearer then needs to think through.
This accomplishes at least two things. First, it hides spiritual truth from those who are unwilling to receive it. Often when Jesus would speak plainly to those hostile to His message they would hate Him for it, and at times they even tried to silence Him permanently (e.g. John 8:58-59). So He would speak in parables to hide spiritual truth from those whose hearts weren’t ready to hear it. Second, it illustrates spiritual truth to those who do have a heart to listen. I don’t understand why yet, but there is something about casting a pattern that allows a teacher to “get more mileage” out of his instruction, to reveal his ideas with more depth and clarity than simply enumerating them with straightforward instruction.
Regardless of why God designed us to learn this way, we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words – the value of analogies and word pictures is incalculable. There’s a lot I could go into here, particularly with regard to hermeneutics, but I’ll save it for a later discussion. The point is, Jesus taught quite effectively and frequently by using parables, by casting spiritual truths alongside physical realities.
If therefore Jesus speaks this way, and if He always acts as His Father’s perfect representative, then it is reasonable to infer that God would probably speak this way as well. This is where we get the concept of a “type” or a “shadow” – God often communicates to us by casting spiritual truths alongside physical realities. (Out of habit I most frequently tend to use the word “type” for this phenomenon, so you might hear that more often on this blog, even though I think that “shadow” is more illustrative. The word “type” is the theological/literary term, whereas “shadow” is the biblical term)
For example, the author of Hebrews makes the following observation about animal sacrifice:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…[rather] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:1,10)
In other words animal sacrifice under the old covenant couldn’t solve the issue of sin; rather it was a shadow, an outline or a sketch of the One who would. God the master teacher took the truth of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, and cast it alongside a concrete example that the people of Israel would enact over and over again.
So like Jesus, God will communicate truth to His creation by developing a pattern, by casting spiritual truth alongside physical reality. That’s what He did with us, when He wanted to express what He is like. Human beings – you and I are types or shadows of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) Of course because of sin that image is marred, but those of us who are in Christ are having that image restored, and we can still see what God is like (and what we will be like) by examining the one man who bears His image perfectly.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.
Types and shadows are all over the place in the Bible, and they appear in many forms. It is one of the primary means by which God communicates truth to man – by laying spiritual truths alongside concrete pictures. As I’ll develop in the posts to come, I believe that one of those truths being communicated in shadow is the plan of salvation – that there is a shadow covenant in history and in scripture which illustrates God’s greater covenant of redemption.
Lord-willing, I’ll move into Robertson’s definition of a covenant some time next week. Merry Christmas all!