The Two Kingdoms Doctrine in the Old Testament

Dear Church Family,

In conjunction with our first Midland Reformed Theological Conference a couple of weeks ago with Dr. David VanDrunen who spoke on In the World but Not of the World: A Reformed Two Kingdoms Perspective on Christianity and Culture, I have been reflecting on some of the key concepts from that series of lectures. You can follow the above link to find audio recordings (and now photos) from that conference.

Two weeks ago, I gave a brief introduction to the Biblical Two-Kingdoms Doctrine. Last week, we examined an important point from the first lecture with the helpful distinction we must make between the Church and the individual Christian when it comes to thinking about each’s relationship to the world and the surrounding culture.

This week, I’d like to focus in on some of the important elements from the second lecture of the conference in which Dr. VanDrunen taught on the doctrine of the two-kingdoms from the Old Testament. But first, it might help to have a brief reminder of the definitions of the two kingdoms.

Defining the Two Kingdoms In the Old Testament

The common kingdom is the one in which God has made a covenant with the entire human race and creation, promising to preserve its cultural activities such as procreation and securing justice. The redemptive kingdom is the one in which God has made a covenant with His chosen people, upon whom he bestows eternal salvation by faith, thereby distinguishing them from the rest of the human race. Unbelievers (non-Christians) are members only of the common kingdom; however Christian believers are members of both the redemptive and the common kingdoms (a redeemed people who are in the world, but not of the world). Even as we make these distinctions between the common and redemptive kingdoms, however, it is important to remember that God rules over both, but in different ways and for different purposes.

The covenant (or constitution) which establishes the redemptive kingdom is the covenant which God made with Abraham in Genesis 12 (God’s call to Abraham), Genesis 15 (God’s promise of salvation and Abraham’s expression of faith), and Genesis 17 (the confirmation of the covenant in giving of the sign of circumcision).

The covenant (or constitution) which established the common kingdom is that covenant which God made with Noah after the flood. At this point, you may be asking, “Wait a minute – didn’t God save Noah through the flood? Wasn’t Noah and his family being brought safely through the flood a form of salvation? Doesn’t the New Testament speak of this event as a type which is fulfilled in salvation accomplished by Christ (1 Peter 3:18-22)?”

The Noahic Covenants

To better understand what is meant by the preserving nature of God’s covenant with Noah (as establishing the common kingdom), it is helpful to note that God actually enters into two different covenants with Noah. There is a difference between the pre-flood (antediluvian) covenant which God makes with Noah and the post-flood (postdiluvian) covenant which God makes with Noah.

So, before the flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah and his family, saying:

(Genesis 6:17-18) 17 "Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.  18 "But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark-- you and your sons and your wife, and your sons' wives with you.

 

This is the first time that the word ‘covenant’ appears in Scripture: God establishes a covenant with Noah and his family in which He promises to save them from the judgment that He is about to bring upon all flesh. Certainly this is a redemptive covenant, but one which is made only with Noah and his family – not one which is made with all of creation.

The next time the word ‘covenant’ appears in Scripture is after the flood when God establishes a preserving covenant with Noah, his family, and all creation:

(Genesis 8:20 - 9:7) 20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  21 The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.  22 "While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease."  9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.  2 "The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.  3 "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.  4 "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.  5 "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man.  6 "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.  7 "As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it." 8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying,  9 "Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you;  10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth.  11 "I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth."  12 God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations;  13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.  14 "It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud,  15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.  16 "When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."  17 And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth."

 

So, VanDrunen writes, “To put it simply, while [Genesis] 8:20-9:17 promises preservation of the world while judgment is kept at bay, [Genesis] 6:18 provides for salvation for a small remnant in the midst of a devastating and universal judgment.” (Divine Covenants and Moral Order: A Biblical Theology of Natural Law, 110).

Conclusion

The doctrine of the two kingdoms roots its understanding of the difference between the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom in the difference between the covenant which God made with Noah and the covenant which God made with Abraham. Before the flood, God promised to save Noah and His family from the destruction that He was going to bring upon the earth. Afterward, God entered into a universal covenant with Noah, his family, and all creation in which He promised to preserve the created order and to never again destroy the world by flood again.

Noting this difference between the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ flood covenants with Noah, helps us to see the difference between the universal and preservative nature of the Noahic covenant and the particular and redemptive nature of the Abrahamic covenant. Next week, we shall consider some aspects of the two kingdoms doctrine from the New Testament.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch