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  • « Regeneration in the ESV Study Bible | Main | Exiled Preacher Guy Davies interviews John Hendryx »

    ESV Study Bible: Covenant Vs. Dispensational

    Many visitors have asked me where the new ESV Study Bible comes down on the issue of Covenant theology vs. Dispensationalism. The ESVSB being so broadly eccumenical again gave hesitation because I thought it may not take a stand on this issue. I was wrong again. Eccumenial in this instance, simply means the contributors included Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicals and Charismatic. But the is it overall most definitely Reformed and quite strikingly covenantal in most places. While the Study Bible (perhaps wisely) does not take a firm stand on any millennial view, it does seem to openly affirm some basics of Covenant Theology rather than Dispensationalism or New Covenant Theology.

    Vern S. Poythress wrote the ESVSB introductory article at the front of the Bible entitled Overview of the Bible: A Survey of the History of Salvation. As a committed covenant theologian, this view is clearly articulated here. This is a great article but especially read the subsections entitled, Covenants, Offspring, Christ the Last Adam and Shadows, Prefigures, and “Types”

    Read Poythress ESVSB article here in .pdf

    Also in some of the Bible notes it has the same ideas expressed:

    Heb 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And a being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

    The note for Hebrews 5:8-10 says

    Heb. 5:8 Although he was a son. See 1:1–14 and 5:5. Jesus, though fully divine, was also fully human. he learned obedience through what he suffered. Though always without sin (4:15; 7:26) and thus always obedient, Jesus nevertheless acquired knowledge and experience by living as a human being (cf. Luke 2:40, 52), and he especially came to know firsthand what it cost to maintain obedience in the midst of suffering (see notes on Heb. 2:9; 2:10; 2:18; 4:15). As Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52), successive temptations were no doubt more difficult to deal with (cf. Luke 4:12), and as he obeyed his Father in the face of each temptation, he “learned obedience,” so that his human moral ability was strengthened.

    Heb. 5:9–10 being made perfect. During his childhood, Jesus was not lacking in any godly character quality, but he was lacking in the full experience of having lived a perfect human life, obeying the Father in everything, without sin. The lifelong perfect obedience of Jesus (v. 8; 7:26–28) provides the basis for eternal salvation (2:10; 9:23–28) and for the ultimate “perfection” of those who respond in faith and obedience (10:14; 11:40; 12:23; cf. 7:19; 9:9; 10:1). order of Melchizedek. See 5:6 and ch. 7.

    While the terms Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism are never used as far as I can see, the ideas of CT are certainly articulated. It also may be of interest to note that the editors and a large number of the contributors subscribe to covenant theology, but I did notice one or two progressive dispensationalists like D. Bock as well. But the General Editors J.I. Packer and Wayne Grudem are clearly covenant in their outlook. See Grudems essay on The Covenant of Works which will cast aside all doubts where he stands. He is a credo baptist but in all else he is covenantal.

    But also note that in very important critical books of the New Testament which touch upon this issues, the authors of the notes are covenantal. For example, the notes for Reveation are done by Dennis Johnson from Westminster Seminary; the notes for Ephesians are by S.M. Bough, also from Westminster, Hebrews by David Chapman from Covenant Seminary etc. Just one big happy family here. While I may not agree with everything in the notes, but overall the Bible has exceeded my expectations.

    Posted by John on October 21, 2008 12:19 PM


    That's a question I've had about the ESV study Bible--thanks for answering that question.

    reproduces the Vos "two-age" model chart as the main feature of New Testament eschatology (p. 1804)

    To be fair, what study bible(s) would you recommend that fairly represents the Dispensational view?

    You mentioned the study Bible affirms CT rather than NCT. Do you recall any specific instances where the content is against NCT?

    Hi Patrick. Thank you for your question about Bibles.

    If you want a soteriologically Calvinistic bible which is dispensational but not Reformed I would recommend the MacArthur Study Bible.

    hope this helps


    Per your question on NCT, the ESVSB does not publish anything directly against Dispensationalism or NCT as far as I can tell. It simply affirms Covenant Theology in many places, including the covenant of works, the covenant of grace (without using these names) and the two-age model etc.


    If you all are looking for solidly reformed and covenental viewpoint in a study Bible the Reformation Study Bible edited by RC Sproul is the way to go. It is available in ESV and I got mine through I love mine. The notes are detailed and have some depth so it works out great for me.


    Thanks for the study bible recommendation. I know John MacArthur and learning more about dispensational theology. You described his study bible as "soteriologically calvinistic but no reformed."

    What are the major tenants of the "reformed" camp that John MacArthur misses? I often equate Reformed and Calvnistic as one in the same but your comment suggests they are not?

    Please elaborate.

    Hi Patrick

    Thanks for your inquiry about the difference between being Calvinistic in Soteriology but not Reformed.

    Reformed Theology is actually the same as Covenant Theology, which is, of course, not Dispensationalism. There are, however, some Dispensationalists, for example John MacArthur, who embrace the five points of Calvinism (but he has only done so since 1997). When I first was converted to Christianity I sat under the ministry of John MacArthur since LA is my home town. I actually love his ministry and I think he is one of the most effective preachers ever. He is very biblical, but I must acknowledge that he seemed to go away from his biblical exegesis every time he spoke of dispensational theology like the rapture. I just could not personally see it in the Scripture (although I wanted to) so I never embraced it even though I went to his church as a new Christian. I also did not see the radical bifurcation of the people of God in the Old testament and New Testament that dispensationalists tend to have. Both Jews and gentiles I believe are saved by grace alone and both are part of the body of Christ and we receive the same promises, as Paul declarees in Ephesians. All God's promises find their yes in Christ. To embrace Dispensationalism one must believe that the Temple will be literally rebuilt and the sacrifices reinstituted, as if this were a good thing -- but this is a step backwards in redemptive history, and sternly warned against in the book of Hebrews. The Temple is what pointed to Christ, the True Temple and we are united to Him. Jesus is the True Isreal of God because only He obeyed the law of God perfectly and all those united to him are also the true Israel, the seed of Abraham.

    This is what the Protestants from the time of the Reformation have generally believed, and this is why it is called Reformed Theology but in the 19th century Dispensationalism arose which sees Israel and the church as being different - having different promises. Covenant Theology affirms rather that the church does not replace Israel but expands from it. Before Jesus there were mostly only Jews who comprised the church, Now both Jews and Gentiles both comprise the same church and both are given the same promises which are fulfilled in Christ. The Bible is not Israelocentric but Christocentric.

    Dispensationalists have varying beliefs about Calvinism. Some are outright Arminian and some, like those at Dallas Seminary are four-point Calvinists, but John MacArthur is a five point Calvinist. He is the only dispensationalist in the Hall of Contemporary Reformers.

    But of Covenant (reformed) Theologians, all without exception are five point Calvinists. Reformed theology covers a lot more than merely the doctrines of grace. It is a unified view of the Scriptures that Jesus Christ fulfilled the covenant from our side, living the life we should have lived and died the death we deserve. Hope this helps clarify a little.


    It would be interesting to hear about how the ESVSB addresses the Six Days of Creation, Charismaticism, Baptism, Church government and worship.


    I would not get your hopes up on the ESVSB taking strong stands on many of those things. So far from what I have seen it seems rather amorphous on these issues, but I will look into it when I get the opportunity.


    I understand the laudable 'reformed' ecumenical approach of the ESV project as a whole, so I expected that the Doctrines of Grace would be the main point of unity aside from the general evangelical faith.

    I was interested in how the tension between the various beliefs (e.g. subjects of baptism) would affect the usefulness of the ESVSB, i.e. would there be robust (but loving) statements from the various sides


    I have not run accross anything on this issue yet. It would be too early for me to comment.


    Most Study Bibles will find detractors based upon some content contained within which differs on Doctrinal issues. The issue in question will of course depend upon the Christian or Theologian in question for everyone is different. Whether or not it is Covenant vs Dispensational or Baptism or Pre-tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath it is not going to be possible to find a study Bible that everyone agrees with. My impression of the ESV Study Bible is that it is a contemporary work that involves a lot of study and research and has some very good and useful material. I'm evaluating my feelings about the ESV Study Bible and whether or not I want to keep it but as to now I'm quite impressed with it's content and think it will be a great addition to any Christian's library.

    I am trying to get a handle on the difference in dispensational and reformed theology, I would like to know what churches embrace the different theologies. thank you

    I confess I feel a bit left out in the cold. I am a pastor who uses the ESV as his main pulpit Bible (and love it) but I am Wesleyan (and amillennial) in theology. I don't own a copy of the ESV Study Bible and it appears that I should wait for a generous soul to just give me one! lol

    Perhaps I am a bit of an oddity...a Wesleyan who loves the ESV...but my Greek professor was an old RSV man (NOT a NRSV enthusiast) and I see the ESV as the logical revision of the RSV.

    From what I can tell by looking at the contributing scholars, only one is from a blatantly Wesleyan school (Wesley Biblical Seminary).

    While I love my Reformed brethren and own The MacArthur Study Bible, etc. I do wish the notes were a bit more amorphous (but this, no doubt, would be to the consternation of the TULIP pickers among us! lol).


    The ESV Study Bible has many contributors who hold to neither CT or dispensationalism. For example, Thomas Schreiner and Scott Hafemann both have issues with traditional Reformed covenant theology. However, it is correct to say that the ESV Study Bible is geared towards a Calvinistic soteriology.

    I need to correct something. Earlier it was stated:

    "To embrace Dispensationalism one must believe that the Temple will be literally rebuilt and the sacrifices reinstituted..."

    I don't know where that came from as it is not a dispensational view.

    This is a good place to go:

    The major difference is that dispensationlists see a distinction between Israel and the Church. I believe that is clear in the NT>

    On behalf of dispensationalists, I'd like to add that in addition to recognizing a clear distinction between the nation of Israel and the church, we recognize the unconditional and everlasting promises of God which He made to the nation of Israel. We believe that God fulfills all of His promises and that He will therefore fulfill all of His promises to the nation of Israel. Otherwise, what hope do we have of His keeping His promises to the church?


    Wow 3 years later and I see your reply to my original question. Thank you. I wish the comment thread offered an email notification of some kind.. but I digress.

    Since our original conversation I've heard MacArthur admit that he's a "leaky dispensationalist." Can you give examples regarding your comment:

    "He is very biblical, but I must acknowledge that he seemed to go away from his biblical exegesis every time he spoke of dispensational theology like the rapture."

    Thank you

    Hi John, in a response to Patrick on October 22, 2008 you said that only John MacArthur was "the only dispensationalist in the Hall of Contemporary Reformers." I think you would would have to add Tommy Ice to that list. I do believe he is firmly five points and also very much a traditional dispensationalist.

    Daniel Hill
    Liberia Wes Africa

    Hi John.
    I am very confused about Covenant Vs. Dispensational, which book would you recommend me to learn about this?

    I've read all the post and I have to say you gave an excellent answer to Patrick on 2008.


    Before John MacArthur and Tommy Ice, threre was the late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson. Because of his strict adherence to the doctrines of grace, Dr. Johnson experienced a falling out of sorts with his boss, the late Dr. John Walvoord, who was the president of Dallas Theological Seminary at that time. Eventually, Dr. Johnson left DTS as his views weren't welcomed any longer.

    Dr. Johnson pastored at The Believers Chapel in Dallas, Texas for many years. Dr. Sam Storms used to be on staff there in the late 70s and early 80s. The Believers Chapel website contains most, if not all, of Dr. Johnson's sermons. If I'm not mistaken, Dr. Johnson rejected the pre-trib view later in life for the post-trib view. He remained a premillennialist until his passing in 2004.

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