Published on May 28, 2024 by Eugene Ho

IVP Academic, 2023 | 272 pages

A Book Review from Books at a Glance

by Peter J. Gentry


James Hely Hutchinson has given us another excellent treatment of biblical theology in the series NSBT edited by D. A. Carson and Benjamin L. Gladd. The focus of this short work is quite simply: what, according to the Book of Psalms is new about the New Covenant?

This question is defended in Chapter One as being a reasonable one in light of treating issues of the New Covenant from an OT text and from a single book in the OT. Hutchinson lays out his presuppositions for analysis of the text and affirms an understanding of Psalms as a single book that has a unified message and plot-structure.

In the second chapter, Hutchinson briefly outlines seven positions on the spectrum of covenant relationships: classical Presbyterianism, Reformed Baptist covenant theology, 1689 federalism, progressive covenantalism, new covenant theology, progressive dispensationalism, and classical dispensationalism. His aim is to discover—at the end of the study—which of these best accounts for the data and his exegesis of relevant texts in the Psalms.

Chapters three through five contain the meat of this study. First Hutchinson considers key data on covenant relationships in Books 1–3 of the Psalter. Some space is devoted to showing how Psalm 2 establishes a new covenant agenda for the Psalter as a whole. Then Hutchinson deals with Psalms 18, 45 and 72, 50-51, and 89. The New Covenant provides and supplies the framework for fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. The conditionality of the Sinai covenant highlights the need for mercy and repentance. Then Hutchinson focuses on the elephant in the room—the agonising question raised at the end of Book 3 in Psalm 89: is the Davidic covenant an unconditional covenant broken by God himself? His survey of Psalms 84-87 shows new covenant fulfilment as framework for fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant.

Hutchinson begins to assemble the building-blocks of the answer in consideration of Book 4 of the Psalter. The Sinai covenant is not invoked as a response to Psalm 89. Rather, the basis of the exiles’ prayer is the Abrahamic covenant (Pss 105-106). Further, Psalm 90 shows how the solution to the problem of the Davidic covenant is connected to the solution of the Abrahamic covenant. Even the Noahic covenant is considered a part of the solution in Psalm 104. The Levitical covenant, as well, is connected to the Davidic covenant in Psalm 106:30-31. He deals with typological structures recapitulated in the new covenant in Psalms 93-100. The new covenant people will be drawn from all nations on the basis of conversion and not including all Israelites. This is based upon the Abrahamic covenant. An eschatological king (Psalm 101) and a suffering servant (Psalm 102) enable the new covenant. So, there is a convergence of Abrahamic, Davidic, and new covenants in providing the solution to the Adamic problem of sin (Psalm 103).

Chapter 5 focuses on the outworking of the answer in Book 5 of the Psalter. In separate sections Hutchinson deals with the convergences of Abrahamic-, Davidic- and new-covenant fulfillment in Pss 107:1-3, 118, and 132-136. Moreover, the “sons of Adam” and “all nations” are included in the new exodus in Psalm 107 but the new covenant is not fulfilled in the post-exilic period (Ps 107:43). In Pss 108-11 and 138-145 David is recapitulated in a superior antitype where king is combined with a suffering servant and the Levitical covenant is fulfilled by a superior priesthood. In Pss 145-150, the Noahic-, Abrahamic-, Davidic- and new covenants converge and their fulfillment is confirmed. Hutchinson summarises his exegesis as follows:

Thus the data of book 5, as well as those of the Psalter’s concluding doxology, reinforce those of book 4, but they also lend greater clarity and precision to the picture of how covenants relate. The perplexity voiced in Psalm 89 is answered by a new-covenant regime that establishes the conditions which provide for the fulfilment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. Accordingly, relative to the Davidic covenant, the new covenant is new both temporally and in its capacity to bring together, in the context of a new exodus, these two covenants that had been established previously. It is also predicated on the stability of the creation guaranteed by the Noahic covenant (p. 151).

Before providing conclusions and summary in Chapter 7 there is a chapter devoted to the role of the law in the new-covenant believer’s life. Here in Chapter 6, Hutchinson draws largely from Ps 11:9 and Ps 119. He seeks to show the permanence of the Mosaic moral law, but a simple renewal of the Sinaitic legislation is not envisaged, although there is some continuity. This seems to be the weakest part of the treatment by Hutchinson. First one must provide a clear definition of what is meant by tôrâ in Hebrew. The word means first and foremost ‘direction’ or ‘instruction’ and refers to the instruction(s) given in the covenant. The term tôrâ does not correspond well to the notion of ‘law’ in western civilisation. In addition, tôrâ and covenant are two sides of the same coin in the same way that faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin in the New Testament. The tôrâ constitutes the content or stipulations in the covenant. Moreover, we cannot easily divide the Mosaic covenant into moral, civil, and ceremonial law. These categories are not native to literary structure of the texts themselves but imposed upon them by Christian theologians (in spite of recent attempts to gainsay this claim). What we can say in positive terms is that the justice and righteousness of God expressed in the tôrâ or instruction of the Old Covenant is, in essence, the same justice and righteousness we see expressed in the New Covenant, even though we are not bound by the tôrâ of the Old Covenant since our relationship to God is not defined by the Mosaic Covenant. Instead, we are under the tôrâ of the New Covenant: the instruction given by Jesus and his Apostles and written upon our hearts moment by moment by the Holy Spirit. I seek to demonstrate this in Kingdom through Covenant and especially in the essay entitled “Sanctification under the New Covenant” in the booklet Biblical Studies. The texts in the Psalms to which Hutchinson appeals would indeed support this and his thesis would be better served in general by the approach I suggest.

Finally, Hutchinson draws together the different strands of his investigation in twenty-eight short statements and a diagram showing aspects of the interconnectedness of the covenants. This is followed by two key summarising phrases:

The newness of the new covenant relative to the Davidic covenant may be summarized by means of two phrases of two words each: (1) ‘eschatological satisfaction’ and (2) ‘transcendent inauguration’. On the one hand (1), the conditions that provide for the fulfilment of the Davidic covenant are satisfied, following the exile, thanks to the convergence of several covenants in their fulfilment. On the other hand (2), a glorious new regime is inaugurated, transcending the provisions of the Davidic covenant, in which blessings originally promised to Abraham flow to people of all nations, on the basis of conversion (p. 172).

Once Hutchinson has summarised his findings, he seeks to evaluate the seven models or positions on the spectrum of covenant relationships. These are evaluated according to the following criteria: (1) covenant partner and beneficiary, (2) typology and the ‘transcendence’ implied by the new covenant, (3) combination of kingship and priesthood, (4) discontinuity with the Sinaitic covenant and distinctions between covenants, (5) quality of newness, (6) temporality of newness, (7) climax, timing, and mode of fulfilment, (8) convergence in fulfilment, (9) tension between conditionality and unconditionality, and (10) the Law of Moses. In short, Hutchinson finds the model or position best fitting his findings is progressive covenantalism, something I had not anticipated at the outset. Nonetheless, Hutchinson not only finds weakness in the other positions, but commends them for some strengths as well.

What Hutchinson contributes to the discussion most significantly is clarification on the relationship of the covenants to each other. This was a genuine learning experience for me and an advance on so-called progressive covenantalism as expounded in Kingdom through Covenant by myself and Stephen J. Wellum. The following statement is an example of this: 

Yet it must be understood that the Davidic covenant has a conditional dimension and that the fundamental problem that needs to be resolved is not the exile but sin (Pss 90; 106). The Noahic covenant does not deal with sin, but it does provide for the stability of the creation (Ps. 104). The Abrahamic covenant will give rise to the solution, although it does not, in and of itself, equate to this solution (Pss 105 – 106). What is required is a (superior) antitype of the structures of Israel’s history (Pss 93 – 100; 106): a greater mediation, exodus, city, temple, earth (cosmos) … and king. It appears that fulfilment of the Levitical covenant remains on the agenda (Ps. 106), and this must also mean that the Davidic covenant will reach fulfilment (cf. Jer 33) (pp. 166-167).

There were a few places where the evidence provided to support the claims made by Hutchinson were slim (e.g. Ps 132 on p. 141). Indeed, more could be mined from Psalm 132. I show in Kingdom through Covenant (pp. 463-464) that Psalm 132 is a prayer for Yahweh to keep his oath to David based upon a faithful David. Verse 10 states, “On account of your servant David, do not turn away the face of your anointed one.” The preposition “on account of” always means in the Old Testament “on account of what a person did” and never “on account of doing something on behalf of a person.” Doubtless in Book 5 of the Psalter, this refers to a future David and not the David of history. This confirms exegesis of Isaiah 55:3 where the faithful acts of kindness of David are performed by a future David (e.g. the atoning death of the servant in Isaiah 53) as the basis for a new covenant. The exegesis of Ps 144:14 on p. 144 also seemed a stretch. Most of the time, however, the exegesis adduced clearly supported his thesis.

This work by Hutchinson contributes significantly to clarifying the role of each covenant in the metanarrative of Scripture and in particular, how the new covenant brings the others to fulfilment and transcends them all. I heartily commend this work to benefit all Christians, whether lay person or scholar.


Peter Gentry 

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IVP Academic, 2023 | 272 pages

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