During our senior year in high school (1978–79) three of us went to lunch. Our public high school had an open campus, meaning that we were permitted to come and go so long as we attended classes. We piled into a friend’s rusty, decrepit Ford Pinto—we could see the street through the floorboards. The driver, Scott, said something about how Christians are Abraham’s children. I had never heard such a thing. It seemed like a very radical thing to say. After all, did not Abraham belong to a different dispensation? Aren’t we in the new testament and did not Abraham belong to the Old Testament? I was troubled by the thought that my friend might becoming some kind of a liberal.
The Abrahamic Baseline
For a few reasons (e.g., the influence of Dispensationalism, Anabaptist influences) the tendency of most of America’s 60 million evangelicals is to think of Abraham as belonging to another period of redemptive history unrelated to the new covenant in which we live now. That, however, is not how the Scriptures speak of the covenant of grace that God made with Abraham. The promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 17:7–8 reverberates throughout Scripture:
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Gen 17:7–8; ESV)
The covenant that Yahweh (Gen 17:1) made with Abram involved a change of name. Abram became Abraham. He shall become the father of a multitude (Gen 17:4, 5). Yahweh promised to him a land (8. 7). The substance of the covenant, i.e., that without which there is no covenant, that which is of the essence of the covenant is the promise in v. 7: “to be Elohim (God) to you and to your offspring after you.” That promise, “and I will be their God” is repeated after the land promise in v. 8.
We know that promise at the heart of the covenant (Berith) that Yahweh Elohim made with Abraham because it is repeated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and most importantly, because it reappears in the New Testament whereas the land promise does not, at least not in that form. More on this below.
The Mosaic-Davidic Administration
The Abrahamic covenant did not disappear under Moses. It was not replaced. Paul says, in Galatians 3, that the Mosaic covenant, the “Old Covenant” strictly speaking, was a temporary addition to the Abrahamic that expired with the death of Christ. To Moses Yahweh said,
God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery (Exodus 6:2-9; ESV; emphasis added).
The broad promises made to Abraham were, gradually, temporarily administered to and through God’s more narrow, national people. Nevertheless, the promises made to Abraham 400 years earlier, as Paul reminds us in Galatians 3, continued to be in force. They come expression, however, in terms of the Mosaic, old, national, temporary, and in the words of Hebrews 8:13, obsolete covenant.
The Prophets On The New Administration Of The Abrahamic Covenant
Through the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles, Yahweh, the Elohim of Israel says,
For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers (Jer 7:22-26; ESV; emphasis added).
Here we find the prophet prosecuting the national people for their disobedience. As noted above, under Moses (et seq), until the old covenant expired, the Abrahamic promises are sometimes expressed in national terms. In this case, Jeremiah prosecutes the people for their unbelief and consequent disobedience. Looking toward the future, however, the Lord promised through Jeremiah,
I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart (Jer 24:6–7; ESV).
Jeremiah repeats the Abrahamic promise, including a re-statement of the land promise. Notice too how the promise is adapted in light of their history, in light of the sin and disobedience that had marked their tenure in the land. The substance of the Abrahamic covenant or promise is not an external covenant or promise but one that renews hearts to know Yahweh personally, in new life and in true faith. “They will be my people and I will be their Elohim.” Those people, who receive the heart of the promise, to whom the Lord gives new life and true faith, will return to Yahweh Elohim with their whole heart.
Of course already we hear echoes of the promise of the new covenant more fully expressed in Jeremiah 31:31–34:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares Yahweh For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:31–34; modified from the ESV).
The contrast between the coming new covenant is not with the Abrahamic covenant made in Genesis 17. The coming new covenant will not be like the Mosaic covenant, when Yahweh took Israel by the hand, as it were, and led him out of Egypt. That covenant was breakable (Gal 3:10–20). This covenant is unbreakable. Do not miss the nature of the new covenant: Yahweh will put their law within the hearts of his people such that they shall have no need of Mosaic laws (i.e., the 613 Mitzvoth), which Paul called “a pedagogue” pointing them to the new covenant (Gal 3:24). The heart, the essence of the promise in Jeremiah 33 is the same as Genesis 17: “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Those who receive that promise by grace alone, through faith alone, shall be received before God as forgiven.
These same elements reappear in the re-statement of the Abrahamic promise, in prophetic terms, in Jeremiah 32:36–41. Verse 38 says, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” All the elements of Genesis 12, 15, and 17 reappear, the land, the seed, and the nations. All these things are to come to fruition in the New Covenant. As before in Jeremiah, the promise entails spiritual renewal. The Abrahamic covenant is a covenant of the heart and it is also a covenant of believers and their children. We need not choose between these benefits of the Abrahamic covenant.
We find this very same sort of language in Ezekiel 11:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God (Ezek 11:19–20; ESV).
Again this way of speaking appears in Ezekiel 37:
…neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling-places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. And my servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in mine ordinances, and observe my statutes, and do them (Ezekiel 37:23-24; ASV; emphasis added)
Increasingly the prophets look away from the old, failed, temporary, national Israelite covenant to the new covenant, when the promises made to Abraham so long ago would be realized:
Thus says Yahweh of Hosts: There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. Thus saith Yahweh of Hosts: If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my eyes? says Yahweh of Hosts. Thus says Yahweh of Hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness (Zechariah 8:4-8; emphasis added).
This is almost identical to the language found in Jeremiah 31. The core of the future is the realization of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. The heart of the promise, if you will, is that God will be our God and we shall be his people. That means that he will save his people, he will call them effectually from “the east country” and “from the west country” and they shall all be drawn to “Jerusalem.” The question is not whether but where? To which Jerusalem shall God’s elect be drawn in future? The New Testament clarifies these things.
This theme “I will be your God, you will be my people” is woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. E.g., it is the framework within which we should interpret expressions such as found in Psalm 95:7, “For he is our God, And we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” “Our God” and “his people” is a reflection of the promises made to Abraham.
This theme underlies the vision of the inauguration of the New Covenant in the prophet Joel.
And you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and shall praise the name of Yahweh your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never be put to shame. And you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am Yahweh your God, and there is none else; and my people shall never be put to shame. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke (Joel 2:26-30).
As in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, the New Covenant is described in Old Covenant, Mosaic and Davidic terms. Just as Zechariah employs hyperbole, envisioning children playing in the streets, giving us an idealized vision of the realization of the Abrahamic covenant, here, in Joel Yahweh is pictured as drawing near to his people, of pouring out the Holy Spirit in power, of dreams (a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence), and of wonders.
The Realization Of The Abrahamic Covenant In The New Covenant
Of course, we do not have to guess how to interpret Joel’s version and vision of the realization of the Abrahamic covenant. Luke does it for us in Acts 2 where he narrates for us the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power upon the Apostles (Acts 2:1–4). In that episode, when the curse of Babel (Gen 11:9) began to be turned back, the Spirit empowered the Apostles to preach the gospel of Christ crucified, buried, risen and ascended to Jews gathered in Jerusalem from many nations (Acts 2:8–11). At that moment, the promises made through the prophets, of gathering God’s people began to be fulfilled. When some mocked Peter he, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed that what they were seeing was the very fulfillment of the promises made in Joel 2, which we saw above (Acts 2:14–21). After he preached the law (“you crucified…”) and the gospel (“God raised him up” Acts 2:23, 24) they were “cut to the heart” (v. 37) and asked.
“What shall we do?” Peter commands them to “repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38–39). To what “promise” did Peter refer? In the context of the quotation of Joel 2, the core of which is the Abrahamic promise, and in view of the invocation of the formula of the Abrahamic covenant, “to you and to your children,” it is beyond doubt that Peter, like the prophets before him, was saying to those Jewish men gathered in Jerusalem for the feast, that they were witnessing the inauguration of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. No longer would God’s people be restricted to a single ethnicity. No longer would God’s people be under the tutelage of the 613 commandments. The fulfillment of the promise of the ingathering of the nations was beginning and would continue. This is the significance of the phrase, “and all who are far off…”. In Old Testament prophetic terms, “far off” is a reference to the Gentile nations, whom, as we have already seen God promised one day to call to himself.
In defending the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry, the Apostle Paul appealed to the superiority of the New Covenant ministry over against that of the Old Covenant. In so doing, he invokes the very promises made through Jeremiah and the other prophets. Not only is the Spirit poured out upon the New Covenant people and not only is the law being written on our hearts, but, in Christ, we have become living epistles and documentary evidence of Paul’s New Covenant ministry (2 Cor 3:2–3). This is the force of his contrast between the killing letter, i.e., the law and the life-giving gospel (2 Cor 3:7). The Mosaic expression of the law was a “ministry of death” but the New Covenant is an expression of the Abrahamic covenant. The contest throughout the passage (to verse 18) is between the old, Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant, which is described in Abrahamic terms.
Paul makes connection is unequivocally in 2 Corinthians 6:16 where he paraphrases Leviticus 26:12, Exodus 6:7, Jeremiah 31:33, and Ezekiel 11:20, passages at which we have already considered. “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God,and they shall be my people.” The Abrahamic formula is unmistakably present and foundational to his message to the Corinthians. We, the New Covenant church, are the inauguration of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
The pastor to the Hebrews makes this contrast between the New and the Old, Mosaic covenant explicitly and plainly identifies the New Covenant with the Abrahamic Covenant. The Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, the temple, the sacrifices, were all a “copy and shadow of” heavenly realities (Heb 8:5). Christ’s present, heavenly, ministry on our behalf, as our high priest, the new covenant, is “much more excellent than” the old covenant (Heb 8:6). The Old Covenant was an illustration. The New Covenant is the reality. The New Covenant is “enacted on better promises.” Which promises: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” To prove his point, the pastor quotes Jeremiah 31:31–34, with which we are familiar.
Nations, The Seed, And The Land
The Abrahamic covenant, made in Genesis 12, 15, and in chapter 17 promised nations, an heir, and a land. These are all clearly and authoritatively interpreted in the New Testament. Already in Acts we have seen the promise of a multitude of nations coming to fruition. The Book of Acts is the story of the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise, which fulfillment is occurring even today. The gospel is going forth at this moment to every nation, tongue, and tribe and shall continue to do until Christ returns.
In Galatians 3 Paul says that Christ is the heir or the seed.
Brothers, I speak according to men: Though it be a human covenant, yet when it has been confirmed, no one annuls it or adds to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It does say “to seeds,” as to many; but as to one, And that seed is Christ (Gal 3:15–16.
Paul’s point is that Isaac was not “the seed.” The Judaizers were counting on their ethnicity, which Paul says is irrelevant. This is essentially the same argument that Jesus had with the Jewish authorities in John 8. They Jews boasted of their ethnicity and their biological relation to Abraham. Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did” (John 8:40). What was that work? “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced” (John 8:56). In other words, according to both Jesus and Paul, Abraham was a Christian before the incarnation. He was looking forward to the incarnation of God the Son. He was looking forward to Christ. He is the fulfillment of the promise. Paul explained in Romans 4:8 that Abraham was looking also forward to the inheritance that God had promised him, that all the elect called to faith out of the nations of the world, would be his seed. In hope Abraham “believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall your seed be.” In Romans 9:7 Paul said that it is the children of the promise who are reckoned as Abraham’s seed. He made that very point against the Judaizers. Those who are in Christ are Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:29). Hebrews 2:16 says that believers are Abraham’s seed.
In the same way, in the New Covenant, the land promise is reckoned according to Christ. As it turns out, the land was never about the land.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God…If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Heb 8:8–10; 15–16; emphasis added)
Abraham was never looking for earthly real estate. He was looking for a heavenly city. Paul makes a similar point by way of allegory in Galatians 4.
Some well-meaning but misguided evangelicals describe the way that Paul and Hebrews interpret the promises to Abraham and the way they interpret the prophets (e.g., Jer 31:31–34) as “spiritualizing.” That epithet is unfortunate and, as we have seen, contrary to the Scriptures. I hope that you will not let such rhetoric dissuade you from following the biblical and historic Christian understanding of the fundamental unity of salvation in the Abrahamic covenant, as it was administered before Moses, under Moses, David, and the prophets, and finally realized in Christ and inaugurated in the New Covenant: the administration of the Abrahamic covenant, without types and shadows, in Christ.
My old friend Scott was right. New Testament believers are Abraham’s children because we are united by the Spirit, through faith alone, to the same Savior Jesus who justified Abraham by grace alone, through faith alone. There is one covenant of grace that unites all of redemptive history. The Old, Mosaic Covenant was a temporary addition. It was a codicil, as it were, that has expired with Christ’s death. Please do not confuse Abraham and Moses—such confusion was at the root of the error of the Judaizers—Christ is the Seed, the heir, and we who believe in Christ are the seed and heirs of the promise made to Abraham: “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
One thought after only scanning for now. The sentence: “The broad promises made to Abraham were, gradually, temporarily administered to and through God’s more narrow, national people.”
Don’t you mean Moses?
I’m looking forward to reading this and also sharing with some others.
Oh no!! Too late to edit!
Please disregard my correction suggestion 🙂
I thought that I saw something, but when I looked it wasn’t there!
thanks again for writing this,
Excellent post in many ways. Thank you.
I have a couple questions that are interrelated:
You wrote, “In Romans 9:7 Paul said that it is the children of the promise who are reckoned as Abraham’s seed. He made that very point against the Judaizers. Those who are in Christ are Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:29). Hebrews 2:16 says that believers are Abraham’s seed.”
When we read the command in Genesis 17 for Abraham give the sign of the covenant to his seed, and use such texts as the basis for baptizing our seed, how can we legitimize the continuance of the practice, if, as you stated, the seed of Abraham are those who are in Christ, those who believe?
Just as when we read OT texts which say that all nations will come and worship in Jerusalem, we interpret them in light of the NT and conclude that such texts are not referring to the nations traveling to the Jerusalem below, but the present gathering of the church (i.e. all nations) who have come to Mount Zion, the Jerusalem above to worship the Lord. Therefore, should we not use the same hermeneutic to interpret the OT command for Abraham to give the sign of the covenant to his seed in the light of who that seed is according to the New Testament Scriptures? The seed not being the children of the flesh, but the children of promise- those who believe.
Paul E. Ruchtie
1. We continue the practice on the same basis the it was instituted. The seed was Christ when infant circumcision was instituted. That reality did not prevent Yahweh from commanding that Abraham initiate covenant children. The first child circumcised was Ishmael, who was not in the line of promise. We should not adopt an approach that effectively nullifies infant circumcision, which God clearly commanded.
2. In order to understand the covenant of grace as Scripture describes it, we must understand the distinction between the substance of the covenant of grace and its external administration.
Here’s more on this:
The promises must be administered externally. Merely participating in the external administration of the covenant of grace, however, does not make one a recipient of the substance (Christ and salvation) but ordinarily one does not receive the substance without participating in the external administration.
3. So, to whom does God want us to administer the external signs and seals of the Abrahamic covenant of grace? God’s Word says: “I will be a God to you and to your children.” We become recipients of the substance by grace alone, through faith alone but that does not answer to whom or when the sign and seal of initiation should be administered. Thus, we go back to God’s original command to Abraham. This is why it is so important to distinguish between Abraham and Moses. The Old, Mosaic, has expired but Abraham is not Moses.
4. Where did Yahweh change his mind about admitting children to the visible covenant community? Certainly not in Acts 2:39 nor in any of the “household” passages in Acts. If the Lord no longer intends the children of believers to be initiated visibly into the covenant community, “The promise is to your and to your children” does not signal that radical change of policy. Those Jews at Pentecost could only have interpreted that language in light of 2,000 years of history, in light of God’s clear command and promise to Abraham. Had the intent been to signal: “Yes, I know that we have been initiating our children into the visible covenant community since Abraham but we’re not to do that any longer” such a message is far from clear.
5. “All” the nations were in Jerusalem, or at least the beginning of that process. Again, we must reckon with the way the NT interprets prophetic language. Pentecost was symbolic of the beginning of the ingathering of of the nations to the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s both/and nor either/or. Scripture makes plain, however, that the true Jerusalem (Galatians 4) is the heavenly city not the earthly Jerusalem.
6. It is hard to see how this establishes a hermeneutic that requires us to exclude covenant children from the visible administration of the covenant of grace. The NT is not Baptist. It does not assume that: a) we know with ontological certainty who is actually in possession of the benefits such that they can safely be admitted to the visible covenant community; 2) the nature of the new covenant is so eschatological that there could never be unbelievers participating in the visible administration in the covenant community. See this explanation:
The book of Hebrews was written to professing believers who were being tempted to leave the New Covenant, to go back to Moses. It’s all about the visible administration of the covenant of grace, in which some had “tasted of the powers of the age to come” (ch. 6) and where it is possible to “profane the blood of the covenant” (Heb 10:29) and outrage the Spirit of grace. In other words, Hebrews does not operate on the assumptions about the nature of the new covenant. The Abrahamic pattern of administration continues. In God’s electing grace, some to whom the covenant is outwardly administered come to faith and others do not. It was that way with Abraham and it is still that way. Hence Paul’s explanation in Romans 9. The covenant was outwardly administered to Jacob and Esau but only Jacob received the substance because only Jacob was elect. Only Jacob came to faith. Only Jacob received the substance of the covenant sola gratia, sola fide but both infants received the outward sign of initiation into the covenant community.
It’s not for us to guess who is or isn’t elect nor is it for us to wait until Jacob and Esau make profession of faith before they receive the sign of admission to the covenant of grace. In effect, such a policy turns the sign of admission into the sign of confirmation but that’s not correct. Our Lord instituted two sacraments: a sign of initiation (Baptism) and a sign of confirmation or renewal (the Supper). It is for us to administer the covenant of grace outwardly as God commanded. We initiate unitiated believers and their household.
Does that help?
I follow your answer, but it seems to me you missed part of Paul’s objection. Perhaps, you didn’t and I missed part of your response. Your answer on point 1 was that we continue “on the same basis it was instituted,” and “we should not adopt an approach that effectively nullifies infant circumcision.” Why would it nullify infant circumcision though to claim that the “seed” was a type fulfilled in the Antitype? It seems Paul was asking why the type remains in your hermeneutic, if the Antitype has come. The type does not remain in your hermeneutic when it comes to “the land” or “the sacrifices” etc. Would you say the “seed” is not a type? How do you answer that specific question? Maybe I missed that answer. Thanks!
1. Any argument against infant initiation in the new covenant that could be applied to infant circumcision destroys the unity of the Abrahamic covenant because it changes the nature of the covenant. One cannot say “I accept the Abrahamic covenant” in one breath and then say that its nature has been so changed in the New Covenant that the promise and command is no longer to believers and to their children.
2. Yes, circumcision was prospective of Christ’s death and baptism is retrospective of Christ’s death. Paul teaches this in Colossians 2:11–12 and in Romans 6.
Here are some explanations:
3. One cannot set up an argument or a hermeneutic that, in principle, does away with sacraments since that obviously puts one at odds with the explicit teaching of the NT. It was the bloodshed of circumcision that was fulfilled not infant initiation. There’s nothing inherently typological in a bloodless, infant initiation into the visible covenant community anymore than there is with a bloodless initiation of adult converts. Remember, the Abrahamic promise and pattern includes believers and their children. Those who say that infant initiation is inherently typological and cannot belong to the New Covenant reveal that, despite their protest that they Abrahamic in their covenant theology, in fact they have abandoned the Abrahamic pattern and the continuity of the Abrahamic covenant. They have effectively turned Abraham into Moses.
First and foremost, thank you for your response. I have read all of the article above, some multiple times. My goal in these discussions is the truth, so I will continue to study the arguments.
If I understand correctly, you believe there are two ways of entering the covenant community. One through natural birth, and the other through a credible profession of faith.
A couple questions:
1) As Genesis 17 commands the covenant sign of circumcision to be given to the seed of Abraham, when you baptize an infant are you giving the covenant sign to the seed of Abraham?
2) When you baptize an adult, are you giving the covenant sign to the seed of Abraham?
* Per question 2: I presume that your answer is that you do not know, but that you would assume, upon profession, that the adult professor possesses the faith of Abraham until demonstrated otherwise. That although ministers do not baptize based upon infallible knowledge of who is in possession of faith, they baptize based upon profession of faith. Though baptism can be administered to hypocrites according to the outward administration of the covenant, non-paedobaptists refuse to admit those who do not make a credible profession of faith into the covenant community. So yes, the church at this stage in redemptive history is a mixed multitude, trusting that God will separate the wheat from the chaff on the last day. Therefore, there are those who receive the sign of baptism, taste the powers the age to come, eat the spiritual food at the Lord’s table, and yet come to trample the son of God. As you stated, Dr. Clark, “The book of Hebrews was written to *professing believers* who were being tempted to leave the New Covenant, to go back to Moses. It’s all about the visible administration of the covenant of grace.” I think you’re right. Thus, baptism is administered to professing believers (visible administration of the CofG), even though we know that some who receive the sign of entrance into the visible covenant community do not possess the substance of the covenant. Those who fall away participate in its administration, but never its substance. They are part of the visible church, but not the invisible church.
On a personal note (as Dr. D.G. Hart likes to say, it’s all about meee): There is no other institution I would rather attend than WSC so that I can be trained and ordained to minister in a confessionally Reformed church. So I am wrestling with infant baptism. Maybe the arguments you have given above for infant baptism are correct. I admit they contain an element of persuasiveness. Yet, when I read Galatians, the offspring of Abraham seems to be those who possess the faith of Abraham rather than the natural offspring of believers.
I’m open to being corrected. Please respond as time permits. Or if you would rather discuss privately, feel free to shoot me an email. Either way, thanks.
1. Circumcision/baptism isn’t birth. In the Abrahamic covenant, the children of believers are eligible to receive the sign/seal of initiation. No one “enters the covenant” through birth. One ONLY comes into possession of Christ and his benefits by grace alone, through faith alone.
2. As it has been since Abraham, adult converts ( Abraham) and their children receive the sign of initiation into the visible covenant community.
3. Please read the posts linked above in reply to Chad, especially the post of assumptions & paradigms.
4. Re: administering the sign. We follow the Abrahamic pattern.
Did you read my reply to Chad?
5. Yes, mere professors & hypocrites only participate in the outward administration, not the substance.
6. Yes, the seed inwardly considered are those who believe but we must be careful not to implicitly accuse God of erring when he instituted infant initiation (paedocircumcision). Was Ishmael “the seed”? No. Was he circumcised? Yes. Christ is “the seed” and we become “the seed” by union with him but that has never excluded infants from receiving the sign.
7. Be careful not to turn Abraham into Moses. Paul’s argument is mot with the Abrahamic pattern and covenant but with Judaizers who turn circumcision or baptism into the ground or instrument of our standing with God.
1. No one enters the covenant, not even in an external sense, by birth?
“…Our children have a holiness that is external and covenantal. Paul is not saying (1 Cor. 7:14) that all children have an internal, personal holiness. He is asserting that they are set apart from the world around them, and therefore they are included in the community of the covenant. ***As the biological offspring of believers, they have a physical and external relationship to the covenant from birth.*** God has extended His promises to them as well as to their parents, but these promises must be embraced with believing hearts. Covenant children cannot experience the truth and power of these promises so long as they are unregenerate, unbelieving, and impenitent.
This external and covenantal view maintains a balance…neither overestimating or underestimating the covenant. Picture two circles, one inside the other. The inner circle is solid and represents salvation, the inner essence of the covenant. The outer circle is drawn with a dotted line and represents the covenant in an external way, as a visible community in the world. ***Our children are born into the outer circle*** but move into the inner circle only when they are born again. The outer circle is dotted because some do fall away. But the inner circle is solid because the truly saved persevere with Christ to the end. This accounts for the fact that some biblical texts describe the covenant as breakable (Ezekiel 17:15-16; Zechariah 11:10), and other passages present it as unbreakable (Psalm 89:34; Jeremiah 33:20-21).”
– Joel Beeke, Parenting by God’s Promises, pp. 20-21
There has been a variety of ways of speaking about the relationship of covenant children. I would prefer to say that our covenant children, i.e., children of believers, have, by birth, a right to and interest in the signs and seals of the covenant of grace but they are not ordinarily entered visibly into the covenant community without the signs.
There are two problems that I’m trying to avoid here: 1) the Baptist hangup/preoccupation with the fact that the Abrahamic covenant is administered to believers and their children (seed, externally considered); 2) The view associated with some of Kuyper’s followers, sometimes called “presumptive regeneration,” which says that children are presumed regenerate and therefore baptized. We should rather say that we baptize on the basis of the divine command and promise, without speculating about the spiritual state of the child.
So, the children of believers are covenant children by birth and they do have a relation to the covenant of grace but they are not entered into the covenant community without baptism. Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. Birth is nature. Baptism is grace. These things are distinct.
Does that help?
Very much so.