Posted by: stpowen | September 24, 2009

The Covenants Part IV. The Abrahamic Covenant

Read Gen 12:1-3; 17:1-14; Gal 3:1-18; 4:21-31

It  is hard to know how to approach this article; there is a bewildering amount of information on Abraham  to be found in both  Old and New Testaments.   Also, the Abrahamic Covenant is the most controversial of all the covenants, having been very much tied in with the question of baptism. In his booklet, What Christian Parents should Know about Infant Baptism, John P. Sartelle commenced by writing, ‘We begin our study with the Old Testament character, Abraham.’  Now it goes without saying that Abraham was not himself baptized, nor did he ever baptize anyone, but nonetheless, paedobaptists argue that since male infants were circumcised in ancient Israel, the infant children of Christians ought to be baptized.  In my opinion it is a fundamental error to start looking at a New Testament ordinance in the Old Testament;  we should start with Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2).  However, I hope to consider the question of the relation of circumcision to baptism in a separate article.  Here we shall consider the Abrahamic Covenant as a whole.

The covenant with Abraham is revealed to us in four stages:-

  1. Gen 12:1-3.  The covenant Announced.  The word ‘covenant’ is not mentioned here but Peter in Acts 3:23 makes it clear that God’s initial promises to Abram were part of the covenant.  The three part of the covenant, Land, Nation, Seed are made clear.
  2. Gen 15.  The Covenant Transacted.  The word ‘covenant’ is used in connection with Abraham for the first time, and a sacrifice is made.  It is important to note that circumcision is not part of the covenant at this stage.  The blessings promised to Abram are on the basis of his faith alone.
  3. Gen 17.  The Covenant Instituted.  He receives a new name, and the sign of the covenant, circumcision,
  4. Gen 23.  The Covenant Confirmed.  Abraham’s faith is proved by his actions (cf. Heb 11:17) and the promises repeated.

The Abrahamic Covenant, like the covenants with Adam (Gen 3:15) and Noah, is a ‘covenant of promise’ (Eph 2:12).  The word promise is used quite frequently in the New Testament with reference to Abraham (Acts 7:5; Rom 4:12; 9:4-9; Gal 3:5-29; 4:28; Heb 6:13-20; 11:9, 13, 17).  The promises are ‘in Christ’  (Gal 3:17 NKJV.  cf. 2Cor 1:20) as well as ‘of Christ’ (Gal 3:16); that is, they refer to Christ and are for those who are His by faith.  The ‘Seed of the woman,’ spoken of in Gen 3:15, is shown to be also the Seed of Abraham, but the blessing is to the whole world.  The promises are entirely gracious.  There was nothing in Abraham to make him worthy of being the recipient of these promises.  He was not brought up in a household that worshipped Yahveh;  ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of  Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the river in old times: and they served other gods’ (Josh 24:2-3).  It was not the piety of Abraham which commended him to God, but grace alone through God’s sovereign election.   Nor could Abraham do anything to bring the promises about; he and Sarah might have been married for about fifty years before ever God spoke to him (cf. Gen 12:4), and they were doubtless already resigned to childlessness, but God was pleased to show him unmerited favour.

With whom was the Abrahamic Covenant made?  Only with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  These last two received the Abrahamic promises not through their relationship to Abraham, but directly from God (Gen 26:2-5; 28:12-15).  The covenant is made with no one else.  If I believe that God is going to make a great nation out of me, or make me a blessing to all nations, or give my descendants the Land of Canaan as a possession, I am more than likely to be deceiving myself.   Nor could an Israelite appropriate the promises to himself;  any of Abraham’s descendants other than Isaac and Jacob might be childless.  But when we place our faith in the promised Seed, we may appropriate the promised blessing as we become a child of Abraham by faith (Gal 3:7) and inherit the heavenly country that Abraham sought and found (Heb 11:15-16).  The covenant ‘with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ is repeatedly mentioned in Scripture (Exod 2:24; 32:13; Lev 26:42; Num 32:11; 2Kings 13:23; 1Chron 16:16ff; Psalm 105:9 etc.) but no one else is ever spoken of as being in the covenant with them.

We have said that the covenant promises to Abraham were of land, nation and seed.  Each of these has both an earthly and a heavenly fulfilment.  There is an earthly land of Canaan which the Israelites eventually came to inherit, but we are told in Romans 4:13 that the promise was for the whole world (cf.  Matt 5:5; Rev 5:10), and in Heb 11:16 that Abraham looked forward to a heavenly city.  These are fundamentally the same promise and refer to the new heavens and new earth and also to the heavenly Jerusalem of Rev 21;1-3 which Abraham will inherit along with all believers at the end of time.  Likewise, there was an earthly nation descended from Abraham who came to live in Canaan, but we learn from Gal 3:7 that believers of all nations are his true descendants and it is they who will inherit the heavenly promises.

This brings us nicely on to the two seeds of Abraham; for there are two seeds with two different promises.  Firstly, there is a physical seed to whom are given physical promises- a great nation and a physical land for it to dwell in.  These promises were received by Israel in full (Josh 21:43-45).  This seed ‘after the flesh’ (Gal 4:29) is represented by Ishmael.  It is most important to understand that Ishmael is not in the Covenant.  ‘And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!”  Then God said, “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish My covenant with him”’ (Gen 17:18-19).  Nothing could be clearer than this; Ishmael is not in the covenant, although he receives the covenant sign (v26).  Ishmael, though not an Israelite, is a type of Israel after the flesh.  He receives the earthly promises (Gen 17:20) and the outward sign, but not the spiritual blessings (Gal 4:30; Acts 7:51-53). He persecutes the True Seed (Gen 21:9; John 8:37ff; Gal 4:29).  His circumcision is of no avail to him since he lacks what circumcision symbolized; a humble, circumcised heart (Jer 9:25-26).

There is also a spiritual seed of Abraham;  those who are in Christ, the True Seed, by faith.  These are they who are looking for a heavenly country just as Abraham was.  Just as Abraham did not receive an earthly inheritance (Acts 7:5 etc), so the true Israelite knew that Canaan was not his true home (Psalm 39:12; 119:19. cf. 1Peter 2:11).   He put no confidence in his circumcision, but rather his circumcision spoke to him of the promised Seed of Abraham who should come (cf. Luke 2:25-32; Phil 3:3).

It may be asked then, are there two Abrahamic covenants, one to the physical descendants of Abraham and one to his spiritual seed?  No, for as we have seen, Ishmael receives certain promises,  and is given the sign of circumcision, but he is not in the covenant.  But what then of Gen 17:10ff, which says, “This is My covenant which you shall keep between me and you and your descendants (lit. ‘Seed’)  after you.  Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you………and the uncircumcised male child who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant”?   How could someone break the covenant if he’s not in it?

As so often in the Scriptures, we can use the New Testament to shed light upon the Old.  First, we can look at circumcision:  ‘And [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also’  Rom 4:11).   First we should note that circumcision was not a seal of anything to anybody but Abraham, and even to him it was simply a confirmation of the blessings that had been already promised to him.  It was a divine pledge to him that from him should come that Seed through Whom all nations should be blessed.  It was not a seal of his faith, but of the righteousness that should, in due time, be wrought by Christ in Whom he had believed (cf. John 8:56).

What then did circumcision signify to Abraham’s physical male progeny and to his male servants?  Well, firstly it had nothing to do with faith.  It was a requirement for service in Abraham’s household.  If you wanted to work for Mr Abraham, you had the snip.  Indeed, nowhere in the entire Bible will you find physical circumcision connected with anybody’s faith but Abraham’s.   In itself it signified precisely nothing.  From the descendants of Abraham, the Messiah would be born, but it did not follow that any particular descendant should be an ancestor of Christ.  Circumcision was a sign, not to  Abraham’s physical seed, but to those ‘Israelites indeed’ (John 1:47) who were looking forward to Christ by faith, that the promises of God should eventually be fulfilled.

Next we can look at the ‘promises:’  Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ……..and if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Gal 3:16, 29).  In the light of this divinely-inspired commentary on Gen 17, it is perverse of the NKJV and other modern translations to speak of ‘descendants’ in Gen 17:10 and elsewhere, instead of ‘seed.’  The Authorised Version is more reliable at this point.  The spiritual promises of the Abrahamic Covenant never applied to those who were physical descendants of Abraham, but to those of all nations (including Israel, of course) who are in Christ by faith.  Very solemn are the words of our Lord on this matter:  “And I say to you that many will come from east and west and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the sons of the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:11-12).

So we see that the Abrahamic Covenant is tied up with the coming of the promised son- the miracle  child (Gen 15:2-6).  Isaac is not Christ, but he is a type or foreshadowing of Christ:  long promised, born miraculously, persecuted by his own kin (Ishmael), offered up by his father, who received him (figuratively- Heb 11:19) back from the dead.  The children of God come from him (Rom 9:7; Heb 3:5b).  It is worth reading Isaiah 54 prayerfully in the light of these points.

So are Christians in some way ‘under’ the Abrahamic Covenant?  The reader may search the whole Bible through but he will find no indication that they are.  Believers are the true children of Abraham, and we read in Gal 3:14 that, ‘…….. the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.   There is no promise here for the children of believers, any more than there was for Abraham’s children by Hagar or Keturah (Rom 9:7 again!).  ‘Know therefore that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham’ (Gal 3:7).

In the words of  A.W.Pink:  “The grand design of God’s covenant with Abraham was to make known that through him should come the One who would bring blessing to all the families of the earth.”  But in order for this design to come to pass, it was necessary for a nation to arise for Christ to be born into, so that His earthly genealogy might be preserved.  Pink continues, “Abraham is called a ‘father’ neither in a federal nor in a spiritual sense, but because he is the head of the faith clan, the prototype to which all believers are conformed.  Christians are not under the Abrahamic covenant, though they are ‘blessed with him’ by having their faith counted unto righteousness.  Though New Testament believers are not under the Abrahamic covenant, they are, because of their union with Christ, heirs of its spiritual inheritance.”

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Responses

  1. ISHMAEL WAS IN THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

    Steve, I believe the most productive response to this post will be t focus on the matter of who are members of the Abrahamic covenant. Perhaps the best quote from the post is: “Nothing could be clearer than this; Ishmael is not in the covenant, although he receives the covenant sign (v26).”

    This is a large part of the differences between Baptists and paedo-baptists who hold to covenant theology. It is true that Gal. 3 has to be dealt with with respect to its statements on “seed” singular, not plural. However, let’s start by dealing with the Biblical givens from the Old Testament.

    How can it be said that Ishmael is not in the covenant even though he received the covenant sign? What would the covenant sign mean in a situation like that? Why would God instruct Abraham to give the sign of the covenant to someone if that person was not in some sense a member of that covenant?

    It is incorrect to see Ishmael as not a member of the covenant because he was not a member by the promise. It is correct to see Ishmael as a physical member.

    Gal. 3 speaks of the true, or spiritual members of the covenant, born according to the promise. That is the ultimate purpose of the Abrahamic covenant, but one cannot throw out the physical aspect because of the spiritual aspect.

    I will leave my comments at this for the time being. Hopefully more fruitful discussions will follow.

    Herb Kraker

  2. Hello Herb,
    Thanks for you comment. I cannot see how you can avoid the clear statement of Gen 17:18-19. ‘And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!” Then God said, “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him.”’ Just because this text doesn’t fit in with your pre-conceived scheme of how the covenant ought to be, you cannot pretend that these verses don’t say what they very clearly say.

    As for the meaning of Ishmael’s circumcision, I hope I explained it in my article. Ishmael is a type of srael after the flesh. He receives the outward sign and the worldly blessings, but he does not receve the covenant blessings which were given to Abraham and his Seed who is the Lord Jesus Christ and those who are in Him by faith. ‘Here am I and the children whom God has given to me.’

    One question you might like to consider is why the Mosaic covenant is referred to several times in the NT as the ‘First’ covenant when there were several covenants that came before it. I think that if you find the answer to that question you may find it helpful to your understanding.

  3. Steve, being on vacation I do not have my lexicons to refer to, but I would like to do a study of the term “establish.” It could well carry the meaning that through Isaac God will make the covenant solid, lasting. It doesn’t mean that Ishmael is not a member of the covenant.

    An excellent book in this regard is Meredith Kline’s “By Oath Consigned.” He goes into what covenants were in that place and time. They were treaties between powerful kings and lesser princes. The covenant was made with the lesser prince and every member of his principality. Without these insights from extra-biblical sources the rite recorded in Genesis 15 where Abram cuts animals in two and a smoking fire pot passes between the pieces etc. is a very strange ritual. I believe that kind of information helps us to better understand the Abrahamic covenant.

    I am not avoiding “the clear statement of Gen 17:18-19” – these various considerations need to be worked through.

    I do agree with you – and this is a very important aspect – that Ishmael only enjoyed the physical benefits of the covenant, not the eternal. And that is also true of every member of the covenant who does not accept Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour.

    I have not studied the passages where the Mosaic covenant is referred to as the first covenant. I will check your other posts.

    Herb Kraker

  4. Steve, thinking about this further I would like to make the following request. You know that my main interest in these discussions is focused on the pros and cons of believer’s baptism vs. infant baptism. I believe that is largely the case for yourself as well.

    I believe the matter of whether Ishmael was a member of the covenant is crucial, close to the heart of the baptism discussions. I would encourage you, as you consider the above, to consider the big picture implications of this issue. If Ishmael was not a member of the covenant, what support does that bring to believer’s baptism?

    Thanks!
    Herb

  5. Dear Martin,

    Though I have read and reread your Covenant Four article, I was so baffled by it as it reflected quite a new theology to me. I could not thus comment but in view of Bro.Herbs remarks, I feel rather clearer in my mind to attempt a few remarks .First of all you write:

    “In my opinion it is a fundamental error to start looking at a New Testament ordinance in the Old Testament; we should start with Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2). However, I hope to consider the question of the relation of circumcision to baptism in a separate article.”

    This is my major worry with Baptists who refuse to deal with baptism pan-Biblically but only via a few isolated NT texts interpreted through the medium of pagan linguistic usage. The fundamental error is demonstrably thus the ignoring of the pan-Biblical teaching and Biblio-linguistic clear evidence, including that of the OT. You claim that Christ is the Author and Perfector of Faith. Why then not allow Him to be the Author and perfector of Abraham’s and all the OT saints, too? The doctrines of the gospel began with the Fall. Remember, it was the OT saints that the author of the Hebrews you quote was refering to as the Fathers of our faith in Christ.

    I must challenge your double use of the word ‘seed’ as if it reduces the covenant promises either to the faithful only or pays no attention to the fact that the physical seed bore the spiritual seed. In spite of what you say, you divide the one Abramic covenant thus into two. Those promises were to the, as yet, faithless to teach them the way of faith so that God could chose out a people for Himself. I realise you have limited all the words to do with the spiritual and physical children of Abraham to a split one for sake of simplification but it is an over-simplification. It does not work as the word seed is used of all Abraham’s descendents as the Father of Nations as also the Father of the Faithful, the one being included in the other. The Abrahmic Covenant is part of our address to sinners and is not a gospel for the already saved only. Since when, anyway, are we only to reveal God’s covenant promises to the elect.? Personally, I have never met a man openly labelled thus.

    Then there is your odd notion that the Abrahamic covenant was only for a few generations. Remember that the NT statrts with the assurance that the Abrahamic Covenant is still very rigorous and effectual in spite of its ripe old age!

    I agree, however, that Ismael was not a carrier of the direct covenantal promices as he was born before the covenant was inaugurated. However, the fact is that Abraham is the Father of Nations and the gospel is also for those who are ‘afar off’. This would embrace present, Gentile infidels, Jews, Roman Catholics and Mohamadans. You and I do not believe there is no covenantal salvation for them.

    It is quite wrong to deny the spiritual nature of circumcision and thus declare that circumscion was a mere physical sign but baptism a mere spiritual one. True, circumcision was a bloody, physical sign which gave way to baptism, clearly prepared in the Old Testament, as Jesus shed blood put an end to all bloody signs but the picture of sprinkling and pouring and the added detail of being clothed remained in baptism. However, both circumcision and baptism remain also both physical and spiritual signs. When the NT adresses children as included in the saints and the churches they write to, they are often full of OT material prophesies which they apply materially to the children of believers. When Baptists argue that these promises are merely to children at least half grown-up and able to discuss their faith adultfully after reaching a theoretical age of descretion, this fights the Scriptural evidence full on. Few adults indeed would be baptised if this were so and who would be their judge? Not the minister, and certainly not the common or garden run of church members.

    It is also quite wrong to look to circumcision (as opposed to baptism) as a Jewish sign only, and thus conclude it has no relevance to baptism. Abraham was not a Jew as Jewry needed over another four hundred and fifty years to be revealed. Circumcision was always ALSO for believing adults outside of Jewry and their children and descendents. By degrees at first but then wholescale. There was no decree of God to alter this ever. Did not Zacharias see his son and Jesus as continuing in the Abrahamic covenant? It is very strange that you equate circumcision as a mere parental responsibility to snip their boys irrespective of faith but you scold believing parents whom you believe do likewise. Both ideas are equally foreign to Scripture. Which believing Jew merely circumcised irrespective of faith and which believing Christian baptises on the same grounds? Comparing a caricature with a caricature cannot produce the real thing and remains merely ridiculous.

    So, too, we must not forget the enormously gracious promises God made to Ishmael. In the enthusiasm of Christian Zionists, this is often forgotten. Though many unconverted Jews see Ishamel’s inheritance protected by God, many ‘converted’ Christians would identify Jewry with land and material possessions and ban Ishmael’s inheritance. They thus fall short of being spiritual Jews. I must honestly confess that most of these ‘Christians’ are various forms of Baptists who treat the OT merely materialistically or as a theological cast off garment. We forget that Baptists hide their Christianity behind the banner of their post-Biblical view of Baptism and even give their churches that name. It is high time that they became more self-critical and open to all that God has prepared in the entire Scriptures for them and their offspring so that they might better witness to the entire gospel from Genesis to Revelation to others than waste much time on defending a rite which has no evangelical purpose but to show the way the adult believer has taken in obedience. All my demonstrations of obedience are filthy rags and covered in sin.

    God bless,

    George

  6. Hello Herb,
    You wrote:-

    I would like to do a study of the term “establish.” It could well carry the meaning that through Isaac God will make the covenant solid, lasting. It doesn’t mean that Ishmael is not a member of the covenant.

    I have done a brief word study on qum, the word translated ‘establish in Gen 17:21. It means to ‘raise up,’ ‘confirm’ or ’cause to come to pass.’ I am no Hebrew scholar, but I don’t think it will bear the weight that you are trying to put on it. The same term could have been used about Ishmael, but wasn’t. The other word that is often used of covenants is karath, to ‘cut’ or ‘prepare’ (cf. Gen 15:18). I cannot see that one of them is a ‘lesser’ term than the other. Qum perhaps has more a future emphasis, Karath a present emphasis, but I’m not sure.

    I haven’t read the Kline book, but I am aware of the suzereignity covenants and have written about them briefly in one of the articles on the covenants.

    You continue:-

    I do agree with you – and this is a very important aspect – that Ishmael only enjoyed the physical benefits of the covenant, not the eternal. And that is also true of every member of the covenant who does not accept Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour.

    You don’t agree with me. Ishmael did not enjoy the physical blessings of the covenant and I did not suggest that he did. He never entered the promised land, was not part of the nation of Israel and was never going to be an ancestor (according to the flesh) of Christ. He is a type of Israel after the flesh, not the real thing. He did receive a sort of consolation prize, but the 12 princes that were to come from him (Gen 17:20) were not the Patriarchs.

  7. Hello again, Herb,
    You ask,

    If Ishmael was not a member of the covenant, what support does that bring to believer’s baptism?

    What it shows is that ‘”In Isaac shall your seed be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise arecounted as the seed’ (Rom 9:7-8. cf. Gen 21:12). Abraham is the father of believers, not of unbelievers (Gal 3:7; John 8:39). His Seed is Christ and those who are in Him by faith. As it is written, ‘Here am I and the children whom God has given Me’ (Heb 2:13).

    The children of God are born by miraculous means. First Isaac as the type of Christ; then our Lord Himself, born of a virgin; then we ourselves, born again by the Spirit of God. The ‘You and your seed’ of the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Christ and His seed.

    You may find it helpful to read my article on Isaiah 54 under ‘Sermon Transcriptions.’ Particularly compare Isaiah 54:13 with John 6:45.

  8. Good morning, Steve. A couple comments on the above two posts of yours. I believe Scripture does inform us that Ishmael enjoyed physical blessings of the covenant. It is true that he did not enjoy the land, which was a very significant physical blessing for the Israelites. However, we read in Gen. 17:20:

    “20As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. (ESV)

    I believe this is the result of God blessing Ishmael because of Abraham.

    I hope to have a copy of the paper off to you beginning of next week. I really think that will help provide a means that will be benefit these discussions, too. I will strive to check out more of these references you made to Is. 54 etc.

  9. Hello Herb. It is evening over here.
    As I tried to explain in my previous response, I do not see that the blessings that Ishmael received were the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham. The twelve princes whom he was to father were not the Patriarchs, the great nation he was to become was not Israel and all nations are not blessed in him (cf. Gen 12:3).

    No indeed! ‘He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren’ (Gen 16:12), but not be part of them (Gen 21:10; Gal 4:30).

    I’m looking forward to reading your paper in due course.

  10. Hello George,
    You really must stop putting words in my mouth. If you don’t understand my meaning, just send me a private message. You write:-

    This is my major worry with Baptists who refuse to deal with baptism pan-Biblically but only via a few isolated NT texts interpreted through the medium of pagan linguistic usage.

    When have I suggested this? All I have done is to suggest that the meaning of a New Testament ordinance is to be found first in the New Testament. The error of paedobaptists is to confuse the covenants and impose Abraham or Moses upon Christ. On the Mount of transfiguration, when Christ appears in His glory, Moses and Elijah disappear from view and the voice frm heaven declares, “This is My beloverd Son. HEAR HIM!” The proper use of the Old Testament is to see Christ throughout the ages, not to have Him prescribed and regulated by things which were a but shadow of things to come (Col 2:17).

    The fundamental error is demonstrably thus the ignoring of the pan-Biblical teaching and Biblio-linguistic clear evidence, including that of the OT. You claim that Christ is the Author and Perfector of Faith. Why then not allow Him to be the Author and perfector of Abraham’s and all the OT saints, too? The doctrines of the gospel began with the Fall. Remember, it was the OT saints that the author of the Hebrews you quote was refering to as the Fathers of our faith in Christ.

    Again, where have I denied this? Christ is Abraham’s Lord, not the other way round. The promises to Abraham have found their fulfilment in Christ and therefore we look no more to the shadow for instruction, but to the reality.

    blockquote>I must challenge your double use of the word ‘seed’ as if it reduces the covenant promises either to the faithful only or pays no attention to the fact that the physical seed bore the spiritual seed.

    Your argument is with the Holy Spirit, not with me. (Gal 3:16). Compare also Isaiah 54:13 with John 6:45.

    Then there is your odd notion that the Abrahamic covenant was only for a few generations. Remember that the NT statrts with the assurance that the Abrahamic Covenant is still very rigorous and effectual in spite of its ripe old age!

    Well, find me anyone other than Abraham, Isaac or Jacob with whom the Abrahamic covenant is said to be made. The promises of the covenant stretch all the way down to the coming of Christ; of course they do. That does not mean that Zacharias or JTB was under that covenant any more than they were under the Davidic covenant. These were covenants of promise (Eph 2:12).

    It is quite wrong to deny the spiritual nature of circumcision and thus declare that circumcision was a mere physical sign but baptism a mere spiritual one.

    Neither baptism nor circumcision have any spiritual nature unless they are accompanied by faith. That is why folk in the OT are constantly told to circumcise their hearts; the ordinance was useless unless their was a changed heart (Jer 9:25-26).

    It is also quite wrong to look to circumcision (as opposed to baptism) as a Jewish sign only, and thus conclude it has no relevance to baptism.

    Circumcision was a sign for the physical children of Abraham, looking to the Messiah who should be born of his line. Baptism is a sign for his spiritual children, the children of miraculous birth. Gal 6:15 etc.

    The rest of your post is another little rant about Baptists so I pass it by. I am not responsible for other Baptists whom you may know any more than you are responsible for Anglicans, which is possibly just as well for you.

  11. Steve wrote:
    Neither baptism nor circumcision have any spiritual nature unless they are accompanied by faith. That is why folk in the OT are constantly told to circumcise their hearts; the ordinance was useless unless their was a changed heart (Jer 9:25-26).

    AMEN! Ask yourselves why the organ of procreation was used as the sign for circumcision — it was to point to the promised heir that would come from the line of Abraham! That’s all that circumcision accomplished! And it was a promised MADE TO ABRAHAM.

    The NT ordinances were only meant for believers in Christ. There’s no two step program to enter into the Covenant of Grace. God chooses those members as indicated by the evidence of regeneration — not our biological relations. As John states:

    But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
    Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

  12. Dear Martin,
    I am very sorry that my words have hurt you but it is obvious that there is a grave misunderstanding at work on both sides. I take this as a sign that we are coming so near in sweet fellowship and a joint understanding of the pan-Biblical doctrine of Baptism that the Devil is getting very nervous. After all, the Baptist question is his trump card in deceiving the churches. However, as we do not gamble as he does, and are assured that the Spirit will make all things clear, we need not be put off-course by the Evil One.

    Concerning your rejection of my criticism about using part-truths and part-quotes to strengthen an argument, I feel that you are too loath to agree where this is evident. Since the seventeenth century, Baptists apologetics have gradually limited the Biblical area in which they find their justification. Against this historical trend, I am merely pleading for a pan-Biblical approach to baptism. We say that the Old is in the New revealed. We also believe that the OT contains the first clarion calls of the gospel and presents us with many signs and revelations of what is to come. If we do not follow the signposts, in OT terminology, how do we know that we have reached any destination? Christian teaching starts with Genesis and goes through all the historical, prophetical and wisdom works which are all Spirit-breathed and reflect Christ’s mediatorship and Lordship and show Him as Covenant Keeper and the Author and Finisher of our faith. I know you will agree with me here. Christ is in all the Scriptures and the NT in no way contradicts the OT. This is my position and though I must apologise for causing you pain in saying it, I still believe that this is your position, too and we (traditions and polemics apart) would wish to see a baptismal debate based on the whole of God’s Word. I have several hundred books by Baptist apologists and none, no not one, deal with a pan-Biblical study. Indeed, though old Particular Baptists fathers like Booth and Gill, dealt with OT teaching, modern Baptists tend to go in the direction of New Covenant Theology, now so soon split into different streams.

    Dear Martin, speaking to me as if I thought that Abraham was Christ’s Lord and saying that I am arguing with the Holy Spirit and writing rant, I would suggest, with special application to your opening critique, is not a fair comment.

    You accuse your non-Baptist brethren, who are just as much Credo-Baptists as you but define baptism differently, of confusing the covenants but I believe this is your own peculiar problem. You take an Aristotelian approach to God’s Covenant with man and cut it up into so many parts that I just cannot follow your arguments. When I think I know what you mean, suddenly, you are using your temporary defined term differently. We do read in the OT that a covenant is ‘cut’ between God and man. You go further and cut up the Covenant irrespective of God or man and isolate the one part from the other, making separate covenants of your own notion. You are the only Christian I have ever met who even separates the promises from the covenant which bears those promises and the covenant carriers God has chosen. Whereas our Reformers saw one essential covenant, this being the Covenant of Grace, you have added to it a baffling and changing number to make it fit in with a ritualistic and sacramental view of baptism which has become quite gospel-less in its application and testimony.

    Such words hurt you, I know, but your harsh rejection of the position of non-Baptists who take a more pan-Biblical and less rationalistic stand, which you misstate and merely caricaturise hurts, too. Though I find many Baptists who believe as you do, I find few believers outside of your movement which believe as you say they believe. So, too, you please yourself in the Baptist camp where you do not belong as that is not your denomination and you place me in the Anglican camp, though I am a German citizen and a member of a fellowship very similar to yours. This is all the more reason why we should engage in objective debate and brotherly give and take.

    Dear Martin, how on earth can my criticism of your much reduced definition of ‘seed’ in relation to the people of God leave me arguing against the Holy Spirit? Please explain yourself here. This is tantamount to saying I am sinning against the Holy Spirit. You wrote that we need not display our Greek learning in these matters publicly as we are both well-trained men, so I took it for granted that you were aware of a number of different uses of ‘sperma’ to which you do not refer and to such terms as tekna and uioi which are essential to this debate. I also took it for granted that Baptists, on the whole, would disagree with you. You have over-simplified the matter so that it is quite misleading. To argue that those who disagree with you are arguing against the Spirit is too pontifical for words. Even John Reisinger would only go part way with you but certainly not such as Kingdon who claims that only the tekna are Abraham’s spiritual seed but not the sperma which refers to natural children only. Of course both Reisinger and Kingdon appear not to be OT and NT scholars. You will find, however, that they disagree with you on the Covenant, too. John Gill, who has influenced my thinking very much, certainly sides with our Reformers here and not with you. You are defending a lone position and calling it Baptist thinking which it might be for some but certainly is not for others.

    I thank you for your warnings that I should not rant and roar like true British seamen and take that, like the shanty, positively, hoping that you will join me in singing it in true Swallow and Amazons style. I shall try in all things, however, to be irenic and a worthy older brother to you.
    God bless,

    George

  13. George,
    First of all I need to apologize for the testy and irritable nature of my last post. It was quite unncesary. Your words did not ‘hurt’ me at all; it’s just that sometimes the rather massive and discursive nature of your missives causes me a degree of exasperation. I have to work full-time and am eager to post new articles. Sometimes I simply don’t have the time to reply to you as I should. That, however, is no excuse for being rude and I apologize again.

    Now to your arguments. You write:-

    Since the seventeenth century, Baptists apologetics have gradually limited the Biblical area in which they find their justification. Against this historical trend, I am merely pleading for a pan-Biblical approach to baptism

    .

    I have to say that my reading of Baptists such as Keach, Coxe, Tombes, Bunyan, Booth and James Haldane do not lead me to your conclusion. The argument, it seems to me is whether we allow the Old Testament to dictate our understanding of the New, or whether we accept the clearer light of the New Tstament to shape our understanding of the types and shadows of the Old. I opt without hesitation for the latter aproach. That ‘Christian teaching starts with Genesis,’ who wil disagree? But the significance of Genesis is found most clearly in NT chapters such as Romans 4 & 5.

    I have several hundred books by Baptist apologists and none, no not one, deal with a pan-Biblical study. Indeed, though old Particular Baptists fathers like Booth and Gill, dealt with OT teaching, modern Baptists tend to go in the direction of New Covenant Theology, now so soon split into different streams.

    I am sure that you are bettr read than me, but I really can’t agree with you concerning the old Baptists. If by ‘New Covenant Theology’ you mean the position espoused by Don Carson, John Reisinger and others, I have no doubt that this would have been roundly condemned by all the Baptist fathers as it is today by Peter Masters and the American Reformed Baptists.

    You are the only Christian I have ever met who even separates the promises from the covenant which bears those promises and the covenant carriers God has chosen.

    I really cannot see where I do this. I refer to certain covenants as being ‘Covenants of Promise (Eph 2:12). The covenants with Noah, Abraham and David were not ‘administrative’ covenants, but promises, progressively unfolding the covenant of grace which would reach its fulfilment in the New Covenant. You may disagree with this if you will, but it is not divorcing the covenants from the promises.

    Whereas our Reformers saw one essential covenant, this being the Covenant of Grace, you have added to it a baffling and changing number to make it fit in with a ritualistic and sacramental view of baptism which has become quite gospel-less in its application and testimony.

    On the contrary, like all the Baptist writers I mentioned above, I see one Covenant of Grace. Where you see the ritualism and sacramentalism coming in to my view I cannot begin to imagine. You give no evidence, no quotation to back up this statement. I shall be grateful if you will explain yourself.

    Dear Martin, how on earth can my criticism of your much reduced definition of ‘seed’ in relation to the people of God leave me arguing against the Holy Spirit? Please explain yourself here.

    My turn of phrase was unnecessarily agressive here and I apologize. What I meant is that you are arguing against the clear voice of Scripture. Gal 3:16 tells us that the Seed through whom the promises to Abraham should come to pass is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot see how one can disagree with this.

    I took it for granted that you were aware of a number of different uses of ‘sperma’ to which you do not refer and to such terms as tekna and uioi which are essential to this debate. I also took it for granted that Baptists, on the whole, would disagree with you. You have over-simplified the matter so that it is quite misleading.

    It would be helpful if you would explain what particular uses of these Greek words you feel I am ignorant of. It is very difficult to reply to something so vague. Also, you claimed earlier that I was making the covenants ‘confusing’ and ‘baffling;’ now I am over-simplifying matters. Which is it?


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