“Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan” by József Molnár, circa 1850
In the previous article, I began my consideration of the Abrahamic Covenant on its own, without specifically tying it to the Old Covenant. I made my case, based on the writings of the Apostle Paul, that Abraham had two progenies: a physical progeny and a spiritual progeny. Each had its own way of being connected to Abraham, received a different set of promises, and was brought into its own covenant. There was some overlap between these two progenies, as some of Abraham’s physical descendants became part of his spiritual progeny through faith. However, there is a general distinction made between the two, and Gentiles can only be connected to Abraham through faith. Having made these points, I would like to move on and consider some other aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant that are necessary for determining its overall nature.
Was the Abrahamic Covenant a Saving Covenant?
As I discussed earlier, some of the confessionally Reformed argue that the Abrahamic Covenant was not part of the Old Covenant. Therefore, when Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant and it became obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), the covenant with Abraham remained in force. The stronger connection is not between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant, but between the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. Now, as I have explained, this is a distinction without much of a difference, for such Christians usually still believe that the Old (Mosaic) Covenant was part of the Covenant of Grace and had the same substance as the New Covenant. However, the goal of their argument is to prove that certain aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant are maintained in the present Church.
For example, such a person would argue that the New Covenant community is comparable to national Israel of the Old Testament, because we are all under the Abrahamic Covenant. The Church is therefore a mixed community of both regenerate believers and the unregenerate. You are initiated into the covenant by birth, even as Abraham’s physical descendants were. You receive the covenant sign, which is now baptism instead of circumcision. As physical circumcision required all covenant members to be circumcised in their hearts through faith, so baptism now places a demand on New Covenant members to be united to Christ by faith or be cut off from the covenant promises. Continue reading
“The Sacrifice of Isaac” by Caravaggio, circa 1603
Hello again, friends! I seldom drone on for this long about one particular subject, but it seems you have drawn the short straw. Thank you for returning once again and tolerating my continued chatter.
Up to this point, in seeking to determine if the Old and New Covenants have the same substance, I have largely focused on the differences between the covenants made at Sinai and Calvary. This is for two reasons: 1) Most of the contrasts made in the New Testament that mention the “Old Covenant” or “first covenant” clearly refer to things that were part of the Mosaic Law. 2) Many of the confessionally Reformed persons with whom I converse reject the view that the Mosaic Covenant had any kind of different nature from the New Covenant in terms of being works-based or grace-based.
To be perfectly honest, defining the Mosaic Covenant and contrasting it with the New Covenant is a fairly straightforward business. Sure, there are people who raise objections, but I believe the Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews have presented us with ample evidence to suggest that the Mosaic Covenant is inferior to the New Covenant in every way. It offered temporal blessings in exchange for human works, as opposed to eternal blessings in exchange for Christ’s works.
There is, however, a more subtle argument out there that pins its hopes on the Abrahamic Covenant. In making a sharp distinction between the Old Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant, this view partially concedes the works-based nature of the Old Covenant while maintaining that there were similar grace-based natures in the Abrahamic and New Covenants. This argument has some merit to it, as we have already seen the importance of Abraham in salvation history. The Apostle Paul tells us that those who are united to Christ by faith are truly Abraham’s descendants, while also stating that the promise of a Savior was given as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, there is no question of a link between Abraham and those Gentiles who have faith. The disagreement comes in regard to the precise nature of that link and the covenant made with Abraham. Therefore, we must ask the following question. Continue reading
“Moses Striking the Rock” by Pieter de Grebber, circa 1630 (Note that Aaron is dressed like a Catholic bishop.)
Many thanks to all who have hung in there and read everything up to this point. May the Lord bless you for your kindness. I have covered enough ground that I feel almost ready to answer the question, “Do the Old Covenant and the New Covenant have the same substance?” However, it would not do for me to rush things. (Here I permit you to laugh.) I want to deal with some final points that might be raised to suggest that either the Mosaic or the Abrahamic Covenants were saving covenants. I shall continue without delay.
Was the Mosaic Covenant a Saving Covenant?
In my previous articles, I argued that the Mosaic Covenant was one and the same with the Mosaic Law, it did not have Christ as a mediator, the sacrifices were not sufficient to atone for sins, the priests could not really bring people into God’s presence, and practically everything about it was typological. In short, it was a covenant based on human working. It was not part of the Covenant of Grace. Everyone who was justified by faith prior to the coming of Christ actually received that imputed righteousness through the New Covenant.
Two objections have commonly been raised in response to this argument: 1) Although God’s people under the Mosaic Covenant had different and typological sacraments, they nevertheless received Christ through these sacraments. 2) It would not have been possible for the Old Testament saints to have been saved under a covenant that had not yet been inaugurated. Therefore, they must have been saved through the Old Covenant. Continue reading
WARNING: After reading this article, you may have a sudden desire for a glass of wi…err…grape juice and some ciabatta dipped in olive oil.
Back again? How kind of you! Today I am going to discuss an issue of great practical importance. Every person longs for assurance of salvation. God has promised that those He knew and loved before the foundation of the world will not only be justified, but also sanctified and glorified. They will persevere to the end.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Christians who hold to the view of soteriology known as monergism believe that those who are elected by God for salvation will most certainly be brought to life spiritually by the power of the Holy Spirit. They will just as assuredly be united to Christ and justified by His imputed righteousness. However, one disagreement among monergists comes in regard to the nature of the Old and New Covenants. Continue reading
“Sacrifice of Jeroboam” by Claes Moeyaert, circa 1641
In the previous essay, I began analyzing how the Law is discussed in the books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews and what the implications are for our understanding of the biblical covenants. I noted the existence of the Covenant of Works and moral law, in addition to the Mosaic Law that was given to the people of Israel at Sinai. The challenge is to differentiate between these types of law in the writings of Paul and the author of Hebrews. Therefore, we must continue with our consideration of that all-important question.
What is meant by “the Law”?
The New Testament epistles often place “the Law” and “faith” in opposition to one another. While both are holy, there is only one that is capable of justifying sinners. But why is it so important to know if “the Law” means the Mosaic Law? In short, because we are attempting to determine whether the Old (Mosaic) Covenant and the New Covenant have the same substance. Do they both offer the righteousness of Christ by grace through faith? Are they both saving covenants in that respect? Obviously, if “the Law” means the Law of Moses, and if that in turn means the Mosaic Covenant, it starts to answer the question of whether or not the Old and New Covenants have the same substance. Continue reading
“Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt van Rijn, circa 1659
Welcome back! So far in my efforts to answer the question, “Did the Old and New Covenants have the same substance?” I have considered how the Bible describes the New Covenant, how the memberships compared, what is meant by “types and shadows”, if the systems of mediation differed, and whether the Old Covenant was completely broken prior to the coming of Christ. Today, I must address another issue that tends to come up in the writings of Paul and the Book of Hebrews.
What is meant by “the Law”?
You do not have to read very far in the New Testament epistles before you see contrasts made between “the Law” and faith. Particularly when taken out of context, these quotes present a harsh dichotomy.
- “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight…” (Romans 3:20a)
- “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28)
- “…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
- “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse…” (Galatians 3:10a)
- “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” (Hebrews 10:1)
Everyone agrees that there is some kind of contrast being made here, but how that contrast is interpreted depends very much on how the words themselves are interpreted, and one word above all others: law. Continue reading
“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt van Rijn, circa 1630
Old Covenant, New Covenant. Red covenant, blue covenant. We’re halfway through this comparison of the Old and New Covenants, the stated purpose of which is to answer the following question: “Do these covenants have the same substance?” If you need to review what that means, do take a look at the previous articles, particularly the first one. I will now move on to consider the next question within a question.
Was the Old Covenant Completely Broken?
A covenant is essentially a contractual agreement. It has at least two parties. It includes benefits, but it also includes responsibilities. The covenants between God and man can be compared in many ways to the treaties that existed in the Ancient Near East between suzerains and vassals. (Read a summary of this concept here.) Alternatively, they have something in common with the feudal relationships of medieval Europe. If you are not familiar with either of those, have no fear! The basic idea is that there is someone greater (in this case God) who condescends to enter a contractual relationship with someone lesser (in this case a human or humans). The greater person, who is comparable to the lord in a feudal relationship, agrees to provide certain benefits—protection, land, legal rights, etc.—while the lesser person, who is comparable to a serf, agrees to obey and serve the greater one. Continue reading
“High Priest Offering Incense on the Altar”, illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop’s “Treasures of the Bible”, circa 1894
What is the real purpose of a covenant between God and man? There are many different ways to answer that question, each of which would capture some aspect of God’s intent. However, I prefer to speak of covenants as a means of relationship between God and man.
Any relationship between an infinite Creator and finite creatures must necessarily be somewhat different than relationships between human beings, with which we are far more familiar. We do not have the capacity to grasp God in all His glory, so He must condescend to us in one way or another. Since man’s fall into sin, our relationship with our Creator has been complicated even further, for He is holy and just. Because none of us are capable of making ourselves holy, we need the supernatural actions of a holy God if we are to have fellowship with Him.
Both the Old Covenant (here I mean the Mosaic Covenant) and the New Covenant provide means for human beings to relate to God through a system of mediation. A mediator in the biblical sense is someone who stands between sinful humans and a holy God to make the relationship possible, and this necessarily requires some kind of payment for sin. As this relationship is at the heart of any covenant between God and man, we must ask ourselves a very basic question. Continue reading
“The Scapegoat” by William Holman Hunt, circa 1854
Hello again! I hope you are enjoying these final days of November before the crush of December hits us all. It was good of you to return after that whole covenant household discussion.
One thing that we must determine when considering the differences between the Old and New Covenants is the significance of the types and shadows that existed under the former. The writer of Hebrews discusses this subject at length, and the way in which we interpret those words can have a major impact on how we view both covenants. Therefore, today’s question is,
What was the significance of the Old Covenant types and shadows?
There are five Greek words used in the New Testament that all seem to point to this idea of a “type”. The first is typos, which refers to a figure that is created by an impression. Metaphorically, it can refer to a form of something. The second is antitypos, which shares the same root and also refers to the process of forming something based on a pattern—but do note the prefix “anti”. The third is parabolē, which implies something that is compared to or has the likeness of something else. The fourth is hypodeigma, which can be a figure, sign, or example. The final such word is skia, which refers to a shadow, specifically in this case an image that is created from the shade of something else. (Any bolded English words in the block quotes of this article represent a translation of one of these five Greek words.) Continue reading
Depiction of Pentecost in the Hortus Deliciarum, circa 1180
Whenever someone from a confessional Reformed denomination attempts to talk to me, a “Reformed-ish Baptist”, about the need for paedobaptism (infant baptism), they often point to a declaration that the Apostle Peter made on Pentecost: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39) They mention these words to a primarily Jewish audience as proof that the Abrahamic Covenant’s inclusion of entire households extends to the New Covenant instituted by Jesus Christ, and that the promises made by God are just as applicable to children as they are to adults.
I certainly agree with the second half of that assessment, though I think that we need to also remember the Apostle Paul’s teaching that Abraham’s true children are those by faith. However, my point here is not to refute the Reformed position. Rather, I wanted to share some thoughts I had with regard to this verse that affect the way I think about Covenant Theology, though not necessarily about baptism. Continue reading