Galatians 3:16 Now the promiseS were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to seedS,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your seed,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean–the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul A covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promiseS of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that THE PROMISE by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those AS MANY AS WHO believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we would be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus YOU are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For AS MANY AS YOU many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.
I am not somebody who reduces the Abrahamic promises to one promise. I am all for noticing the various promises, beginning in Genesis 12. Abram will become a great nation, and he can’t have a great nation without land, territory for many people, mostly all biologically related to Abram, a land with no other altars allowed except to Yahweh the King. God also promises blessings for other nations based on their relation to Abram’s nation, with curses for those nations which don’t relate favorably to Abram’s nation.
So I am not reducing all these promises to one promise. I deny that the Abrahamic covenant is the new covenant. I deny that the Abrahamic covenant is “the covenant of grace” or “part of the covenant of grace” or “an administration of the covenant of grace”. Since I know how to talk about the continuity of the Abrahamic covenant to the Mosaic covenant and to the new covenant without saying that they are one covenant, I very much want to notice the various promises associated with Abraham, and to see how they are fulfilled in the circumcision of Christ on the eighth day (Luke 2).
Circumcision is not simply about “spiritual cleaning”. The sign of circumcision is not even only about pointing to the bloody sacrifice of Christ, which cuts the justified elect off from legal solidarity with Adam. Circumcision is an initiation rite for priests, and every male in Abraham’s family (even if one parent did not go testify before the presbytery!) was obligated by Abrahamic law to be circumcised as a sign that Abraham’s family consisted of consecrated priests.
So circumcision was a sign of many things, but not a sign to any person in particular (except Abram himself )of election to justification and eternal life and faith in the gospel.
What belonging to Abraham’s family means now and what it meant then is not the same thing. Zwingli and other Reformed folks like to start with what they think it means now and then read that back as if that was what belonging to Abraham’s family meant then. Thus they notice the promise about the one seed which will bring in the righteousness, but they don’t notice some of the other promises.
To put it a different way, instead of saying “you already have what the pharisees offer”, better to say what the pharisees offer, you don’t need, and could not have anyway.” Now you can be children of Abraham in only one way.
Now that Christ has been born and circumcised, it’s not possible for every jewish male infant to be born as types of the birth to come. The land promise needed for the jewish people to remain the genetic incubator for the Seed is now abrogated, and we need to attend to the discontinuity between the promise of the earth to those who believe the gospel and the promise back then in the Abrahamic covenant.
Reformed paedobaptists (besides Meredith Kline and Gary North) don’t like talking about the bothersome “intrusive” stuff (like negative sanctions) which otherwise does not fit with their neat straight-line continuity They say we should all agree about the unity of the Abrahamic covenant, but paedobaptists can’t stay with that, because they need to harmonize (homogenize) covenants so that we then identify the Abrahamic covenant with the new covenant (or with their “the covenant of grace”)
Sure, the promises to Abraham are typological. But they put non-Abrahamic people out of the territory, to make room for the biological-political heirs of Abraham. Why just look at Genesis 17, when you need to look back also to Genesis 12 and 15? Why not talk about all the promises, unless of course your confessions have already told you what “the promise” is?
So is the “inheriting the world” promise about Christ (the one seed) bringing in the righteousness so that the world belongs to Him and His elect? Or is “inheriting the world” about some conditional promise being made to everybody with one parent who professes to be Christian? Galatians 3 speaks of a promise given to “as many as believe”, and not about a promise given to the children of as many as who believe.
We need to notice the different “seed of Abraham”. Galatians 3 talks about the one seed, not the many, but then it ends with the many who believe the gospel. So two different seeds are in Galatians. But the seed born to the seed are not in Galatians 3, and the only way they can get there is in the collective imagination of some paedobaptists (not Lutherans or Roman Catholics but Reformed)
I am glad to recognize (as I have many times) that the Abrahamic covenant included by design many who were non-elect. Being circumcised and getting in was not the only thing one had to do to “stay in”. But if Reformed folks want to argue that the new covenant people of God are the same set as the people who were in the Abrahamic covenant, they are going to have to make their case.
These Reformed folks need to affirm again that Christ did not die for any non-elect people. If it is not Christ who kept all the conditions of the elect being in (and staying in) the new covenant, then we need to hear a lot more from these folks about the kind of “conditionality” involved in the new covenant. Is “election” simply a corporate thing, with which individuals to be decided later?
Is the new covenant “unbreakable” only in the sense that the covenant stands even if no individuals do what they have to do to “get connected” (and stay connected) with Christ’s death? If water baptism has no efficacy for the non-elect, what efficacy did water baptism have for the elect? Does water baptism promise that anybody will believe? Does water baptism cause anybody to believe? The gospel promises grace only to those who believe the gospel. It’s not the faith given to the elect which causes grace to be given. It’s grace that gives faith to the elect, and those who are never given faith in the gospel were NEVER given grace.
Ephesians 2 says covenantS, plural. The text in no way proves that the Abrahamic covenant is the new covenant, or that the Abrahamic covenant is “the covenant of grace.”. Nobody I know denies that the promise of the gospel concerning the one seed. But Reformed folks ignore the other promises, as they ignore other covenants.
When God says “not all Israel is Israel”, God is NOT saying “you gentiles can now be the kind of Israel you always wanted to be, the kind that there was before Christ was born”. Rather, there is only one kind of Israel now, and you can be in this Israel, and if Jews want to be in Israel now, this is the only Israel even for them now.
So sure, there’s continuity, but don’t ignore the great redemptive-historical change. Before those in the Abrahamic covenant could be in Israel and then become strangers to Israel. But now there is an Israel, the only Israel, and those in that Israel know the Lord.
Jews who don’t believe the gospel are not now Israel. They were Israel ( in one real sense) before Christ was born. But not anymore. Only as many as are called by the gospel (Acts 2) are now the rightful heirs. If your children are among the “as many as God shall call”, they too are rightful heirs. If not, not.
Many Reformed folks like to associate credobaptism with dispensationalism. It makes for a simple equation, and then they don’t have to think too much! But many of us credobaptists are NOT dispensationalists (who just don’t know it). There is only one Israel now and it’s the justified elect of God. Nor am I am of the tribe (John Murray, many amills as well as postmills) that says God has promised those with Abraham’s DNA something extra in the future. There is only one Israel, not a different second Israel which has been promised some land the others of us have not. There is only one Israel, not a different second Israel which are children born to one professing Christian, who are not yet allowed to eat at Israel’s table.