Circumcision was a Sanction of the Abrahamic Covenant—-Why I Reject Abrahamic Ecclesiology

T David Gordon, Promise, Law, Faith–Covenant Historical Reasoning in Galatians (Hendrickson, 2019) 

I completely agree with Gordon’s thesis that the Sianai covenant is either ratified or revoked in its entirety. Galatians is about being free from all of  the Sinai
covenant, including Sabbath and circumcision. Gordon does much good detailed work to show the distinction between the Sinai covenant and the new covenant. But as Gordon explains the distinction between the Sinai covenant and the earlier Abrahamic covenant, he stops short of asking much about the distinction between the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant.

I begin with one quotation from a footnote on p 222—“In the most technical sense, Yahweh did later require circumcision (Genesis 17) but this is not a true condition, for two reasons. First, the promises made in Genesis 12 and 15 attached no such conditions. Second, had Yahweh not given Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, there would have no Son to circumcise.

Without beginning a discussion about the meaning of the word “conditions”, I want to look more at Gordon’s two reasons. First, both Genesis 12 and 15 describe imperatives, and include sanctions for disobedience.

Genesis 12 begins with a command.
Go out from your land,
your family
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you

Did Abram fail to keep this “condition”? No, Abraham did travel out to where the Canaanites are in the land. By means of holy war and holy separation, Abram’s children eventually  take all the land. The Jewish people themselves are involved. But of course it is God who gives the land to Abram’s children and God who takes the land away from the Gentiles. Abram worries about what the Gentiles might do to him. Abram lies to the Gentiles about one of his wives (Sarah) but God keeps Sarah from becoming mother to a Gentile. There are no sanctions for Abram, only for Pharoah, even though it was Abram who did not tell the truth.

So does this prove that the Sinai covenant has sanctions but that the Abrahamic covenant does not have conditions? No. The Abrahamic covenant is not only
about blessing Gentiles some time in the future. The Abrahamic covenant is about Abram having a big family. The Abrahamic covenant is instruction about Abram’s family not co-existing  with or intermarrying other families.

Genesis 14:14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken prisoner, he assembled his 318 trained men, born in HIS HOUSEHOLD, and they went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 Abram and his slaves deployed against them by night, attacked them, and pursued them as far as Hobah to the north of Damascus. 16 Abram brought back all the goods and also his relative Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the other people….

This war is not a “condition” for the promise to Abram that Abram’s seed would bless Gentiles. It’s not even evident that what Abram did was commanded. But what Abram did there at that time was NOT YET “blessing Gentiles” (Then Abram takes some food when Melchizedek (king of Salem) gives Abram food, but Abram takes nothing from the king of Sodom. (The men who fought with Abram take stuff, but Abram only takes back what was his already before)

God uses means. God promised Abram that his seed would one day bless Gentiles. We must not be fatalistic enough to say that God would have kept that promise if Abram had not gone to war for those in his family. But then again, we must not read what did happen in history (providence)  into some conclusion that “God could not have done x if Abram had not done y.”    (Is does not mean Ought. Happened does not mean Ought.)

Gordon agrees–“in the technical sense, God did require circumcision”. But then Gordon argues that circumcision was not a condition for the promises. The problem for Gordon’s too neat distinction between Sinai and Abrahamic (which distinction is very important, and is very present in Galatians 3 and 4), is the sanctions right there in the words of God in Genesis 15.

Genesis 15: 8 Abram said, “Lord God, how can I know that I will possess the land? (Abram was not asking at that point, how will I know that my seed will
bless the Gentiles?)

9 God said to Abram, “Bring Me a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 So Abram brought all these to God, split them down the middle, and laid the pieces opposite each other, but Abram did not cut up the birds. 11 Birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

God did not do everything here. Abram brought the cow, goat, ram and the birds. Abram killed (sacrificed) the three animals.

Genesis 15: 12 As the sun was setting, a deep sleep fell on Abram, and suddenly great terror and darkness descended on Abram

Then what did Abram hear God say?  Genesis 15: 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your seed will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them. Your seed will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward your seed will go out
with many possessions….16 In the fourth generation your seed will return here

Again, there are no “conditions” here. God does not say that slavery in Egypt is a sanction of the Abrahamic covenant. And of course slavery in Egypt is not a sanction of the Sinai covenant (which comes after Egyptian slavery) This is “indicative”. This is “what is going to happen”. What happens in Egypt is not all of the promises. What happens in Israel is not “blessing the Gentiles”. But what will happen in Egypt is that Abram’s family becomes larger and Abram’s family STAYS SEPARATE from Gentiles.

Genesis 15: 17 When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed between the divided animals.

This is not the same as what happens at Mt Sinai—do not touch the mountain, and “Moses be the mediator between us and keep God away from us”. But the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch (and the divided animals) of Genesis 15 are not in any obvious way signs of a substitution sacrifice which will bless some Gentiles. The next thing God says is Genesis 15: 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I will give this LAND to YOUR SEED

When the seed of Abram leave Egypt, they will “go out with many possessions”. Perhaps Abram’s seed are stewards holding those possessions in trust for the future blessing of Gentiles. But at that exodus point in history, possessions and land (which all belong to God in the first place) get handed over by the Gentile socialists in Egypt to the Jewish collective, to the seed of Abram.

Reason one. Circumcision was not a condition. There were no conditions in the Abrahamic covenant.

I will attempt to return to Genesis (and Galatians) and not  stay long with Vos and Kline. Vos–If there were no conditions, there would be no place for threats,
for threatening only makes sense to those who reject the conditions; that is to say here, those who do not walk in the God-ordained way of THE COVENANT. If there were no conditions, God alone would be bound by this covenant, and no bond would be placed on man. Thereby the character of the covenant would be lost. All covenants contain two parts.”

I agree with David Gordon. All the covenants are not one covenant. And the different covenants are not the same. When Vos writes “the covenant”, I agree with Gordon in asking “which covenant”. We must reason in a historically covenantal way.  We must be poly-covenantal.

But I do not agree that there is nothing but contrast between the Abrahamic and the Sinai covenant. And I do not agree that the
Abrahamic covenant is the same as the new covenant.

The Sinai covenant was only for Jews
The Sinai covenant was for all Jews.
Jews by birth belonged to the Sinai covenant.

But what Gordon does not say as clearly (if at all) is that the Abrahamic covenant was only for Jews. Circumcision was for all Jews.
The Abrahamic covenant was for all the circumcised. Jews by birth belonged to the Abrahamic covenant.

In the Reformed world today, if you hear about election at all, what you hear will be about “the covenant”. You will hear that 1. Jews
were elected to be in “the covenant” and 2. that this election is not only a blessing for the Jews, because the elect Jews will be (or are
supposed to be) a blessing for the gentiles, all nations, all people.

But this kind of talk about election and covenant leaves so much out (about both election and covenants) that this kind of talk about “the covenant” has nothing to do with God having elected for whom Christ would die, nor does it have anything to with God having chosen which sinners will be justified before God.

The Sinai covenant includes both elect and non-elect.
The Abrahamic covenant includes both elect and non-elect.

But only the elect come into the new covenant and are justified.

This is why we need to make a historical covenantal distinction not only between the Sinai covenant and the Abrahamic covenant. We need a distinction between the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant. The Abrahamic covenant has as one of its promised blessings that the seed of Abram will bless
Gentiles.  But Christ the seed of Abraham does not bless all people in all nations. There is no such thing as “common grace” or “natural grace” or “creation grace”.

When God saved Noah and the few, God did so by destroying the many. When Christ the seed of Abram justifies Gentiles, Christ does not justify all Gentiles. Christ justifies only as many as believe the gospel. The blessing of Abraham is Christ giving the Holy Spirit to cause some Gentiles to believe the gospel (and also the blessing of Abraham is Christ giving the Holy Spirit to cause some from Abram’s Jewish race to believe the gospel).

The blessing of Abram is NOT that the seed of Abram dies for each and every sinner, both Jew and Gentile. The blessing of Abram is NOT that some are elect in order that others then become elect. The blessing of Abram is NOT that Jews are elect in order that Gentiles become elect. The blessing of Abram is that Christ (the seed of Abram) died (shed his own blood, not the blood of others, Jew or Gentile) for the sins of the elect (some Jew and some Gentile)

There is so much good to be found in Gordon’s good book on Galatians.  I hope to write several essays with things I have learned in reading. In this essay, I have not yet even arrived at the second reason given by Gordon that footnote on 222.  But I want to pause for Gordon’s excellent comments on
“sovereignty” and “grace” on p 177.

David Gordon—“Even defenders of the so-called Lutheran Paul are too generous to Sinai when they write “this law is a divine gift to Israel, a token of favor”….Yes, sovereign Yahweh elected Israel to covenant with Him. But I would not refer to a curse-threatening covenant as a gift or as an indication of God’s favor. They did not regard it as a gift when they expressed their preference to return to Egypt.

David Gordon, p 295—“Oh how I love your law. It is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119:97 . Only in this psalm (113, 163, 165) does anyone in the entire Bible talk about loving the law. Considering how central was Torah to Israel, I regard it as surprising that there is only one chapter where anyone expresses any love for Torah. The Wisdom always had sanctions attached to it, and those sanctions were a frightening burden. 

But David Gordon does seem to see the Abrahamic covenant as nothing but gift and favor. His reason one say, there were no conditions. His
reason two says, if God has not given Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, there would been no circumcision

Gordon’s argument overlooks the fact that Abram had two wives, and two sons. Abram’s son Ishmael is born in Genesis 16: 3 So Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian slave, and gave her to her husband Abram as a WIFE for Abram.. This happened after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan 10 years.

Genesis 16: 15 So Hagar gave birth to Abram’s SON …16 Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore ISHMAEL TO HIM. .

Genesis 17: 8 And to you and your future seed I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as a lasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Note that “I will be your sovereign (I will be your God) and “I will be gracious to each and every one of you” are NOT THE SAME THING.

Genesis 17: 9 God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your seed after you are to keep My covenant.

Genesis 17 does not say that Abraham “keeping the covenant” is a “condition”. First, the covenant does not depend on any one human sinner. If one human sinner refuses circumcision, then that one human sinner could be cut off from the Abrahamic covenant but the Abrahamic covenant itself would continue. Second, if God had not caused Isaac to have been born, then God could have still caused Ishmael to have been born. Third, even if no sons had been born, Abraham HIMSELF (and his slaves) are COMMANDED TO BE CIRCUMCISED.

David Gordon, 138 —“It is not essential to my discussion to address whether there were several covenants with Abraham.”

Gordon, in making a distinction between the Sinai and the Abrahamic but not making a distinction between the Abrahamic and the new covenant, is depending in part on silence in his argument about the first two of the three promises to Abraham.  I will point out another more significant silence. Genesis 17 does not say that circumcision is a condition of the Sinai covenant, BECAUSE the Sinai covenant had not yet been “cut into history”. And so it seems to me
that CIRCUMCISION IS A SANCTION IN THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT,  even when Gordon says “added after chapter 12 and 15”.

Genesis 17: 10 This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your seed after you: Every one of your males must be

Genesis 17: 18 So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to You!”

Genesis 17: 11 As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless Ishmael. I will make Ishmael fruitful and will multiply Ishmael greatly. Ishmael will father 12 tribal leaders, and I will make Ishmael into a great nation.

Here are some questions. Does Ishmael have part in the Sinai covenant? No.
So does Ishmael have part in the Abrahamic covenant?
What is Ishmael’s part in the Abrahamic covenant?
Is Ishmael a Gentile nation who will be blessed by the seed of Abraham?
Is Ishmael part of the seed of Abraham (who will bless Gentiles)?

How would we know?

Genesis 17: 23 Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or purchased with his money—every male among the
members of Abraham’s HOUSEHOLD… 24 Abraham was 99 years old when the flesh of Abraham’s foreskin was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael
was 13 years old when the flesh of Ishmael’s foreskin was circumcised. 26 On the same day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised

Genesis 17: 13 My covenant will be marked in your flesh as a lasting covenant. 14 If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from his people. That man has broken My covenant.”

When God says “my covenant”, which covenant is that? If it’s not the Sinai covenant, which covenant is it? Has the man broken himself off “the covenant” or broken “the covenant” so as to terminate the covenant” itself?

Adam’s sin did not terminate the consequences of God’s covenant with Adam. Disobedience to the Sinai covenant did not terminate either the Sinai
or the Abrahamic covenants. So in that sense, neither covenant is conditional on the sinner, but what happens to a specific sinner is conditional . Is there nothing a person in these covenants (after being circumcised) can do which would prevent their being PUNISHMENT BY THE COVENANT THEY ARE IN?

I would hope that this last question would cause us always to make a distinction between justification (or condemnation) before God and still being a church member or still “staying in the covenant”. I would hope that we would say that the new covenant is not like the Sinai covenant or the Abrahamic covenant, even though the new covenant is (indirectly?) a blessing to elect Gentiles by means of the seed of Abraham (as also the Sinai covenant was a result of the covenant promising Abraham seed.)

Meredith Kline–“How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works … Abraham’s faithful performance of his covenantal duty is clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a MERITORIOUS character that procured a reward enjoyed by others…Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the NATIONS. God was pleased to constitute
Abraham’s exemplary works as the MERITORIOUS ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being …the matrix from which Christ should come…

Mike Horton—To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do NOT HAVE FAITH are under the covenant curse. How can anybody fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong?

Mike Horton—Faith is not the only way into membership in the covenant. If faith were the only way into membership then why all the warnings to members of THE COVENANT COMMUNITY to exercise and persevere in obedience to the end?

The Sinai covenant did not threaten Gentiles. I mostly agree with David Gordon about that (despite the holy wars and the holy divorces of Gentile wives –never really wives, the fathers of their children said.)

But what can or must be said about how the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant compare and contrast? The new covenant only threatens those outside the new covenant. The Abrahamic covenant threatened those in the Abrahamic covenant..

Genesis 22: 14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide. 15 Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven
16 and said…“BECAUSE YOU HAVE DONE  this thing and have not withheld your only son 17 I will make your seed as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore…. All the nations will be blessed by your seed BECAUSE YOU HAVE OBEYED MY COMMAND. ”

David Gordon, p 138 –Though Paul in Galatians 3:16 refers to the “promises”, the only specific reference Paul makes to Genesis here is the pledge to bless the nations through the seed in Genesis 22:18.

Galatians 3: 19 The Sinai law was added … UNTIL the Seed to whom the promise was made would come

Did God make the promise to those who believe in Christ?
Did God make the promise to Christ?
God God make the promise about Christ to the biological children of Abraham?

Exodus 4: 19 Now in Midian the Lord told Moses, “Return to Egypt, for those who wanted to kill you are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey, and returned to the land of Egypt. …. 22 Then you will say to Pharaoh: This is what Yahweh says: Israel is My firstborn son. 23 Let My son go in order that my son worship Me, but you refused to let him go. Now I will kill YOUR firstborn son!”

Exodus 4: 24 On the trip to Egypt it happened that the Lord confronted Moses and sought to put Moses to death. 25 So his wife Zipporah took a flint, cut off her son’s foreskin, and threw the foreskin at Moses’ feet.Then his wife said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So the Lord let Moses alone.

The Abrahamic covenant points to justification through faith in the seed of Abraham. But he Abrahamic covenant is NOT new covenant ecclesiology.

The same people (troublers) in Galatians who wanted to have a Jewish ecclesiology (circumcising children and those who had not been circumcised as children) were also people tempted to “want to be justified by works of law”.  (assured by obeying Sinai)

Even though Paul teaches in Galatians 2:16 that Jews know that justification is not by works, Paul also warns that “Christ will be of no advantage” for those “who want to be justified by works”. Paul is not saying (and probably doesn’t know) if these people are a majority or a minority, but Paul is not ruling out the idea that some of the Jewish “Judiasers” are not only wrong about the covenants but also wrong about the gospel.

The problem is not only that some Gentiles are being persuaded or manipulated into becoming circumcised. The problem is some who were born circumcised
who are insisting on an Abrahamic ecclesiology and an Abrahamic definition of covenant (conflating the new covenant with the Abrahamic covenant)

Galatians 4: 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ;. You have fallen from grace.

The righteousness of God does not only mean that those who trust in Christ’s death alone are justified. The righteousness of God also
means that those who DO NOT TRUST Christ’s death alone will not be justified. Therefore the problem in Galatians is not only an ethical problem for people we know who are already justified (because they were born Jews, or because they were born Christians). There is an ethical problem (living in hypocrisy instead of in line with the gospel) but that ethical problem cannot be “segregated” (distinguished) from a doctrinal problem about the gospel.

All Jews were born not only in the Sinai covenant but also in the Abrahamic covenant. Even though Romans 9 and Galatians teach that Abraham had more than one son, and even though these two texts define children of Abraham as those who believe the gospel, if we include that definition of
Abraham’s children but also include (without antithesis) the children of the children (who did not yet believe the gospel), we bring confusion not only to the new covenant but also to the gospel. (Was it important for the prophet Jonah to teach those in the Ninevah that his children and family back in Israel were “elect and in the covenant”? )

Election to justification does NOT MEAN “born justified”
Even God’s elect to justification are born condemned in Adam.
Even God’s elect to justification are not born in the new covenant.

Certainly David Gordon should in no way be held accountable for my conclusions against “Abrahamic ecclesiology”.  Let me end now with a quotation from Gordon which gives us his thesis (not my thesis in response to his thesis) 

David Gordon, p 296—NT Wright’s “the covenant” is virtually identical with what the Reformed tradition ordinarily calls “the covenant of grace” and is no better than that common convention. Such a definition uses a biblical term unbiblically. . In the Bible, a berith or a diatheke is always a historical treaty of some kind, enacted in space and time with particular parties.”

Explore posts in the same categories: covenants

Tags: , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

23 Comments on “Circumcision was a Sanction of the Abrahamic Covenant—-Why I Reject Abrahamic Ecclesiology”

  1. Mark Mcculley Says:

    T David Gordon–p 27. The Sinai covenant excludes Gentiles. Paul’s question was, “Why have that DIFFERENT covenant that SEGREGATED the descendents of Abraham from the nations ….Paul asked precisely the opposite question that Luther and Calvin asked when they formulated three uses of the law. They asked–“what are the uses of the Sinai law that it STILL HAS?” Paul asked, “What was the purpose of the Sinai law that IT NO LONGER HAS? Galatians 3: 23 Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. 24 The Sinai law, then, was our guardian until Christ.

    How can we explain Peter’s shameful and dishonorable hypocrisy with the gentiles? Is separation from gentiles worse than separation from the synagogues? Had they not all (Peter Paul and all the Galatians) already been separated from the synagogues?

  2. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Paul before conversion used to kill
    those whose conscience told them
    not to obey the Sinai covenant
    Paul was more a minister of Sinai than an agent of Rome.

    2 Corinthians 3: 7 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face—a fading glory— 8 how will the ministry of the Holy Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation and death did have glory….what had been glorious is NOT glorious NOW ….because of the glory that surpasses it

    sometimes the church says
    they put us out
    sometimes the church says
    you left us
    showing that you did not belong to us
    synagogue to church
    you left us
    showing that you were not really Jews
    the Reformed church to the anabaptists
    you left us
    showing that you were both heretics and traitors
    anti-sacramentalists say
    you made heresy treason
    yes we deny the right of the state to kill us
    those who deny the right of the state to kill them
    commit treason and should be killed by the state

  3. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Promise, Law, Faith, 2019—-p 227 The prevailing tendency of
    Christian confessional language has been to eternalize the ten words in two ways. First, they translate “ten words” as “ten commandments”.
    Second, in order to render this construal of “commandments” plausible, the confessions all removed the first word…..

    p 239 A tradition that can so blithely overlook that the ten words are
    “words of the covenant” inscribed on the “tablets of the covenant” and placed in the “ark of the covenant” is a tradition that is somewhat
    tone–deaf to biblical covenants…Conversations regarding the Sabbath command, for instance, pare partly due to the tension created by attempting to universalize God’s covenant stipulations with the Israelites.

    The traditions recognize that the apostolic gatherings occurred on the first day of the week. Yet on the other hand, they wish to construe the Decalogue as timeless/ universal moral counsel. So they end up with statements such as found in the WCF 21:7 —“to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection, WAS CHANGED into the first day of the week.”

    But if the definition of “moral law” is that it is unchanging, then
    how can a “moral law” be “changed”, either in part of whole?

    While we might wish we had a single convenient summary of God’s moral purpose for us somewhere, it may be that such a thing does not exist biblically, because the biblical are written to direct covenant

    p 230 Paul desired to disassociate the Christian gospel from
    geopolitical Israel. He would surely wish to disassociate the gospel
    from nations that never enjoyed a covenantal relationship with God at all…..
    We should remove national flags from churches.
    We should not observe national holidays in churches.

  4. David Bishop Says:

    Very good points raised! Sounds like Gordon’s book is a great read.

    Genesis 15: 8 Abram said, “Lord God, how can I know that I will possess the land? (Abram was not asking at that point, how will I know that my seed will bless the Gentiles?)

    Excellent point!!!

    • markmcculley Says:

      Galatians 3: 23 BEFORE this faith came, we Jews WERE confined under the Sinai law, guarded UNTIL the coming faith WAS revealed. 24 The
      Sinai law then was our guardian UNTIL Christ, in order that we be justified by faith (Christ). 25 But since that faith (Christ) has
      come, we are NO LONGER under a guardian,

      David Gordon, p 159—Calvin would insist that the Sinai law STILL HAS a disciplinary and/or didactic use. And we are still discussing what
      three uses the Sinai law STILL has in our churches, Paul was writing about use the Sinai law “no longer has”, what it did “before” and
      “until” Christ.

      What did the Sinai law do before that it no longer does? The Sinai law no longer distinguishes Jew and Gentile….It no longer protects the
      line of Abraham.

  5. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Sarcasm –Because if we tell our infants that they are forgiven, then they are forgiven. And if we tell our infants that their works are good and acceptable to God, then indeed their works are good and acceptable to God. And if we don’t tell our children that they were born under grace then we would have to tell them they were born under the law, and in practical real life the distinction between under law and under grace is not that useful in parenting.

    So we tell our infants that they are born under grace and loved by God. and at least that way they are sinning against grace, and if they are not under grace there is nothing to tell them, because there can be no law if there is no grace. and when you think about it, law is grace and grace is law, at least for those in the covenant.

     If Ishmael was better off for receiving circumcision even if Ishmael ultimately perished, are our children (even if non-elect in the decree) better off for being watered? Was the sign given to help covenant children or hinder them? Denying our children water denies them a blessing from God.

  6. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Paul treats God’s dealings by calling believers the children of Abraham and finding a greater meaning in the word “offspring” as relating to Christ rather than simply Abraham’s posterity (Galatians 3:7, 9, 16, 27-29). It is not ONE OR THE OTHER, as though promises were made only to Abraham and his natural children or to Christ and his offspring (Abraham included). It is both, each with its particular but related meaning in a typical or antitypical context. And thus the kingdom and covenants of Israel were not the kingdom and covenant of Christ though they were driving towards his birth and revealing truths about him all along the way. Old Testament saints were saved by the promise of one who was to come, and the new covenant that he would establish.

    Looking to the parent-child relationship is a misdirected attempt to understand covenantal membership. Redirecting our attention to federal headship brings clarity …. We blame Adam, not our parents, for the curse. The Israelites looked to Abraham, not their parents, for a claim to Canaan and its blessings, and to the conduct of the king, not their parents, for tenure in the land. So also, children must look to Christ, not their parents, for a claim to his covenant….We are born under Adam’s federal headship, and no one escapes the domain of darkness until God transfers them “to the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14).

  7. Mark Mcculley Says:

    The Abrahamic covenant was never law-free from the obligation to circumcision

    Deuteronomy 23:1 No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly

    Acts 8 And there was an Ethiopian, a man with no wife and family, who had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”

    Stephen in Acts 7
    The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to Abraham –Go out from your land and from your family and go into the land that I will show you.

    And after Abraham’s father died, God removed Abraham from THERE to HERE where you are now living. 5 Yet God gave him no inheritance in this land but promised to give this land to Abraham and to his seed after him, though Abraham had no seed

    Acts 7:8 God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision.

    Acts 7:29 Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

  8. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Genesis 12 The Lord said to Abram:

    Go out from your land,
    your family
    and your father’s house
    to the land that I will show you.
    2 I will make you into a great nation,
    I will bless you,
    I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
    3  I will curse those who treat you with contempt,

    4 So Abram took his wife Sarai and all the slaves Abram had acquired in Haran, and  set out for the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan,… At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your seed.” So Abram built an altar there to the Lord WHO HAD APPEARED  Abraham .

    16 The Pharoah  treated Abram well because of his beautiful wife. Abram acquired flocks and herds, donkeys,  male and female slaves, and camels.

  9. Mark Mcculley Says:

    David Gordon, Promise, Law, Faith, 2019—-p 227 The prevailing tendency of Christian confessional language has been to eternalize the ten words in two ways. First, they translate “ten words” as “ten commandments”.
    Second, in order to render this construal of “commandments” plausible, the confessions all removed the first word…..

    p 239 A tradition that can so blithely overlook that the ten words are
    “words of the covenant” inscribed on the “tablets of the covenant” and placed in the “ark of the covenant” is a tradition that is somewhat
    tone–deaf to biblical covenants…Conversations regarding the Sabbath command, for instance, pare partly due to the tension created by attempting to universalize God’s covenant stipulations with the Israelites.

    The traditions recognize that the apostolic gatherings occurred on the first day of the week. Yet on the other hand, they wish to construe the Decalogue as timeless/ universal moral counsel. So they end up with statements such as found in the WCF 21:7 —“to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection, WAS CHANGED into the first day of the week.”

    But if the definition of “moral law” is that it is unchanging, then
    how can a “moral law” be “changed”, either in part of whole?

    While we might wish we had a single convenient summary of God’s moral purpose for us somewhere, it may be that such a thing does not exist biblically, because the biblical are written to direct covenant

  10. Mark Mcculley Says:

    a promise is not an offer
    A W Pink–J. N. Darby seeks to cut the knot by changing the apostle’s “promises” to “the promise,” restricting the reference to Genesis 22. Yet not only is the Greek in the plural number, but such an idea is plainly refuted by the “four hundred and thirty years after,” which necessarily carries us back to Genesis 12.
    Deuteronomy 20: 16 You must not let any living thing survive among the cities of these people the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. 17 You must completely destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.
    Joshua 6: 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets sounded. When they heard the blast of the trumpet, the people gave a great shout, and the Jericho wall collapsed. The people advanced into Jericho, each man straight ahead, and hey completely destroyed everything in Jericho with the sword—every man and woman, both young and old, and every ox, sheep, and donkey.

  11. Mark Mcculley Says:

    there’s this person who did a work
    and before you know if that work was for you,
    you must know and agree with the doctrine
    of what He did
    if you don’t know what the person did,
    you know neither the person
    nor if that person
    did anything for you
    commitment to the imperative
    to know the person cannot come
    before we know the indicative
    of what he got done
    since we are children of Abraham
    remember that Abraham knew what the seed had to do
    Abraham knew that he himself was not going
    to bring in the righteousness
    one result of election
    is submission to the doctrine of righteousness
    obtained by Christ’s death for the elect alone
    and then imputed by God
    the test of the exodus out of the false gospel
    is not our testimony that
    “we know the person”
    the same person the democratic crowd knows
    we are not called to a tragic imperative
    “to know the person” without knowing which person
    the sheep don’t follow the wrong
    person with the wrong doctrine
    i still want to know,
    how did a nice man like Jesus
    get himself killed
    if it was not the offense of his doctrine?
    yes, it’s fact He died
    but there are many possible options
    when we explain that fact,
    these doctrines divide
    they hated His doctrine
    so much they wanted Him dead
    but that was a long time ago
    and now the person comes into our hearts
    and now there is so much more immorality
    let’s worry about that
    and not be so anxious about
    Him being king of our doctrine
    let’s gather
    around a person
    they say, giving reasons
    why their doctrines are not doctrines
    and thank their “god is one” that they are not
    like other doctrine persons
    for this Christ was born
    Christ came to satisfy the just divine demand
    for death (no tricks, no fictions)
    without the doctrine of that death
    there will be no justifying
    the gospel itself the power of salvation

  12. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Sproul—Because now Jesus is not acting in His baptism for Himself, but for His people.

    mark—Sproul is assuming the water of John the Baptist. Sproul is not thinking about Christ’s death itself being called a “baptism”.

    Sproul–And if His people are required to keep the Ten Commandments, He keeps the Ten Commandments.

    mark—His people in the Mosaic economy were not only the elect but included the non-elect. His people in the new covenant are the elect alone, and they are not required to keep the Mosaic Ten commandments, even though Jesus Himself was required to keep (and did keep) the Ten Commandments.

    Sproul—If His people are now required to submit to this baptismal ritual, He submits to it in their behalf.

    mark: The Mosaic law did not command the water baptism done by John the Baptist, and not all of the elect were ever required to be water baptized by John the Baptist. There is a difference between commanding somebody to baptize with water, and commanding people to be water baptized. It’s important that Jesus became incarnate, that he was physically circumcised, that He had faith, and that He rose again. But that does not mean that all these acts that Jesus did vicariously are imputed to the elect.

  13. Mark Mcculley Says:

    David Gordon, Promise, Law, Faith, Hendrickson, 2019—-p 227 The
    prevailing tendency of Christian confessional language has been to
    eternalize the ten words in two ways. First, they translate “ten
    words” as “ten commandments”. Second, in order to render this
    construal of “commandments” plausible, the confessions all removed the first word…..
    p 239 A tradition that can so blithely overlook that the ten words are
    “words of the covenant” inscribed on the “tablets of the covenant” and placed in the “ark of the covenant” is a tradition that is somewhat
    tone–deaf to biblical covenants …Conversations regarding the Sabbath command, for instance, pare partly due to the tension created by attempting to universalize God’s covenant stipulations with the Israelites.

    David Gordon–The traditions recognize that the apostolic gatherings
    occurred on the first day of the week. Yet on the other hand, they
    wish to construe the Decalogue as timeless/ universal moral counsel.
    So they end up with statements such as found in the WCF 21:7 —“to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week, and from the
    resurrection, WAS CHANGED into the first day of the week.” But if the definition of “moral law” is that it is unchanging, then
    how can a “moral law” be “changed”, either in part of whole? While we might wish we had a single convenient summary of God’s moral purpose for us somewhere, it may be that such a thing does not exist
    biblically, because the biblical are written to direct covenant

  14. Mark Mcculley Says:

    1. Some of God’s elect were justified before God before the beginning of the Abrahamic covenant (for example, Abraham himself)

    2. Some of God’s elect were justified before God after the end of the
    Abrahamic covenant (for example, Peter after Christ’s death and

    3. The end of the Abrahamic covenant is not justification (for
    anybody, and certainly not for everybody)

    4. The end of the Abrahamic covenant is the “new creation” (no more physical circumcision, as it was commanded to Abraham in Genesis 17)

    5. The new creation does not equal only “regeneration” (the end of
    separation and war between Jews and Gentiles)

    • markmcculley Says:

      Luther–“Here Paul speaks about the law of Moses proper, not about the Decalogue, since the latter pertained to all nations. For the nations did not hate the Jews because of the Decalogue, but because the Jews separated themselves from the remaining nations by way of unique worship and ceremonies, and called themselves alone the people of God, all the others they called atheists and unbelievers. The quarrel was about the temple and the ceremonies. Yet finally Christ came and destroyed this obstruction. But if the Decalogue is referred to, it is
      only destroyed insofar as it is damnation.”

      Marilynne Robinson–Two terrible scandals mar Luther’s life. One was his response to the Peasants’ War, in which he urged extreme violence against the rebels The other was his writing against the Jews, whom he assailed in very similar, very violent terms. There is no excuse to be made for this, but a reason for it might have been that the existence of communities considered heretical was tenuous. Whole villages of Waldensians had been slaughtered. Wittenberg, where Luther lived most of his life, was protected by important German princes, but to tip it in the slightest degree toward association with any disfavored population would be to put it at risk.

      The Peace of Augsburg, signed in 1555, which for a while established a truce between Catholics and Lutherans within the Holy Roman Empire, did not acknowledge other Protestant groups, who had little or nothing in the way of princely protection and who remained liable to prosecution as heretics by both Catholics and Lutherans. Luther was no longer alive, but his readiness to dissociate himself from vulnerable groups seems to have survived him.

  15. Mark Mcculley Says:

    A W Pink –What did circumcision seal to Abraham’s servants and slaves? Nothing. “Circumcision neither signed nor sealed the blessings of the covenant of Abraham to the individuals to whom it was by Divine appointment administered. It did not imply that they who were circumcised were accounted the heirs of the promises, either temporal or spiritual. It was not applied to mark them individually as heirs of the promises. It did not imply this even to Isaac and Jacob, who are by name designated heirs with Abraham. Their interest in the promises was secured to them by God’s expressly giving them the covenant, but was not represented in their circumcision. Circumcision marked no character, and had an individual application to no man but Abraham himself. It was the token of this covenant; and as a token or sign, no doubt applied to every promise in the covenant, but it did not designate the individual circumcised as having a personal interest in these promises. The covenant promised a numerous seed to Abraham; circumcision, as the token of that covenant, must have been a sign of this; but it did not sign this to any other. Any other circumcised individual, except Isaac and Jacob, to whom the covenant was given by name, might have been childless.

    “Circumcision did not import to any individual that any portion of the numerous seed of Abraham should descend through him. The covenant promised that all nations should be blessed in Abraham—that the Messiah should be his descendant. But circumcision was no sign to any other that the Messiah should descend from him,—even to Isaac and Jacob this promise was peculiarly given, and not implied in their circumcision. From some of Abraham’s race, the Messiah, according to the covenant, must descend, and circumcision was a sign of this: but this was not signed by circumcision to any one of all his race. Much less could circumcision ‘sign’ this to the strangers and slaves who were not of Abraham’s posterity. To such, even the temporal promises were not either ‘signed’ or sealed by circumcision. The covenant promised Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, but circumcision could be no sign of this to the strangers and slaves who enjoyed no inheritance in it” (Alexander Carson, 1860). That circumcision did not seal anything to anyone but to Abraham himself is established beyond shadow of doubt by the fact that circumcision was applied to those who had no personal interest in the covenant to which it was attached. Not only was circumcision administered by Abraham to the servants and slaves of his household, but in Genesis 17:23 we read that he circumcised Ishmael, who was expressly excluded from that covenant! There is no evading the force of that, and it is impossible to reconcile it with the views so widely pervading upon the Abrahamic covenant. Furthermore, circumcision was not submitted to voluntarily, nor given with reference to faith, it was compulsory, and that in every instance: “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money must needs be circumcised” (Gen. 17:13)— those refusing, being “cut off from his people” (v. 14). How vastly different was that from Christian baptism!

    -Pink, Arthur ,The Divine Covenants

  16. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Benjamin Coxe–This covenant of circumcision was the foundation on which the church-state of Israel after the flesh was built. I do not say that their church-state was exactly and completely formed by this ordinance alone. But I mean that in the covenant of circumcision were contained the first rudiments of the one in the wilderness, and the latter was the filling up and completing of the former. It was made with them in pursuance of it and for the full accomplishment of the promises now made to Abraham. And therefore the privilege of the carnal seed of Abraham by virtue of the covenant of circumcision can rise no higher than the advantage and privilege of a Jew by virtue of the covenant in the wilderness.

    To confirm this I will offer these things. First, circumcision was the entrance into and boundary of communion in the Jewish church. It was made so by the express command of God himself, who strictly enjoined that whoever broke the covenant by the neglect of circumcision should be cut off from his people (Gen 17:14). As it was to them a gate of privilege, so it was no less a bond of duty. It not only obliged them to obey the will of God so far as it was now made known to Abraham, but also, to the observation of all those laws and ordinances that were delivered later to them by Moses. For the circumcised person was a debtor to keep the whole law (Gal 5:3). This obligation resulted from its proper use and end in its primitive institution. For we do not read of its appointment to any new end by Moses, nor of any use it was assigned, de novo, which it did not have (at least virtually) from its first appointment. It was from first to last, a visible character on this people as separated to God from other nations, and as such they made their boast of it. Therefore it may be concluded to belong to that covenant from which all their rights and privileges as a people sprang. And where the sign was not varied, there was no essential variation or change in the covenant itself…

    Moreover, it is notable that immediately after, in continuing his discourse in Romans 4, the apostle refers circumcision to the law in contradistinction from the gospel. For when he has told us that the circumcised Jew could not obtain the blessing of a spiritual relationship to Abraham by virtue of his circumcision, unless he walked in the steps 1 of Abraham’s faith which he had while uncircumcised, verse 12, he assigns this as the reason of it in the 13th verse. For the promise that he should be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. And I cannot see how the conclusion which the apostle makes concerning the inefficacy of circumcision is enforced by this reason, if circumcision immediately and in its own nature had not belonged to the law but to the righteousness of faith or covenant of grace, as an ordinary seal of it.

    The interpretation made of this text is further strengthened by comparing other places in the New Testament where we find that circumcision is styled an unsupportable yoke (Acts 15:10) and is said to lay men under an obligation to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3). The complete dispensation of grace in the gospel according to the new covenant is constantly insisted on as that which renders it utterly useless to the gospel church and manifests the inconsistency of retaining its practice with the liberty of their present state. For instance, see the epistle to the Galatians 5:13. There the apostle tells them if he still preached circumcision, then the offence of the cross was ceased and he might have lived free from the persecutions he now suffered from the unbelieving Jews. It was the apostles preaching Christ, in which they asserted the shaking and removing of that old covenant to which circumcision belonged and by which the Jews held the right of their peculiar privileges that was the ground of the controversy between them and of their unreasonable opposition to him. For if the controversy had been about the mode of administering the same covenant, and the change only of an external rite by bringing baptism into the place of circumcision to serve for the same use and end now as that had done before, the heat of their contests might soon have been allayed. This is especially the case when we consider that the latter is far less painful and dangerous than the former. But he will certainly find himself engaged in a very difficult task who will seriously endeavor to reconcile the apostles’ discourses of circumcision with such a notion of it. Circumcision was an ordinance of the old covenant and pertained to the law and therefore directly bound its subjects to a legal obedience. But baptism is an ordinance of the gospel and (besides other excellent and most comfortable uses) directly obliges its subjects to gospel obedience. Therefore it is in this respect opposed to, rather than substituted in the place of, circumcision.

    • markmcculley Says:

      Christ is not the mediator of the Abrahamic covenant

      The Abrahamic covenant was made with a sinner who believed the Genesis 3 promise of the gospel.

      Galatians 3:18  God granted the inheritance  to Abraham through the promise.

      The gospel does not promise anybody that their child will be the Christ.

      The gospel does not promise anybody that they will be the father of those who believe the gospel.

      The Abrahamic covenant was not Abraham’s gospel.
      By His bloody death, Christ is the mediator of the new covenant.

      Hebrews 8: 6 Jesus is NOW the mediator of a better covenant, which HAS BEEN LEGALLY on better promises.

      Hebrews 9: 15 Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that THOSE WHO ARE CALLED would receive the promise of the lasting inheritance, BECAUSE a death HAS TAKEN PLACE for redemption

      Hebrews 12: 24 Jesus (mediator of a new covenant) and His sprinkled blood says better things than the blood of Abel.

      Acceptable CHRISTIAN PRAYER  has Christ as the Mediator.

      Paul Helm– The torn Temple curtain bears witness to Christ revealed as our Great High Priest, whose death and resurrection paid for sin, and purchased righteousness, and which glorified God, and especially that by his resurrection he ever lives to make intercession for his people.  These events in history are instances of the glory of God. In his teachings recorded in the Gospel of John, Christ refers to his forthcoming death as a ‘glorification’. His  death was not what happened to Jesus  but an event in which he takes control.

      Jesus is the Mediator, or intermediary, as the OT priests represented the nation of Israel on the day of atonement annually. It was repeated, therefore, as the author of Hebrews argued, Jesus Christ, the God-man, divine but bearing our nature sinlessly, is alone fitted to be this Mediator.

  17. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Holy War

    God promised Abraham that He would bless those who blessed Abraham and curse those who cursed Abraham (Gen 12:3).
    This was fulfilled in Israel’s conquest of Canaan – a holy war (Numbers 24:8-9).
    This was thoroughly Mosaic and Abrahamic (Deu 23:3-6; 28:7).
    With the coming of Christ, all Abrahamic holy war has ceased (John 18:36).
    This aspect of the Abrahamic covenant was typological of the Christian’s spiritual warfare (2 Cor 10:3-6; Eph 6:10-20).

    God promised Abraham the land of Canaan (Gen 13:15; 17:8; 28:13; 35:12; Acts 7:5).
    This was fulfilled when God brought Israel out of Egypt and brought them into the promised land (Ex 23:29-32; 33:1; Deut 7:22-23; 19:1-9, cp. Josh. 20:7-8; 21:43-45; Deut 26:3; Acts 13:19).
    This was thoroughly Mosaic and Abrahamic (Ex 23:22).
    With the coming of Christ, the land of Canaan was made common (John 4:21).

  18. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Gaffin- Among my continuing reservations about the Psalter-Hymnal
    project, here I’m only able to raise one concern about its commitment
    to total psalmody. The imprecations in Psalm 137, among others, have in view the Old Testament situation, when God’s covenant people were one nation, a single geopolitical entity (Israel), and their enemies were likewise ethnically and geopolitically defined (Babylon and Edom here). But now, after Christ’s finished work, that enmity,
    inseparably national, has ceased. Now the realization of God’s eternal saving purpose, anticipated throughout the Old Testament, is
    universal. His elect are no longer found only within Israel, but
    within every nation. Under the new covenant, the church is “in
    Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) in a way it was not under the old: no longer
    are Jews in holy hostility towards non-Jews

    I recognize that the ethnic references like those in Psalm 137 are not
    only literal but also typological. Akin to the symbolic references to
    Babylon in Revelation, they point forward to the final destruction of
    the enemies of God’s people. Still, singing explicitly genocidal
    curses in public worship, without a whole lot of preparatory
    explanation (and perhaps even with that), risks leaving the impression that the congregation is calling on God for the large-scale
    destruction of people with Gentile ethnicity like most of us

    Click to access NH2014Jun.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: