Rules Were Meant to be Broken

1 Cor. 15.56 tells us that the strength of sin is the Law. In Rom. 4.14-15, For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. The purpose of giving the Law some 400 years after the promise was to proliferate sin, The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom. 5.20 NIV). The Law imprisoned people, Before the coming of this faith,  we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed (Gal. 3.23 NIV). The ancient Jews of Israel were unfaithful to the Mosaic regulations just as the Law intended to show them. They could, however, repent and return to the Lord. Many of them did respond to prophetic preaching and hearing of scripture. Given our knowledge of human nature, it is unsurprising that some Jews did not keep kosher:

https://www.timesofisrael.com/those-fishy-reports-on-ancient-israelites-eating-non-kosher-seafood/

New Testament Baptism is Believer’s Immersion

Immersion can seem to be an impractical imposition resulting in an undignified outcome for the recipient. However, by performing this modern humiliation, the baptized is saying that he is dying to self and living in Christ.

This week I have been reading John Owen and have been struck how much he diverges from scripture. John Owen was a confident and powerful rhetorician in the Cromwell Era of British history. Although he was an able theologian and a godly Christian, he was not without his faults. To me, much of his writings about covenants amount to bald assertions since they cannot be tied to scripture. Therefore, along with his other Puritan friends, he confuses Israel with the Church and applies O.T. circumcision to baptism, and thus becomes a paedobaptist. This confuses the biblical concepts.

Is Baptism a Sacrament?

In itself, neither baptism nor observing the Lord’s Supper impart grace. What I mean is, these observances can bless the believer greatly, but, by themselves, are not devices for dispensing grace. Instead, the one being baptized is conveying a message. He is really giving something instead of receiving grace. He is saying that he is identifying himself with Christ, leaving his old ways and, hence forth, living a Christ-filled life. The whole rite is meant as a sort of confession, a testimony, a stand.

It is a bit off topic, but the Lord’s Supper has the same purpose of communication as does baptism. Paul explicitly says that the observers are, in a sense, preaching by performing the rite, For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1Cor. 11.26 NIV).

Sacraments don’t really exist. I mean, think of the concept: a rite to impart grace? The bible says grace is given through faith and not works. In the final analysis, it is unavoidable to not see works raising its head as a means of grace for those who want to have a sacramental understanding of baptism.

Also, another issue is making baptism a necessary requirement of salvation. It is not. The Rite of Baptism is a wonderful display of a cognizant believer desiring to make his confession of faith. However, for various reasons, not all Christians, in history, will have performed this observance. Nonetheless, if they know Him, they are accepted by God in heaven.

The Candidates for Baptism

Though heart circumcision signified redemption in the O.T., and baptism is a confession of faith signifying prior salvation, they are not equal. Both reference salvation, but this fact does not mean baptism and circumcision are interchangeable. The rite of biblical circumcision points to the truth of not relying on the flesh for acceptance from God. I believe this O.T. rite is interpreted and defined by Paul in Phil. 3.3: For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh (NIV).

Circumcision was much elaborated in the Mosaic Law, though it was first given to Abraham in Gen. 17.11: You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you (NIV). Notice that it was a symbolic rite pointing to a spiritual reality that Abraham was redeemed by faith prior to the act of circumcision, and, of course, all the requirements of the Mosaic Law. This fact Paul makes much of in Rom. 4, Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! (vss. 9-10 NIV). Blessedness and salvation are by faith, and therefore only a cognizant person, not an infant, is the candidate for baptism.

Please notice also, the issue in Rom. 4 above was about Gentile circumcision. They were actually requiring literal circumcision and not baptism. This implies that these rites were never confused with each other in the way that paedobaptists want to conflate them today. I mean, just think of it, if they were the same, why couldn’t the person say: “I’ll take the baptism instead of the snip.”

In Col. 2. 11-12, Paul notes that the rite of circumcision and baptism symbolically refer to salvation: Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (NIV). All these actions are performed by someone with the capacity to make eternal decisions: “through your faith.” Therefore, one cannot transfer the sprinkling of infants (and call it baptism) for circumcision in Moses. Since, in that case, the subjects were unwitting. Furthermore, Paul is speaking of Spirit Baptism in the Colossians passage, which happens to the believer at the point of faith. The rite of Christian Baptism is subsequent to faith and constitutes a testimony by the person being baptized to indicate what has occurred in his heart earlier.

Why would anyone follow the Mosaic statute of the Old Covenant (of circumcising 8-day-old males) by baptizing infants, when the original circumcision of Abraham occurred when he was 99 years old and a conscious believer? Christians are saved through the promise to Abraham and not in keeping the Law, which no one could observe perfectly. The Purpose of the Law was for humans to recognize they were hopeless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom. 4.15 NIV). Infants of Christian parents are holy (1Cor. 7.14) and don’t need an additional rite.

The Mosaic Law was only given to the Jews and was an intercalation until Christ fulfilled both the regulations and temple sacrifices. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise (Gal. 3.17-18 NIV). Why would any Christian think it valid to adopt a feature of a covenant not given to them with practices that have now passed and been fulfilled, all without biblical warrant? Paedobaptists cannot have accuracy as to what the sign means since the rite they are performing on an unwitting child doesn’t reference salvation in the New Covenant. The subject is unwitting, and no one can believe for another.

Also, “household baptisms,” such as in Acts 16.32-33, were performed upon those whom Paul spoke to prior to their baptism, and therefore were witting recipients, Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his housethen immediately he and all his household were baptized (NIV). An honest examination of the scriptures of these matters yields a position of believer’s baptism.

The Mode of Baptism

Furthermore, the bible employs Greek words for “pouring” and “sprinkling” in other contexts unrelated to baptism. Therefore, if the bible wanted to express those concepts to reference this rite, the authors could have used these terms but never do. No, the Greek term baptizo means “dipping under water”, “immersion.” This immersion method conveys the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which neither pouring nor sprinkling do. A Christian who wants to correctly keep this rite of baptism will express this stance, subsequent to believing, by being immersed in water.

Old Testament Baptism

Paul interprets for us certain O. T. acts as baptism in 1 Cor. 10.1-2: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (NIV). Everyone of the O.T. images of baptism picture a total engulfment of the persons without any idea of sprinkling or pouring. Also, a metaphorical death and burial of the recipients seem to be portrayed, in that, when Pharaoh’s army tried the feat, it was destroyed.

Gospels Era Baptism

Undoubtedly, Jesus was immersed in His baptism since the rite John the Baptist was performing required a certain depth of water, …Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River and As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water (Mt. 3.6, 16a NIV). It is very clear that this rite featured immersion and all that this image conveys. Also, it wasn’t the Jordan River, per se, that the Baptist employed, since he moved his operation of baptism to a place of sufficient depth at another time: Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized (John 3.23 NIV).

The Mikveh

There were certain Mosaic Covenant directives in the O.T. that referenced a cleansing after certain defilements which involved complete immersion in water. The Mikveh featured prominently in Second Temple Judaism and was specifically designed for immersion. We know of these mikveh through archeological finds, especially around the Jerusalem area. The sites may have been known only through word of mouth, when they were operational, since pilgrims would either have undergone cleansing previously, if they were observant, or a priest showed them the site for their cleansing prior to offering sacrifices.

There seems to be scant textual witness to these “baptistries,” but normally such sacred rites are very personal and private, and therefore, would hardly be recorded. Clearly, these Mosaic cleansing practices and John’s Baptism seem to transmit the idea of newness and immersion. One was a required biblical command for metaphorical cleansing, while the other was a sign of repentance.

Apostolic Procedure

After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the apostles continued this same procedure of immersion to the new Christian converts, such as the Ethiopian Eunuch, Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him (Acts 8.38b NIV). How then is it possible for some Christians to adapt a biblical established rite with all its signs and references and apply it to infant sprinkling or pouring?

Covenant or Dispensational Theology?

John Owen was a champion for Covenant Theology and infant baptism. These critiques of mine are not novel or excessive. However, critics have been known to go too far in their opposition. One such overreach by critics involved constructing a completely new synthetic theology: Dispensationalism. Evidently, they thought by developing a rival system, they could defeat the mistake of infant baptism. This new synthetic idea of dividing the bible into specific epochs with their unique means of salvation was worse than the original disease of Covenant Theology. They should have stuck to their guns without resorting to half-baked ideas. Instead, they crafted an additional synthetic grid to superimpose upon scripture.

A better reading than either of these synthetically-devised schemes is an organic promise given by God and traced progressively throughout the bible. This promise was Gen. 3.15 of a Savior who would suffer a fatal metaphorical snakebite. This progressive tracing results in a subtext where sacrifices feature prominently throughout the divine disclosure and speak to the readers about the mystery of God: Christ.

The Arrabon – Confidence in Our Hope

And hope will not disappoint since the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given us. (Rom. 5.5)

After having established that Abraham was justified by faith, while he was still uncircumcised and without the Mosaic Law, in Romans chapter 4, Paul transitions in chapter 5 to speak about the blessings of those who are justified by faith, like Abraham. Paul mentions the fact of peace with God through faith in Christ (vs.1). This is a legal cessation of hostilities rather than a nice feeling. Sometimes, new Christians are doubtful whether God really saved them, since they don’t always experience feelings of peace. However, there are many reasons for the feelings of a person, but they are not a good indicator of relational standing. No, justification (dikaiothentes ) is a determination from God, the righteous Judge. What Paul was previously (chapter 4) talking about is the means of right standing with God. He has accepted Christ’s sacrifice of His righteous life for our stead, a legal exchange. Therefore, we are free from God’s wrath and now free to serve Him in grace.

These realizations cause the apostolic team to rejoice in hope of the glory of God in verse 2. The New Covenant has come and ensured its members of the ultimate hope of entering the eternal Kingdom of God. Paul could also rejoice in suffering (vs.3). This ability to rejoice in hard times comes from experience and faith in God. He keeps bringing us through to victory; therefore, we anticipate future deliverance from the temporal trials. Eventually, the Christian develops steadfastness as a result of seeing His handiwork. Also, solid character will soon be evident in the growing believer. The final state is a confident expectation of Christ’s Kingdom (vs.4). Paul then asserts this hope will not be frustrated since we have the confirming fruit and presence of God in the Holy Spirit in verse 5.

The Arrabon

What Paul speaks about in Rom. 5.5 is conceptually the same thing as a deposit (earnest money), in 2 Cor.1.22, …and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (NIV). The word Paul uses is arrabon which was the ancient equivalent. God gives the Holy Spirit and pours love into our heart to assure us of our expectant hope. Paul repeats this claim in the same letter at 5.5, Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (NIV).

Finally, Paul writes what can be considered a probable circular letter to churches in the province of Asia in what we have in the bible labeled “Ephesians.” Without bogging down to show the general nature of this letter, it is sufficient to observe no personal greetings at all in a place where Paul spent nearly three years in total. What Paul wrote to the Romans and the Corinthians, he wants to share this same concept with the Christians of the province of Asia, …were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1.14 NIV). Again, Paul mentions the arrabon which the NIV has translated as “guarantee.”

God is Not Bored – He is Triumphant

It was unusual that I was listening to Christian radio, but, since I needed to travel by car for some distance, I tuned in. Usually, I’m a book person, that is a reader of print, and don’t have any audio on. So this car trip was an opportunity to surf the regional Christian radio offerings. There was this call-in program with a pastor answering callers’ questions, when one caller stated something along the idea that God must have been “bored” as the reason He created the world. The pastor responded by giving a grand view of salvation offered in the bible, which was a good and adequate defense of the faith. The pastor should have corrected the caller’s statement, however, as to the purpose of creation and God’s attributes. The purpose of creation is more opaque than God’s character, but not much more. God’s attributes are easy to understand since they are explicit in the bible.

God is never bored. Boredom implies lack of something, or perceived lack of something. God never lacks anything since He exists from Himself: I AM (Ex.3.14 NIV). Paul clearly explained to the Athenian Philosophers what God was like: And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else (Acts 17.25 NIV). God is who He is and doesn’t change. Change would imply He is not perfect which He most certainly is. Mal. 3.6 affirms: I am the lord, I change not (KJV). Although God created everything, He is not dependent upon it, since “He is not served by human hands.

While God is not dependent upon His creation, He can, and will bring it to His glorious control. God is advancing to transform the chaos which has infected His creation by entering it in the person of Christ: What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe (Eph. 4.9-10 NIV).

Simon’s Peter’s 7 Disciplines (2Pet. 1.5-15) Part 2

For this reason make all effort to supplement your faith with excellence, and to excellence, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control, and to self control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. If you increasing practice these, they will not leave you idle or fruitless in the [personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these is blind or short sighted and has forgotten he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, rather, my family, give all diligence to settle your calling and election. For if you practice theses [disciplines], you will never ever stumble. For accordingly your entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly furnished. Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these[spiritual goals] though you know and truly have them. I esteem it fitting while still in this tent to to awake your recollection of them knowing that the laying aside of my tent is at hand as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. Also, I will now be diligent to provide for your remembrance of these [disciplines] after my exodus. (2Pe. 1.5-15)

The first of these disciplines then is virtue (some translators render arete as goodness, excellence). Generally speaking, translators have struggled to define the term as it relates to the recipients to whom Peter was writing. Originally, the term appears in ancient Greek as what characterized the Olympic contestants: physical prowess. The Greek Games eventually included poetic readings, and the term arete referred to the qualities of oratory as well. By First Century usage the term is understood to connote an ‘all-around excellence.’

In connection with faith and excellence, Christians are to add “knowledge” (gnosin). This “knowledge” doesn’t have to be bible knowledge, necessarily, since in a very real sense: ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ Many areas of study will either directly indicate God’s truth or support it indirectly. Bible knowledge is necessary regardless of what other knowledge is gained as indicated by vs. 19: “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The study of the scriptures is assumed by the writers of the N.T. since they quote so much of the previous given revelation contained in the O.T.

The next discipline is self-control, which Peter connects with knowledge, which is connected with arete. Here, I wish to point out that while the disciplines are all interconnected, they are added to our faith (vs. 5); therefore, they are performed in faith. Noting their progressive nature, the disciplines seem more defined as they are listed. While excellence is added to faith, it needs some knowledge to perform cogently. Overall, excellence is directed by knowledge. Knowledge, though, may overextend itself if not corralled by self-control. Self-control may give up without perseverance. Perseverance may devolve into stubbornness without true godliness refining the Christian along biblical ways. Godliness can be cold if it is merely an exercise without a horizontal dimension of brotherly kindness toward others. Brotherly affection will remain earth-bound if another quality is not present: love.

Verse 8 also tells us the default nature of a believer is bareness without these qualities. The Greek construction is very indirect which makes its message all the more poignant. Fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom is produced through the Spirit. Much of our walk of faith should be directed by the goals Peter sets out for us. He frames the intended Christian life as spiritual development in or with faith. Paul notes a similar progression in the Christian walk in Rom. 5.3-4: Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Yes, its different in many respects, but also similar, such as acting from faith by rejoicing in suffering. Discipleship is a death where a cross is taken up for another: Christ.

Peter warns those who lack these qualities since the results are blindness and shortsightedness. The perennial question often arises: which one? It’s either blindness or nearsightedness, it can’t be both! Well, actually, it can. On some issues we can be merely shortsighted while completely blind on others. I am not sure if this is the final answer to the conundrum or if the apostle meant partial blindness.

Simon Peter tells his readers that great promises toward Christians will enable them to experience the divine nature and so not be mired in things which corrupt: inordinate desire (vs. 4). These disciplines continually performed and perfected contain two promises: 1. Will never stumble into sin (vs. 10), and 2. A fully furnished entrance provided into the eternal kingdom (vs. 11).

The qualities or disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians since he eagerly desires to remind his readers of their deployment in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter thought they were so important as to continually remind his audience of them and to even diligently record them for posterity before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15).

Simon Peter’s 7 Disciplines Part 1

For this reason make all effort to supplement your faith with excellence, and to excellence, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control, and to self control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. If you practice these increasingly, they will not leave you idle or fruitless in the [personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these [attributes] is blind or short sighted and has forgotten he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, rather, my brethren, give all diligence to confirm your calling and election. For if you practice theses [exercises], you will never ever stumble. For accordingly your entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly furnished. Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these [godly aspirations] though you know and truly have them. I esteem it fitting while still in this tent to to awake your recollection of them knowing that the laying aside of my tent is at hand as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. Also, I will still be diligent now to provide for your remembrance of these [disciplines] after my departure. (2Pe. 1.5-15)

Nearly 50 years ago I was so intrigued with 2Pe. 1 that I chose it as a memory exercise to learn in a week. I kept it in my memory for several years along with a few other chapters. Sadly, full recollection has now slipped but key parts of the first chapter are still known and pondered. Also, I have thought how to follow the apostle’s teaching by applying it to my life. By seeing the text in a Greek edition, one is struck concerning the emphasis Peter laid on the importance of this instruction. The translation is mine and the bracketed words are my ideas (implied by the context) to help make the text palatable to the English reader. We moderns are used to identifying labels which this text never gives. The ancients also had a much longer attention span requiring less referencing and repeating of words so this way of writing was very normal for them.

How the Disciplines Relate to Faith

I propose that these qualities in 2 Peter resemble the instructions given in the O.T. book of Proverbs. This analysis traces their function in the community of faith. Believers under the Old Covenant had the law of Moses to instruct them about what to do and what to avoid doing. When the Old Testament saints failed in their duties or even transgressed the regulation, they could go to the Tent of Meeting (the Sanai Tabernacle or the Solomonic Temple), present the requisite sacrifice and expiate their sins. The Law of Moses was primarily about The Ledger, both in individual lives and the life of the nation. It was about right and wrong, justice. However, in the composition of the people of Israel, there were those who “knew the Lord” and who were “sons of belial.” Even though at times the Lord may have saved the nation as a whole (Passover in Egypt, Crossing the Red Sea, Covenant at Sinai, Covenant at Moab), the subsequent generations were a mixture of the Lord’s people and unredeemed sinners.

The Lord’s people needed insight on not only what to do or avoid, but how to discipline one’s self and function in a fallen world. This is where the bible’s Wisdom Literature instructs the saints through the course of their lives to continually perfect their relationship. The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon give wisdom to aid us during our earthly struggle instead of a list of laws. These written words of wisdom help us to understand the Lord’s work and His will, thus help us to know Him better.

In Pr. 1.2, a summary statement appears at the beginning of Solomon’s work indicating purpose: “to know wisdom and instruction.” This idea of knowing (lada’at) speaks of realizing, perceiving, personal internalization. This experiencing of wisdom that Solomon calls his listeners to in 1.2 is, in essence, what Peter says the disciplines he lists accomplishes by the term epignosko (personal knowledge) of Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1.8. This is a more fuller knowledge than in 1.5, since that term “knowledge” (gnosin) is distinguished as preparatory, and, in part, toward the personal knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists complete this knowledge, so it seems. In context, epignosko  indicates a fuller orbed realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ. In Col. 2.3, Paul agrees with this sentiment, saying that in Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” An analogy of these kinds of knowing could be: a biographical knowledge about someone verses an intimate knowledge where the biographical one is also known but tempered by intimate personal experience.

The Spirit Gives Full Knowledge of Christ

Every effort we make to add these qualities or disciplines in our lives, the Holy Spirit is present to teach and guide as to how we accomplish this feat. This is the great unmentioned reality of the Christian life that many commentators fail to recognize: the ministry and leading of the Spirit enabling what we could not do on our own.

Simon Peter in vs. 5 uses very strong and intensive words to urge participation. The attitude we should have to add these disciplines to our faith is spoudain: speed, effort, diligence, earnestness. This attitude is intensified by the “all” which precedes: “all effort.” Peter will use the term again in vs. 10 to exhort his readers to diligence to secure their calling and election. Peter pledges his own effort or diligence so that his hearers might have a record of these disciplines. Here is a self- conscious decision by Peter, an apostle, to transmit and preserve divine instruction. This might have involved making more copies than usual.

A temporal aspect may be seen by another word indicating simultaneous action along with our faith: pareisenegcantes. Therefore, from the start of one’s Christian walk, these qualities should “furnish” our lives. However, it is unreasonable to expect an overnight transformation in all areas of one’s life. It can take decades to realize certain aspects that are deficient. Also, since we never stop growing spiritually, we will never arrive at ultimate perfection.

Still, Christians are commanded to be characterized by these features at all times since the next verb is in the imperative mood. These disciplines seem to be meant as a progressive template for a godly life. Peter, a seasoned Christian, wants to communicate what is best for his audience.

This is the last word which seems supercharged by its construction: epichoreygeysateh. The idea is to fully supply something. The same word is used in vs. 11 to describe our entrance: that it will be fully furnished. It seems as if what we have furnished in our earthly walk of these qualities will reflect in our heavenly entrance.

Therefore, Peter instructs that Christians should, in all earnestness, simultaneous with faith, be fully prepared to deploy these qualities. After all, its nice to be nice and good to be good. Showing love to others blesses us, too, but that is not the motivation. We love because He first loved us.

A Covenant Establishes a Relationship

One of the most confusing things in Christian thought is the idea of a covenant and how it relates to us. It doesn’t have to be inscrutable, however, and can easily be understood by the youngest and simplest of Christians.

Different Kinds of Covenants

First of all, a very basic recognition is that different kinds of covenants accomplish different things. “Covenant” is not one thing. However, what all covenants have in common is that they establish a relationship between God and the humans with whom He makes them. Perhaps the greatest barrier to understanding the bible is the attitude of the reader. This has certainly been true for me as I sought with western enlightenment tools to achieve understanding. Often, this approach seeks to strip away elements that embarrass or seem odd to us. Or, perhaps, to categorize according to human ideas. But, in so doing, we have already placed our intellect above what God has revealed, and will, without doubt, not comprehend or distort the words of the Living God. A person cannot approach the bible to find out if the views of the bible match their own and then decide to obey it. No, God’s word is for His people to instruct and assure them among other things. Returning to the idea that a biblical covenant is relational, despite the variety of covenants found in scripture, I present Jer. 31. 31-34 as an obvious text:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to  them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

From this promise in Jeremiah, it is obvious that different covenants exist and that they do not function in the same way. With this recognition, the tendency to lump the covenants together in any sort of framework is rejected. Our text clearly states an “old” and a “new.” In other words, a covenant may be replaced after it served a function. Without bogging down and explicating the many ways the Old Covenant functioned, and Christ’s fulfillment of it, it may be said that “God found fault” and that a better hope was needed to transform lost sinners into conquering saints (see Heb. 8.7ff). This fault finding was for humans to understand both how corrupt they are and their inability to remedy their corruptness.

One additional point should be noted, however. God is gracious even in a “covenant of condemnation.” No one could keep all of the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) perfectly, except Christ; yet, the Mosaic Law was mostly about the remedy for breaking its regulations. The temple and the sacrifices, though they never could take away sin, pointed to the One who could accomplish that necessary feat. God knows each human heart and always works individually to bring some to Himself in redemption whether prospectively or retrospectively. In other words, He is able to save us whatever covenant is currently operational. The difference is the New Covenant has many more blessings along with the requisite responsibility which accompanies it.

Also, with the Jeremiah text, the relational aspect is exposed by the words: “although I was a Husband to them.” God had two wives under the Old Covenant: Judah and Israel. He divorced both of them because of unfaithfulness. In our humanity, none can be righteous before God. A better hope was needed where a relationship of sonship by adoption is made, and its subjects are transformed by the nature of the Father, which is given through the Spirit. Christians have a relationship of “sons” since the One who made us holy, and ourselves, who are made holy, are of the same family (see Heb. 2.11-12). Additionally, the relational aspect of the New Covenant may be seen by the inheritance which God gives His children. Heb. 9.15-17 speaks of the covenant God makes with humanity as a “will (or testament).” In the normal course of affairs, people usually leave their inheritance to natural or adopted children. God uses this figure of a “testament” to indicate that His children have a sure eternal inheritance.