A Presbyterian (Finally) Gets Acts 2:39 Right

In a previous post God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness? I demonstrated the error in the illogical claim that in the Covenant of Grace God promises the salvation of our children, concluding that “Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.”

Advocates of the Federal Vision heresy have tried to take this false premise to its logical conclusion.

Steve Schlissel, pastor of the independent Messiah’s Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, wrote on a whiteboard during a colloquium on Federal Vision theology in August 2003 hosted by Knox Theological Seminary, “The children of believers are saved.”
(Evangelizing Our Children, 3)

Federal Visionist John Barach says

[T]here is an objective covenant made with believers and their children. Every baptized person is in covenant with God and is in union then with Christ and with the Triune God.
(Evangelizing Our Children, 2)

The obvious problem is that our experience and (more importantly) Scripture teaches us that not all of the children of believers are, in fact, saved. Federal Visionist Doug Wilson notes

In faith, we want to say that children of believers are saved. But we are not making a categorical statement of the “All P are Q” kind. We are saying that we believe God’s statements and promises concerning covenant children, and we think others should believe them, too. Now these promises (in all our theological systems) have apparent instances of non-fulfillment. How are we to account for this?
(Evangelizing Our Children, 3)

E. Calvin Beisner (OPC, see 4 page bio) does an excellent job of refuting this error in an essay titled Evangelizing Our Children: A Reformed and Covenantal Practice. What sets Beisner apart in all of his writings is his understanding of and adherence to logic (see his Summary of Major Concepts, Principles, and Functions of Logic). In this paper, he demonstrates that Wilson’s attempted solution (“levels of discourse”) is illogical and therefore false. He pinpoints the Federal Vision’s error as their premise that God has promised the salvation of our children.

The Federal Visionists have not provided any promises of God of type (1), “All children of believers–or all baptized persons–are people who are saved.” Consequently it is of no use for Wilson to say, “we believe God’s statements and promises concerning covenant children, and we think others should believe them, too,”… Neither is it of use for Wilson to say, “these promises (in all our theological systems) have apparent instances of non-fulfillment.” That in itself assumes what the Federal Visionists must prove–that God has promised the salvation of all children of believers (or all baptized persons).

Beisner demonstrates that the logically inescapable conclusion is that

He has not promised the salvation of any children of believers or baptized persons simply because they are children of believers or baptized persons… [Thus] it is possible for any or even all children of believers, or baptized persons, to be damned. [emphasis original]

This is exactly what we concluded previously. “Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.”

Acts 2:39

Beisner recognizes this conclusion has serious consequences for various passages that paedobaptists frequently use as proof texts.

What then are we to make of those precious passages with which we began? What of Peter’s statement, “The promise is for you and your children”? What of Paul’s that the child of even just one believing parent is “holy”? What of his promise to the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”? What of God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants [seed] after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants [seed] after you”? Perhaps we need to look at them a little more carefully.

Commenting on Acts 2:39, Calvin says

Whereas he adjoineth their children unto them, it dependeth upon the words of the promise: I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee, (Genesis 17:7,) where God doth reckon the children with the fathers in the grace of adoption. This place, therefore, doth abundantly refute the manifest error of the Anabaptists, which will not have infants, which are the children of the faithful, to be baptized, as if they were not members of the Church.

In his excellent two-part essay on Acts 2:39 in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology, Jamin Hubner notes

the phrase ‘everyone who the Lord our God calls to Himself’ is entirely absent from [Calvin’s] commentary. This is particularly troublesome since he normally does not exclude entire phrases like this… This is what pushes readers away from the fact that Peter is talking of God’s elect (“everyone the Lord God calls to Himself”) – whether they are Jews or Gentiles, children or adults.

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) says in the 15th Topic of his classic work The Institutes of Elenctic Theology:

XIV. The reasons [for seminal faith in infants] are: (1) the promise of the covenant pertains no less to infants than to adults, since God promises that he will be ‘the God of Abraham and of his seed’ (Gen. 17:7) and the promise is said to have been made ‘with the fathers and their children’ (Acts 2:39). Therefore also the blessings of the covenant (such as “remission of sins” and “sanctification”) ought to pertain to them (according to Jer. 31 and 32) and are communicated to them by God according to their state.

The Westminster Confession of Faith references Acts 2:39 in defense of infant baptism in 25.2 and 28.4. Hubner notes “Combined with what appears to be loyalty to Calvin, there is, then, a repetitious pattern of errors in interpreting Acts 2:39 throughout much of history.” Thankfully, because of his commitment to logic, Beisner is willing to abandon that loyalty.

Consider first Peter’s comment in Acts 2:39. Thus far we have quoted only part of it. The whole of it is, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Are those who insist that here is a promise of the salvation of the children of believers as quick to say that here is a promise of salvation “for all who are far off”? Those are not simply the children of believers; those include all men everywhere in the world. But does God promise salvation to all men everywhere in the world. Certainly not. Neither, then, does He promise salvation to all the children of believers. What does He promise, then, to all the children of believers and to all people everywhere? Look at verse 38–and I’m going to use my own very literal translation here to make clear the grammatical cause-and-effect relationship that is clear in the Greek but ordinarily gets obscured in English translations: “Y’all repent for the remission of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and y’all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”… The promise is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll be forgiven. That promise does indeed apply to each and every child of each and every believer; and it also applies to each and every other person who ever lived or ever will live.

That is precisely what baptists have been saying for quite a long time. The logically necessary conclusion, as Hubner notes, is that

“Those who received his word and their children were baptized” is not in the text, nor would it fit any concept asserted in Acts 2. Baptism in Acts 2, in Acts in general, and in all the New Testament is consistently associated with repentance and faith… So no matter how one puts it, Peter is not asserting in Acts 2 that one should be baptized apart from repentance. He is asserting quite the opposite! This is a fact of the text (and all of Scripture) that stands in contradiction to infant baptism and simply will not go away: repentance from sin is a precondition to baptism…

Alas, the historical interpretation of Acts 2:39 has been anything but sound in the Reformed faith. Therefore, let us turn the tide by letting the Word of God speak on its own terms, and be willing to test our traditions. Only then are we truly practicing sola Scriptura. Amen and semper reformanda.

God uses false teaching to drive us to His Word. Look at any great creed or confession and you will see that it was formed in the midst of rigorous dispute. Presbyterian critics of the Federal Vision are frequently accused of making baptist arguments. Perhaps the Lord will use the Federal Vision heresy to drive Presbyterians to greater consistency, as it has done to Beisner.

Genesis 17:7

If Acts 2:39 is a conditional promise to everyone in the world and is not unique to the children of believers, how does Beisner interpret Genesis 17:7?

And finally consider God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants [seed] after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants [seed] after you.” Does this imply that every physical descendant of Abraham–or even every one of his own direct, first-generation offspring–would be saved, that none of them would go to hell, all would go to heaven? Certainly not. As Paul explained in Romans 9:6-8… Likewise he wrote in Galatians 4:22-31… Notice that: “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise.”…

Haven’t we heard some similar phrases somewhere else? Yes! In John 1:10-13, John tells us that the incarnate Word, Jesus, “was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world”–those who had no special relationship to Abraham–did not know Him. He came to His own”–that is, to the Jews, the children of Abraham according to the flesh, “and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them”–whether those of the world, or those of Abraham according to the flesh–“as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Beisner is clear that he believes God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:7 was made only to his spiritual offspring, both Jew and Gentile. God’s promise “to be God to you and to your descendants after you” does not refer to Abraham’s physical offspring.

If that is the case, then the circumcision of Abraham’s physical offspring is entirely unrelated to this promise. But Scripture clearly says circumcision was directly tied to this covenant promise.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. (Genesis 17:9-11 ESV)

How are we to resolve this dilemma in a logically consistent way? John Owen untied this Gordian Knot by recognizing the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and his seed.

Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: —

First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant, the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it. That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition in the flesh, it was to cease. In pursuit hereof were his posterity separated from the rest of the world, and preserved a peculiar people, that through them the promised Seed might be brought forth in the fullness of time, and be of them according unto the flesh, Romans 9:5.

Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith that he had fixed on the Seed that was in the promise, to be brought forth from him into the world. On the account of this privilege, he became the father of all them that do believe: for “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham,” Galatians 3:7, Romans 4:11: as also “heir of the world,” Romans 4:13, in that all that should believe throughout the world, being thereby implanted into the covenant made with him, should become his “spiritual children.”

4. Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God…

(The Oneness of the Church)

Long before Owen, Augustine made the same observation.

Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.”…

Abraham, then, having departed out of Haran in the seventy-fifth year of his own age, and in the hundred and forty-fifth of his father’s, went with Lot, his brother’s son, and Sarah his wife, into the land of Canaan, and came even to Sichem, where again he received the divine oracle, of which it is thus written:  “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” (Gen 12:7)  Nothing is promised here about that seed in which he is made the father of all nations, but only about that by which he is the father of the one Israelite nation; for by this seed that land was possessed…

[T]he people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel.

(Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)

And as Jonathan Edwards observed, the covenant promise “to be God to you and your offspring after you” had a dichotomous meaning: typological and anti-typological.

That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention…
with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people…
It is to be noted, that the privileges here mentioned are spoken of as belonging to the Jews, not now as visible saints, not as professors of the true religion, not as members of the visible church of Christ; but only as people of such a nation, such a blood, such an external and carnal relation to the patriarchs their ancestors, Israelites according to the flesh…

To that nation he fixed his blessing by his covenant with the patriarchs. Indeed the main thing, the substance and marrow of that covenant which God made with Abraham and the other patriarchs, was the covenant of grace, which is continued in these days of the gospel, and extends to all his spiritual seed, of the Gentiles as well as Jews: but yet that covenant with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that everlasting covenant of grace; promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him… And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion.

On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny…

they are not God’s Covenant people, in the sense that visible Christians are.

(Jonathan Edwards on the Nation of Israel as a Type of the Church) see also (Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel)

May we all follow Beisner’s example and strive to be logical consistent with God’s Word. And may Beisner continue to follow the logic and recognize that Genesis 17:7 is no basis for infant baptism.

(To see all of this worked out in a systematic manner, please see http://www.1689federalism.com)

1 Cor. 7:14 – No Proof of Infant Baptism

The previous post explained the correct interpretation of 1 Cor 7:14 as dealing with the legitimacy of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. This post is a discussion I had with an OPC pastor regarding the text. By the end of the discussion he acknowledges that the text does not prove infant baptism and that he does not know what the holiness of the spouse is.

On Facebook, Jim Cassidy, frequent co-host of Reformed Forum, posted a link to a sermon by Glen Clary on 1 Cor. 7:14 with the title “The Case for Infant Baptism.” Cassidy commented “And that just about ends that debate! Give it a listen….”

So I gave it a listen, and then commented. Here is the discussion (posted with permission). I greatly appreciate Clary’s willingness to discuss openly and to follow the logic. He blogs at Ancient-Reformed Worship.

Discussion

 

Matthew Thanks Jim for posting. I listened to it and thought his presentation was clear and that he made a number of helpful points.

I have one question: if ‘holy’ in this passage means a covenantal status that grants the privileges of baptism and membership into Christ’s church, then should the unbelieving spouse also receive baptism since they are also holy? If the the spouse is also covenantally holy then I have two more questions. 1. On what basis can we withhold baptism if they are covenantally holy and a member of Christ’s church? Secondly, would we not have to excommunicate them for apostasy or leading an unrepentantly sinful life (1 Corinthians 5), and if so then wouldn’t we have discipline them at that same time we would have to baptize them (wouldn’t that excluded them from the sign)?


Glen Clary: Matthew. You’re second point answers your first one. The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief (likely an idolater … in first century Corinth). The child would also have to be excommunicated if (God forbid) he grows up to deny the faith and worships idols.

John M. Mason addressed that very question in the 19th c. Here’s his answer.

The only plausible difficulty which lies against our view, is, that “According to the same reasoning, an unbeliever, continuing in unbelief, becomes a member of the church in consequence of marriage with a believer. For the apostle does not more positively affirm that the children are “holy,” than he affirms that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife sanctified, or “made holy,” by the husband.

Therefore, if holiness imparted by the parent to the children, makes them members of the church, the holiness imparted by one parent to the other, makes him or her, a member of the church.

This will not be maintained. For it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife. Well then, if the “sanctification,” which an unbelieving wife derives from her believing husband, does not make her a member of the church, the “holiness” which children derive from a believing parent, cannot make them members of the church.”

The objection is shrewd: but, like many other shrewd things, more calculated to embarrass an inquirer, than to assist him. Our answer is short. First, It makes the apostle talk nonsense. The amount of it when stripped of its speciousness and tried by the standard of common sense, being neither more nor less than this, that all his discourse about the sanctification of husband and wife, and the holiness of their children, means—just nothing at all.

For if it be not an internal holiness, which we do not affirm; nor an external relative holiness, which the objection denies; then a person is said by the apostle to be holy, whose holiness is neither within him nor without him; neither in soul, nor spirit, nor body, nor state, nor condition, nor anything else: which, in our apprehension, is as genuine nonsense as can well be uttered.

If those who differ from us feel themselves wronged, we beg them to show in what the holiness mentioned by the apostle consists.

Secondly. The objection takes for granted, that the sanctification of the husband by his wife, or of the wife by her husband, is precisely of the same extent, and produces on its subject the same effect, as the holiness which children inherit from a believing parent. This is certainly erroneous. (1.) The covenant of God never founded the privilege of membership in his church upon the mere fact of intermarriage with his people: but it did expressly found that privilege upon the fact of being born of them. (2.) By a positive precept, adults were not to be admitted into the church without a profession of their faith. This is a special statute, limiting, in the case of adults, the general doctrine of membership. Consequently, the doctrine of Paul must be explained by the restriction of that statute.

“Sanctify” her unbelieving husband the believing wife does; and so does the believing husband his unbelieving wife; i.e. to a certain length; but not so far as to render the partner thus sanctified, a member of the church—The former cannot be doubted, for the apostle peremptorily asserts it—The latter cannot be admitted; for it would contravene the statute already quoted. The membership of infants does not contravene it. And, therefore, although the holiness which the apostle ascribes to infants involves their membership; it does not follow that the sanctifying influence over an unbelieving husband or wife, which he ascribes to the believing wife or husband, involves the church membership of the party thus sanctified.

(3.) The very words of the text lead to the same conclusion. They teach us, in the plainest manner, that this sanctification regards the unbelieving parent not for his own sake, but as a medium affecting the transmission of covenant privilege to the children of a believer. A simple, and we think, satisfactory account of the matter, is this: Among the early conversions to Christianity, it often happened, that the gospel was believed by a woman, and rejected by her husband; or believed by a man, and rejected by his wife. One of the invariable effects of Christianity being a tender concern in parents for the welfare of their offspring; a question was naturally suggested by such a disparity of religious condition, as to the light in which the children were to be viewed. Considering the one parent, they were to be accounted “holy;” but considering the other, they were to be accounted “unclean.” Did the character of the former place them within the church of God; or the character of the latter without it? or did they belong partly to the church and partly to the world, but wholly to neither ? The difficulty was a real one; and calculated to excite much distress in the minds of parents who, like the primitive Christians, did not treat the relation of their little ones to the church of God, as a slight and uninteresting affair.

Paul obviates it by telling his Corinthian friends, that in this case where the argument for the children appears to be perfectly balanced by the argument against them, God has graciously inclined the scale in favour of his people: so that for the purpose of conveying to their infants the privilege of being within his covenant and church, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the husband. If it were not so, it must be the reverse; because it is impossible that a child should be born in two contrary moral states: then, the believing husband being rendered “unclean” by his wife; and the believing wife “unclean” by her husband, their children would also be “unclean,” i.e. would be born, not in a state of separation to God; but in a state of separation from him; like those who are without the bond of his covenant, and, not being appropriated to him, are “common” or “unclean.”

But now, saith the apostle, God has determined that the parental influence shall go the other way. That instead of the interest which a child has in his covenant, by virtue of the faith of one parent, being made void by the infidelity of the other; the very fact of being married to a believer, shall so far control the effect of unbelief—shall so far consecrate the infidel party, as that the children of such a marriage shall be accounted of the covenanted seed; shall be members of the church— Now, saith Paul, they are HOLY.

The passage which we have explained, establishes the church membership of infants in another form. For it assumes the principle that when both parents are reputed believers, their children belong to the church of God as a matter of course. The whole difficulty proposed by the Corinthians to Paul grows out of this principle. Had he taught, or they understood, that no children, be their parents believers or unbelievers, are to be accounted members of the church, the difficulty could not have existed. For if the faith of both parents could not confer upon a child the privilege of membership, the faith of only one of them certainly could not. The point was decided. It would have been mere impertinence to teaze the apostle with queries which carried their own answer along with them. But on the supposition that when both parents were members, their children, also, were members; the difficulty is very natural and serious.

“I see,” would a Corinthian convert exclaim, “I see the children of my Christian neighbours, owned as members of the church of God; and I see the children of others, who are unbelievers, rejected with themselves. I believe in Christ myself; but my husband, my wife, believes not. “What is to become of my children? Are they to be admitted with myself? or are they to be cast off with my partner?” “Let not your heart be troubled,” replies the apostle: “God reckons them to the believing, not to the unbelieving, parent. It is enough that they are yours. The infidelity of your partner shall never frustrate their interest in the covenant of your God. They are ‘holy’ because you are so.” This decision put the subject at rest.

And it lets us know that one of the reasons, if not the chief reason of the doubt, whether a married person should continue, after conversion, in the conjugal society of an infidel partner, arose from a fear lest such continuance should exclude the children from the church of God. Otherwise it is hard to comprehend why the apostle should dissuade them from separating, by such an argument as he has employed in the text. And it is utterly inconceivable how such a doubt could have entered their minds, had not the membership of infants, born of believing parents, been undisputed, and esteemed a high privilege; so high a privilege, as that the apprehension of losing it made conscientious parents at a stand whether they ought not rather to break the ties of wedlock, by withdrawing from an unbelieving husband or wife. Thus, the origin of this difficulty on the one hand, and the solution of it, on the other, concur in establishing our doctrine, that, by the appointment of God himself, the infants of believing parents are born members of his church.


Brandon Adams: [responding to the claim in the sermon that there was only ever one people of God, therefore Israel was the church and holiness if the congregation of Christ is the same as holiness in the congregation of Israel]

appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people. This is not only evident by what has been already observed, but also indisputably manifest from Rom. ix. 3, 4, 5… It is to be noted, that the privileges here mentioned are spoken of as belonging to the Jews, not now as visible saints, not as professors of the true religion, not as members of the visible church of Christ; but only as people of such a nation, such a blood, such an external and carnal relation to the patriarchs their ancestors, Israelites according to the flesh. For the apostle is speaking here of the unbelieving Jews, professed unbelievers, that were out of the christian church, and open visible enemies to it, and such as had no right to the external privileges of Christ’s people…

that covenant with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that everlasting covenant of grace; promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him. Such were those that annexed the blessing to the land of Canaan, and the progeny of Isaac and Jacob. Just so it was also as to the covenant God made with David. 2 Sam. vii.. and Psal. cxxxii.. If we consider that covenant with regard to its marrow and soul, it was the covenant of grace: but there were other subservient promises which were typical of its benefits; such were promises of blessings to the nation of Israel, of continuing the temporal crown to David’s posterity, and of fixing the blessing to Jerusalem or mount Zion, as the place which he chose to set his name there. And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion.

On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace

-Jonathan Edwards

 

Much of the most plausible argument of Romanists is derived from the analogy of the old dispensation. That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church…

The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church…

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.

When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37). The Church, therefore, is, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership.

-Charles Hodge


Brandon Adams: Glen, thank you for that extensive quote in response to Matthew’s question. However, I do not believe it sufficiently answers the dilemma, for a number of reasons.

1) Mason criticizes his objectors by saying they provide no definition of what holiness means. However, Mason winds up in the exact same situation. He denies that the holiness of the spouse is the same as the holiness of the child. The holiness of the child accounts them a member of the church, and thus a right to baptism. This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis? What is this holiness if it is not covenant holiness? Mason suffers the problem he criticizes others of: he provides no definition of the spouse’s holiness.

2) If the spouse is considered holy by their membership in the covenant of grace, just like the child, then they have a right to baptism, just like the child. However, Mason rejects this idea when he says “it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife.” Mason thus rejects the idea that the spouse is covenantally holy by virtue of their marriage to a believer. Along the same lines, you said “The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief.” If someone is excommunicated, they are not considered part of the church, nor part of the covenant of grace, and therefore not holy (unless you can offer a different basis for holiness, which goes back to #1).

3) Using a modus tollens form of argument, Paul argues from the status of the child to the status of the spouse:

If P, then Q,
Not Q,
Therefore, Not P.

If the spouse is unholy, then the children would be unholy.
But the children are holy (not-Q),
Therefore, the spouse is holy (not-P).

Per #2 above, you and Mason acknowledge that an unbeliever is unholy. Thus, according to Paul’s logic, the children are likewise unholy.


Glen Clary: Hmmm. Interesting points.
The unbelieving husband certainly has an unholy nature. No question about that. The child may also have an unholy nature, though that is not certain, since he may very well be regenerate.
The status of the unbelieving spouse is, in some sense, holy, since that’s what the text says. The unbelieving spouse derives his/her holiness from the believer; he/she is holy in or through the believing spouse.
The holy status of the children is derived from the status of the parents. The argument seems to be that if both parents are not holy, then the children would be unholy/unclean.
Re: Mason’s explanation, I see your point that he’s guilty of doing what he accuses his opponents of doing. Not sure what to make of that. I’ll have to chew on that some more.

The point Matthew raised about excommunicating the unbeliever/idolater seems to be significant. The unbeliever can’t be baptized because he’s an unbeliever; he would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief. That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?

I preached a couple of sermons on this text. I try to deal with the nature of the holiness of the unbeliever. I referred to him/her as the unbelieving saint.
Here are the links if interested
http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp… Marriage and the Gospel Part 3

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonid=320161259164 The Case for Infant Baptism


Brandon Adams:

That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?

Yes, though that’s not directly my point of focus here.


Glen Clary: Thanks for the feedback. I’ve been working on this verse for a while. Not an easy one.


Brandon Adams: Thanks, I will listen to the sermons. Could you provide a brief answer? Is the spouse holy because they are in the covenant of grace?

btw, I listened to the second link already. In that sermon you define the holiness as covenant holiness.


Glen Clary: On the one point that you raised

This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis?

The basis of the holiness of the unbelieving husband is his union to his believing wife. The unbelieving husband is made holy in virtue of his union to his wife. I take that to be the meaning of the preposition EN in the text. Still not exactly sure what that means, but…

Yes, I think covenant holiness is in view with regard to all three parties: the believer, the unbeliever and the child.

The reason I take it that way is the holiness that covers all three parties must be the same as the holiness of the believer, since it’s the believer’s holiness that stands behind the holiness of all three. At least that’s what it looks like it’s saying to me.


Brandon Adams: Do you believe that an unbeliever who has been excommunicated from the church is still covenantally holy?


Glen Clary: no


Brandon Adams: Then I am confused. At what point is the unbelieving spouse covenantally holy?


Glen Clary: well, not so sure about my “no”. it depends. if an excommunicated person were still married to a believer, then he would have some sort of holiness as per 7:14

The unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy in some sense as long as he/she is married to a believer


Brandon Adams: Can you define that sense? I’m having a hard time understanding how someone can be excommunicated from the church, yet still be a member of the covenant of grace.


Glen Clary: but that holiness (if it be a covenantal holiness) is derived from his/her marriage union to the believer not from his/her union to Christ

you’re having a hard time with it? I think I am too and so was Mason.


Brandon Adams: Well, personally, I don’t have a hard time with the passage. I have a hard time with your view of the passage.


Glen Clary well then… 😉

Let’s hear your explanation. smile emoticon


Brandon Adams:

Melancthon:

Therefore Paul answers that the marriages are not to be pulled asunder for their unlike opinions of God if the impious person do not cast away the other. And for comfort, he adds as a reason, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. Meat is sanctified for that which is holy in use that is granted to believers from God. So here he speaks the use of marriage to be holy and to be granted of God. Things prohibited under the law as swine’s flesh, and a woman in her pollution, were called unclean. The connection of the argument is this: If the use of marriage should not please God, your children would be bastards and so unclean, but your children are not bastards therefore the use of marriage pleaseth God. And how bastards were unclean under the law shows Deut. 23.


Glen Clary: Ran across that view in a few commentaries. I wasn’t and am not convinced of it. It’s not the marriage that is sanctified; it’s the unbelieving spouse who is sanctified. The legitimacy of the marriage and of the children is not the issue in the text. So I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation of the meaning of the text.


Brandon Adams: The legitimacy of the marriage is quite obviously the context 🙂 v 13 “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.”

Given that you have not provided a viable alternative interpretation…


Glen Clary: Granted my interpretation poses problems, but that does not prove the legitimacy of the legitimacy interpretation. If legitimacy were obvious, then there should be much more agreement on the interpretation of the text. Fact is, most commentators do not take that view

That interpretation raises all kinds of problems with regard to what scripture teaches about marriage. If neither spouse were a believer, the marriage would be legit and their children legit. Common grace ordinance…


Brandon Adams: Yes, most commentators do not take that view because, like you, they rely on it to prove infant baptism.

But your interpretation results in direct contradiction which you have not resolved.


 

Glen Clary: Actually, I’ve read +40 commentaries on the text, and most do not use the text to prove infant baptism. In fact, there are some commentators (ancient and modern) who use it to disprove infant baptism.

Pelagius, for example, used it to prove that infants should not be baptized. Augustine countered his interpretation.

There are difficulties with my view, but that, of course, is not the same as contradiction. There are no contradictions in the traditional Reformed interpretation of the text. Difficulties? Yes. Contradictions? Nope.


Brandon Adams: Contradiction: the unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy but is not part of the covenant of grace.


Glen Clary He is only holy in virtue of his one-flesh union to one who is a member of the covt
No contradiction


Brandon Adams: But the child’s holiness is on a completely different basis and produces completely different consequences, and you cannot define or articulate what the non-covenantal covenantal holiness of the spouse is?


Glen Clary: The child’s holiness may be on a different basis. I cant go beyond the text. If the text doesnt articulate or define the holiness of the unbeliever then neither can we. One thing is clear … his holiness is derived from his union to a believer. No doubt about that


Brandon Adams: If you believe the child’s holiness is by virtue of their membership in the covenant of grace, then you must conclude their holiness is on a different basis than the spouse, who is not a member of the covenant of grace. Correct?


Glen Clary: I have no prob with that


Brandon Adams: So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v14 is by virtue of one’s membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?


Glen Clary: Yes it does. The believer is only holy because of his membership in the covenant of grace. The unbelieving spouse is holy only in virtue of his one-flesh union to the believer. The preposition EN makes that clear. If the believer were not a member of the covenant of grace, neither married partner would be holy in any sense at all. So the text does require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v. 14 is by virtue of membership in the covenant of grace.


Brandon Adams: Let me rephrase then:
So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness of the unbelieving spouse or the child is by virtue of their individual membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?


Glen Clary: Correct. The text doesn’t state the basis of the children’s holy status, and I don’t think their inclusion in the covenant of grace can be derived from this single text as a necessary consequence. I stated that at the very beginning of my sermon on the text. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace is stated explicitly elsewhere such as in Gen. 17.

I do think it is telling that Paul does not argue here for the holy status of the children. He assumes that the Christians in Corinth take that as a given. He uses the holy status of the children (which they are certain about) to prove his argument for the holiness of the unbelieving spouse.

One wonders why the holy status of the children is something that he assumes is a given. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace (which scripture explicitly states elsewhere) is a good explanation for that.


Brandon Adams: Ok thanks. Seems Jim Cassidy was a bit over-zealous in his claim that your sermon ends the debate on infant baptism, since the sermon does not claim that the sermon text proves infant baptism. Once again, upon examination, we find another text that only “proves” infant baptism if you first approach the text with the assumption that infant baptism is biblical.

The legitimacy interpretation mentioned above explains the holy status of children quite clearly and why Paul could assume it.


 

Glen Clary: The legitimacy interpretation, my friend, is ridiculous, which is why virtually every commentator rejects it today. It has no merit to it whatsoever (other than it might get you and other credobaptists off the hook for explaining the holy status of ourchildren).

I’ve made my case for the paedobaptist interpretation. There are difficulties with that interpretation, I know, but at least one thing it has in its favor is that it is a genuine exegesis of the text. It doesn’t totally redefine the meaning of holy as legitimate, a meaning which it NEVER has anywhere in Paul’s letters.

The legitimacy interpretation fails on that account, and for that reason, it must be rejected as incorrect.

Having said that, I fully admit that even if the legitimacy interpretation is wrong (which it is), that does not prove that the paedobaptist interpretation is correct. Both could be wrong. But I remain convinced that despite its difficulties, ours is correct.

You’ve done a fine job of pointing out the difficulties of the text, but you’ve done nothing at all to demonstrate any exegetical or theological fallacies in our interpretation.

1 Cor. 7:14 is not an easy text because it’s a bit unclear. What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture. And what’s equally clear is that children have always been included in that covenant.

I’m checking out of this conversation because we’re now repeating ourselves. In fact, as Mason illustrates, this debate over the meaning of holy in 7:14 is not new. Same old debate.

Credobaptists will never prove that God now commands children to be excluded from the covenant of grace even though he at one time commanded their inclusion.


Brandon Adams: Thank you for your time Glen. In conclusion, the spouse’s holiness is not derived from their membership in the covenant of grace, thus there is no reason one must conclude the child’s is either. That assumption is brought to the text from elsewhere to explain the text.

What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture.

Yes, but it does not therefore follow that Israel was the church nor that the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace (see my previous quotes before this conversation from Edwards and Hodge).

Have a good night!

1 Cor. 7:14 – The “Legitimacy” Interpretation

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:12-14 ESV)

The “legitimacy” interpretation of this passage recognizes that Paul is addressing the question of the legitimacy or sinfulness of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. The entire chapter is about how to view various marriage commitments as a believer. To the believer who is bound to an unbeliever, Paul says “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches… So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”

But the objection would certainly be raised by some, “Paul, we’re not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

To which Paul responds, “Just as you are not to participate in the worship of idols, but you may eat meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8; Rom 14) because food ‘is made holy by the word of God and prayer’ (1 Tim 4:5) so to you are not to live as an unbeliever, but you may remain married to an unbeliever. The unbelieving marriage is made acceptable (“sanctified”) by the conscience of the believer, who did not enter into the union in sin, but was called in that state.”

“If this were not the case, then you would have to cast off your children as well. But you do not have to because they are sanctified as well.”

The one objection brought against this reading is that marriage does not need to be sanctified by a believer. Marriage is a common institution and a marriage between two unbelievers is not illegitimate, so that can’t be Paul’s meaning. This ignores the fact that the question is not the legitimacy of marriage itself, but the legitimacy of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever – something that would normally be sinful if entered into consciously as a believer.

Furthermore this ignores the Old Covenant background to this question. Israelites were forbidden to take wives from other nations. Ezra 9-10 explains a situation in which many Israelites had taken foreign wives and had children with them. 10:14 says the fierce wrath of God was upon them for this. They were called to repent. They did. “Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.” (Ez 10:3). Paul explains that the situation is very different for Christians. They do not have to put away their spouse and their children because both are sanctified (set apart for use) by the Christian. Given the very different nature between the Old Covenant and New Covenant in this regard, it would be quite mistaken to appeal to the Old Covenant to explain how the unbeliever and the children are holy. In the Old Covenant they were not!

Chrysostom

Chrysostom’s words make the situation clear.

Then lest the woman might fear, as though she became unclean because of intercourse with her husband, he says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband.” And yet, if “he that is joined to an harlot is one body,” it is quite clear that the woman also who is joined to an idolater is one body. Well: it is one body; nevertheless she becomes not unclean, but the cleanness of the wife overcomes the uncleanness of the husband; and again, the cleanness of the believing husband overcomes the uncleanness of the unbelieving wife… therefore the intercourse [is] allowed…

If any after marrying or being married have received the word of godliness, and then the other party which had continued in unbelief still yearn for them to dwell together, let not the marriage be broken off. “For,” saith he, “the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife.” So great is the superabundance of thy purity.

What then, is the Greek holy? Certainly not: for he said not, He is holy; but, “He is sanctified in his wife.” And this he said, not to signify that he is holy, but to deliver the woman as completely as possible from her fear

John Gill

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife
That is, “by the believing wife”; as the Vulgate Latin and Syriac versions read, and so it is read in some copies; and likewise in the next clause the same is read,

by the believing husband;
this is a reason given by the apostle why they should live together. This cannot be understood of internal sanctification, which is never the case; an unbeliever cannot be sanctified by a believer in this sense, for such a sanctification is only by the Spirit of God; nor external sanctification, or an outward reformation, which though the unbelieving yoke fellow may sometimes be a means of, yet not always; and besides, the usefulness of one to another in such a relation, in a spiritual sense, urged as a reason for living together, in ( 1 Corinthians 7:16 ) nor merely of the holiness of marriage, as it is an institution of God, which is equally the same in unbelievers as believers, or between a believer and an unbeliever, as between two believers; but of the very act of marriage, which, in the language of the Jews, is expressed by being “sanctified”; instances almost without number might be given of the use of the word (vdq) , in this sense, out of the Misnic, Talmudic, and Rabbinic writings; take the following one instead of a thousand that might be produced F19.

“The man (vdqm) , “sanctifies”, or espouses a wife by himself, or by his messenger; the woman (vdqtm) , “is sanctified”, or espoused by herself, or by her messenger. The man (vdqm) , “sanctifies”, or espouses his daughter, when she is a young woman, by himself or by his messenger; if anyone says to a woman, (yvdqth) , “be thou sanctified”, or espoused to me by this date (the fruit of the palm tree,) (yvdqth) , “be thou sanctified”, or espoused to me by this (any other thing); if there is anyone of these things the value of a farthing, (tvdwqm) , “she is sanctified”, or espoused, and if not she is not (tvdwqm) , “sanctified”, or “espoused”; if he says, by this, and by this, and by this, if there is the value of a farthing in them all, (tvdwqm) , “she is sanctified”, or espoused; but if not, she is not (tvdwqm) , “sanctified”, or espoused; if she eats one after another, she is not (tvdwqm) , “sanctified”, or espoused, unless there is one of them the value of a farthing;”

in which short passage, the word which is used to “sanctify”, or be “sanctified”, in the Hebrew language, is used to espouse, or be espoused no less than “ten” times. So the Jews F20 interpret the word “sanctified”, in ( Job 1:5 ) he espoused to them wives; in the Misna, the oral law of the Jews, there is a whole treatise of (Nyvwdyq) “sanctifications” F21, or espousals; and in the Gemara or Talmud F23 is another, full of the disputes of the doctors on this subject. Maimonides has also written a treatise of women and wives F24, out of which might be produced almost innumerable instances in proof of the observation; and such as can read, and have leisure to read the said tracts, may satisfy themselves to their heart’s content. Let it be further observed; that the preposition (en) , which is in most versions rendered “by”, should be rendered “in” or “to” or “unto”, as it is in the next verse, and in many other places; see ( Matthew 17:12 ) ( Mark 9:13 ) ( Colossians 1:23 ) ( 1 Thessalonians 4:7 ) ( 2 Peter 1:5-7 ) if it be rendered in the former way, “in”, it denotes the near union which by marriage the man and woman are brought into; if in the latter, it designs the object to which the man or woman is espoused, and the true sense and even the right rendering of the passage is this: “for the unbelieving husband is espoused to the wife, and the unbelieving wife is espoused to the husband”; they are duly, rightly, and legally espoused to each other; and therefore ought not, notwithstanding their different sentiments of religion, to separate from one another; otherwise, if this is not the case, if they are not truly married to one another, this consequence must necessarily follow; that the children born in such a state of cohabitation, where the marriage is not valid, must be spurious, and not legitimate, and which is the sense of the following words:

else were your children unclean, but now are they holy;
that is, if the marriage contracted between them in their state of infidelity was not valid, and, since the conversion of one of them, can never be thought to be good; then the children begotten and born, either when both were infidels, or since one of them was converted, must be unlawfully begotten, be base born, and not a genuine legitimate offspring; and departure upon such a foot would be declaring to all the world that their children were illegitimate; which would have been a sad case indeed, and contains in it another reason why they ought to keep together; whereas, as the apostle has put it, the children are holy in the same sense as their parents are; that as they are sanctified, or lawfully espoused together, so the children born of them were in a civil and legal sense holy, that is, legitimate; wherefore to support the validity of their marriage, and for the credit of their children, it was absolutely necessary they should abide with one another. The learned Dr. Lightfoot says, that the words “unclean” and “holy” denote not children unlawfully begotten, and lawfully begotten; but Heathenism and Christianism; and thinks the apostle alludes to the distinction often made by the Jews, of the children of proselytes being born in “holiness”, or out of it, that is, either before they became proselytes or after; but it should be observed, that though the word “holiness” is used for Judaism, yet not for Christianity; and besides, the marriages of Heathens were not looked upon as marriages by the Jews, and particularly such mixed ones as of a Jew and Gentile, they were not to be reckoned marriages; for so they say F25,

“he that espouses a Gentile woman, or a servant, (Nyvwdyq Nnya) , “they are not espousals”; but lo, he is after the espousals as he was before the espousals; and so a Gentile, or a servant, that espouses a daughter of Israel, (Nyvwdyq Nhyvwdyq Nya) , “those espousals are no espousals”;”

nor do they allow children begotten of such persons to be legitimate. This learned writer himself owns such a tradition, and which he cites {z},

“that a son begotten in uncleanness is a son in all respects, and in general is reckoned as an Israelite, though he is a bastard, (wnb wnya hywgh Nm Nbh) , “but a son begotten on a Gentile woman is not his son”;”

all which are just the reverse of what the apostle is here observing; and who, it must be remarked, is speaking of the same sort of holiness of children as of parents, which cannot be understood of Christianity, because one of the parents in each is supposed to be an Heathen. The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.

Paeobaptists Agree

Abraham Booth (1829) compiled quotes from 18 paedobaptists affirming the same interpretation.

Mr. Poole’s Continuators

“The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife.” – I rather think it signifies brought into such a state, that the believer, without offense to the law of God, may continue in a married state with such a yoke-fellow; and the estate of marriage is a holy state, notwithstanding the disparity with reference to religion.

Annotations on the place.

Camerarius

The unbelieving husband hath been sanctified – that is, sanctified in the lawful use of marriage. For without this, the apostle says, the children would be unclean; that is, infamous, not being legitimate. Thus they are holy; that is, during the marriage, they are free from every spot of ignominy.

In loc.

Vatablus

‘The unbelieving husband is sanctified.’ That is, the husband, though unclean, shall be accounted pure in reference to matrimonial commerce; otherwise the children would not be legitimate, who nevertheless are legitimate.

In loc.

Camero

‘Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.’ This holiness, of which the apostle speaks, is not opposed to that impurity which by nature properly agrees to all, on account of Adam’s offense; but to that impurity of which believing wives were apprehensive, from their cohabiting with unbelieving husbands.

In loc.

Velthuysius

Some think, by that holiness mentioned in 1 Cor. 7:14, is to be understood such an external holiness as was that of the Israelites, and of the circumcised; which was possessed by an Israelite and a Jew, even though his life made it appear that he was not a true Israelite, ‘whose praise is not of men, but of God.’ Now those who are of this opinion suppose, that there is a kind of external covenant under the gospel; on account of which covenant some are called holy, though nothing appears in their lives to prove them real saints. But I see no intimation of this external covenant in the whole gospel; and this opinion is akin to an error of the Papists, who suppose that a congregation may be a true church, though destitute of holiness.

Opera, tom. i. p. 801

Dr. Whitby

By the wife: because of the wife; i.e. he is to be reputed as sanctified, because he is one flesh with her that is holy… Or we may take these words in the sense of the Greek interpreters; viz. The unbelieving husband hath been sanctified to the believing wife, by his consent to cohabit with her, and to have seed by her.

Annotations on the place.

Justinianus

The apostle does not mean that sanctification of a married person, by which he becomes truly righteous and holy; but that by which the use of marriage may be honorably enjoyed.

Apud Chamierum, Panstrat. tom. iv. l. v. c. x. S47.

Salmero

The sanctification intended relates to marriage.

Apud Chamierum, ibid

Suares and Vasques

The children are called holy, in a civil sense; that is, legitimate, and not spurious… As if Paul had said, If your marriage were unlawful, your children would be illegitimate: but the former is not the fact, therefore not the latter.*

*Chamier informs us that Ambrose, Thomas, and Anselm so understand the passage [footnote by Booth]

Ubi supra S50.

Dr. Ames

The unbelieving partner is said to be sanctified, not simply, but as to the use of marriage; like as all creatures are sanctified to a believer’s use (1 Tim 4:5)

Bellarminus Enervatus, tom. iii. p. 68, 69

Dietericus

Hath been sanctified; that is, legitimated, so that their marriage is lawful. This the apostle proves form the natural effect. For if the unbelieving husband be not sanctified, i.e. legitimated, by the wife; and if the unbelieving wife be not sanctified, or legitimated, by the husband; your children are unclean; that is, they were born of an unlawful marriage; rather, of an illicit commerce. But now are they holy: that is, legitimate, not bastards, or born of unchastity.

Apud Wolfium, Curae, in loc.

Hackspanius

The opinion of Piscator, in his note on this passage, is very agreeable to me. He thinks that ‘the unbelieving husband is said to be sanctified by the believing wife,’ and the unbelieving wife to be ‘sanctified by the believing husband,’ because the use of marriages was granted as holy; that is, it does not injure the conscience of the wife or the husband; because the wife with a good conscience may cohabit with an unbelieving husband. Thus different kinds of food are said to be sanctified (1 Tim 4:5) which a person may use without hurting his conscience: which parallel passage is here urged, after Austin, by Flacius, and by Ames.

Apud Wolfium, ut supra

Melancthon

Paul answers, that the marriages are not to be pulled asunder for their unlike of opinions of God, if the impious person do not cast away the other; and for comfort, he adds as a reason, ‘The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife.’ Of which speech divers interpretations are made; but the true and natural is this, as elsewhere he saith, ‘Meat is sanctified’ for that which is holy in use, that is, granted to believers from God. So here he speaks of the use of marriage to be holy, and to be granted of God… The connection of the argument is this: If the use of marriage should not please God, your children would be bastards, and so unclean; but your children are not bastards, therefore the use of marriage pleaseth God. How bastards were unclean in a peculiar manner, the law shows, (Deut xxiii.) ‘Let not a bastard enter into the congregation of the Lord, to the tenth generation.

In Mr. Tombe’s Exercitation, p. 11

Wolfius

The generality of our Lutheran divines understand the sanctification of the unbelieving partner only in this sense; Paul asserts that a marriage of this kind ought to be esteemed lawful and firm by Christians, though only one of the parties profess the name of Christ.

Curae, in loc.

Vitringa

We would have it observed, the apostle does not mean, that all the children of believers and saints are truly partakers of the Holy Spirit, and by him engrafted into the body of the church; for there is no promise of this prerogative made to believing parents; nay, rather, the events of every day teach the contrary. You see parents that love and worship God, and educate their children in the fear of God; you see children in this respect, exceedingly different from their parents, and of contrary dispositions. He who reads the history of he kings of Judah, will meet, as it were, alternately, with a virtuous father, and w wicked son and grandsons; and again, from these an offspring that is acceptable to God… Seeing it is manifest therefore, that the children of believers are not called holy, because they are all actuated by the Holy Spirit; the generality of our divines recur to an external holiness, which has its original from an external covenant. So that the children of believers are holy, because, being separated from the world, they live and are educated in the communion of the external church, and are partakers of the symbols of the external church. Like as the Israelites in former times, being chosen out of the other nations of the world, are called a holy nation, (Exod. xix 6) though a very great part of them were impure; and their children are denominated a holy seed (Ezra ix. 2, compared with Neh. ix. 2)

It is undoubtedly true, that in Israel, according to the flesh, there was an external and typical holiness, arising from an external covenant, which consisted in external precepts, (the scripture calls them carnal, because the flesh is the exterior part of man) and so external promises, which the scripture calls worse than the promises of the new covenant; in which external covenant the internal covenant of grace was involved; for so God was pleased to act in the economy in those times. God signified this to Abraham, when he said, that he would make a covenant, not only with Abraham, but also with his seed, (Gen xvii. 7).

Now the promises of that covenant, which are there mentioned, are both spiritual and carnal, which circumcision sealed. An interest in these was conferred on the whole seed of Abraham, whether pure or impure; but a right to those was limited to the spiritual seed of Abraham; that is, to them that should believe in Christ, and by faith obtain righteousness and life. Paul, to the Romans, expressly says; ‘They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed,’ (Rom. ix. 8)

Thus also those learned men seem to conceive of this passage, that it is the external holiness of those who give up themselves to the church, so far as they are separated from the world: in the multitude of whole seeing there are infants, hence also they are called holy, as were infants of the Israelites in formers ages. But this is inconsistent with the clear doctrine of the divine word, and absolutely contrary to the genius of the new covenant… So far from an external holiness of this kind having any place under the New Testament, that, on the contrary, this is the prerogative of the New Testament or covenant, that no one belong to it, except he be truly sanctified; no one is called holy, except he be truly considered as internally holy; and in this consists the difference between the old and the new covenant, that this is entirely spiritual, entirely internal. The precepts and promises of it are internal: it acknowledges none as covenants but those that are truly sanctified, or accounted such. But that had both carnal precepts and carnal promises; and it also admitted covenants that were ceremonially clean, though not pure in heart…

The infants of believing parents are therefore called holy, because we justly presume, that they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit in their parents. For seeing God has conferred his grace on the parents, or on one of the parents, by a judgment of charity, we presume that he will afford the same grace to the infants, as long as the contrary is not manifest to us. This is the reason why the children of unbelievers are not admitted to baptism; because we are supplied with no argument or foundation by which, in a judgment of charity, we should be persuaded that God will communicate his grace to them.

Observat. Sac. l. ii. c. vi. S25-28

Lord Brooke

‘Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.’ I know some interpret it thus: If it be unlawful for a believer to live in wedlock with one that believeth not, then have many of you lived a long time in unlawful marriage; and so your very children must be illegitimate, and these also must be cast off, as base born: but this is not so; for your children are holy, that is, legitimate. I confess this seems a very fair interpretation; yet I much question whether this be all the apostle means by that phrase, holy; especially when I reflect on the preceding words, ‘The unbeliever is sanctified by the believer.’ Nor yet can I believe any inherent holiness is here meant; but rather, that relative church-holiness, which makes a man capable of admission to holy ordinances, and so to baptism, yea, and to the Lord’s supper also, for aught I see; except perhaps infants be excluded from this sacrament, by that text, ‘Let him that eateth examine himself and so let him eat.’

Discourse on Episcopacy, sect ii. chap. vii. p. 97, 98.

Musculus

The most plain understanding of this place is, first, in that we understand not the word holiness, of that holiness which is by the covenant of God, or the spirit of faith, by which believers are sanctified as a people of God, but of the holiness of the conjugal bed; otherwise, it will bring forth a troublesome dispute, how an unbelieving husband may be said to be sanctified. Then, that we attribute this sanctification, that is, cleanness, not to the faith of the believing yoke-fellow, but to the marriage, by reason of the appointment of God; with Hierome, who saith, Because by God’s appointment marriage is holy; and Ambrose, who hath it thus, The children are holy, because they are born of lawful marriage…

I have sometimes abused the present place against the error of Anabaptists, keeping back infants of Christians from baptism; thinking that speech, But now are they holy, to be the same as, They are the people of God, by reason of the believing parents. But although it be sure in itself, that the children of believers are both holy, and pertaining to the people of God, by reason of the participation of the covenant, and so are partakers of baptism as the sign of the covenant; yet the present place makes nothing to this cause, in which the sanctimony of the covenant and people is not meddled with, but the cleanness of lawful marriage, even of infidels: for not only to children, to whom perhaps the holiness of a believing parents may so appertain, but also to unbelieving husbands and wives is sanctimony ascribed, although they oppose the Christian faith. Nor is any other holiness or cleanness of children meddled with, than that which agrees also to unbelieving parents; for to them no other agrees, than that which is lawful by marriage.

In Mr. Tombe’s Exercitation, p. 12, 13

Calovius

The unbeliever is said to be sanctified by marriage with the believer; not as to the person, which is not sanctified, except by faith; but as to the use, and conjugal intercourse, which are sanctified b the prayers of the believing companion… Paul here treats concerning a mutual participation of such holiness as depends upon conjugal custom, as Chrysostom teaches; a holiness, which the believing and unbelieving partner have in common between themselves. Whence it follows, that these things have been rashly and violently applied by Calvin, Beza, Paraeus, and others, to a natural or original holiness of children born of believers.

Vid. Grotium, in loc.

Booth’s Reflections

Reflect I. From these quotations we learn, that the sanctification of the unbelieving husband relates entirely to matrimonial commerce, No. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18; – that the holiness of the children is not of an external kind, arising from an external economy; the new covenant being altogether spiritual and internal, No. 5, 7, 15; – that no holiness is here ascribed to children, which does not agree to the unbelieving parent, No. 17; – and that this passage affords no argument for infant baptism, No. 17. Such are the sentiments of these paedobaptists concerning this remarkable text. I will now add the concurring testimony of Anthony Purver, an impartial Friend. “Is sanctified: so as to continue married together. Unclean: in respect of parents, as if born out of wedlock.”

Booth notes that Paul’s teaching here actually does not match Jewish practice.

Reflect IV…

Whatever be the holiness here designed, we have reason enough to conclude it is not like that of the ancient Jewish offspring, which consisted in being the lawful issue of a Jew and of a Jewess: for if an Israelite married a heathenish woman, and had children by her, they were not accounted a holy seed (Ezra 9:2; Nehem. 9:2). Whereas, it is highly probable, the apostle is here speaking of two Gentiles; one of them converted, the other an idolater, whom he forbids to separate on account of the Christian faith; while, on the contrary, the Jews were commanded to put away their heathenish wives, even after having had issue by such marriages. This external, relative holiness of the chosen tribes entirely ceased, when that dispensation to which it belonged became extinct. Consequently, as holiness of this kind has no existence under the new economy, no argument for infant baptism can be derived from it.

Booth goes on at length on several points if you wish to read the rest.

Piper vs Owen on Romans 2:6-7, 13

A short demonstration on the importance of covenant theology:
John Piper denies a works principle anywhere in Scripture, including the Covenant of Works.

Has God ever commanded anyone to obey with a view to earning or meriting life? Would God command a person to do a thing that he uniformly condemns as arrogant?

In Romans 11:35-36, Paul describes why earning from God is arrogant and impossible. He says, ‘Who has first given to [God] that it might be paid back to him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” The thought that anyone could give anything to God with a view to being paid back with merit or wages is presumptuous and impossible, because all things (including obedience) are from God in the first place. You can’t earn from God by giving him what is already his…

It is true that God commanded Adam to obey him, and it is also true that failure to obey would result in death (Genesis 2:16-17): “In the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (verse 17). But the question is this: What kind of obedience is required for the inheritance of life – the obedience of earning or the obedience of trusting? The Bible presents two very different kinds of effort to keep God’s commandments. One way is legalistic; it depends on our own strength and aims to earn life. The other way we might call evangelical; it depends on God’s enabling power and aims to obtain life by faith in his promises, which is shown in the freedom of obedience…

Adam had to walk in obedience to his Creator in order to inherit life, but the obedience required of him was the obedience that comes from faith. God did not command legalism, arrogance, and suicide… There was no hint that Adam was to earn or deserve. The atmosphere was one of testing faith in unmerited favor, not testing willingness to earn or merit. The command of God was for the obedience that comes from faith…

What then of the ‘second Adam,’ Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the obedience that Adam forsook (1 Cor 15:45; Rom 5:14-20)?… He fulfilled the Law perfectly in the way that the Law was meant to be fulfilled from the beginning, not by works, but by faith (Rom 9:32)…

We are called to walk the way Jesus walked and the way Adam was commanded to walk. Adam failed because he did not trust the grace of God to pursue him with goodness and mercy all his days (Psalm 23:6).

A Godward Life, p. 177

Piper is correct that man can never earn anything from God. But that is why our confession recognizes that God voluntarily condescended to Adam and offered him a reward for his labor that he did not deserve (LBCF 7.1). In so doing, he made Adam a wage earner. Piper rejects this. And because he rejects this, he does not believe there is any objective contrast between the law and faith.

When Paul says “the law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12; Rom 10:5; Lev 18:5) Piper says that refers to a subjective “legalistic” attitude towards law-keeping, and not to any objective difference between the law and faith. As a result, he says:

Let me declare myself clearly here: I believe in the necessity of a transformed life of obedience to Jesus by the power of the Spirit through faith as a public evidence and confirmation of faith at the Last Day for all who will finally be saved. In other words, I believe it is actually true, not just hypothetically true, that God “will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom.2:6–7).

The Future of Justification, p. 110

So Christians are called “to walk the way Adam was commanded to walk” in order that God may give us eternal life.

However, if we recognize the biblical truth taught in LBCF/WCF 7.1, we will see that God gave Adam the law *as a covenant of works* to thereby earn eternal life. This is the “works principle” articulated in Lev 18:5. This principle is quoted by Paul as a contrast to the faith principle, not because it referred to a subjective legalistic attitude in the Judaizers, but because it referred to an objectively different means of obtaining a reward: works vs faith.

Owen explains that Rom 2:6-7, 13 is a further statement of this works principle:

The words there [Rom 2:7] are used in a law sense, and are declarative of the righteousness of God in rewarding the keepers of the law of nature, or the moral law, according to the law of the covenant of works. This is evident from the whole design of the apostle in that place, which is to convince all men, Jews and Gentiles, of sin against the law, and of the impossibility of the obtaining the glory of God thereby.
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/vindicevang.i.xl.html

We are not hereon justified by the law, or the works of it… The meaning of it in the Scripture is, that only “the doers of the law shall be justified,” Romans 2:13; and that “he that does the things of it shall live by them,” chapter 10:5, — namely, in his own person, by the way of personal duty, which alone the law requires. But if we, who have not fulfilled the law in the way of inherent, personal obedience, are justified by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us, then are we justified by Christ, and not by the law.

-The Doctrine of Justification

There is also a twofold justification before God mentioned in the Scripture. First, “By the works of the law,” Romans 2:13; 10:5; Matthew 19:16-19. Here unto is required an absolute conformity unto the whole law of God, in our natures, all the faculties of our souls, all the principles of our moral operations, with perfect actual obedience unto all its commands, in all instances of duty, both for matter and manner: for he is cursed who continues not in all things that are written in the law, to do them; and he that break any one commandment is guilty of the breach of the whole law. Hence the apostle concludes that none can be justified by the law, because all have sinned. Second, There is a justification by grace, through faith in the blood of Christ; whereof we treat. And these ways of justification are contrary, proceeding on terms directly contradictory, and cannot be made consistent with or subservient one to the other.

-The Doctrine of Justification

Paul’s Enthymemes on the Law (Gal 4:4-5)

One of the questions that comes up for those studying 1689 Federalism is whether or not the Mosaic Covenant (which was a covenant of works) offered eternal life as a reward for obedience to the law. Historically, some have said yes, while others no. I (following Coxe, Owen, Renihans, Barcellos, etc) say no, the Mosaic Covenant only offered temporal life and blessings. However, two passages in particular seems to suggest I am mistaken and that the Mosaic Covenant did in fact offer eternal life and that Christ in fact earned our righteousness through the Mosaic Covenant.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10-14 ESV)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

What are we to make of these passages which seem to teach that our blessings were earned by Christ as a reward for obedience to the Mosaic Covenant (“the law”)? Well, we need to understand Paul’s rhetoric as an enthymeme. An enthymeme is “a syllogism in which one of the premises is implicit.” Britannica explains:

in syllogistic, or traditional, logic, name of a syllogistic argument that is incompletely stated. In the argument “All insects have six legs; therefore, all wasps have six legs,” the minor premise, “All wasps are insects,” is suppressed. Any one of the propositions may be omitted—even the conclusion; but in general it is the one that comes most naturally to the mind. Often in rhetorical language the deliberate omission of one of the propositions has a dramatic effect.

Wikipedia refers to it as an “informal syllogism”

Here is an example of an informal syllogism, an enthymeme:

  • Socrates is mortal because he’s human.”
The complete formal syllogism would be the classic:
All humans are mortal. (major premise – assumed)
Socrates is human. (minor premise – stated)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion – stated)

While syllogisms lay out all of their premises and conclusion explicitly, enthymemes keep at least one of the premises or conclusion unsaid. The assertions left unsaid are intended to be so obvious as to not need stating.

I highly recommend that everyone take some time to listen to John Robbins’ mp3 course on logic (Course 11). Education in logic used to be a prerequisite to any formal study of a subject (such as theology). The Westminster Assembly produced The Directory for Publick Worship which includes the following rule for examination of a pastor:

He shall be examined touching his skill in the original tongues and his trial to be made by reading the Hebrew and Greek testaments and rendering some portion of them into Latin. And if he be defective in them, inquiry shall be made more strictly after his other learning and whether he hath skill in logick and philosophy.

page 72

I never received any formal logic instruction, so I’m doing my best to play catch-up. We all need to play catch-up. Logic is not common sense. It’s not something everyone knows and understands. Logic is “the rules of proper thought” or “the science of necessary inference.” It is a study of the proper way to think, and it’s something a lot of us are ignorant of (and we correct this by studying how God thinks by studying Scripture and thereby developing proper rules of thought – not by looking to “natural theology”). But back to enthymeme (from Robbins’ second lecture “Definition of Terms”):

It means an argument in which one of the premises is omitted, or understood. And he [Clark] gives the illustration of a youngster convincing his parents to let him to buy some gloves. And he doesn’t express the full argument. Most of our ordinary conversations in life are enthymemes. Some of the premises are not stated, they’re understood. It would be very burdensome, very tedious, if every time we wanted to talk to someone to repeat all the premises and ask them to agree to the conclusion. So we operate on the premise that some things are understood. It’s an ellipses, as it were, in the argument.

Some people have charged the bible with committing logical fallacies, and what they normally have in mind are enthymemes. Perhaps they’ve run across an argument in Paul’s letters where he leaves out a premise as being understood. And they say, “Look, the bible can’t be the Word of God, there’s a logical fallacy.” And all Paul has done is written down an enthymeme. The bible is written in ordinary language. It’s not written as a logic textbook or a botany textbook or a geology textbook. It’s written in ordinary language and in ordinary language, ordinary conversation, usually the complete argument is not stated. Sometimes it is.

In one of the lectures I’ll talk about Paul’s use of logic. Particularly in Romans and 1 Corinthians he states the full argument, on several occasions; no enthymemes. But you need to be aware of the existence of enthymemes when people say the bible has logical blunders in it. Then you can say, ‘Well, perhaps its just an enthymeme that perhaps you’ve overlooked.’ That will drive them to their dictionary.

Bryan Estelle shows an example of this in Galatians 3:10-12

Paul has two arguments in these verses. His first argument is in verse 10 in the form of an abbreviated syllogism. Stated most simply, the argument of Galatians 3:10 assumes the following form:

PREMISE: Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.

CONCLUSION: All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.

The implied reconstructed minor premise would then possibly look like this:

All who rely on the works of the law do not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.

Paul then goes on to make another argument in verses 11 and 12, which stated most simply assumes the following form:

MAJOR PREMISE: The one who is righteous by faith shall live (v. 11b).

MINOR PREMISE: The law is not of faith (v. 12a, reinforced by v. 12b).

CONCLUSION: No one is justified (= receives life) by law (v. 11a).

Let the reader understand the apostle’s line of reasoning here. After stating the cursed condition of every person in his first argument (v. 10), the apostle states the conclusion of his second argument first (v. 11a – “no one is justified, i.e., receives entitlement to heaven, by law”) and then asserts justification is by faith (v. 11b), and furthermore, law and faith are antithetical (read = incompatible, 3:12). The logic is lucid and insuperable: Habakkuk 2:4 and Leviticus 18:5 are “two mutually exclusive soteriological statements.”

Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development (133-4)

Much of exegesis involves reconstructing the logic implicit in Scripture, making it explicit and therefore easier to understand.

Returning to Galatians 3:10-14 that we started with, the question we are addressing is how Paul can use “the law” as a reference to the Adamic Covenant in distinction from the Old Covenant. For the sake of argument, assume that I am correct in stating that only the Adamic Covenant of Works offered eternal life upon the condition of obedience to the law, and the Mosaic Covenant blessings were limited to temporal life and blessing in Canaan upon the condition of obedience to the law. (For more on this, see here)

CovenantDocuments_Old+Adamic

Paul is then appealing to the written law of the Old Covenant as representative of the law of the Covenant of Works (which was unwritten and therefore could not be quoted). In doing so, he is not claiming the Old Covenant offered eternal life. He is using the principle of works established in the Old Covenant to make a point about the obedience required from those seeking to earn by their works. A reconstruction of Paul’s enthymeme might look like:

P1 Though the rewards differ (and thus the covenants are distinct), the law was given in both the Adamic and the Old Covenants as a covenant of works (meaning they operate upon the same principle of works).

P2 I cannot quote from the Adamic Covenant because it was not written down for us.

C1 I can quote statements about the conditions of the law in the Old Covenant in order to explain the conditions of the law in the Adamic Covenant (while keeping the two covenants distinct).


P3 I can quote statements about the conditions of the law in the Old Covenant in order to explain the conditions of the law in the Adamic Covenant (while keeping the two covenants distinct).

P4 “The law” can be used as shorthand reference for the Old Covenant law principle.

C2 “The law” can be used as shorthand reference for the Adamic Covenant law principle (while keeping the two covenants distinct).


We can then unpack the logic of the verses in question to demonstrate they are not teaching that Christ earned eternal life for us through the Old Covenant.

P5 “The law” can be used as shorthand reference for Adamic Covenant law principle (while keeping the two covenants distinct).

P6 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

C3 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Adamic Covenant (in distinction from the Old Covenant).


P7 Christ was born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law

P8 “the law” can be used as shorthand reference for the law principle found in the Adamic Covenant.

C4 Christ was born under the law principle found in the Adamic Covenant.


P9 Christ was born under the law principle found in the Adamic Covenant.

P10 The law principle itself (do this and live) can be distinguished from a specific covenant.

C5 Christ was born under the principle of “Do this and live” although he was not born under the Adamic Covenant.

Long story short, understanding Scripture requires unpacking the logic implicit in the explicit statements. The simple fact that the law often has reference to the Old Covenant does not therefore mean that Christ earned our reward via the Old Covenant. Contextual clues help us know which covenant/law Paul is referring to, such as the fact that Gentiles were never under the curse of the Old Covenant, and thus could not be redeemed from it. And of course all of this assumes a distinction between the moral law itself and the moral law as a covenant of works.

See also:

Deuteronomy 6:25

And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’ (Deuteronomy 6:25 ESV)

Someone asked my thoughts on Deut 6:25 and I thought it would be worth sharing this brief response. Obedience to the letter is not a perspective shared by all who hold to 1689 Federalism (for example, Owen explicitly mentions disagreeing with it), but I think it is generally correct.

Keeping in mind the distinction between the law as covenant for national Israel for life in the land (which required outward conformity to the letter of the law) and the law as covenant for Adam and his offspring for eternal life (which required inward, perfect obedience to the spirit of the law), I believe Deut 6:25 in its immediate context refers to the former, though as the whole covenant order of Israel speaks typologically, it has reference ultimately to each individual’s inability to obtain true everlasting righteousness by the law.
Cf. Deut 6:25 with 1 Sam 11:13; Phil 3:6; Matt 19:16-22
John Erskine (1765, Scottish Presbyterian) notes:

He who yielded an external obedience to the law of Moses, was termed righteous, and had a claim in virtue of this his obedience to the land of Canaan, so that doing these things he lived by them (s). Hence, says Moses (t), “It shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all thefe commandments,” i. e. it shall be the cause and matter of our justification, it shall found our title to covenant blessings. But to Spiritual and heavenly blessings, we are entitled only by the obedience of the son of God, not by our own. The Israelites were put upon obedience as that which would found their claim to the blessings of the Sinai covenant. But they were never put upon seeking eternal life by a covenant of works. It is on this account, that the Mosaic precepts are termed, Heb. ix. 10, carnal ordinances, or, as it might be rendered, righteousnesses of the flesh, because by them men obtained a legal outward righteousness(s) Lev. xviii. 5. Deut. v. 33. (t) Deut. vi.25

…Deut 26:12-15

Would God have directed them, think you, to glory in their observance of that law, if, in fact, the sincerest among them had not obferved it. Yet doubtless that was the case, if its demands were the same as those of the law of nature. But indeed, the things mentioned in that form of glorying were only external performances, and one may see, with half an eye, many might truly boast they had done them all, who were strangers not with-standing to charity, flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. Job, who probably reprefents the Jews after their return from the Babylonifh captivity, was perfect and upright {v). Zacharias and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless(w). The young man, who came to Jesus, enquiring what he should do to inherit eternal life, professed that he had kept the commandments from his youth up, and our Lord does not charge him with falsehood in that profession (x). Paul was, touching the righteoufnefs which was of the law, blamelefs (y). Yet Job curses the day in which he was born (z) Zacharias is guilty of unbelief {a) ; the young man, in the gospel loves this world better than Christ (b) ; and Paul himself groans to be delivered from a body of sin and death (c), These seeming contradictions will vanish, if we take notice, that all of these though chargeable with manifold breaches of the law of nature, had kept the letter of the Mosaic law, and thus were entitled to the earthly happiness promised to its observers.

(v) Job i. i» xix. 20. (a) Luke i. ao. vii. 24. (w) Luke i. 6. (x) Matth. (y) Phil. iii. 6. (z) Job iii. i, 3. (Jb) Mat. xix, 22, 23. (c) Rom.

Hebrews 10 & John 15

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I agree, and because I believe the exegetical basis for the paedobaptist inner/outer covenant membership model is lacking, I remain a credobaptist (see 1689 Federalism, alt link while it’s down: http://confessingbaptist.com/1689Federalism/).

Jared Oliphint recently offered a brief argument for paedobaptism at TGC. He offers two texts – Hebrews 10:26-30 and John 15:1-6 – as arguments to prove that New Covenant membership is not limited to the regenerate alone. These texts supposedly teach that there are people in the New Covenant who are not saved, and thus they teach the doctrine of inner/outer membership in the covenant of grace.

However, to be more precise, the actual argument is not that the paedobaptist inner/outer covenant is established from these texts, but rather that only the paedobaptist doctrine of covenant can explain these passages, in light of Calvinism.

The surface value reading of these texts suggest that one can lose their salvation and that Christ died for those who are not saved (see Why the Author of Hebrews Wouldn’t Have Been a Calvinist @ The Evangelical Arminian, for example). Because the Calvinist believes that Scripture elsewhere clearly teaches the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as well as limited atonement, and the Calvinist is also committed to the analogy of faith (WCF/LBCF 1.9), which presupposes the non-contradictory nature of Scripture, the Calvinist must offer an alternative reading of the text.

The analogy of faith is “the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci…, as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae…, the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture” (Muller, Dictionary, 33 – see also here).

Because the reformed paedobaptist believes that Christ “procured reconciliation” for “all those whom the father has given unto him” (WCF/LBCF 8.5) through an atonement applied to “the elect in all ages” (8.6) and that the “certainty and infallibility” of the perseverance of the saints is guaranteed by “the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace,” (WCF/LBCF 17.2) he must offer a different explanation of “sanctified” and “the covenant” in Hebrews 10:29. He therefore says “sanctified” does not refer to definitive sanctification, nor progressive sanctification, but simply a non-salvific “set apart” (referencing “holy” in 1 Cor 7:14), and “the covenant” refers to a “dual-sided” covenant that one can be in “outwardly” (which procures different blessings from being in the covenant “internally”). In other words, he applies a doctrine of covenant membership established from other texts to this text in order to avoid theological contradiction. And that is a completely legitimate and necessary aspect of proper biblical interpretation – but let’s not pretend such a doctrine is derived from the text.

Alternative Explanations of Hebrews 10:29

Not all paedobaptists believe that is the best way for a Calvinist to explain the verse. Reformed paedobaptists have been challenged in their interpretation by the Federal Vision (a false gospel), which claims to be reformed, yet denies perseverance of the saints and says that one may lose their covenantal union with Christ (arguing from Hebrews 10:29 and other texts). R. Fowler White participated in the Knox Colloquium on Auburn Avenue Theology (another name for Federal Vision) in which proponents and opponents met together to exchange views and critiques. White’s contribution was a paper titled “Covenant and Apostasy” in which he adopts a more baptistic view of the visible church & false profession of faith in order to deal with the apostasy passages. Baptists argue, with reference to 1 John 2:19, that apostates only appeared to be Christians (members of the new covenant), but their apostasy demonstrates that they never were. White says that “Peter does ascribe to apostates blessings that literally belong uniquely to the elect, and he does so on the basis of their confessed faith.”

In my view, it is precisely the nature of human knowledge and faith that we have to take into account when we interpret those assertions in which the biblical writers, conditionally and otherwise, attribute salvation ordained, accomplished, and/or applied to individuals. If we do so interpret their assertions, we find the necessary suppositions of their warnings include, not the (Arminian’s) inherent reversibility of faith, but the finite nature of human knowledge and the undifferentiated nature of faith initially confessed.

He states his commitment to the paedobaptist two-sided (inner/outer), dual-sanction New Covenant, but he says that is not the best way to explain Hebrews 10:29. “My contention is that we should take our cue from the rhetoric of rebuke and reproach elsewhere in the Bible and interpret the biblical writer’s attribution of sanctification in Heb 10:29 as an example of reproachful irony (sarcasm).”

19th century Scottish Presbyterian John Brown says

Interpreters have differed as to the reference of the clause, “by which he was sanctified,” – some referring it to Christ and others to the apostate. Those who refer it to Christ explain it in this way, – ‘By His own blood Jesus Christ was consecrated to His office as an intercessory Priest.’ Those who refer it to the apostate consider the Apostle as stating, that in some sense or other he had been sanctified by the blood of Christ.

I cannot say that I am satisfied with either of these modes of interpretation. I do not think that Scripture warrants us to say that any man who finally apostatizes is sanctified by the blood of Christ in any sense, except that the legal obstacles in the way of human salvation generally were removed by the atonement He made … I apprehend the word is used impersonally, and that its true meaning is, “by which there is sanctification.” It is just equivalent to—“the sanctifying blood of the covenant.”

An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, p. 21

However, most baptists agree with yet another interpretation of the text offered by the mature John Owen. James White explains:

The exegesis that we have offered, together with the compelling argumentation (that reaches its climax in Heb. 10:10-18) regarding the perfection that flows from the singular, completed sacrifice of the New Covenant, provides a very strong ground on which to argue that the writer would hardly turn around and vitiate the central core of his apologetic argument within a matter of only a few sentences by robbing the New Covenant of its intrinsically perfect soteriological content. We would actually be in very good company to assert that the depth of the sin of apostasy here noted is magnified by recognition that the one who is sanctified by the blood treated as common or unclean (koino.n) by the apostate through returning to the sacrifice of goats and bulls is actually Christ, the very Son of God who has set himself apart as high priest as well as offering. Owen expressed it forcefully:

The last aggravation of this sin with respect unto the blood of Christ, is the nature, use, and efficacy of it; it is that “wherewith he was sanctified.” It is not real or internal sanctification that is here intended, but it is a separation and dedication unto God; in which sense the word is often used. And all the disputes concerning the total and final apostasy from the faith of them who have been really and internally sanctified, from this place, are altogether vain; though that may be said of a man, in aggravation of his sin, which he professeth concerning himself. But the difficulty of this text is, concerning whom these words are spoken: for they may be referred unto the person that is guilty of the sin insisted on; he counts the blood of the covenant, wherewith he himself was sanctified, an unholy thing. For as at the giving of the law, or the establishing of the covenant at Sinai, the people being sprinkled with the blood of the beasts that were offered in sacrifice, were sanctified, or dedicated unto God in a peculiar manner; so those who by baptism, and confession of faith in the church of Christ, were separated from all others, were peculiarly dedicated to God thereby. And therefore in this case apostates are said to “deny the Lord that bought them,” or vindicated them from their slavery unto the law by his word and truth for a season, 2 Peter 2:1. But the design of the apostle in the context leads plainly to another application of these words. It is Christ himself that is spoken of, who was sanctified and dedicated unto God to be an eternal high priest, by the blood of the covenant which he offered unto God, as I have showed before. The priests of old were dedicated and sanctified unto their office by another, and the sacrifices which he offered for them; they could not sanctify themselves: so were Aaron and his sons sanctified by Moses, antecedently unto their offering any sacrifice themselves. But no outward act of men or angels could unto this purpose pass on the Son of God. He was to be the priest himself, the sacrificer himself, — to dedicate, consecrate, and sanctify himself, by his own sacrifice, in concurrence with the actings of God the Father in his suffering. See John 17:19; Hebrews 2:10, 5:7, 9, 9:11, 12. That precious blood of Christ, wherein or whereby he was sanctified, and dedicated unto God as the eternal high priest of the church, this they esteemed “an unholy thing;” that is, such as would have no such effect as to consecrate him unto God and his office. (Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 6:545-46.)

White, The Newness of the New Covenant, in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage

Lane Keister, PCA, spent a year or more blogging back and forth with Doug Wilson and was called upon as an expert Federal Vision witness in Peter Leithart’s trial in the PCA. In a blog post on this passage, he says

A much more seriously tempting interpretation is that the person who is sanctified is Jesus Christ. The verse would then read as follows: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which that Son of God was sanctified (presumably as an offering).” This is John Owen’s interpretation. It has a great deal to recommend it… I would say that this interpretation is quite defensible.

The rest of the passage works out as follows:

v1-10 The repetitive sacrifices of the old covenant have been done away with by the establishment of Christ’s once for all sacrifice

v11-17 This one sacrifice has perfected for all time those who received the blessings of the new covenant.

v18 There remains no more sacrifices in the new covenant.

v19-25 Therefore draw near to God with full assurance, holding fast our confession of faith.

v26 For if we neglect this confession of faith and go on sinning willingly, there are no more repetitive sacrifices to repeatedly forgive your sin, like in the old covenant.

v27 Only judgement remains for adversaries.

v28 Reminding these Jews who felt secure in the Old Covenant of the punishments under the Old Covenant. Despite old covenant sacrifices, there were still some deliberate, high-handed sins that were punished without mercy (thus don’t test God’s mercy).

v29 How much worse will your punishment be if you despise the gospel.

v30 God was a fierce judge, even in the Old Covenant that you cling to. “Vengeance is mine” comes from Deut 32:35 and “The Lord will judge his people” from the next v36. Neither of these should be interpreted to mean the new covenant contains curses like the old covenant. They are simply establishing the fact, from the Old Covenant the Jews were clinging to, that God is a fierce judge. Owen: “In Deuteronomy it is applied unto such a judgment of them as tends unto their deliverance. But the general truth of the words is, that God is the supreme judge, “he is judge himself, ” Psalm 50:6. This the apostle makes use of, concluding that the righteousness of God, as the supreme judge of all, obligeth him unto this severe destruction of apostates: for “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” This is precisely how Paul applies the same verse (to those outside of covenant) in Romans 12:19.

v31 Fear the living God (who is judge over all).

Nothing in this passage requires us to believe that apostates were once members of the New Covenant but have been cut off or that this judgment and punishment is a New Covenant curse. Quite the contrary, it is clearly referring to the final judgment. The apostates discussed here are specifically referred to as “adversaries” (v27) not as God’s covenant people.

John 15:1-6

Oliphint states “John 15:1–6 throws another kink into the “new covenant = salvation” formula… How can someone be in Christ yet fall away? Scripture reveals an important distinction and nuance between being in Christ/covenant salvifically, and being in Christ/covenant ecclesiologically.”

Notice again that the two-sided covenant of grace is not a doctrine derived from this text (where does the text mention this two-sided covenant?), but a doctrine applied to the text in order to explain it. It is a doctrine based upon the belief that the Old and New covenants are the same covenant – something not taught in this text. That understanding is then applied to passages like this.

John 15 is a central Federal Vision text. They follow Norm Shepherd in arguing that some who are united to Christ are cast into the fire for their disobedience/lack of covenant faithfulness. In responding to this view, reformed paedobaptist Andy Webb warns:

There is always a great danger of forgetting, however, that these statements are allegories and usually couched in parables, so in interpreting them we must ever keep his central point in view and not try to squeeze teachings out of the lesser details that Christ did not intend and which would contradict His teachings elsewhere.The great rule we must always apply is that scripture interprets scripture, and where a doctrine is uncertain in one portion of scripture, we should go to other areas where it that doctrine is more clearly taught on. Above all, we should strive not to atomistically interpret a verse so that it contradicts other clearer verses.

He even quotes the following from D.A. Carson:

But the latter view, that these dead branches are apostate Christians, must confront the strong evidence within John that true disciples are preserved to the end (e.g. notes on 6:37-40; 10:28). It is more satisfactory to recognize that asking the in me language to settle such disputes is to push the vine imagery too far. The transparent purpose of the verse is to insist that there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity; the alternative is dead wood, and the exigencies of the vine metaphor make it necessary that such wood be connected to the vine.

[D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1991, p.515]

So, according to Webb, using this metaphor to explain covenant union with Christ is to push the imagery too far and to violate the principle that clear passages interpret unclear passages.

So, if Jesus is not talking about the Presbyterian doctrine of a two-sided covenant of grace, what is he talking about?

A vineyard setting [speaking of Jesus physical location when delivering this teaching] would indeed be a highly suggestive environment for Jesus’ teaching, especially since “God’s vineyard” is a frequent OT designation for Israel*

*Although vine imagery is widespread in ancient literature, an OT background for the present passage is favored by the vast majority of commentators, primarily owing to the frequent OT references or allusions and the replacement motif in this Gospel (e.g., Carson 1991: 513; R. Brown 1970: 669-71; Morris 1995: 593; Ridderbos 1997: 515; contra Bultmann 1971: 530; Witherington 1995: 255-57).

In the famous “Song of the Vineyard” in Isa. 5, the prophet makes the point that God carefully cultivated his vineyard (Israel) and in due time expected to collect fruit from it, but Israel had yielded only bad fruit; hence, God would replace Israel with a more fruitful nation. *(This point is taken up by Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants Mark 12:1-12). Yet it is not the church that serves as Israel’s replacement (Beasley-Murray 1999: 272); rather, the true vine is Jesus, who is the new Israel (R. Brown 1970: 670) as well as the new temple and the fulfillment of Jewish festival symbolism (Carson 1991: 513). It is he who embodies God’s true intentions for Israel; Jesus is the paradigmatic vine, the channel through whom God’s blessings flow.

Theologically, John’s point is that Jesus displaces Israel as the focus of God’s plan of salvation, with the implication that faith in Jesus becomes the decisive characteristic for membership among God’s people (Whitacre 1999: 372). Whereas OT Israel was ethnically constrained, the new messianic community, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, is united by faith in Jesus the Messiah. Jews still have a place in God’s family, but they must come to God on his terms rather than their own (Kostenberger 1998b: 166-67). A paradigm shift has taken place: faith in Jesus has replaced keeping the law as the primary point of reference (Kostenberger 1999: 159-60)…

The OT frequently uses the vineyard or vine as a symbol for Israel, God’s covenant people, especially in two “vineyard songs” found in Isaiah. However, while the vine’s purpose of existence is the bearing of fruit for its owner, references to Israel as God’s vine regularly stress Israel’s failure to produce good fruit, issuing in divine judgment (Carson 1991: 513). In contrast to Israel’s failure, Jesus claims to be the “true vine,” bringing forth the fruit that Israel failed to produce. Thus Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, fulfills Israel’s destiny as the true vine of God (Ps. 80:14-17)…

“I am the true vine” (15:1; cf. Jer 2:21 LXX) is the alst of John’s seven “I am” sayings. “True” vine contrasts Jesus with OT Israel in its lack of fruitfulness and spiritual degeneracy (Morris 1995: 593; Ridderbos 1997: 515; Beasley-Murray 1999: 272; Moloney 1998: 419).

Andreas J. Köstenberger, John 448-50

So the key to this passage is typology. Jesus is the true Israel. God made a covenant of works with Israel for life and blessing in the land of Canaan. They disobeyed and God exiled them as punishment (Is. 5:1-7). But God also promised a future restoration of this vineyard, one that was exceedingly more glorious (Is. 27:1-13). It turns out this was a prophecy of Jesus, the true Israel, the true vine, the obedient one.

In the Old Testament the vine is a common symbol for Israel, the covenant people of God (Ps. 80:9-16; Is. 5:1-7; 27:2ff; Jer. 2:21; 12:10ff; Ezk. 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Ho. 10:1-2). Most remarkable is the fact that whenever historic Israel is referred to under this figure it is the vine’s failure to produce good fruit that is emphasized, along with the corresponding threat of God’s judgment on the nation. Now, in contrast to such failure, Jesus claims, “I am the true vine’, i.e. the one to whom Israel pointed, the one that brings forth good fruit. Jesus has already, in principle, superseded the temple, the Jewish feasts, Moses, various holy sites; here he supersedes Israel as the very locus of the people of God. (A similar contrast between Israel and Jesus is developed in various ways in the Synoptics: e.g. in the temptation narrative, Mt. 4:1-11 par.)

Perhaps the most important Old Testament passage is Psalm 80, in that it brings together the themes of vine and son of man… The true (alethinos; cf. notes on 1:9) vine, then, is not the apostate people, but Jesus himself, and those who are incorporated in him. The theme would prove especially telling to diaspora Jews: if they wish to enjoy the status of being part of God’s chosen vine, they must be rightly related to Jesus.

[D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1991, p.514-16]

How then are we to interpret the branches who are in Jesus but cut off and the branches that abide in Jesus and bear fruit?

First, E. Calvin Beisner very helpfully explains:

The Federal Visionists’ use of this passage implies that fruit-bearing branches could become nonfruit-bearing and thus be cut off and burned. However, according to the parable, every branch that bears fruit the Father “prunes, that it may bear more fruit,” while every branch that bears no fruit the Father “takes away” (v. 2)…

What does it mean for branches to abide in the vine (Christ)? Clearly it does not mean the same thing as to be a branch in the vine, for Christ explicitly distinguishes between branches in the vine that abide and branches in the vine that do not abide…

The best interpretive pointer we have in the immediate context is what Christ says in 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” The association between the apostles’ abiding in Christ and His words’ abiding in them implies that abiding in Christ means believing in Him–that is, believing the words of the gospel… Abiding in Christ is precisely having faith in Him.

How then are branches that do not have faith in Christ “in him”? Applying what we have noted above (that this is a metaphor that should not push the imagery too far, and it is dealing with typology) we can notice that Jesus is speaking to Jews – that is, he is speaking to Israel. He is telling the vine that He is the vine. He is telling Israel that He is Israel. If Israel wants to remain Israel, they must abide in Israel. If the vine wants to remain the vine, it must abide in the true vine. If they do not, there is a final covenant judgment coming upon the vine, not just an exile, and all who do not abide in the obedient one will be thrown in the fire for their disobedience. Combining Kostenberger and Carson above “A paradigm shift has taken place: faith in Jesus has replaced keeping the law as the primary point of reference… if they wish to enjoy the status of being part of God’s chosen vine, they must be rightly related to Jesus.”

Kostenberger notes “The reference in 15:6 to branches that do not remain in the vine being picked up and thrown into the fire and burned closely resembles the thought of Ezek. 15:1-8, where the prophet likewise warned that a vine failing to produce a fruit would be good for nothing but a fire.” Ezekiel is warning Israel of the temporal curses that will fall upon them and their holy land for their violation of the Old Covenant (which was confined to temporal things). “For thus says the Lord GOD: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!” (Ezk. 14:21) “And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezk 15:8)

Reformed paedobaptist (OPC) Bryan Estelle explains how Ezekiel’s prosecution of Israel proceeds upon their violation of the covenant of works God gave them.

In a word, the life promised upon condition of performing the statues and judgments in its immediate context in Leviticus here [referring to Lev. 18:5] is “the covenantal blessing of abundant (and long) life in the land of Israel.” (Sprinkle)… There is a real connection that exists between the obedience/disobedience of Israel and tenure in the land… the biblical evidence is incontrovertible…

The Bible asserts and scholars have recognized that pollution and defilement of the land could build up and reach intolerable states, triggering the sanctions and leading to banishment. Not only exile is in view, but also ultimate extirpation symbolized in the destruction of the Herodian temple in AD 70 and the potential rejection of the chosen people…

Leviticus 18:5’s influence on Ezekiel is of paramount importance. The purpose of these echoic allusions in Ezekiel is to show that what Israel has failed to do, God will do… Leviticus 18 allusions are seen throughout the entire book of Ezekiel and not merely restricted (as often) to chapter 20 of Ezekiel where three citations of Lev 18:5 have frequently been noted.

Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development

Now recall what was mentioned above. Isaiah 5:1-7 describes Israel as a failed vineyard being sent into exile, but God also promised a future restoration of this vineyard, one that was exceedingly more glorious (Is. 27:1-13). Estelle brings out the full meaning of this prophecy.

[In Ezekiel there is a] reversal of fortunes based on divine initiative… In short, there is a “composition connection between the unfulfilled ‘statutes and ordinances’ in chapters 18 and 20 with their fulfillment in 36.27 and 37.24; likewise, there is a connection with the ‘life’ unattained by Israel in chapters 18, 20, and 33 and Israel’s ‘life’ in 37.1-14” (Sprinkle) Whereas Israel’s failure to fulfill the stipulations is highlighted repeatedly in Ezekiel 1-24, there is a dramatic reversal of this failure through divine initiative and fulfillment in Ezekiel 36-37… In short, divine causation replaces the conditions incumbent upon the people. What they are unable to perform in and of themselves, Yahweh will accomplish through his own divinely appointed agency.

However, this prophecy is not isolated to Ezekiel or Isaiah. It is found from the very beginning of Israel. Estelle explains the full meaning of Deuteronomy 30:1-14.

[T]his amazing passage anticipates ahead of time the plight of which the Israelite nation will find itself, destitute and unable to fulfill the stipulations of the covenant on its own. It also describes the new measure of obedience – accomplished by divine initiative – in which they will satisfy the conditions hanging over them. Finally, when Paul creatively brings these two significant passages (i.e., Lev 18:5 and Deut. 30) into closer proximity to one another (Rom 10:1-12), the mystery of the divine plan for fulfillment emerges from the shadows and into the light…

In Deut 10:16, the people are commanded to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts and not stiffen their necks any longer. Verse 6 of Deut 30, however, is no mere allusion to that passage! On the contrary, new covenant language and imagery permeate this Deuteronomy passage because it is clear that divine initiative will supersede human impotence… Verse 8 declares that when God himself circumcises hearts, “you [fronted in the Hebrew] will repent and you will obey the voice of the LORD and you will do all his commandments.” This will happen with the coming of the Spirit in the gospel age…

Just as Leviticus 18:5 is taken up in later biblical allusions and echoes, so also is this Deuteronomy passage. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the language of the new covenant that was cloaked in the circumcision of heart metaphor is unveiled in this classic passage. I argued above that Deuteronomy 30:1-14 is a predictive prophecy of the new covenant, and, therefore, all that was implicit there becomes explicit in Jeremiah 31. In verse 31, Jeremiah says this will happen “in the coming days” and in verse 33 he says “after these days”; both refer to the new covenant, messianic days.

This new covenant, however, is going to be unlike the old covenant with respect to breaking. The old covenant was a breakable covenant, it was made obsolete… The reader is obliged to say that a works principle in the old covenant was operative in some sense because the text clearly states that it was a fracturable covenant, “not like the one they broke.” Here indeed was a covenant that was susceptible to fracture and breakable! They broke it at Sinai (Ex. 32), and they did it time and again until that old covenant had served its purposes. For the one who holds a high view of God directing history, there must be something going on here…

the point is that the whole old covenant order will be annihilated, it will be wiped out, and it will go down in judgment as a modus operandi.  The new covenant is not like that: it is not subject to breaking because it is built upon God’s initiative to complete it and Christ’s satisfaction in his penalty-paying substitution and his probation keeping. His merit is the surety of the new covenant promises, and therefore it cannot fail. The old Sinaitic covenant by way of contrast is built upon a very fallible hope, and therefore is destined to fail since Israel individually and corporately could not fulfill its stipulations.

This was Jesus’ point in his teaching on the vine. The Old Covenant was broken and its curses were soon to be poured out upon Israel. In this judgment, the dead branches of Israel would be cut off and thrown in the fire. However, there was a true vine who alone obeyed, and those Israelites who believe in Him would be blessed as faithful, fruit-bearing Israel.

John Owen helpfully explained this transition process for the Jews.

Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God…

they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.

That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares…

It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.

The Oneness of the Church

Far from throwing a kink in the “new covenant = salvation” formula, John 15:1-6 beautifully illustrates it.

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]… I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33)… These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished.

See also:

The Olive Tree (Rom 11:16-24)

Ancient_Olive_Tree_in_Pelion,_Greece

[Note: I recommend reading my treatment of Romans 9 first to better understand Paul’s typology of Israel They are not all Israel, who are of Israel]

Baptists frequently hear the following refrain:

The one olive tree is the covenant people of God. Unbelieving Jews were broken off and Gentiles were grafted in. We live in that present redemptive-historical reality. However, verses 20-22 indicate that branches may yet be cut off. These branches are formally united to the tree (the covenant people with Christ as their root), but not vitally united since they do not have faith and hence do not bear fruit (cf. John 15:2). It will not be until the eschatological consummation that the olive tree will only have fruit-bearing branches. Only then is God’s pruning work complete, and only then will membership in the visible and invisible church be identical.

Camden Bucey

The argument goes:

4. As the infant seed of the people of God are acknowledged on all hands to have been members of the church, equally with their parents under the Old Testament dispensation, so it is equally certain that the church of God is the same in substance now that it was then; and, of course, it is just as reasonable and proper, on principle, that the infant offspring of professed believers should be members of the church now, as it was that they should be members of the ancient church.

I am aware that our Baptist brethren warmly object to this statement, and assert that the church of God under the Old Testament economy and the New, is not the same, but so essentially different, that the same principles can by no means apply to each. They contend that the Old Testament dispensation was a kind of political economy, rather national than spiritual in its character; and, of course, that when the Jews ceased to be a people, the covenant under which they had been placed, was altogether laid aside, and a covenant of an entirely new character introduced. But nothing can be more evident than that this view of the subject is entirely erroneous.

The perpetuity of the Abrahamic covenant, and, of consequence, the identity of the church under both dispensations, is so plainly taught in scripture, and follows so unavoidably from the radical scriptural principles concerning the church of God, that it is indeed wonderful how any believer in the Bible can call in question the fact…

But what places the identity of the church, under both dispensations, in the clearest and strongest light, is that memorable and decisive passage, in the 11th chapter of the epistle to the Romans, in which the church of God is held forth to us under the emblem of an olive tree. Under the same figure had the Lord designated the church by the pen of Jeremiah the prophet. In the 11th chapter of his prophecy, the prophet, speaking of God’s covenanted people under that economy, says, “The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit” (Jer. 11:6). But concerning this olive tree, on account of the sin of the people in forsaking the Lord, the prophet declares: “With the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled a fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken.” Let me request you to compare with this, the language of the apostle in the 11th chapter of the epistle to the Romans: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say, then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be broken off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted, contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Rom. 11:15-24).

That the apostle is here speaking of the Old Testament church, under the figure of a good olive tree, cannot be doubted, and is, indeed, acknowledged by all; by our Baptist brethren as well as others. Now the inspired apostle says concerning this olive tree, that the natural branches, that is the Jews, were broken off because of unbelief. But what was the consequence of this excision? Was the tree destroyed? By no means. The apostle teaches directly the contrary. It is evident, from his language, that the root and trunk, in all their “fatness,” remained; and Gentiles, branches of an olive tree “wild by nature,” were “grafted into the good olive tree” the same tree from which the natural branches had been broken off. Can anything be more pointedly descriptive of identity than this?

But this is not all. The apostle apprises us that the Jews are to be brought back from their rebellion and wanderings and to be incorporated with the Christian church. And how is this restoration described? It is called “grafting them in again into their own olive tree.” In other words, the “tree” into which the Gentile Christians at the coming of Christ were “grafted,” was the “old olive tree,” of which the ancient covenant people of God were the “natural branches;” and, of course, when the Jews shall be brought in, with the fullness of the Gentiles, into the Christian church, the apostle expressly tells us they shall be “grafted again into their own olive tree.” Surely, if the church of God before the coming of Christ, and the church of God after the advent, were altogether distinct and separate bodies, and not the same in their essential characters, it would be an abuse of terms to represent the Jews, when converted to Christianity, as grafted again into their own olive tree.

Infant Baptism Scriptural and Reasonable: and Baptism by Sprinkling or Affusion the Most Suitable and Edifying Mode By Rev. Samuel Miller

However, Romans 11:15-24 does not warrant such a conclusion. Addressing the passage exegetically presents some challenges to the standard paedobaptist interpretation.

First, what is the olive tree? Samuel Miller above argued “That the apostle is here speaking of the Old Testament church, under the figure of a good olive tree, cannot be doubted.” But that betrays an underlying assumption. If we start with assumptions, we may miss the point of the text. To be more accurate, John Murray notes that “The figure of the olive tree to describe Israel is in accord with the Old Testament usage (Jer 11:16, 17; Hos 14:6).” Therefore the olive tree is Israel.

Second, what is the root? Camden Bucey claimed above that it was Christ (as is common when arguing against baptists). But again, that betrays an underlying assumption not drawn from the text itself. Douglas Moo notes

Most scholars are led by the parallelism to identify the “first fruits” with the patriarchs (Chrysostom; Godet; S-H; Murray; Michel; Kasemann; Wilckens; Schlier; Bourke, Olive Tree, pp. 75-76). But some think that the “first fruits” is Adam or Christ (cf 1 Cor 15:20, 23), while a significant (and growing) number think it is Jewish Christians, the remnant.

The standard reformed view is that the root is Abraham and the patriarchs. Murray states simply “The root is surely the patriarchs.” Calvin elaborates:

They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity.

But it is here where confusion and ambiguity arises as to whether the root is Abraham or Christ because of prior covenantal commitments. If the olive tree is the covenant of grace, and Christ is the head of the covenant of grace, then he must be the root of the olive tree. And, per Bucey above, a distinction must made between branches vitally united to the root (Christ) and branches formally united to the root (Christ). Hence the inward/outward covenant construct. The olive tree then becomes a description of how the visible church has functioned since Genesis 3:15, with individuals being broken off for unbelief throughout. However, this presents us with some problems.

Nations or Individuals?

If this is simply a description of what has always been the case for individuals in the visible church, how does it make sense of the context? Murray notes:

The act of judgment upon Israel spoken of in verse 15 as the “casting away” is now represented as breaking off of branches. This is the appropriate representation in terms of the figure now being used. The expression “some of the branches” does not seem to agree, however, with the fact that the mass of Israel had been cast away. It is a sufficient answer to this difference to bear in mind that the main interest of the apostle now is focused on the grafting in of the Gentiles and the cutting away of Israel and it is not necessary to reflect on the extent to which the latter takes place.

Paul is referring to national rejection, but also of individual breaking and grafting. Murray’s solution is to dismiss the question as irrelevant. Calvin, on the other hand, insists the passage is referring only to nations, not to individuals.

Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. If then a comparison be made between them, they shall be found equal in this respect, that they are both equally the children of Adam; the only difference is that the Jews had been separated from the Gentiles, that they might be a peculiar people to the Lord.

They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity. But this conclusion would not have been right had he spoken of persons, or rather had he not regarded the promise; for when the father is just, he cannot yet transmit his own uprightness to his son: but as the Lord had sanctified Abraham for himself for this end, that his seed might also be holy, and as he thus conferred holiness not only on his person but also on his whole race, the Apostle does not unsuitably draw this conclusion, that all the Jews were sanctified in their father Abraham.

Then to confirm this view, he adduces two similitudes: the one taken from the ceremonies of the law, and the other borrowed from nature. The first-fruits which were offered sanctified the whole lump, in like manner the goodness of the juice diffuses itself from the root to the branches; and posterity hold the same connection with their parents from whom they proceed as the lump has with the first-fruits, and the branches with the tree. It is not then a strange thing that the Jews were sanctified in their father. There is here no difficulty if you understand by holiness the spiritual nobility of the nation, and that indeed not belonging to nature, but what proceeded from the covenant. It may be truly said, I allow, that the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary; but I now speak of our first nature, according to which we are all, as we know, accursed in Adam. Therefore the dignity of an elect people, to speak correctly, is a supernatural privilege.

Calvin’s concern is soteriological: Paul speaks of a hereditary holiness that would be inappropriate if applied to individuals. His solution is to limit the holiness of the Jews (their inclusion as branches) to a national setting apart: “their adoption was hereditary.” The editor of Calvin’s commentary included the following note:

Editor: That the holiness here mentioned is external and relative, and not personal and inward, is evident from the whole context. The children of Israel were denominated holy in all their wickedness and disobedience, because they had been consecrated to God, adopted as his people, and set apart for his service, and they enjoyed all the external privileges of the covenant which God had made with their fathers… “The holiness,” says Turrettin, “of the first-fruits and of the root was no other than an external, federal, and national consecration, such as could be transferred from parents to their children.”

“The attentive reader,” says Scott, “will readily perceive that relative holiness, or consecration to God, is here exclusively meant…”

Calvin goes on to treat the passage as dealing with two groups collectively. In addressing the cutting off of Gentile branches, he argues

we must especially notice and remember what I have before said, — that Paul’s address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision, as we shall hereafter find again… And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. Paul therefore declares to the Gentiles, that if they exulted over the Jews, a reward for their pride would be prepared for them; for God will again reconcile to himself the first people whom he has divorced.

A century later, Westminster Assembly member Samuel Rutherford, following Calvin, expressed it this way:

If the root be holy, so also are the branches (Rom. 11:16). Now this holiness cannot be meant of personal and inherent holiness, for it is not true in that sense. If the fathers and forefathers be truly sanctified and are believers, then are the branches and children sanctified and believers. But the contrary we see in wicked Absalom born of holy David, and many others. Therefore, this holiness must be the holiness of the nation, not of persons. It must be a holiness because of their elected and chosen parents (the patriarchs, prophets, and the holy seed of the Jews), and so the holiness federal, or the holiness of the covenant.

If then the Jews in Paul’s time were holy by covenant (howbeit for the present the sons were branches broken off for unbelief), how much more then (seeing God has chosen the race and nation of the gentiles and is become a God to us and to our seed), that the seed must be holy with a holiness of the chosen nation and an external holiness of the covenant, notwithstanding that the father and mother were as wicked as the Jews who slew the Lord of Glory…

So they cite scriptures that by no force of reason do speak for them, as Rom. 4:11 and Rom. 11:16, which say nothing but that ‘if the root be holy’ with the holiness federal and of the external profession, then so are the branches.  But the place speaks nothing of true inherent holiness: for then all holy parents should have holy and visible saints coming out of their loins, which is against scripture and experience…

Sixthly, they say: The church of God is defiled (Hag. 2:14,15; Eze. 44:7) if all infants promiscuously be baptized: for then the people, and every work of their hand and their offering, is unclean.  So Mr. Best.

Answer:  We deny that children born within the visible church are an unclean offering to the Lord and that the baptizing of them pollutes the nation (and all the worship of the nation), as they would gather from Haggai.  For being born of the holy nation, they are holy with a federal and national holiness, Rom. 11:16.  If the root be holy so are the branches.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

So, for Calvin, the Gentile branches that are grafted in are not individuals and the natural branches that are cut off are not individuals. Instead it refers to Jews as a whole and Gentiles as a whole. Take note that Calvin’s motivation for viewing this passage in terms of groups is soteriological: Jews cannot be individually included by hereditary adoption and Gentiles cannot be individually ingrafted for belief and then excised for unbelief. This is clearly inconsistent with the standard paedobaptist interpretation of the text as referring to individuals who are grafted in and cut off from the visible church on a daily basis. For Calvin, this is not a description of how the visible church has always functioned, but instead it is a description of a specific event in redemptive history.

Abraham the root. Israel the tree.

Murray rejects Calvin’s argument, noting “It would press the language and the analogy too far to think of the wild olive as grafted in its entirety into the good olive. As indicated in verse 24 the branches of the wild olive are viewed as grafted in.”

How then are we to resolve this tension? How do we address Murray’s concern that the nation as a whole is cast away, but this happens in terms of individual branches, while at the same time safeguarding Calvin’s soteriological concerns that require a corporate, rather than individual consideration?

The solution lies in adhering closely to the text. Christ and the patriarchs cannot both be the root. It is one or the other. Abraham is the root. Likewise, we will avoid unnecessary problems if we do not import concepts of the visible church into the text and simply acknowledge that the tree is Israel, Abraham’s seed.

Note what John Owen says about Abraham and his seed:

Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: —

First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant, the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it. That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition in the flesh, it was to cease. In pursuit hereof were his posterity separated from the rest of the world, and preserved a peculiar people, that through them the promised Seed might be brought forth in the fullness of time, and be of them according unto the flesh, Romans 9:5.

Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith that he had fixed on the Seed that was in the promise, to be brought forth from him into the world. On the account of this privilege, he became the father of all them that do believe: for “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham,” Galatians 3:7, Romans 4:11: as also “heir of the world,” Romans 4:13, in that all that should believe throughout the world, being thereby implanted into the covenant made with him, should become his “spiritual children.”

4. Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God. Not that these two seeds were always subjectively diverse, so that the seed separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah in the flesh should neither in whole nor in part be also the seed according to the promise; or, on the contrary, that the seed according to the promise should none of it be his seed after the flesh. Our apostle the contrary in the instances of Isaac and Jacob, with the “remnant” of Israel that shall be saved, Romans 9,10,11. But sometimes the same seed came under diverse considerations, being the seed of Abraham both according to the flesh and according to the promise; and sometimes the seed itself was diverse, those according to the flesh being not of the promise, and so on the contrary. Thus Isaac and Jacob were the seed of Abraham according unto the flesh, separated unto the brining forth of the Messiah after the flesh, because they were his carnal posterity; and they were also of the seed of the promise, because, by their own personal faith, they were interested in the covenant of Abraham their father.

Multitudes afterwards were of the carnal seed of Abraham, and of the number of the people separated to bring forth the Messiah in the flesh, and yet were not of the seed according to the promise, nor interested in the spiritual blessings of the covenant; because they did not personally believe, as our apostle declares, chap. 4 of this epistle. And many, afterwards, who were not of the carnal seed of Abraham, nor interested in the privilege of bringing forth the Messiah in the flesh, were yet designed to be made his spiritual seed by faith; that in them he might become “heir of the world,” and all nations of the earth be blessed in him. Now, it is evident that it is the second privilege, or spiritual seed, wherein the church, to whom the promises are made, is founded, and whereof it doth consist, — namely, in them who by faith are interested in the covenant of Abraham, whether they be of the carnal seed or no.

5. And herein lay the great mistake of the Jews of old, wherein they are followed by their posterity unto this day. They thought no more was needful to interest them in the covenant of Abraham but that they were his seed according to the flesh; and they constantly pleaded the latter privilege as the ground and reason of the former. It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.

That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed? But they would extend this privilege, and mix it with the other, contending that, because they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh, the whole blessing and covenant of Abraham belonged unto them. But as our Savior proved that in the latter sense they were the children of Abraham, because they did not the works of Abraham; so our apostle plainly demonstrates, Romans 4:9. 10. 11. Galatians 3:4., that those of them who had not the faith of Abraham had no interest in his blessing and covenant. Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God.

6. We have seen that Abraham, on the account of his faith, and not of his separation according to the flesh, was the father of all that believe, and heir of the world. And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages.

Wheresoever this covenant is, and with whomsoever it is established, with them is the church; unto whom all the promises and privileges of the church do belong. Hence it was, that at the coming of the Messiah there was not one church taken away, and another set up in the room thereof; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant.

It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.

7. It remains, then, that the church founded in the covenant, and unto which all the promises did and do belong, abode at the coming of Christ, and doth abide ever since, in and among those who are the children of Abraham by faith. The old church was not taken away, and a new one set up, but the same church was continued, only in those who by faith inherited the promises. Great alterations, indeed, were then made in the outward state and condition of the church; as, —
(1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham.
(2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end.
(3.) New ordinances of worship were appointed, suited unto the new light and grace then granted unto the church.
(4.) The Gentiles came in to the faith of Abraham together with the Jews, to be fellow-heirs with them in his blessing. But none of these, nor all of them together, made any such alteration in the church but that it was still one and the same. The olive-tree was the same, only some branches were broken off, and others planted in; the Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room.

The Oneness of the Church

Here’s what we learn from Owen:

  1. Abraham had a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh.
  2. He had a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God.
  3. These two seeds had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations.
  4. At a specific point in history they came now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3).
  5. The carnal seed lost their privilege.
  6. What remained was the spiritual seed (“all the elect of God”).

This is all simply Paul’s line of reasoning in Romans 9 and Galatians 4:21-31 where Paul argues typologically from the historical account of Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, giving “children of promise” a double meaning: one typological, the other anti-typological. According to Paul, the relationship between Abraham’s two seeds is typological. For a detailed explanation of this, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel.

The olive tree, Israel, consists of both of Abraham’s seed. As Calvin said “the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary” and this “heredity holiness” (Calvin), “external consecration” (Turretin), or “relative holiness” (Scott) came to an end at Christ’s coming. This answers the question of a national casting off of a group. The branches that remained were those with “personal and inward” holiness “such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God,” thus answering the question of individual branches.

Two Covenants

In the above, Owen divided the Abrahamic covenant into Abraham’s two privileges.

We have seen that Abraham, on the account of his faith, and not of his separation according to the flesh, was the father of all that believe, and heir of the world. And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages.

He later clarified this division of privileges by separating them into two covenants:

When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and effectiveness, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation to the church, from the first entrance of sin.

But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture…

Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 8:6

Thus the Abrahamic covenant consecrated Abraham’s carnal seed for the temporary purpose of bringing forth the Messiah, while the New Covenant (covenant of grace) is the “foundation of the church in all ages” working prior to Christ by way of “promise”. Again, this is all directly in line with Paul’s understanding of the typology of Israel in Romans 9 and Galatians 4:21-31 (where he specifically applies it to two covenants – for more, again, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel).

We are asserting that those Messianic promises point to the Messianic Covenant, that is the New Covenant, the covenant of grace, and that as such they point to a covenant distinct from the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and his natural offspring. This means that not only has that typical, external covenantal relationship been abrogated and passed away, but also that the Messianic and eternal relationship was always active, embedded within that external covenant. The internal and external circles, visible in the Old Testament, are not the result of two levels of covenantal membership, but are the result of two different covenants, the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of grace.

Micah and Samuel Renihan, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage

The olive tree, Israel, therefore includes multiple covenants and thus should not be identified with a covenant itself. The covenantal context of Jeremiah 11:16 refers to the Old Covenant that Israel broke. The violation of the Old Covenant was the grounds for the carnal seed’s being cut off. See Why Did God Exile Israel? and Why Did God Destroy Israel?, as well as my post on John 15.

Note Iain H. Murray’s comments on the Olivet Discourse and the Olive Tree:

This prophetic discourse followed Christ’s announcement concerning the temple, ‘There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down’ – clearly a reference to the destruction of the city which came about at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70. In the discourse itself there is much that applies specifically to the ‘breaking off’ (Rom. 11:19) of the Jewish nation in the first century A.D.

The Puritan Hope, p. 79

Again, this means that Paul is describing a one-time unique event in redemptive history, rather than a general principle of pruning that has occurred and will continue throughout the history of the church on a daily basis. The breaking off of the natural branches corresponds to Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which is the final, conclusive curse of the Old Covenant, which is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13).

Typology of Israel

The standard reformed paedobaptist explanation of Israel is derived from Romans 9:6 “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (again, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel) in conjunction with Romans 2:29 “a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart.” From these passages they develop the concept of an inward and outward covenant of grace where Israel after the flesh constitutes the outward covenant and Israel after the promise constitutes the inward covenant.

However, based upon the above distinctions, and in conjunction with the overwhelming thrust of Scripture, we can say that the relationship between carnal Israel and spiritual Israel is one of type and anti-type. Just as the olive tree does not simply describe the way things have always been, but instead describes a specific event in redemptive history, so too does the distinction between Israel and Israel.

[T]his rejection of Israel and this new formation of God’s people is not simply something of the eschatological future, but has already begun to be realized with the coming of Jesus.

Ridderbos, Kingdom, 352.

Ernst Kasemann notes:

Ephesians regards the union of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church as the eschatological mystery as such and lets Pauline theology lead to that. The apostle at least builds a path toward such a view. For “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” says that the church cannot be compared either to a Jewish or to a Gentile society. In continuity with God’s ancient people it is the true Israel, while in antithesis to this people it is the new people of God and the new covenant. In the Jewish view still found in Paul, Jews and Gentiles characterize the world in its unity and contradiction. Hence the church, in which both are found, is more than a religious group or even a people; it is the new world. (273)

In sum:

In the Old Testament, the Old Covenant was a type and shadow of the fullness to come. That fullness was shrouded in mystery and types waiting for its revelation in Christ. With the coming of Christ we now have that fullness. The external, typological elements of the Old Covenant are cast off. The mystery and shadows are gone. With the New Covenant comes the in-breaking of the eschatological age in its “already-not yet” form.

Micah and Samuel Renihan, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage

The distinction Paul makes in Romans 9:6 between Israel and Israel is eschatological in nature. He is describing a new reality, a new eschatological redefinition of Israel, not a description of what it has always meant. As Richard Barcellos notes “the church is actually the eschatological Israel of Old Testament prophecy.” Abraham’s carnal seed was a type of Abraham’s spiritual seed. And both typical and anti-typical Israel are represented in the olive tree of Israel, with the type being cut off. In representing Israel, the tree is not either/or, but both/and. Augustine notes:

[P]rophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both… this kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wits of those who search holy writ.
-City of God “Of the Three-Fold Meaning of the Prophecies, Which are to Be Referred Now to the Earthly, Now to the Heavenly Jerusalem, and Now Again to Both.”

No Natural Branches Remain

Since the type is cut off, there remains no more natural connection to the root. Thus all natural branches without faith were cut off. They can be grafted in again (v24) only if they come to have faith. And wild branches can only be grafted in through faith. So how can natural branches of the wild olive tree (natural offspring of Gentile believers) be grafted in? They cannot. Every branch must have a connection to the root, and the root is Abraham. The natural connection to Abraham has become obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), which is why the natural branches were cut off. The only connection to the root (Abraham) that remains is faith, through which one is made a spiritual seed of Abraham.

Are the unregenerate children of believers connected to Abraham (the root) in any way? No, they are not. They are connected to their parents naturally, but their parents are not the root. Abraham is. And here we see a foundational flaw of paedobaptism. They put every believer in the place of Abraham, claiming that every child of the believer is set apart. This was never the case. No Israelite was set apart because of their parents’ faith. A Jew was set apart because he was a child of Abraham – because he was connected to the root.

Let us point out in the next place that Abraham’s covenant was strictly peculiar to himself; for neither in the Old Testament nor in the New is it ever said that the covenant with Abraham was made on behalf of all believers, or that it is given to them. The great thing that the covenant secured to Abraham was that he should have a seed, and that God would be the God of that seed; but Christians have no divine warrant that He will be the God of their seed, nor even that they shall have any children at all. As a matter of fact, many of them have no posterity; and therefore they cannot have the covenant of Abraham. The covenant of Abraham was as peculiar to himself as the one God made with Phinehas, “And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Num. 25:13), and as the covenant of royalty which God made with David and his seed (2 Sam. 7:12-16). In each case a divine promise was given securing a posterity; and had no children been born to those men, then God had broken His covenant.

Look at the original promises made to Abraham: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2, 3). Has God promised every Christian that He will make of him a “great nation”? or that He will make his “name great”—celebrated like the patriarch’s was and is? or that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”? Surely there is no room for argument here: the very asking of such questions answers them. Nothing could be more extravagant and absurd than to suppose that any such promises as these were made to us. If God fulfils the covenant with Abraham and his seed to every believer and his seed, then He does so in accord with the terms of the covenant itself. But if we turn to and carefully examine its contents, it will at once appear that they were not to be fulfilled in the case of all believers, in addition to Abraham himself. In that covenant God promises that Abraham should be “a father of many nations,” that “kings shall come out of thee,” that “I will give thee and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:5-8). But Christians are not made the fathers of many nations; kings do not come out of them; nor do their descendants occupy the land of Canaan, either literally or spiritually. How many a godly believer has had to mourn with David: “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, for this is all my salvation” (2 Sam. 23:5).

The covenant established no spiritual relation between Abraham and his offspring; still less does it establish a spiritual relation between every believer and his babes. Abraham was not the spiritual father of his own natural offspring, for spiritual qualities cannot be propagated by carnal generation. Was he the spiritual father of Ishmael? Was he the spiritual father of Esau? No, indeed; instead, Abraham was “the father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4:11). So far as his natural descendants were concerned, Scripture declares that Abraham was “the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:12). What could be plainer? Let us beware of adding to God’s Word. No theory or practice, no matter how venerable it be or how widely held, is tenable, if no clear Scripture can be found to warrant and establish it.

Pink, Arthur W. (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 2112-2143). . Kindle Edition.

Nehemiah Coxe made the same point:

He who holds himself obliged by the command and interested in the promises of the covenant of circumcision is equally involved in all of them since together they are that covenant. Therefore, he who applies one promise or branch of this covenant to the carnal seed of a believing parent (esteeming every such parent to have an interest in the covenant coordinate with Abraham’s) ought seriously to consider the whole promissory part of the covenant in its true import and extent, and see whether he can make such an undivided application of it without manifest absurdity.

For example, if I may conclude my concern in this covenant is such that by one of its promises I am assured that God has taken my immediate seed into covenant with himself, I must on the same ground conclude also that my seed in remote generations will be no less in covenant with him, since the promise extends to the seed in their generations. I must also conclude that this seed will be separated from other nations as a peculiar people to God and will have the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession since all these things are included in the covenant of circumcision. But because these things cannot be allowed, nor are they pleaded for by anyone that I know of, we must conclude that Abraham was considered in this covenant, not in the capacity or respect of a private believing parent, but of one chosen of God to be the father of and a federal root to a nation that for special ends would be separated to God by a peculiar covenant. When those ends are accomplished, the covenant by which they obtained that right and relation must cease. And no one can plead anything similar without reviving the whole economy built on it.

-Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse of the Covenants, p. 105-6

You will find proof of this criticism exemplified in Meredith Kline’s handling of the Olive Tree. He argues that the Abrahamic Covenant was an administration of the common concept of parental authority.

It has been observed that covenants of grant such as God gave to Abraham were closely related in concept and terminology to legal formulations pertaining to family inheritance. There was thus congruity between the legal form in which God’s promises were bestowed and the family nature of the recipients. Indeed, the covenant of grant to Abraham adopted this family structure of the Abrahamites as its own governmental form. In the patriarchal age, covenant polity was family polity.

From the beginning the institution of the family was consistently respected in determining the constituency of the covenant family. The continuation of this administrative principle under the Abrahamic Covenant becomes most prominent and explicit in the regulations governing the covenant sign of circumcision. (See above for the symbolic meaning of this sign.) As a sign performed on an organ of generation, circumcision alluded to the descendants of the one who was circumcised. Thus, in symbolizing the curse on the covenant-breaker, circumcision included a reference to the cutting off of one’s descendants and so of one’s name and future place in the covenant community. However, insofar as circumcision was a sign of consecration, it signified that the issue of the circumcised member was consecrated to the Lord of the covenant and thereby set aside form profane to holy status, that is, to membership in the covenant institution. Agreeably, God promised to establish the covenant with Abraham’s descendants after him (Gen 17:7). In the stipulation that the infant sons of the Abrahamites be circumcised on their eighth day (Gen 17:12) the administrative principle is most clearly expressed that the parental authority of the confessors of the covenant faith defines the bounds of the covenant community. Those under the parental authority are to be consigned to the congregation. By divine appointment it is the duty of the one who enters God’s covenant to exercise his parental authority by bringing those under that authority along with himself under the covenantal jurisdiction of the Lord God…

When ordering the polity of the new covenant church the Lord continued, as ever, to honor the family institution and its authority structure. This is clearly taught by Paul in connection with his treatment of the covenant in Romans 11:16ff. under the image of the olive tree that represents the old and new covenants in their organic institutional continuity. Directing attention to the holy root of this tree, which would be Abraham, the apostle declares that if the root is holy the rest of the tree deriving from that root is holy. This holiness is not that inward spiritual holiness which is the fruit of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the elect, for it is shared by those (branches) whose nonelection is betrayed by their eventually being broken off from the olive tree. Hence the olive tree as such does not represent the election but the covenant, and the holiness attributed to the tree, root, and branches, is the formal status-holiness of membership in the covenant institution. The affirmation that the holy root imparts holiness to the tree growing up from it is to be understood, therefore, as a figurative expression of the administrative principle that parental authority determines inclusively the bounds of the covenant constituency. This principle, illustrated in the first instance by the relation of Abraham (the root) to his descendants, has repeated application in each generation, beyond the ability of the olive tree metaphor to convey. Each successive part of the tree, as it were, becomes a new holy root imparting holiness to its own branching extensions. The apostle is thus teaching as an ongoing principle of covenant polity that if the parent is a member of the holy covenant, so is the child.

-Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, p. 361-3

Kline is clear that it is not the natural child’s relation to Abraham, but to their believing parent, that secures their status as holy. They are not rooted in Abraham, but in their parents. Notice Kline’s candid admission that the olive tree metaphor cannot (and thus does not) convey his position that every believer becomes a new root for natural branches. In light of such an admission, it is foolish for Kline to conclude “The apostle is thus teaching as an ongoing principle of covenant polity that if the parent is a member of the holy covenant, so is the child.” Let us all be on guard of being so blinded by our assumptions that we cannot see the text.

Elect Excised?

If the type has been cast off and there remain no natural branches, no hereditary branches in the olive tree, but only elect branches grafted in through faith, how should we understand the warning of v18-24. Can those united through faith be cut off? No. The warning is a means of humbling them.

The observation that “by their unbelief they were broken off” is made in this instance, however, to emphasize that by which Gentiles have come to stand and occupy a place in the olive tree, namely, by faith. The main interest of the context is to rebuke and correct vain boasting. The emphasis falls on “faith” because it is faith that removes all ground for boasting. If those grafted in have come to stand by faith, then all thought of merit is excluded (cf 9:32; 11:6; 3:27).

-Murray

Note, the individual Gentiles were not added by profession but by belief. They are threatened with removal if they do not continue believing. Can someone who once believes later fall away? No, they cannot. Thus, although branches can still be cut off, none are cut off because the only remaining branches, per Paul, are those who believe. As Calvin said “the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God.” Nowhere does Paul refer to a branch that once believed but is now cut off. His comment is purely hypothetical. The logic is simple:

P1 If believing branches do not continue in their faith, they will be cut off.
P2 The perseverance of the saints teaches us that believers will continue in their faith.
C Believing branches will not be cut off.

In the person of the Gentiles he brings forward what they might have pleaded for themselves; but that was of such a nature as ought not to have filled them with pride, but, on the contrary, to have made them humble. For if the cutting off of the Jews was through unbelief, and if the ingrafting of the Gentiles was by faith, what was their duty but to acknowledge the favor of God, and also to cherish modesty and humbleness of mind? For it is the nature of faith, and what properly belongs to it, to generate humility and fear. But by fear understand that which is in no way inconsistent with the assurance of faith; for Paul would not have our faith to vacillate or to alternate with doubt, much less would he have us to be frightened or to quake with fear.

Of what kind then is this fear? As the Lord bids us to take into our consideration two things, so two kinds of feeling must thereby be produced. For he would have us ever to bear in mind the miserable condition of our nature; and this can produce nothing but dread, weariness, anxiety, and despair; and it is indeed expedient that we should thus be thoroughly laid prostrate and broken down, that we may at length groan to him; but this dread, derived from the knowledge of ourselves, keeps not our minds while relying on his goodness, from continuing calm; this weariness hinders us not from enjoying full consolation in him; this anxiety, this despair, does not prevent us from obtaining in him real joy and hope. Hence the fear, of which he speaks, is set up as an antidote to proud contempt; for as every one claims for himself more than what is right, and becomes too secure and at length insolent towards others, we ought then so far to fear, that our heart may not swell with pride and elate itself.

But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, — that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith.

-Calvin

Summary

In sum, here is what we find in the Romans 11 olive tree:

  1. Natural branches (Israel after the flesh) were vitally connected to the root (Abraham) apart from faith.
  2. At one specific point in history (the end of the Old Covenant), unbelieving natural branches lost their connection to the root and were corporately cut off.
  3. The branches that remained (Israel after the spirit) were only those vitally connected to the root (Abraham) through faith.
  4. Wild believing branches (Israel after the spirit) were grafted in and vitally connected to the root (Abraham) through faith.
  5. Believing branches will not be cut off because God preserves their faith.
  6. There are now no branches in the olive tree without faith.
  7. The tree represents Israel, both as type (Israel after the flesh) and later anti-type (Israel after the spirit).

For more, see http://www.1689federalism.com

See also: