Saturday, May 16, 2009

God's Covenant(s?)

David Weiner, ever the gentleman, has requested that we pick up a conversation from a while ago: link.

The salient question was, Does salvation run in families?

I argue:

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In the OT, what percentage of the saved were from the biological line of Abraham? Probably 99.99% or higher.

In the NT era in which we live, what percentage of the saved come from a Christian lineage? Harder to say, but greater than 50%.

So now consider again your statement, “For, I can not find any rationale for God choosing anybody other than His good pleasure and glory.”

Yet, He does give a partial rationale: “I will be a God to you and your descendants.” God’s kindness to Abraham is extended to Abe’s family *for the sake of Abraham.*

If God gave no consideration to families at all, then election would be equally distributed around the globe. Empirically, that’s not the case!

David responds:

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Kindness, as in to Abraham and his family, and election have to be considered synonymous for the argument to hold, it seems to me. And, Scripture does not link the two in any explicit way. So, each of us is ‘free’ to interpret loosely. Not exactly what you would accept in your science classes, I assume.

I don’t want to proof text this discussion; but, Jeremiah 7:23 makes it very clear (probably only to me!) that the idea of God being a God to Israel was not about salvation. It was about blessing. That is unless one can actually earn salvation by works and I know we agree on that one.

I read Barna reports and so I know there are lots of statistics. But, do we really know the geographical distribution of election? I think we are dealing with a lot of anecdotal data here. Certainly not double blind sort of stuff.

This led to a new question: was the covenant with Abraham a covenant of salvation, or of something else?

I argue:

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It seems to me, then, that this forces us to conclude that belief is a requirement to properly belong to the covenant. This is made explicit in Romans [2.28ff]. If we see belief as a requirement, unstated but implied in Gen. 17, then several different features come into focus:

(1) Why did God reject so many Israelites along the way, even though they were physically descended from Abraham? Unbelief. They didn’t meet the requirement of belonging to the covenant.

(2) Why did Jesus have to die on the cross for Jews? Because justification is necessary to be a child of God — and Jews as much as Gentiles need justification. One might be tempted to separate the issue of being a child of God and being a child of Abraham, but notice how closely Paul links them in Galatians [3.6-8, 26-29] and also Ezekiel [36.18ff]. Notice how closely Ezekiel links “being righteous” with “being God’s people.” For Ezekiel, salvation is necessary in order to be God’s people.

Even the promise to the physical descendants of Abe in Romans 11 is still conditioned on faith: “And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.”

And David responds

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It seems to me that Gen 17 describes a group of people who are called God’s people. And, God says that they will get a bunch of blessings if they only circumcise, an activity that did not require any faith. I know, a statistically invalid single data point, that when I was circumcised my parents were simply following a tradition. As I have said, they were reprobate. I don’t know how to describe what is Gen 17 other than temporal blessings in response to a ‘work.’ I simply don’t see any reference to eternal things or faith, for example. On the other hand, it seems offensive to talk about God’s people being reprobate. And, we know that Abraham’s offspring included a fair share of reprobates.

For me, the solution is to see that there are different covenants. And, the definition of ‘God’s people’ is used to identify the group in question and not to give an absolute definition. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the same as the New Covenant; the people referenced in each covenant are not the same people, although there is some overlap in a Venn diagram sense.

And this led then to a discussion of whether there are many covenants or one.

I argue that a "multiple covenants" view has to clear four hurdles to stand:

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On the other, if we say “multiple covenants”, then we have to ask several important questions:

(MCov 1) Why does the Scripture appear to mingle the covenants so freely?

* Believers in Christ are said to be “Children of Abraham and heirs according to the promise.”
* Recipients of the Mosaic Covenant are told that they are being given the land “for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
* The sign of the Mosaic Covenant is the same as the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant.

and so on.

(MCov 2) Why are the Gentiles, who formerly were excluded from Israel, now included into Israel:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. — Eph. 2.11-13

(MCov 3) What is “the promise” that Paul speaks of in multiple places?

(MCov 4) Why do we see no hint in the New Testament of separate covenants each running their course throughout history?

And David responds with regard to MCov 2:

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What I see here is first a description of the status of a group of people identified as gentiles. What then follows is a description of the status of the individual gentile who has received Christ. It is initially not about individuals; but, rather the group, in contrast to the group of people who were called Israelites (who were just a segment of those who came from Abraham; which is, of course, where the separation began.)

So what do we learn about the gentiles (before the cross):
1) you were at that time separate from Christ,
2) excluded from the commonwealth of Israel,
3) strangers to the covenants of promise,
4) having no hope
5) without God in the world

And these 5 items are summarized in the passage as their being “formerly far off.” Up to the cross, God had given the nation of Israel lots of promises and information (e.g., the Mosaic Law). He had not given this to all humanity equally. That does not mean that an individual gentile might not have known about the Mosaic Law or may have even tried to keep part of it. It just means that as a group, God had not given these things to them. Of course, each of the 5 items deserves about a book’s worth of explanation (particularly the word ‘covenant’ which as you can see is plural!); but, fortunately for you, I won’t subject you to that pain. (insert smiley face here) But, one thing I have to say about the description: it is not primarily about Israel. Israel is only mentioned as part of the description of the gentile’s pre-cross situation.

What does the passage say about their current status? Well, first of all it does not say anything about the status of the group. It only addresses the status of the individual saved gentile. And that is that they:

1) have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Brought near to what? What does one get when they are saved? Jesus. Not, a part of Israel, the nation. Does saved Israelites also have Jesus. Of course. That is a similarity; but, it does not erase the differences.

and again
After much thought about how to address your questions here, it seems to me that starting with ‘membership’ is the best approach. So, here goes.

According to my reading of Galatians 3:16, the promises were spoken to (made to) Abraham and Jesus. Another way of saying this is that God made the AC with Abraham and Jesus. God, for example, did not make the covenant with the nation of Israel. At this point in the discussion, I don’t see how I could add clarity to the role of God, Abraham, or Jesus by adding a term like ‘membership.’

As to the content of the covenant, some applied to individuals and some to groups of people. I would say that these individuals/groups were ‘recipients’ of the promises included in the covenant. I can see how the term ‘membership’ could be applied to these recipients; but, again, I don’t see how that clarifies the term recipients (of the covenant promises).

Another term that enters the discussion is ‘covenant people’ or ‘people of the covenant.’ Again, it seems to me that discussing covenants with regard to a) the people with whom the covenant was made and b) the people who are the recipients of the covenant promises would foster more clarity.

So, how does one become a type a) or type b) person or group? Only by God specifying their role in a specific covenant. And, that He has done quite well with regard to all of the covenants which He specifically makes in Scripture. Thus, I would have to respectfully disagree with the statement that ‘membership in one covenant granted membership in another.’ That is not to in any way take away from the fact that national Israel was made promises in both the AC and the MC. However, in the AC God made the covenant with Abraham and not national Israel and in the MC God made the covenant with national Israel and not Abraham. Similarities and differences existing without any conflicts.

You asked about Ruth, I misunderstood the question, and you responded with:

“By what means?” Faith is the means of inclusion into the New Covenant, circumcision into the Abrahamic (in your understanding). So by what means was Ruth included into the Abrahamic Covenant?

Ruth became part of a group (national Israel) identified as a recipient of promises in the AC by marrying a member of the group (actually, she did this twice). She also may have been a recipient of the AC blessings promised to ‘all families’ by God giving her saving faith. (Ruth 1:16 may show this; but, I don’t see it specifically spelled out in Scripture.)

I’d also like to clear up any misunderstanding that I gave you as to how one gains inclusion in the AC. Your statement above shows that I gave the impression that it was circumcision. That would have been an error on my part; circumcision did not gain one entrance to the AC. It was simply a sign of who was included in national Israel (e.g., it was not a sign of the promises involving ‘all the families’). National Israel was, of course, one of the recipients of promises in the AC. I’d like to just point out that circumcision came many years after the institution and a few reaffirmations of the covenant itself.

Now we get to the real question:

where do we see in the Scripture a positive affirmation that the New Covenant is separate from the Abrahamic?

First, I would not say that the NC is ’separate’ from the AC. What I would say is:
a) The covenant that we call the NC is specified in Jeremiah 31:31-34. (I certainly don’ t expect any disagreement on this? I do expect disagreement with what follows. (insert sad smiley face))
b) The NC is made with national Israel. The recipients of the promises of the NC are national Israel.
c)The foundation of the NC promises is the death (blood) of the Savior. The covenant could not be instituted (even though it was described long before) until Christ died and paid for sin.
d) Sorry for what I have to say next; but, the church is not now receiving the blessings of the NC. The church is receiving the blessings of the AC (in Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed).
e) To enable these blessings to flow to all people while Israel still awaits the blessings of the NC, God made a new creation, the church, Jew and Gentile in one body. This body receives those salvific blessings, because of the self same cross as was required to institute the NC, through faith in Jesus. Or, as Ephesians 3:6 says: “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members (with the Jew) of the body (the church), and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (AC promise to all the families of the earth [which would include the Israelites also!]) through the gospel.

So, my specific answer to your question is ‘no.’ There is no reason to expect a ’specific affirmation’ of separation. And, the reasons given above explain why that would not be required. Furthermore, the definitions of each covenant make it clear that they are not the same covenants.

The church is receiving the blessings of the AC because Jesus has paid the price of sin for ‘all the families of the earth’ and God created a new group, the church, a mystery, to receive these blessings. The new covenant only relates to Israel, although the death was also required for the enactment of that covenant. The fulfillment of the NC will have to wait for the second coming.

I’ll bet that there are just a few things in the above that you would like to point out as being not Scriptural. I am anxious to see what you have to say.

And I think this is more or less where we are: hashing through the four questions, and raising various issues in the process.

David, over to you.

JRC