The idea of covenant shapes pretty much all of the Bible and therefore our hermeneutic. We see covenant language and covenants all throughout Scripture. In fact, at the very beginning of Genesis in creation we see the introduction of a covenant between God and His creation. A covenant is very simple. The simplest way to explain it is to say that a covenant is an agreement between two parties. Both parties promise something in the relationship. So, for a covenant to work properly, both parties must meet up to their end of the agreement. So a covenant is simply an agreement.
At the very beginning we see the introduction of a covenant between God and man. God says, ‘Do this and don’t do this and I will do this.’ See the creation account of Genesis 1-2. Adam and Eve (and us) failed to live up to their end of the agreement. They sinned. So God had to step in and promise to fulfill the covenant for them (see Gen. 3). Then, later in Genesis and Exodus, God makes a covenant with Noah and later with Abraham, Moses and the nation of Israel and King David. My point is this. Multiple covenants were made with multiple people in the OT. The question that we could debate is whether they were indeed multiple covenants or was it one overarching covenant with multiple applications and addendums. I submit to you that there were multiple covenants that have ultimately found their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. We won’t get into that too deeply with this post. There will be some of you reading this that will disagree with me on this point and that’s totally fine.
What I want to focus on in this post is the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant. I also want to talk about the real question in these two and that is to whom do these covenants apply and how do we then apply the sign of that covenant. I hope this makes sense to you so far.
To start with, I’d like to ask you to read Genesis 12, 15 and 17. Read it carefully as it relates to the covenant between Abraham and God. In Genesis 15, we see some very deep and rich symbolic behavior in the ceremony of God ratifying His covenant with Abraham. I’ll let you read that without unpacking it too much in this post. In Genesis 17, we see the sign God gives to Abraham of the covenant: circumcision. It’s pretty clear from Genesis 17 what’s going on. God tells Abraham to circumcise all the males in his household, including even the slaves and that it will be an everlasting covenant.
Everlasting as in forever. Forever as in it never ends.
Now we get to Exodus 19-20 where we see God make a national covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. This is an important distinction that we need to see. Through the covenant with Abraham for God to set apart for Himself a people, we now have the nation of Israel. Now God will make a national covenant with the people He has set apart before through Abraham. So we now have the giving of the law as a national covenant with the nation of Israel.
I think one of the problems that comes about in most conversations about the old and new covenant is a lack of understanding of what we mean when we say “old covenant.” Most people I talk to about this do not differentiate between the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenant. As we can see from a close reading of these texts, there is a difference. One relies on the other. There would be no giving of the law without the initial covenant with Abraham. This is important that we see this difference. If you’re thinking that the biblical writers and prophets didn’t see them as being different, then I submit to you the famous “new covenant” text from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Turn to that text now and let’s look at it together.
The question that I will ask you to consider as you read this text is this: which covenant is being referenced here? Look at verse 31-32. Clearly this is the Mosaic covenant (aka the law) that is being referenced. This is important. This clearly means that the “new covenant” is tied to the law and the Mosaic covenant. I think this is clear when we also read Romans 4, as well as Galatians 3-4. Take time now to read those texts in light of the Jeremiah text, as well as Genesis 15 & 17 and Exodus 19-20.
I think we can all agree that the sign of the new covenant is baptism. Both credo and paedo baptists agree on this point. The difference that needs to be looked at is: to whom do we administer the sign of the new covenant?
I think it becomes very clear when we hold up the OT texts in light of the NT texts we’ve looked at, as well as the clear practice of the apostles in the book of Acts (household baptisms), that the sign of the new covenant (baptism) be administered to both believers and their children. God set this in motion in the covenant with Abraham and has never rescinded this covenant.
If God has not rescinded it, why should we then withhold the sign of the covenant from those whom God has said are to receive it (Genesis 17)?
We can see clearly from the Jeremiah text that the “new covenant” referenced there is the Mosaic covenant that Christ Himself would fulfill and abrogate by His life, death, burial and resurrection.
We can see the clear pattern of household baptisms by the apostles themselves in the book of Acts and we can see the clear ties between circumcision and baptism in the texts we looked at in the last post as well as Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4.
I hope you have found this discussion on baptism helpful and educational. I welcome any and all feedback (as long as it is polite and charitable). At the end of the day, those who follow Christ can be unified around the gospel message and can be together in our love for Jesus, for the Word and the covenant people of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!