What is nature of the covenant in its historical context? As we continue to consider baptism and the relationship between the covenants from the book edited by Schreiner and Wright, we are going to look at the covenant in context. Paedobaptists will often point to Genesis 17:7 as a key passage indicating that, just as the covenant was for “you and your seed/offspring” in the old covenant with Abraham, so it is in the new covenant. But who is the seed of Abraham? Who is the true heir of God’s promise?
Scripture teaches that there are four senses, according to Wellum, of the seed of Abraham (133-35):
- The “seed of Abraham” is the natural (physical) seed, the physical descendants of Abraham. This would include Isaac, through whom the promise continued, Ishmael, who did not receive the promise, and even those who were circumcised but were not biological children of Abraham, but merely part of his household in one way or another.
- The “seed of Abraham” also refers to the special seed that were part of God’s elective purposes, Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel (Dt. 7:7-10). But being God’s people did not guarantee God’s blessing. The nation was mixed, and not all Israel are Israel (Rom. 9).
- The Messiah is the fulfillment of the seed and the third sense of the “seed of Abraham.” Paul, in Gal. 3:16, argues that Christ fulfills the promises, in particular the promise of a seed (singular) from Abraham. Scripture here advances the typology in a significant way to show that those who are part of the covenant come through the one covenant keeper, Jesus Christ.
- The last sense of the “seed of Abraham” emphasizes its spiritual nature, now that Christ has come. The way into the covenant is no longer dependent upon circumcision but on faith and rebirth, not on any kind of physical lineage or links. The old structures have given way to new realities.
There are significant implications from this understanding of the seed (135-137). First, one cannot equate the Abrahamic covenant with the new covenant in a one-to-one fashion. There are diverse aspects within the old covenant (national/physical, typological and spiritual) and discontinuity when we move from Abraham to Christ.
The church is not merely a replacement of Israel. Israel is a type that points to the church, but only because it first points to Christ, and all those who are in Christ are part of the church, the body of Christ. The same could not have been said of Israel, there were believers and unbelievers, a spiritual people of God and a nation (not all his spiritual people). Circumcision only signaled participation in the nation. Wellum makes the point in this way:
The new covenant people of God are all those, regardless of ethnicity or circumcision, who have confessed Christ as Lord, the true/spiritual seed of Abraham. It includes all those who believe in Christ and who have been born of his Spirit. That is why, in the end, Scripture teaches that we should only baptize those who are Christ’s covenant children-those who are actually in the covenant by God’s grace through regeneration and saving faith. (136)
“A second implication is that the genealogical principle of the Abrahamic covenant is reinterpreted as we move from promise to fulfillment” (136). The new covenant is new. It is new in the fact that, whereas “the relationship between the covenant mediator and his seed was physical“, now it is a spiritual relationship, and the covenant sign must now only be applied to those who are the spiritual seed of Abraham, through Christ (136-37).
Jeremiah says it this way,
31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The covenants are different, and although they both have an initiation sign, the signs are different because they communicate different realities, the new covenant sign indicating a spiritual reality for those who have been made part of that new covenant, who have the law within them through the Holy Spirit and who have been forgiven of their sins through Christ’s sacrifice.
This is why we have parent dedications, because the parents are committing to raise their child in a godly home in which, we pray, their child may one day trust Christ and participate in that visible sign of the new covenant, baptism.