When opposing ideas and Biblical interpretations clash, it is important to understand what presuppositions are being brought to the table. Likely, there are key assumptions that need to be dealt with in such a way so as to create a completely different and more efficient conversation. Throughout the life of an ongoing debate this has to be done intentionally and repeatedly. As the market of ideas continually changes, there is a need to reframe these key assumptions in light of new information and contemporary paradigm shifts.
The church advances in history. She may have her ups and downs but the trend line is moving up. Advancing is not fundamentally innovation or modification. It is approximation. What constitutes true progress in the church is the extent to which her understanding and conduct approximates what Scripture communicates and requires. This in turn extends the rule of Christ in history.
If we grasp hold of such a notion, we understand better why it is important to continually revisit “age-old” debates within the church. We should not assume that old equates to stagnant. The current and fundamental tensions within covenant theology have certainly been present in the reformed world for centuries. That said, they have never been situated in the history of the church as they are today. Engaging and re-engaging the discussion is therefore profitable.
Ideas do in fact have consequences. More fundamental ideas have more fundamental consequences. Certainly how God relates to and governs his people on earth is fundamental in nature. We are not dealing with preference regarding light fixtures in our Christian home. Rather we are dealing with genuine questions about its load-bearing walls.
For this reason, I took a recent debate over baptism as an opportunity to interact with a few books on covenant baptism from the reformed Baptist perspective. For however slight the contribution may be, I hope it is helpful to some on both sides of the conversation.
In the last article I left off with what I see as an assumption brought to the table by Jeffrey Johnson in his helpful book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism. I believe it to be an assumption that needs proving. It is a common Baptist interpretation of New Covenant texts that calls for more discussion. Why? Because if the assumption or interpretation is found to be incorrect, the Baptist house begins to teeter.
I don’t see a fatal flaw in paedobaptist theology. I see a fatal misunderstanding regarding these texts. In order to provide an understanding of these passages from a paedobaptist perspective, I thought it easiest and most expedient to reprint Chapter 5 of Baptism Is Not Enough below. The chapter is found in its entirety minus one paragraph that comments on Hebrews 6:4-8. The reason I have omitted this brief section is that I no longer see the passage in Hebrews 6 as referring directly to apostasy or a falling away from the New Covenant. Although the latter is a common interpretation among both Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians, I see it as an explicit reference to Israel and the Old Covenant.
If you have not read through the previous articles, I would read them so as to set up the following excerpt. If the chapter below captures additional interest, you can purchase the book and accompanying video here. Given the extent of this post and the added content of previous articles, I can only hope to retain the attention of readers truly interested in the topic. If you are one of these, I hope you find the following beneficial.
New Covenant Texts Revisited[i]
Having worked through the understanding of what constitutes (defines) a covenant, covenant institutions, and their application to baptism and the church, a curious question arises. From a scriptural standpoint (over and against an historical argument), how could someone not maintain a paedo-baptist perspective? I believe the answer to this question centers around two primary texts in Scripture. Without the confusion over these two passages I believe the debate over infant baptism would have been over centuries ago. These are the well-known New Covenant passages in the books of Jeremiah and Hebrews.
These texts are cited as primary support for the idea that those within the New Covenant administration are comprised only of God’s elect. That is, they have before the world’s foundations been chosen as one of God’s people in eternity. Their sins have been atoned for and their eternal salvation is secure.
It follows that if this is the case, and baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, then children of believers cannot be baptized as they would be receiving the sign prior to any confession of Christ as their Savior and Lord (even though this does not equate with election). Hence, this understanding of the New Covenant determines one’s conclusion on infant baptism. A person’s doctrine of the covenant will ultimately determine their view on baptism.
So, what are we to make of these texts? Are God’s New Covenant people in history comprised of only God’s elect? To answer these questions we will look in detail at the passages as well as the historical context of the time when Hebrews was composed. At the same time, a backdrop of the previous chapters will have to be kept in mind in regards to covenant structure.
Historical Context of the book of Hebrews
As with any book in Holy Scripture, the audience and historical context of the writing are vitally important. This is especially true in the book of Hebrews since the contemporary context was a unique, transitional time in the early life of the church. The book of Hebrews was written to a Jewish Christian audience. “The social and religious roots of this community are almost certainly to be traced to the Jewish quarters and to participation in the life of a Hellenistic synagogue.”[ii] They were also an early Christian assembly and as such were living in a time of persecution and difficulty. The participation in and among Jewish life, as well as the presence of persecution presented a temptation.
The targeted audience was an assembly in crisis. There had been defections from their number (10:25). Among those who remained, there was a loss of confidence in the viability of their convictions. They displayed lack of interest in the message of salvation they had embraced (2:1–4), which formerly had given them a sense of identity as the New Covenant people of God. … One consideration that alarmed the writer was the group’s attraction for traditions that he regarded as conflicting with the word of God preached by their former leaders.[iii]
The Old Covenant traditions referred to above were surrounding the Jewish Christians in a time following the ascension of Christ but prior to the destruction of the temple. These Christians had not heard the testimony of Christ directly from him; they were one generation removed. In addition to this there were a number of Jewish sects operating around them: Herodians with their Jewish political presence; the upper-class Sadducees; the ascetic Essenes; the Pharisees who wanted to bring back old Israel; even the zealous Maccabees. They all espoused doctrines and rites of Israel which rejected Christ, and all were still looking toward political salvation.
With this in mind, this once-removed generation was susceptible to believing that Christ was truly dead and gone and perhaps believed they were all wrong in their new-found faith. At best it could have been a point of major confusion. This is the group to whom the author of Hebrews is writing, and that is why the message is so important! “[the] whole practical thrust of the epistle is to persuade those to whom it is addressed to resist the strong temptation to seek an easing of the hardships attendant on their Christian confession by accommodating it to the regime of the former covenant. …”[iv]
Hence, there is in the book one overarching theme of the Supremacy of Christ over and against the Levitical priesthood and entire ceremonial nature of the Old Covenant administration. They were quite literally in danger of compromising and trampling the work of Christ for the sake of adhering to the doctrine and rituals of the Old Covenant era. They had already become less attentive to the instruction of the church (5:11–14), and some had quit meeting regularly altogether (10:25).
This early church community needed a word from God to help them cling to the message of the gospel in trying and confusing times. They were privileged in their position in Christ and the author intends to drive home the supremacy of Christ and the corresponding promises of the New Covenant administration that are not only better but everlasting.
It is also important to understand that, as in most of the epistles of the New Testament, the book of Hebrews is written to a community of believers, covenantally bound in their confession of Christ. They do indeed have functional subordination or hierarchy, laws, and discipline. Whereas the text has application to individuals, the message is to a covenanted community of believers. This is key to understanding chapters 8–10, just as certain as it is key to understanding the whole letter. If the quotes from Jeremiah are not read in terms of covenant structure, representation or the “one and the many,” they will be dangerously individualized, upsetting the intents of the passage.
The focus in the passage is God’s relationship to his people. Lane comments on chapter 8,
The relationship between God and his people, which was the intention of the covenant concluded at Sinai but which was broken by the past failure of Israel to observe the conditions of the relationship established by God (v9), will be restored. Redemptive grace reaches its zenith in the full and final realization of this promise through Christ. The inauguration of the new covenant with the entrance of the eschatological high priest into the heavenly sanctuary (v6) indicates the privileged status of the Christian community.[v]
Paul Ellingworth, in his New International Greek Testament Commentary on Hebrews, notes,
Even in Jeremiah, however, the new covenant is still with a people, “the house of Israel and … the house of Judah”; so even more strongly Joel 2:28–32 = Acts 2:17–21, “all flesh”; identified immediately, however, as “your sons and your daughters.” In Hebrews, which (unlike 1 Pet. 2:5) does not describe believers as a priesthood, the author’s immediate concern is with the work of Christ. When he finally turns, in 10:19ff., to its significance for believers, it is for believers as a group.[vi]
Having covered the historical setting and touching on the covenantal nature of the message and intended audience, we can now look briefly at the specific “New Covenant” text from Jeremiah 31 quoted in Hebrews chapter 8.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:8–12)
“[N]ot like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.” (Heb. 8:9a)
Jeremiah 31:32 states, “my covenant which they broke.” Who is “they” in the text? It is the covenant community of Israel. It could not relate directly to individuals. Moses is featured in the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith.” Joshua and Caleb did not individually break covenant, nor can we deem them unsaved as such. The text shows that comparisons between the Old and New Covenants do not primarily focus on individuals. Some in the wilderness did not fall away and some in the New Testament are excommunicated (or fall away) as is clear with the sexually immoral man in First Corinthians 5:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Cor. 5:1–5)
The New Covenant with God’s people will continue, although some will fall away from the covenant. The old covenant was “broken” but not all individuals in the old covenant were damned. The structure of both covenants is the same. “The last two lines of v. 10 present the new covenant as identical in form with the old (cf. Ex. 6:7; Lv. 26:12; Dt. 26:17-19; Ezk. 37:27); only the spirit is different.”[vii] This is consistent with Jeremiah when he says in 32:40, “that they may not turn from me.” Again, this is the people as a whole, not just individuals who had broken faith. It is an everlasting covenant (32:40) and hence will not have the same fate of the old one. There will be no other bride in the future for Christ. His bride now is the church and we have been assured of a marriage with no divorce. Israel “did not continue” in His covenant. The New Covenant body of believers as the covenant community will.
“I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Heb. 8:10a; cf. 10:16; Jer. 31:33)
The intended contrast here must not be missed. The writer is contrasting the Old Covenant (the laws being written on tablets of stone) with the New Covenant (laws being written on the hearts of his people through the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost). This contrast is consistent with the theme of this section. In the previous arrangement with Israel the high priesthood mediated between the people and the presence of God. This presence was typified through the ark which contained the law of God written on stone tablets. In the New Covenant arrangement we have a new High Priest who is Christ.
As the writer seeks to drive home many times, this is the true presence of God as we approach Mount Zion (chapter 12) and no longer is there a curtain dividing us, mediated through an inferior priesthood and the blood of goats and bulls, which cannot take away sins (Heb. 10:4). The laws which represent the unchanging character of God are not housed in the ark of the (old) covenant but have been given through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The contrast drives home the superior power available to the church over and above that of Israel.
In addition to this contrast being consistent with the overall theme and message of the book, it is also apparent when looking at texts such as Deut. 30:14. “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” If we individualize the passage from Jeremiah, we must also do so with this verse. But we are unable to do so, understanding that from above “they” broke the covenant. The primary context of the passage is not in reference to some salvific nature of the New Covenant. It is a contrast of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence over and above the Old Covenant. This is the definitive newness of the covenant. The structure is not.
“I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Heb. 8:10b)
Unlike above, this is not a contrast to the relationship God had with his bride Israel. It actually puts the church on the same footing with Israel. The church is His New Covenant bride and the verse is surrounded by context that elevates not the structure or legal relationship, but the superiority of promises and sacrifice. The same promise was given to Abraham and Moses to be “God to you and your descendants.”
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (Gen. 17:7)
I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. (Exod. 29:45)
. . . that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deut. 29:13)
Again, the understanding that the covenant is made with a people is driven home. Ultimately in heaven this eschatological people will be the elect of God. In the meantime God is using two covenant administrations in history to bring about his ultimate purpose of redemption to the world. Another way to say it would be that there are two Israels in history but only one true Israel that will prove faithful, as Abraham’s true descendants are in fact followers of Christ that truly believe and therefore persevere. He alone looks into the hearts of man.
“they shall not teach each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Heb. 8:11)
Without understanding the larger context of Scripture, this verse may seem somewhat confusing. Would this mean that individuals within the New Covenant would not teach each other as they would all be elect in Christ? How could this really make sense within the context of operating on earth where we cannot fully discern the hearts of men?
One question to give insight might be, what kind of teaching existed in the Old Testament that would not in the New? It could not be the teaching that occurs within the ministry of the church.
It refers to something that was part of the ceremonial legislation of the old covenant that is going to cease, will no longer be practiced, and will be removed in the new covenant. Second, teaching is involved. The passage addresses something with regard to the spreading of the knowledge of the Lord that previously occurred among the covenant people of God.[viii]
Again, one of the central thrusts of the overall context of the letter is the doing away with the ceremonial law practices. The knowledge and practice of the laws resided with the Levitical priesthood; they were central to teaching God’s people Israel and representing the knowledge of the Lord to them.[ix] In the first part of this verse Jeremiah was pointing out that this would cease. This is a message that needed to be heard by that early Christian community as they saw the practices continue to surround them with the presence of the temple.
The second phrase, “from the least of them to the greatest” needs only to be interpreted in light of the phrase as it is used in the rest of Jeremiah.
The Hebrew phrase that is translated “least … greatest” (sometimes rendered “great and small”) is used seven times in Jeremiah, and each time it refers to classes or ranks of persons. When referring to the least and the greatest, he is consistently referring to all classes of people (6:13, 8:10, 16:6, 31:34, 41:1, 44:12).[x]
The Levitical priests were a special class of people whose role and function under the Old Covenant was to be done away with. There would no longer be a special class possessing the knowledge of the Lord. All classes of people would be privy to it and would engage the throne room of God directly through their new High Priest from the line of Melchizedek, Jesus Christ.
As for these phrases applying to the individual, Gregg Strawbridge provides keen insight:
[To] absolutize the prophetic words like, “they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” is untenable. (In the first place this overlooks Jeremiah’s own use of the phrase “least to greatest.”) The “New Covenant Objection” really arises from the exegetical error of absolutizing such prophetic language, coupled with an inadequate Biblical theology of covenants. Neither the writer of Hebrews, nor any other New Testament writer interprets Jeremiah to mean that only regenerate individuals are covenanted with. Prophetic language often is hyperbolic and care must be taken when it is read in a quantitatively literal fashion. For example, God called “all the families of the kingdoms of the north … and they will come, and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah” (Jer. 1:15). Read in a quantitatively absolute fashion, this would have been a physical impossibility. As has been adequately demonstrated, this was not Hebrews’ purpose in the text cited and is inconsistent with the entire theme and refrain of the book.[xi]
One of the central “themes and refrains” of the book is that of possible apostasy from the New Covenant. Constant warnings of this are provided throughout the book of Hebrews (3:6–4:7; 10:26–31; 12:14–17, 25–29). They are warned so as not to end up like the man in 1 Corinthians 5 above.
Hebrews is an odd book to cite for support of the idea that the New Covenant is only made with the elect. The warnings in Hebrews are also consistent with other passages in the New Testament. (John 15; Rom. 11:20–22; 2 Pet. 1:9–11; Jude 12). As a covenant member Judas took part in the New Covenant meal and apostatized. He was not elect (Luke 22:3), but he was a professing follower of Christ who participated in the fellowship meal with Jesus.
It is a blessing to live life within the boundaries of the set-apart people of God. We are privy to the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, the fellowship of believers, the fellowship with Christ through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and the discipline and watch care of able shepherds. To break the terms of the covenant under which we receive such blessing, only makes us liable for greater judgment. We see this same structure and response of God to a holy and privileged bride Israel.
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you. (Matt. 11:23–24)
All are judged under the covenant at creation but God’s people as his bride have always been judged more severely. It is understandable that this would not be a comfortable doctrine but it cannot be dismissed. The church is privileged as the bride of Christ. Part of the privilege is an abolition of the special class of Levites. From the least to the greatest we can all approach Mount Zion and the heavenly throne room with confidence. The New Covenant administration through the church will help mature God’s people and bring about his redemptive purposes in this world. The famed already/not-yet tension is present in this passage even outside a good understanding of the discussion above.
We look forward to the day when the New Covenant itself comes to a glorious maturity – and the bride will have no spot or wrinkle, and we will all know the Lord. The New Covenant will bring a much greater outpouring of efficacious glory from God than was previously seen in the world. … The Levitical administration was for Israel in a condition of immaturity; it was entirely inadequate for the harvest of all nations.[xii]
“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12)
Is this new in the New Covenant? It cannot be. God fully atoned for the sin of his elect saints in the Old Testament just as he does in the New. Justification by faith has always been a reality as Hebrews 11 points out. Pardoning sin is not something new that is restricted to members of the New Covenant, so this verse cannot refer to a distinctive of the New Covenant being comprised of only elect members whose sin is atoned for.
One might say then that of course sins were atoned for in the heart of those saved by faith in the Old Testament; but that is the difference. In the New Covenant, all members have faith and are therefore elect. Their sins are remembered no more. One Baptist has put it, “In the context of Jer. 31:34 for God ‘not to remember’ means that no action will need to be taken in the new age against sin. In the end, to be under the terms of this covenant entails that one experiences a full and complete salvation.”[xiii]
This is all fine and well but it divorces the concept of remembering sins no more from the context of the book. Again, the focus is on the inferiority of the ceremonial law system and of the priesthood. “The inadequacy of the cultus was not due to its being a sacrificial system. It was due to its sacrificial system being imperfect.”[xiv] The whole point is that sacrifices in the old covenant did not take away sin. Christ’s ultimate sacrifice did. The Old Covenant people lived in a world where the atonement for their sin was ritually and continually pointed to in the sacrifices. There was to come a time when these continual sacrifices were to cease.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:23–26)
With the death and resurrection of Christ, the sin of his people was atoned for once and for all. The writer says in 10:17–18, “then he adds, I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” We see again the intent to drive home the assurance of there being no need for the continual sacrifices of the Israel’s priests. These are a people in the original context of Jeremiah who were to be exiled and the temple destroyed.
From a New Testament perspective and application they are back in the land and there is a rebuilt temple. There was a looming question in their minds as Jews continued sacrificial practices around them. The question was, “Are we truly forgiven?” In the letter to them they hear consolation. Their sins are truly forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The point was that there were no longer any sacrifices needed. There is still though an earthly people and ministry of the church. No one can fully discern whose sin has truly been atoned for through the death of Christ, but we can work within the covenant structure of the church by taking men at their confession and working within the context of church discipline. The structure is designed to work for the purification of the people over time, further reflecting to rolls of heaven and the one day in which all saints will be gathered before the throne.
The New Covenant texts of Jeremiah and Hebrews are a glorious declaration of the sufficiency of Christ. This new Christian assembly in crisis needed a reminder of first principles of the faith. They needed to be reminded that Christ’s sacrifice was truly sufficient. They needed to be warned not to fall away. This was the baptized community of Christ in covenant. It was the New Covenant. This New Covenant had at its foundation the blood of the true sacrifice and the power of the Holy Spirit. To take the texts to mean that God’s covenant structure was to be done away with and that God’s people on earth are only the invisible or eschatological elect at best divorces them from the overall context of the book of Hebrews. At worst it tends toward a gnostic division of heaven and earth.
It is no wonder the issue of infant baptism becomes distorted with this understanding of the covenant. Listen to Jewett:
The covenantees are not those who are born into the covenant, those whose father and mother have the law “written upon their hearts,” but those who themselves have had this experience, having been born again by the Spirit of God. This subjective, inward, existential, spiritual change is the hall mark of the new covenant.[xv]
This statement misunderstands the relationship between the family and church covenants which has been discussed. Additionally, it tends almost to an other-worldly covenant that cannot be perceived or interacted with on earth. The church on earth is relegated to a contractual institution at best in which members gather but are not called out or set apart by covenant. The material world is done away with and a discussion of the New Covenant relates only to another more fully “spiritual” world. Listen again to an extended quote from Strawbridge.
It is true that mere natural descent is insufficient to guarantee the fullest reception of the covenant promised blessings. This being true during the Old Testament, according to Paul, then how does this truth affect the question of the sign of covenant given to believer’ children? In the previous eras they received it, though it was still true that all who were authorized by God to receive the sign did not partake of the reality signified. The argument is fatally flawed. It says that since only the truly spiritual seed received the promises, then only the spiritual seed have a right to the sign. But this argument (from Paul’s statements about true Israel) is fallacious. Because, it is simply not true nor intended by God’s command that only the true “spiritual seed” (the elect) are to receive the sign of the covenant. The sign is a visible sign, for visible members of God’s people. It is not enough to prove that only the elect are elected. This is granted. God, who knew about Esau, still commanded the sign of circumcision on him, even though he did not have a circumcised heart. What must be proved if the argument for covenant inclusion, leading to infant baptism is to be dismissed, is not the truth of election—but that only those that are elect are to receive the sign of the covenant. It is certainly impossible to prove this was God’s intention in the Old Testament and it is just as impossible in the new covenant….Consider the case in point further, Esau. Not denying the truth of election, the writer of Hebrews indicates that Esau was a covenant breaker, ‘See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God…that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal’ (Heb. 12:15-16). Thus one is still warranted in putting the sign on those of whom we do not have infallible assurance of their election.[xvi]
One might contend that the Old and New covenants are different in structure and therefore what was done in regard to the application of signs in the Old Covenant is not what is done in the New. This is precisely what the rest of this book seeks to address. The way in which God relates to people on earth has not changed. He has not substituted a mystical connection with believers in the New Covenant, a connection that cannot be perceived on earth, for the legal connection that can be seen, set apart and governed. The structure within which God relates to his people on earth has not changed. Paul drives this home in the following passage:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (1 Cor. 10:1–5)
Just like the New Covenant church today, Paul says they ate and drank from Christ. Nevertheless, “with most of them God was not pleased.” Both covenant administrations had their root in Christ. The structure was the same. Kline says it well when he comments on the treatment of the olive tree in Rom. 11:16:
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.[xvii]
He relates this directly to children of believers by saying,
[By] applying the covenantal blessing of the fifth commandment to the children of Christian parents (Eph 6:1-3; cf. Col 3:20; Exod 20:12) Paul indicates that they are not merely under the call to enter the covenant but are in the holy covenant, consigned under its terms of blessing or curse.”[xviii]
God relates to his creation through covenant. This did not change with the coming of Christ. Neither did man’s inability to discern the heart. There is a real, discernible, covenant institution that operates in history. It is not only visible but it is governed representatively by men. One day the eschatological church will come into full view, but for now we live and operate under the terms of God’s New Covenant in history.
[i] Copyright 2013. John Crawford, Baptism is not Enough: How Understanding God’s Covenant Explains Everything (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2013), 89-90.
[ii] William L. Lane, Word Biblical Commentary: Hebrews (Dallas, TX: Word, 1991), liv.
[iii] Lane, Hebrews, 1:lxi.
[iv] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1977), 10.
[v] Lane, Hebrews, 209-210.
[vi] Paul Ellingworth, The New International Greek Testament Commentary. a Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 414.
[vii] Ellingworth, Epistle to the Hebrews, 417.
[viii] Jeffrey D. Niell, “The Newness of the New Covenant”, The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2003), 146-147.
[ix] Niell, “The Newness of the New Covenant”, 153.
[x] Niell, “The Newness of the New Covenant”, 152.
[xi] Gregg Strawbridge, “Appendix B: A Brief Exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34”, Covenantal Infant Baptism: An Outlined Defense (1998).
[xii] Douglas Wilson, To a Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism : Covenant Mercy for the People of God (Moscow, Id.: Canon, 1996), 37.
[xiii] Stephen J. Wellum, “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants,” Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006), 146.
[xiv] Paul Ellingworth, The New International Greek Testament Commentary. a Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 411.
[xv] Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace: An Appraisal of the Argument That as Infants Were Once Circumcised, so They Should Now Be Baptized (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 228.
[xvi] Gregg Strawbridge, “Appendix B: A Brief Exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34”, Covenantal Infant Baptism: An Outlined Defense (1998).
[xvii] Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton, MA: M.G. Kline, 1991), 362.
[xviii] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 363.