Wednesday, July 29, 2015

More on Manata and Paedobaptism

If one wants to understand infant baptism and Paul Manata’s argument, they need to examine Paedobaptist Covenant Theology. Therein lies all the answers to the many questions you might have around the issue of infant baptism. The Westminster Confession of Faith contends that the Old and New Covenants are one Covenant of Grace with two distinct administrations. The confession states: This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: (2 Cor. 3:6–9) under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come.

The London Baptist Confession of 1689 is fundamentally different: This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

The paedobaptist distinguishes between the substance of the covenant and the administration. As Pascal Denault points out, this distinction allows the paedobaptist to allow for the non-elect within the New Covenant as well as opens the way for the natural posterity of believers.

Denault writes This paradigm “one covenant two administrations” of paedobaptist covenant theology involved two elements necessary to Presbyterian federalism: the unity of the Covenant of Grace from Genesis to Revelation and the mixed nature of the Covenant of Grace from Israel until the New Testament Church. This theoretical model was largely endorsed by seventeenth-century paedobaptists.

The Baptists, on the other hand, believed that the Covenant of Grace was first revealed to Adam in the gospel which he received in the garden. The Covenant of Grace was progressively revealed until it was fully disclosed and fully realized in the New Covenant. Salvation in the Old Testament was administered under the partially revealed, unrealized Covenant of Grace promised at that time. Faith in God and confidence in His word of a coming Redeemer was the ground of salvation for the Old Testament saints. In other words, Old Testament saints were saved by grace through faith.

My thesis is that the New Covenant is a distinctly different covenant with a distinctly different substance and a distinctly different administration, not to mention, a distinctly different purpose, from that of the Old Covenant. Hence, this discontinuity leaves us with no other option than a credobaptist understanding where Christian baptism is concerned.

The New Covenant is called new in Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20; 2 Cor. 3:6; Hebrews 8:13; 9:15; 12:24. It is called a better covenant in Heb. 7:22; 8:6. It is called an everlasting covenant in Jer. 32:40; 31:33, 34; 50:5; Isa. 55:3; Ezek. 37:26.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (Jn. 1:17) This statement captures the essential difference between the Old and the New Covenant. One was a covenant of law, the other a covenant of grace and truth. The discontinuity is hard to miss.

Now, if the New Covenant is referred to as new in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, and it is referred to as a better covenant in the New Testament, and finally, it is referred to as an everlasting covenant, then it seems to me that strong exegetical backing is necessary to warrant any view that would take the two covenants as really just one covenant with two different administrations. With all due respect to our Presbyterian brothers, I do not find such support in their arguments.

The New Covenant is a new covenant, accompanied by the adjectives new, better, and everlasting. Jer. 31:31-32 emphasizes the discontinuity between the Sinaitic Covenant and the New Covenant. The Hebrew words ḥādāš and lōʾ ke-berît point up to what should be the indisputable fact that the covenant is fundamentally different from the one made at Sinai. It is 1) New and 2) Not like, unlike the one God made with Israel at Sinai after bringing them out of Egypt. Manata spends an awful lot of time making connections between the two covenants that are little more than exegetical speculations at best and theological exaggerations at worse. In addition to Jeremiah’s plain announcement of the New Covenant in chapter 31, he makes another forceful statement about the nature of the New Covenant in chapter 32. Jeremiah shares that God will make ʿôlām berît with Israel, that is, an everlasting covenant. Once again Jeremiah is the tool God uses to reveal that the New Covenant is fundamentally different from the Old Covenant. The Old was temporary, only pointing to the New, while the New is permanent, the culmination of God’s redemptive arrangement. Jeremiah goes on to say that this New Covenant is unbreakable. The language is clear. God says He will NOT turn away from them, and they will NOT turn away from Him because in this Covenant, He will personally put His fear in their hearts. As we look closer at this section in Jeremiah, we read, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. (Jer. 32:38-39) They must in very deed become the people of the Lord, for God gives them one heart and one way [of life], to fear Him always, i.e., through His Spirit He renews and sanctifies them.[1]

The theme of discontinuity between the Old and the New Covenant is echoed throughout the Old Testament, especially throughout the prophets. Jer. 24:7 says that God will give them a hear to know Him. Ezek. 11:19 says God will give them one heart and a new spirit within them. Isa. 53:6 says that all our iniquity, God has caused to fall on Christ. Again, Ezek. 36:36 announces that God will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them, that He will give them a heart of flesh.

The members of the New Covenant are different. They have been given a new spirit; a new heart of flesh; they no longer have a heart of stone; they have a genuine and unbreakable fear of God; they have in fact obtained mercy; their sins have in fact been forgiven; they do possess a genuine knowledge of God untaught by men; and they have one and the same heart which speaks of an unbreakable unity.

The New Covenant is associated with Christ while the Old Covenant is associated with Moses. John explicitly tells us that the Law was given through Moses while grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. (Jn. 1:17) This is not a negative statement about the Law, which is a good gift from God that came through Moses. But it is a statement that points up to the discontinuity between the ministry of Moses and the Ministry of Christ. Romans 10:4 informs us that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes. Commenting on this passage, Moo writes, “Indeed, the salvation-historical disjunction between the era of the law and the era of Christ is one that is basic to Paul’s teaching in Romans.” [Moo, Romans] The point here, without getting bogged down in exegetical minutia is the clear discontinuity that is present in Paul’s thinking in this text. It matters not whether telos (end of the law) is understood teleologically or temporally. Both meanings point to the same discontinuity. Christ being the purpose of the law or Christ being the end of the law both point to something fundamentally distinct in the New Covenant arrangement. The contrast is between Christ and Moses. Perhaps a safe understanding of the text is that Christ is both the end of the law and the goal of the law as well. After all, if Christ was the goal of the law, having arrived, Christ has brought an end to those things whose purpose was to anticipate and point to His coming.

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (2 Cor. 3:7-11) Here we can clearly see a fundamental discontinuity between Christ and Moses, between the Spirit of the New Covenant and the Letter of the Old Covenant. One is called a ministry of condemnation while the other is called a ministry of righteousness. One fades away while the other remains. There can be no question that the New Testament clearly reveals a discontinuity between the Old and the New Covenant at the most fundamental level. This does nothing to detract from an existing continuity between the covenants, something I will point out later, albeit with great brevity.

The New Covenant is unconditional and eternal while the Old Covenant is conditional and temporal. This truth could not be made clearer that it is in Jeremiah 31-32. Hebrews 7:22 informs us that Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant. Guarantee speaks to the unbreakable nature of the New Covenant. The language in Jer. 31 & 32 all speaks of God as the acting subject. God will have mercy and forgive sin. God will write His law on their hearts. God will put His fear within them. God will give them one heart and a new spirit. There is no conditional aspect in the language of the New Covenant.

In the New Testament, baptism was a religious rite associated with conversion and repentance. True conversion was always the necessary precondition of a valid baptism. Since baptism was an outward expression of an inward reality, it was never understood to be merely an external religious right to join the visible church. There is simply no exegetical warrant for this perspective.

To reiterate, my thesis is that the New Covenant is a distinctly different covenant with a distinctly different substance and a distinctly different administration, not to mention, a distinctly different purpose, from that of the Old Covenant. Hence, this discontinuity leaves us with no other option than a credobaptist understanding where Christian baptism is concerned.

The adjectives new, everlasting, & better all point to a radically different component in the covenantal arrangement. This difference is so radical that it cannot possibly be considered to be simply the same covenant with a different administration.

The New Testament dichotomy between Moses and Christ could not be more obvious. Everywhere we read the two together, we see a fundamental difference. We see the superiority of Christ over Moses and grace over law throughout the writings of the New Testament.

The Unconditional/Eternal versus the Conditional/Temporal aspect of the New and Old Covenants is present from the very beginning of the prophecy. The activity of the New Covenant has God for its subject and the members of the New Covenant as passive objects. God is doing all the work while we are simply receiving it. Such was never the case in the Old Covenant arrangement. The language used in Jeremiah 31-32 indicates a clearly unbreakable, enduring, everlasting nature that is fundamentally different from what we see in the Old Covenant.

Contrary to the paedobaptist view, circumcision, not baptism, is still the sign of New Covenant membership. It is the circumcision of the heart that demonstrates membership in the New Covenant. This circumcision manifests itself in the fruit of the Spirit, the obvious product of genuine repentance and conversion, a true and living faith.

The baptism of infants is never commanded, never taught, and never recorded anywhere in the New Testament record. Couple this fact with the fact that baptism was taken very seriously by the New Testament Church and even very radically by the early Church and it seems to me that the only reasonable conclusion is that the baptism of infants is the product of a theological system constructed on faulty exegetical methodology. It is the product of a hermeneutic in desperate need of repair.

To conclude I will share a quote from Pascal Denault: We do not think that this laborious theology was the result of a rigorous and disinterested application of hermeneutical principles. We rather believe that it was the consequence of an age-old practice, which became the ultimate instrument of social uniformity in Christendom and which was inherited by the Reformed Church, namely, paedobaptism.

[1] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 8 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 294.

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