Hebrews and Covenants

It occured to me that in my study of Hebrews I keep noticing the abbrogation and imperfection of the first covenant, a covenant that is finally replaced by a new and better covenant in Christ. However, our Reformed churches tend to treat the old and new covenants as cut from the same cloth, and this confuses me.

Clearly, the covenant with Abraham hasn’t been ended, nor was it imperfect. Thus, the author must be speaking about the Mosaic covenant, which only makes sense as its forms and shadows have been done away with, dispensed with symbolically at the tearing of the temple veil at Jesus’ death.

This is my argument for covenants then – and I admit that I could be entirely wrong on this point – and also for infant baptism: the covenant in Abraham was clearly to him and his descendants as a peculiar people, and we, through Christ, are part of that people today. Salvation and national status as “honorary Jews” is conferred on us by God’s grace through faith. This applies in a national and familial sense as well, and carries with it the same sort of national, familial, and adoptive rights and privileges, as well as responsibilities.

The Mosaic covenant differed in means and symbols, then, but not in substance. We’re the same people (the Jews of the old covenant, and Christians of the new), all the same Church. For instance, the symbol of circumcision has clearly been transmogrified (I love that word!) into baptism. As part of the Abrahamaic covenant that contains the Mosaic and Messianic covenants – a wrapper covenant that ensures that the old and new flow together and don’t become separate dispensations with entirely different focuses – we and the Jews are constrained by the same covenantal obligations. That is to say, we baptise our children, not merely our adults, the same way the Jews of the Mosaic covenant were bound by the same grace and faith we accept now, as Hebrews (what a great book) makes clear.

Does that make any sense whatsoever?

3 thoughts on “Hebrews and Covenants

  1. Covenants are tricky things, and all this theology ends up depending heavily on how you define them.

    The covenant to Abraham is, I agree, clearly not imperfect and clearly not ended. But the covenant to Moses (i.e. the Law) is clearly identified both as imperfect (more than that, one leading to death!) and no longer binding. Obsolete in some translations, which I love for its implications. Following the Mosaic covenant was only ever meant to demonstrate how inneffectual the Law was for salvation, and the Abrahamic covenant (which was always a matter of grace) was always available, both before and after Christ, for Abraham’s escaping of judgement then and our escaping now is fulfilled at that one point in history (Romans 3.24-25)

    I’m going to differ on who the covenant with Abraham was made with. It established a chosen people of God, but it did not yet establish a nation. Christians today are just as much children of Abraham as the Pharisees were not. That doesn’t make us “honorary Jews” or give us any participation in the nationhood of Israel, but it does guarantee us citizenship in the “true Israel” or “spiritual Israel” Paul keeps referring to in Romans 9-11, of which only a remnant of the historical/national Israel belongs.

    See, I don’t think we share anything with the Jews of the Mosaic covenant. We share something with the remnant that even then was the true Israel within national Israel; we are one people with them because we have one father in faith: Abraham.

    I have to say that the suggestion that we are still bound by a portion of the Mosaic Law frightens me. And against the concept of “transmogrification” of circumscion to baptism, the NT doesn’t ever speak in this way. Baptism is taught as an act born of obedience through love for Christ and circumscion is treated as a horrific return to the Mosaic Law. They aren’t the same thing at all; I nowhere see the suggestion that one flows from the other.

    Phew. I wrote more and more fiercely than I intended. The only thing I truly take exception to is the concept of the Mosaic Law still having hold on Christians today. The rest (while I will strongly maintain my opinions on the matter) should never have been a dividing issue among Christians.

  2. And Hebrews is an amazing book, btw. Maybe my favorite book in the NT. It would be a tough fight between Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, 1 Corinthians…(stopping myself or I’d list all 27 books), but an interesting one.

    (post idea brewing: books of the bible deathmatch?)

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