Are there Sacraments in the OT according to the WCF?

Discussion in 'The Confession of Faith' started by S. Alexander Johnson, Mar 4, 2019.

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  1. S. Alexander Johnson

    S. Alexander Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    Are there sacraments in the Old Testament?
    I’m studying the Westminster standards for Licensure in the PCA and it seems that WCF 7.5 and 7.6 seem to indicate that in the New Covenant the sacraments “are fewer in number” than in the OT, but the language may also be referring to ordinances. Are ordinances and sacraments the same or different in Reformed Theology?
  2. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

    Sacraments are ordinances, but they are a subset of ordinances that have unique characteristics. See e.g. WLC # 162

    Q. 162. What is a sacrament?

    A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church,[1048] to signify, seal, and exhibit[1049] unto those that are within the covenant of grace,[1050] the benefits of his mediation;[1051] to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces;[1052] to oblige them to obedience;[1053] to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another;[1054] and to distinguish them from those that are without.[1055]

    For the first proposition about a sacrament being an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, the divines cite Genesis 17 and Exodus 12 as proof texts. So yes, they saw sacraments in the Old Testament. After all, sacraments are but signs and seals of the covenant of grace, and there is but one covenant of grace. The signs may be different, but the same realities and graces were signified and sealed to God's people in both testaments. (E.g. Romans 4.11 and 1 Corinthians 10.1-4).
  3. S. Alexander Johnson

    S. Alexander Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you! This is helpful. So were there then only two sacraments in the OT, Passover and Circumcison? Or were there more with the sacrificial system?
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The sacrificial system of the OT, or more particularly of the Mosaic economy, was "whole cloth." The Passover cannot be parceled out from the whole of it.

    All the sacrifices partake, in some sense or to some degree, of the "holy feast" motif. And in so doing, they are all condensed (you could say) into the sacrifices of the patriarchs; or rather, the patriarchal religion is elaborated and diffused in the variety of Tabernacle/Temple rituals and calendar.

    From that multiplicity of rites and ceremony you have the many, unto which the "fewer in number" are reduced.

    Circumcision, retained under the era of the full-blown sacrificial system, was patriarchal, and distinct from the sacrifices. Therefore, it is distinguishable, but not separable. It also served as the mark of entry, of identity, and eventually of access to the rituals of the Old Covenant.

    Between the mark of initiation--now baptism, and the mark(s) of confession--now the Lord's Supper, you contain the whole oath of allegiance.
  5. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Witsius' 'Economy of the Covenants between God and man' has some very helpful teaching on this.
  6. littlepeople

    littlepeople Puritan Board Freshman

    "The sacraments of the Old Testament in regard to the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new. "
    Chapter XXVII
    Of the Sacraments
  7. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    I deleted mine in favor of yours. Thanks for correcting me!
  8. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    And a standard question for one being examined for ordination in Reformed circles is - what is the difference between the two sacraments of the OT and the two of the NT? Answer: The OT sacraments were bloody and the NT sacraments are bloodless.
  9. S. Alexander Johnson

    S. Alexander Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

  10. S. Alexander Johnson

    S. Alexander Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you everyone.

    So there are a plurality of sacraments in the OT according to the WCF. Check. Now how many are there? We can for sure count circumcision, and it seems that the divines also made Ex 12 a proof text for the passover. Are there other OT ordinances that fit the definition of a sacrament?
  11. S. Alexander Johnson

    S. Alexander Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I appreciate how you frame circumcision and the Passover into the whole picture of the Mosaic economy. Thank you! So you would see two sacraments in the OT?
  12. chuckd

    chuckd Puritan Board Sophomore

    I believe Geerhardus Vos considers the tree of life and the rainbow as sacramental.

    Biblical Theology, Old and New Testaments
    pg. 55 "With the rainbow it is as later on it was with circumcision; both existed before, and at a certain time, the appointed time, were consecrated by God to serve as signs of his berith."

    pg. 28 "After man should have been made sure of the attainment of the highest life, the tree would appropriately have been the sacramental means for communicating the highest life"
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2019
  13. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    No, and yes. Plus, we need to distinguish between the Old Testament, and the Old Covenant.

    If you wish to accentuate the multiplicity within the sacrifices, the feasts, the rites of all sorts, then you should count them as "many" under the Old Covenant. Which is the way the Standards are contrasting the present age from the former.

    But if you want to focus on the core reality, taking it all back before the Old Covenant, as well as that to which it has all been reduced once again, then I would say: yes, there are essentially two sacraments.

    You could also say, as a number of our Reformed forbears have, that prior to the fall, under the covenant of Works, there also existed the sacramental principle; that is, symbolic (but more than a bare-symbol), instrumental identification unto God, and fellowship with him. In that covenant, such was embodied in the two Trees. The ToKGE had the function of obedience (works) unto which one was initially committed to God--not by the eating of it, but by the not-eating; followed and strengthened by the ToL, which would be a "fellowship meal." Anyway, two trees, two "sacraments" (so to speak).
  14. S. Alexander Johnson

    S. Alexander Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I read this morning on page 82 of "Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism" by J.V. Fesko that "Calvin identified circumcision, purifications, sacrifices, and rites from the law of Moses as Old Testament sacraments, but in the wake of the ministry of Christ there are now only two, baptism and the Lord's supper."

    Also as I was briefly searching for the word "sacrament" in Witsius' "Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man" and I did see that he spoke of the ToKGE and Tree of Life both as sacraments.
  15. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Kline fleshes this out in "Kingdom Prologue", Part 1, Chap.4 A.2 "The Sacramental Tree." Especially how the Tree of Life was a seal of man's participation in eternal life.
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