Romans 4:11

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AV1611

Puritan Board Senior
"And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:"
- Romans 4:11

How are we to interpret this verse? I am confused :think:

[EDIT: Do not think I am pushing Gill as correct, I am not, I post it here because it is one interpretation of the text]
I offer Gill's interpretation to start the ball rolling.

And he received the sign of circumcision,.... Or "the sign circumcision", as the Syriac version reads it, and so the Alexandrian copy, and two of Stephens's; that is, Abraham received at the hands of God, the commandment of circumcision, which was a "sign" or token of the covenant; not of grace, but of that peculiar covenant God made with Abraham and his natural seed, concerning their enjoyment of the land of Canaan; and which was a distinctive sign or badge, which distinguished the posterity of Abraham from other people, and was also a typical one; not of baptism, for circumcision was peculiar to Abraham's natural seed, whereas baptism is not, but was administered to Gentiles as well as Jews; circumcision was confined to males only, not so baptism; circumcision bears no likeness to, nor any resemblance with baptism, whereas there is always some likeness and agreement between the type and the antitype; besides, if this had been the case, circumcision would have ceased when baptism took place, whereas it is certain it did not, but continued in full force with the rest of the ceremonies until the death of Christ; and it is as certain, that "baptism" was administered and continued to be administered three or four years before that time; which fully demonstrates the falsehood of that assertion, that baptism succeeds or comes in the room of circumcision; whereas baptism was in full force before circumcision was out of date: but circumcision was a typical sign of Christ, as all the ceremonies of the law were, and of the shedding of his blood, to cleanse from all sin, original and actual, and also of the circumcision of the heart. And was, moreover,

a seal of the righteousness of faith; or which "sign" was "a seal"; and so it signifies the same as before; σημεια ουτω λεγουσι τας σφραγιδας, "signs, so they call seals", says Harpocratian (f), and "to be signed", he says, is used, "instead of being sealed": or it may be expressive of something else, as that circumcision was a seal, not for secrecy, but for certainty; it being a confirmation, not merely of the sincerity of Abraham's faith, but of his justifying righteousness, which was not his faith, but that which his faith looked to; and

which he had, both faith and righteousness,

yet being uncircumcised: whence it follows, that he was not justified by his circumcision, but by a righteousness which he had before he was circumcised, or otherwise his circumcision could not have been a seal of it: though this clause, "which he had, yet being uncircumcised", may be rendered, "which should be in the uncircumcision", that is, in the uncircumcised Gentiles; and the sense be, that circumcision was a seal to Abraham, and gave assurance to him that he should be the father of many nations in a spiritual sense; and that the righteousness of faith which he had, should also come upon, and be imputed to the uncircumcised Gentiles; and accordingly it may be observed, that this seal was continued in full force on his natural seed, until this promise began to take place, and then it was abolished: this seal was broken off when the middle wall of partition was broken down, and the word of righteousness and faith, or the Gospel preaching justification by the righteousness of Christ, was ordered to be published to the Gentile world. It may be inquired whether circumcision being called a seal, will prove that baptism is a seal of the covenant? I answer, that circumcision was only a seal to Abraham of a peculiar covenant made with him, and of a particular promise made to him, and was it to be admitted a seal of the covenant of grace, it will not prove baptism to be such; since, as has been observed, baptism does not succeed it in place, in time, and use; and could this be allowed that it succeeds it, and is a seal of the righteousness of faith, as that was, it can only be a seal to them that have both faith and righteousness, and not to them that have neither; it would only at most be a seal to believers. But, alas! not ordinances, but other things more valuable than they, are the seals of the covenant, and of believers; the blood of Christ is the seal, and the only seal of the covenant of grace, by which its promises and blessings are ratified and confirmed; and the Holy Spirit is the only earnest, pledge, seal, and sealer of the saints, until the day of redemption. The apostle uses the word "seal" concerning circumcision, it being a word his countrymen made use of when they spoke of it, thus paraphrasing on Son_3:8; they say (g), "everyone of them was sealed, חתימת מילה, "with the seal of circumcision" upon their flesh, as Abraham was sealed in his flesh:''

that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that is, his circumcision was a seal unto him that he should be so, which explains and confirms the sense of the former clause; not a father of the uncircumcised Gentiles by natural generation, for so he was only the father of the Jews, but of them as they were believers; and not so called because he was the author of their faith, but because they have the same sort of faith he had:

that righteousness might be imputed to them also; not Abraham's faith and righteousness, nor their own, but the righteousness of Christ received by faith, which is unto all, and upon all them that believe, without any difference of Jew or Gentile. Now when the apostle styles Abraham the father of "all" believers, even of uncircumcised ones, he says no other than what the Jews frequently own. Says one (h) of them, speaking of the Ishmaelites; "they are the seed of Abraham, who was ראש המאמינים, "the head of them that believe?"'' and says (i) another, "Hagar might bring the firstfruits, and read, as it is said to Abraham, "a father of, many nations have I made thee", Gen_17:5; for he is אב לכל העולם כולו, "the father of the whole world", who enter under the wings of the Shekinah;'' and says the same writer elsewhere (k), having mentioned the above passage, "they said in times past, thou wast the father of the Syrians, but now thou art "the father of the whole world"; wherefore every stranger may say this, "as thou hast sworn to our fathers", Mic_7:20; for Abraham was "the father of the whole world"; seeing, למד אמונה, "he has taught the true faith".'' The apostle reasons on what they themselves allow, to prove that the blessedness of justification comes not only upon the Jews, but upon the Gentiles also.
 
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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Gill's view on the sign is defective. It is foreign to the context of the passage that is underlining the fact that the character of Abraham's justification was apart from the flesh. Gill is so obsessed to focus attention away from the obvious significance of circumcision here that he impiously adds fleshly significance to a passage where everything is pointing away from the flesh.

I see your Gill and I raise you a John Calvin:
11. And he received the sign, etc. In order to anticipate an objection, he shows that circumcision was not unprofitable and superfluous, though it could not justify; but it had another very remarkable use, it had the office of sealing, and as it were of ratifying the righteousness of faith. And yet he intimates at the same time, by stating what its object was, that it was not the cause of righteousness, it indeed tended to confirm the righteousness of faith, and that already obtained in uncircumcision. He then derogates or takes away nothing from it.

We have indeed here a remarkable passage with regard to the general benefits of sacraments. According to the testimony of Paul, they are seals by which the promises of God are in a manner imprinted on our hearts, (Dei promissiones cordibus nostris quodammodo imprimuntur,) and the certainty of grace confirmed (sancitur gratœ certitudo ) And though by themselves they profit nothing, yet God has designed them to be the instruments (instrumenta) of his grace; and he effects by the secret grace of his Spirit, that they should not be without benefit in the elect. And though they are dead and unprofitable symbols to the reprobate, they yet ever retain their import and character (vim suam et naturam: ) for though our unbelief may deprive them of their effect, yet it cannot weaken or extinguish the truth of God. Hence it remains a fixed principle, that sacred symbols are testimonies, by which God seals his grace on our hearts.

As to the symbol of circumcision, this especially is to be said, that a twofold grace was represented by it. God had promised to Abraham a blessed seed, from whom salvation was to be expected by the whole world. On this depended the promise — “I will be to thee a God.” (Genesis 17:7.) Then a gratuitous reconciliation with God was included in that symbol: and for this reason it was necessary that the faithful should look forward to the promised seed. On the other hand, God requires integrity and holiness of life; he indicated by the symbol how this could be attained, that is, by cutting off in man whatever is born of the flesh, for his whole nature had become vicious. He therefore reminded Abraham by the external sign, that he was spiritually to cut off the corruption of the flesh; and to this Moses has also alluded in Deuteronomy 10:16. And to show that it was not the work of man, but of God, he commanded tender infants to be circumcised, who, on account of their age, could not have performed such a command. Moses has indeed expressly mentioned spiritual circumcision as the work of divine power, as you will find in Deuteronomy 30:6, where he says, “The Lord will circumcise thine heart:” and the Prophets afterwards declared the same thing much more clearly.

As there are two points in baptism now, so there were formerly in circumcision; for it was a symbol of a new life, and also of the remission of sins. But the fact as to Abraham himself, that righteousness preceded circumcision, is not always the case in sacraments, as it is evident from the case of Isaac and his posterity: but God intended to give such an instance once at the beginning, that no one might ascribe salvation to external signs. That he might be the father, etc. Mark how the circumcision of Abraham confirms our faith with regard to gratuitous righteousness; for it was the sealing of the righteousness of faith, that righteousness might also be imputed to us who believe. And thus Paul, by a remarkable dexterity makes to recoil on his opponents what they might have adduced as an objection: for since the truth and import (veritas et vis) of circumcision were found in an uncircumcised state, there was no ground for the Jews to elevate themselves so much above the Gentiles.

But as a doubt might arise, whether it behoves us, after the example of Abraham, to confirm also the same righteousness by the sign of circumcision, how came the Apostle to make this omission? Even because he thought that the question was sufficiently settled by the drift of his argument: for as this truth had been admitted, that circumcision availed only to seal the grace of God, it follows, that it is now of no benefit to us, who have a sign instituted in its place by our Lord. As then there is no necessity now for circumcision, where baptism is, he was not disposed to contend unnecessarily for that respecting which there was no doubt, that is, why the righteousness of faith was not sealed to the Gentiles in the same way as it was to Abraham. To believe in uncircumcision means, that the Gentiles, being satisfied with their own condition, did not introduce the seal of circumcision: and so the proposition δια, by is put for εν, in
 

AV1611

Puritan Board Senior
Is not the promise sealed in circumcision: "that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:"?

And is this not then "only a seal to Abraham of a peculiar covenant made with him, and of a particular promise made to him"?

A. W. Pink:

We must now turn to and consider the seal of the covenant. "And God said unto Abraham, Thou shah keep. my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man-child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man-child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man-child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Gen. 17:9-14).

In seeking to ascertain the significance of the above passage, we cannot do better than throw upon it the light of the New Testament. There we are told, "And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised: that righteousness might be imputed unto them also" (Rom. 4:11). The first observation we would make upon this verse is that it definitely establishes the unity of the Abrahamic covenant, for in Romans 4:3 the apostle had quoted from Genesis 15—where the word covenant occurs for the first time in connection with Abraham; and now he refers us to Genesis 17, thereby intimating it is one and the same covenant in both chapters. The main difference between the two chapters is that the one gives us more the divine side (ratifying the covenant), the other the human side (the keeping of the covenant, or obedience to the divine command).

The next thing we would observe is that circumcision was "a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had." Again we would say, Let us be on our guard against adding to God’s Word, for nowhere does Scripture say that circumcision was a seal to anyone but to Abraham himself; and even in his case, so far was it from communicating any spiritual blessing, it simply confirmed what was already promised to him. As a seal from God, circumcision was a divine pledge or guaranty that from him should issue that seed which would bring blessing to all nations, and that, on the same terms as justifying righteousness had become his—by faith alone. It was not a seal of his faith, but of that righteousness which, in due time, was to be wrought out by the Messiah and Mediator. Circumcision was not a memorial of anything which had already been actualized, but an earnest of that which was yet future—namely, of that justifying righteousness which was to be brought in by Christ.

But did not God enjoin that all the males of Abraham’s household, and in those of his descendants, should also be circumcised? He did, and in that very fact we find definite confirmation of what has just been said above. What did circumcision seal to Abraham’s servants and slaves? Nothing. "Circumcision neither signed nor sealed the blessings of the covenant of Abraham to the individuals to whom it was by Divine appointment administered. It did not imply that they who were circumcised were accounted the heirs of the promises, either temporal or spiritual. It was not applied to mark them individually as heirs of the promises. It did not imply this even to Isaac and Jacob, who are by name designated heirs with Abraham. Their interest in the promises was secured to them by God’s expressly giving them the covenant, but was not represented in their circumcision. Circumcision marked no character, and had an individual application to no man but Abraham himself. It was the token of this covenant; and as a token or sign, no doubt applied to every promise in the covenant, but it did not designate the individual circumcised as having a personal interest in these promises. The covenant promised a numerous seed to Abraham; circumcision, as the token of that covenant, must have been a sign of this; but it did not sign this to any other. Any other circumcised individual, except Isaac and Jacob, to whom the covenant was given by name, might have been childless.

"Circumcision did not import to any individual that any portion of the numerous seed of Abraham should descend through him. The covenant promised that all nations should be blessed in Abraham—that the Messiah should be his descendant. But circumcision was no sign to any other that the Messiah should descend from him,—even to Isaac and Jacob this promise was peculiarly given, and not implied in their circumcision. From some of Abraham’s race, the Messiah, according to the covenant, must descend, and circumcision was a sign of this: but this was not signed by circumcision to any one of all his race. Much less could circumcision ‘sign’ this to the strangers and slaves who were not of Abraham’s posterity. To such, even the temporal promises were not either ‘signed’ or sealed by circumcision. The covenant promised Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, but circumcision could be no sign of this to the strangers and slaves who enjoyed no inheritance in it" (Alexander Carson, 1860).

That circumcision did not seal anything to anyone but to Abraham himself is established beyond shadow of doubt by the fact that circumcision was applied to those who had no personal interest in the covenant to which it was attached. Not only was circumcision administered by Abraham to the servants and slaves of his household, but in Genesis 17:23 we read that he circumcised Ishmael, who was expressly excluded from that covenant! There is no evading the force of that, and it is impossible to reconcile it with the views so widely pervading upon the Abrahamic covenant. Furthermore, circumcision was not submitted to voluntarily, nor given with reference to faith, it was compulsory, and that in every instance: "He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money must needs be circumcised" (Gen. 17:13)—those refusing, being "cut off from his people" (v. 14). How vastly different was that from Christian baptism!

It maybe asked, If, then, circumcision sealed nothing to those who received it, except in the one case of Abraham himself, then why did God ordain it to be administered to all his male descendants? First, because it was the mark He selected to distinguish from all other nations that people from whom the Messiah was to issue. Second, because it served as a continual reminder that from the Abrahamic stock the promised Seed would spring—hence, soon after He appeared, circumcision was set aside by God. Third, because of what it typically foreshadowed. To be born naturally of the Abrahamic stock gave a title to circumcision and the earthly inheritance, which was a figure of their title to the heavenly inheritance of those born of the Spirit. The servants and slaves in Abraham’s household "bought with money" beautifully adumbrated the truth that those who enter the kingdom of Christ are "bought" by His blood.

It is a mistake to suppose that baptism has come in the place of circumcision. As that which supplanted the Old Testament sacrifices was the one offering of the Savior, as that which superseded the Aaronic priesthood was the high priesthood of Christ, so that which has succeeded circumcision is the spiritual circumcision which believers have in and by Christ: "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in, putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11)—how simple! how satisfying! "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him" (v. 12) is something additional: it is only wresting Scripture to say these two verses mean "Being buried with him in baptism, ye are circumcised." No, no; verse 11 declares the Christian circumcision is "made without hands," and baptism is administered by hands! The circumcision "made without hands in putting off [judicially, before God the body of the sins of the flesh" has taken the place of the circumcision made with hands. The circumcision of Christ has come in the place of the circumcision of the law. Never once in the New Testament is baptism spoken of as the seal of the new covenant; rather is the Holy Spirit the seal: see Ephesians 1:13; 4:30.

To sum up. The grand design of God’s covenant with Abraham was to make known that through him should come the One who would bring blessing to all the families of the earth. The promises made to him were to receive a lower and a higher fulfillment, according as he was to have both natural and spiritual children—for "kings shall come out of thee" (Gen. 17:6) compare Revelation 1:6; for "thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen. 22:17) compare Colossians 2:15; Romans 8:37; I John 5:4. Abraham is called a "father" neither in a federal nor in a spiritual sense, but because he is the head of the faith clan the prototype to which all believers are conformed. Christians are not under the Abrahamic covenant, though they are "blessed with him" by having their faith counted unto righteousness. Though New Testament believers are not under the Abrahamic covenant, they are, because of their union with Christ, heirs of its spiritual inheritance.

http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Divine_Covenants/divine_covenants_04.htm
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
All these interpretations do is attempt to crack apart what God has conjoined.

Furthermore, note how the whole argument must be accepted at once, in toto. For all the points are self-referential. What is proved later is dependent on what is claimed earlier; however, what is claimed earlier is dependent on what is "proved" later. The whole thing is extrordinarily insular.

Take this statement, for instance:
That circumcision did not seal anything to anyone but to Abraham himself is established beyond shadow of doubt by the fact that circumcision was applied to those who had no personal interest in the covenant to which it was attached.
See how self-referential this assertion is? It assumes that the reality of a promise is dependent upon the receiver, not the giver. It teaches that an external call is not a call AT ALL, because some to whom it comes obviously do not receive an internal call. "Sure, God makes circumcision a promise to Abraham, but not to anyone else, ever." In other words, apparently you can have the same faith as Abraham, but you can't appropriate the tokens of God's assurance; that's disallowed. The full promise to Abraham must be cracked apart, parceled out, and the spiritual realities sundered from their earthly types. There is an opaque, impenetrable ceiling set between the shadows and the substance. In fact, the OT becomes nothing but an enclosed diorama and a pitch-black stage, and all revelational light is reserved for the NT age. The shadows of the OT are, under this view, actually nothing but one, indistinguished gloom.

The GOSPEL is the PROMISE. Circumcision was the sign of the GOSPEL, the PROMISE to save all who came to God by faith in his Messiah. The PROMISE stands true no matter how many people reject it. Circumcision and baptism stand as testimony to the full and free offer of the GOSPEL. They are indeed the signs of the Covenant of Grace. The OT revelation, including circumcision was the LIGHT of that age! They were "punched lanterns", "dark glass", and mirrors, but they were LIGHT! in that time. Hence, they cast "shadows" by which those who had EYES TO SEE could see.

The signs are what they are, and only the a priori rejection: that they should be applied to God's designated recipients even when they are not inwardly called, forces Gill, Pink, and whoever else to scramble for a reinterpretation of that sign so as not to disturb their attachment to the principle that the application of such signs MUST ALWAYS follow a bona fide profession of faith.

Pink, for all his progress and theological development over the length of his long and prolific life, was (at least at this point) still constrained by his dispensational categories.
Abraham is called a "father" neither in a federal nor in a spiritual sense,... Though New Testament believers are not under the Abrahamic covenant, they are, because of their union with Christ, heirs of its spiritual inheritance.
This is STILL a chop-chop view of the biblical covenants. We aren't under the external administration of the Abrahamic covenant, but Paul's whole point in the New Testament is that despite the temporary significance of the type-heavy Mosaic adminstration, the Abrahamic covenant in its essence could not be annulled. Hence, we are not only *heirs* of the "spiritual significance" of that covenant, but we are participants in that covenant, though the externals have been adjusted.

But as I've said in another thread, baptist CT and historic CT take fundmentally different stances to the question. Something has to snap--either in the self-referential system described above, or in historic Covenant Theology--in order for someone adhering to one of them to abandon it for the other.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Pink:

Circumcision was not a memorial of anything which had already been actualized, but an earnest of that which was yet future—namely, of that justifying righteousness which was to be brought in by Christ.

The text plainly says that circumcision was a seal of the righteousness WHICH HE HAD YET BEING UNCIRCUMCISED. It is clearly retrospective. Such a comment by Pink shows the ease with which a prevailing system of thought can impose itself on the interpretation of the text. Who dares to be the Lord's counsellor!

Pink, like Gill, struggled with the idea that God's purpose of election works itself out through an historical process. Neither seemed to be comfortable with the concept of temporary, superficial covenanters, whereas the Bible quite clearly allows for such. I note for the record, however, that Pink did adopt the Puritan view of historical faith, which should have led him to see there are external aspects to the covenant of grace. But men will be men!
 

Storm

Puritan Board Freshman
Belief

Right. It was because Abraham BELIEVED God--simply took Him at His word--that he was credited with righteousness. Kind of like, "While we were yet sinners (or in sin, or still sinning), Chirst died for us."

Circumcision means nothing. The flesh means nothing. Going to church, being good, praying, reading the Bible...all counts for nothing.

Now, my hyper-Calvanist friends tell me that because I tell them I came to Jesus and exercised faith I am relying on my "good works" for salvation.

I don't think so...
 

AV1611

Puritan Board Senior
We aren't under the external administration of the Abrahamic covenant, but Paul's whole point in the New Testament is that despite the temporary significance of the type-heavy Mosaic adminstration, the Abrahamic covenant in its essence could not be annulled. Hence, we are not only *heirs* of the "spiritual significance" of that covenant, but we are participants in that covenant, though the externals have been adjusted.

Thank you for your reply. God's covenant with Abraham was "to thy seed" but surely that refers to Christ and the elect in him as per Gal 3:16, 29? That being true, how is it exegetally (spl?) correct to then apply the "and to thy seed" to believers?

Also how do you understand the rest of Genesis 17 in that there seem to be promises made specifically to Abraham which are not to do with his seed as such, e.g. Gen 17:4 "As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations."; Gen 17:6 "And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee."
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Richard,
I will try to be brief, not only for your sake, but also because I must finish preparing for Sunday.

Directed to your various queries, in order:
1) The language "and to thy seed" is ultimately all about Christ. Because he is the One that matters. And the rest of us are, as you correctly note, in the covenant due to union with him. But that means that we are actually in covenant, not just kind-of-in-covenant-if-you-think-about-it-in-a-certain-way. We are in covenant through our Mediator.

2) The language "and to thy seed" needs to be looked at in those OT contexts as well. Since the term "seed" in either Greek or Hebrew can be either singular or a collective, the context has to tell us which it is indicating. And beginning in Genesis 12, its abundantly clear that the first principle being advanced is a multitudinous progeny. We understand that to be A) spiritual, but pictured by a physical nation; and B) that the many are really all about (or for the salke of) the One, in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

There is one vital Genesis passage, however, that is often overlooked, and which is probably the one passage uppermost in Paul's mind as he makes his point in Galatians. That passage is the Binding of Isaac, chapter 22. The key verses are 15-18. There, the first reference to "seed" may possibly be a plural or collective, however, the second one is undoubtably singular. "And thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies," immediately followed by the key phrase, "and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." God is clearly pointing to Isaac, as a single person, but also through and beyond Isaac to the ultimate One. The close connection of the singular "seed" (which is also how the LXX renders it: singular and also the same Greek Dative case), and the reiteration of the promise--this is the one text where these factors are brought together.

Paul, therefore, is not merely spiritualizing the language "and to (or in) thy seed" but he has a particular OT passage in mind, one that focuses on the singular. That special reference there does not eliminate all the other references to a large posterity--which is all of us who share in the faith of Abraham, "the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16).

3) 17:4, 6. Aren't we believers the eternal referents in those verses? The "many nations" "nations" and "kings"? Those are not simply carnal expectations! The fact that there were earthly fulfillments of these promises was meant primarily to point to the greater reality, greater than any earthly greatness is God's final fulfillment. That God is speaking to Abraham emphasizes his uniqueness, and specialness, the "friend of God," he was called. But how does the fulfillment come to pass apart from means? Apart from later generations believing those same promises, and acting on them? It doesn't. We don't wish our own unique heritage; we only desire a part of Abraham's heritage, behind and before us. So how we are not "to do" directly and actively with these promises to him--I cannot understand that mindset.
 

AV1611

Puritan Board Senior
Richard,
I will try to be brief, not only for your sake, but also because I must finish preparing for Sunday.

Directed to your various queries, in order:
1) The language "and to thy seed" is ultimately all about Christ. Because he is the One that matters. And the rest of us are, as you correctly note, in the covenant due to union with him. But that means that we are actually in covenant, not just kind-of-in-covenant-if-you-think-about-it-in-a-certain-way. We are in covenant through our Mediator.

2) The language "and to thy seed" needs to be looked at in those OT contexts as well. Since the term "seed" in either Greek or Hebrew can be either singular or a collective, the context has to tell us which it is indicating. And beginning in Genesis 12, its abundantly clear that the first principle being advanced is a multitudinous progeny. We understand that to be A) spiritual, but pictured by a physical nation; and B) that the many are really all about (or for the salke of) the One, in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

There is one vital Genesis passage, however, that is often overlooked, and which is probably the one passage uppermost in Paul's mind as he makes his point in Galatians. That passage is the Binding of Isaac, chapter 22. The key verses are 15-18. There, the first reference to "seed" may possibly be a plural or collective, however, the second one is undoubtably singular. "And thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies," immediately followed by the key phrase, "and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." God is clearly pointing to Isaac, as a single person, but also through and beyond Isaac to the ultimate One. The close connection of the singular "seed" (which is also how the LXX renders it: singular and also the same Greek Dative case), and the reiteration of the promise--this is the one text where these factors are brought together.

Paul, therefore, is not merely spiritualizing the language "and to (or in) thy seed" but he has a particular OT passage in mind, one that focuses on the singular. That special reference there does not eliminate all the other references to a large posterity--which is all of us who share in the faith of Abraham, "the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16).

3) 17:4, 6. Aren't we believers the eternal referents in those verses? The "many nations" "nations" and "kings"? Those are not simply carnal expectations! The fact that there were earthly fulfillments of these promises was meant primarily to point to the greater reality, greater than any earthly greatness is God's final fulfillment. That God is speaking to Abraham emphasizes his uniqueness, and specialness, the "friend of God," he was called. But how does the fulfillment come to pass apart from means? Apart from later generations believing those same promises, and acting on them? It doesn't. We don't wish our own unique heritage; we only desire a part of Abraham's heritage, behind and before us. So how we are not "to do" directly and actively with these promises to him--I cannot understand that mindset.

Thank you for this. Would you agree with Hoeksema when he says "The Jews never were the seed of Abraham"?

Context:

Over against it I offer, that the Word of God knows only of one seed of Abraham, the spiritual, the elect, the children of the promise. This is true both of the old and of the new dispensation. It is not correct to say that in the old dispensation the Jews were the seed of Abraham, while in the new dispensation believers are this seed. The Jews never were the seed of Abraham. It is correct to say, that for a time the seed of Abraham were found exclusively among Abraham's descendants, as they are found now among all nations. But Scripture never identifies Abraham's descendants with the seed of Abraham. The latter, the children of the promise, are at all times only the believers. In the times of the Old Testament they are found in the generations of Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham Israel. In the new dispensation they are among all nations, there being no difference anymore between Jew and Gentile. But wherever they are found the children of the promise, named after Abraham as the father of believers, are always the true children of God, the believers. These and these only are the seed of Abraham.

Article: The Biblical Ground for the Baptism of Infants
 
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