Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Sign of the Covenant (Part Two: The Nature of the Community)

I want to perhaps pick up the pace in this post. I'd like to go ahead and make the basic argument and see what kind of questions you have. My last post didn't generate any discussion, so I assume we are all on the same page. With that, let's move forward.

Not only is there only one people of God in redemptive history, the nature of this people has not changed. Of course there was, at the time of Christ, a tremendous inclusion of gentiles. This was foreseen and foretold in the OT and realized in the NT. But these gentiles, as we saw in the last post, joined the one people of God. They did not replace them, nor are they a second people of God. So the other question we must ask, is did the character of this one people of God change with Christ's ministry? Specifically, was it a mixed community in the OT (elect and non-elect), but a pure community now? Those who baptize only adults argue (taking one of several different tacks) that the character did change and now indeed only the regenerate are members of the community. In other words, the community is no longer mixed. It's important that we come to some agreement on this before moving to the next part of our argument.

There is certainly some truth to the argument of the baptists. It is true that there is a community comprised only of the regenerate. We call this the invisible church. Since baptism is a visible sign, however, and since we cannot know who is regenerate (thus the nomenclature: invisible), there is a problem with this view. How do you properly identify members of an invisible community? The fact that baptists have members fall away (from the faith) at least as often as paedobaptist churches, would seem to indicate that ocasionally they give the sign to one who is not elect.

Instead, we recognize that this invisible church has a visible manifestation. And the nature of that visible manifestation is that it is mixed. Before proceeding, we all need to come to agreement on this (or you need to at least understand it). The one people of God throughout redemptive history has always been an invisible community (exclusively regenerate) manifested visibly by a mixed community. This did not change as a result of Christ's earthly ministry.

Most baptists will agree that this principle is clearly true in the OT. The visible community had men and women that demonstrated themselves not to be of faith. They were in the visible community, but were not regenerate. Esau, for example, was not only a child of Abraham, but of Isaac as well. As such, he would have been circumcised. The text doesn't say that he was. But whether he was or wasn't is frankly beside the point. According to the command of God to Abraham in Gen 17, he should have been. Here we clearly have a covenant member who by the command of God should have (and probably did) receive the sign. Yet, Paul describes Esau as one who is not elect in Romans 9. Again, this is a generally accepted principle.

However, once we come to the NT, there is the assumption that this community is no longer mixed. This is based upon Jeremiah 31. For those that like to read, check out The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, chapters 7 and 8, edited by Gregg Strawbridge. For those wrestling with this, I highly recommend the entire work. Jeremiah 31 speaks of a New Covenant. In verses 31-34 particularly, this covenant is described in wonderful terms. The covenant people won't break this covenant. The law will be written on their hearts. There won't be any need to teach one another to "Know the Lord" because they will all know Him from the least to the greatest.

Christ at the supper says, "This cup that is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood." So Christ, in his death, inaugurated the New Covenant. This leads baptists to argue that we are no longer a mixed community. All the promises of Jeremiah 31 have come true. Therefore this community only consists of those who have the law written on their hearts, etc. In other words, it only consists of the regenerate. Therefore we can only give the sign to the regenerate.

In response, those who practice paedocommunion argue that Jeremiah 31, while new in a sense, is not new as though all the other covenants are null and void. God's covenant with Abraham was a covenant forever. The promises made there are the promises Paul says are now ours in Eph 2:11-22. The New Covenant didn't supercede the previous covenants, it was the further revelation of the one covenant of grace. Notice the other covenants didn't supercede either: The Mosaic (Exodus 19-24) didn't supercede Abraham. The Davidic (2 Samuel 7) didn't supercede Moses. As such, it also has a curious quality. It is "already" and "not yet". The covenant has been cut, to be sure. It is being fulfilled, but is not yet completely fulfilled. As the warning passages in Hebrews clearly indicate, it is possible to break covenant in this age. But Jeremiah 31 says we won't break covenant anymore. We are still required to say to our neighbor and to our brother (not to mention our children), "Know the Lord!", but according to Jeremiah 31, this won't be necessary anymore. Jeremiah 31 describes the glorified state, which is in the midst of becoming a reality! So we say it is already, but not yet. (This distinction is not limited to Presbyterians but is widely recognized by many scholars and pastors from a broad group of traditions)

Furthermore, Christ clearly teaches in Matthew 13:24-30 that the church is to be mixed and shall remain that way until the harvest.

So we have, in the NT church, a community that is still visible and invisible. The visible is still a mix of elect and non-elect. I'm going to stop this post here and pick up with the next. We'll look at the sign itself and that will be the end of my argument proper. I'll then address the most common baptist objections. Post your questions or arguments in the comments section. Again, I'm going to wait a day or two before posting the next segment.


M. Jay Bennett said...

Excellent description of the differences Matt!

Matthew Bradley said...

Thanks, Jay. Is anyone else reading? I expected to get some push back on these posts, but so far nothing! Does that mean my logic is irrefutable? :^)

Matthew Bradley said...

I'm going to wait 24 hours between posts. If there is no discussion before the 24 hours is up, I'm going to go ahead and post the next installment.

Blake White said...

Good post Matt. I am a Baptist however, so would love to interact a bit. To put my cards on the table, I fall into the not monolithic category of new covenant theology. It seems that CT tends to flatten out the covenants with their theological category of the one over-arching covenant of grace. I read Scripture teaching that the covenants build on each other, but find climax in the NC, which was initiated by the cross-work of Christ. This covenant really is new. Jer 31 is picked up in Heb 8, where the old covenant is called obsolete. To say that Jer 31 describes the glorified state contradicts the book of Hebrews. Now, every member of the new covenant community is by definition regenerate. I'd love your thoughts. Thanks again brother.

Matthew Bradley said...


Thanks so much for your comment. Jeremiah 31 and the New Covenant really is the point of contention, isn't it?

I don't think CT flattens out the covenants. We too recognize them building upon one another and climaxing in the NC. The New Covenant really is new, I agree, in a sense. It is not completely new, otherwise it would not be building upon the previous covenants. So it must be a new in some way.

The question is this. Is the NC completely fulfilled right now. Is it completely future. Or has it begun to be fulfilled with an ultimate and final completion that is yet future (by which I mean glorification)? This is what I meant in my post when I referenced glorification. Not that it only refers to this state, but that it will only be completely fulfilled at glorification. You seem to recognize this as well if I have understood you correctly when you use the word "initiated" with reference to Christ's cross-work. If that work only initiated the NC, then when was it finally fulfilled?

You made mention of Hebrews 8, arguing that my point contradicts this. First, please remember that my reference to glorification was not an assertion that the NC is completely unfulfilled. I am arguing that it has been inaugurated (or initiated, as you said), but not yet perfectly fulfilled. Now let's look at the language of Hebrews 8:13 which you only partially quoted,

"In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."

The rest of the verse puts this into a light that is best understood by the "already/not yet" framework I have described. It is "becoming" obsolete (present passive participle), growing old, and ready to vanish away, but has not yet done any of these things perfectly. We feel this tension in many areas of our Christian life. Paul even speaks of our glorification in the past tense in Romans 8:30, but surely no one is ready to argue that we have already been glorified (in the same sense that we will be made perfectly holy at the judgment).

Again, let's go to the Jeremiah quote in Hebrews 8 and consider everything that is asserted there about the NC. It is common for those using this passage to argue against CT to only quote 8:11 and 8:13. But 8:8-12 are all a quote from Jer 31 and all speak to the newness of this covenant. Look at the things taught here.

First, the covenant is "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." The covenant is made with the same entity (the one covenant people of God) and the language is also still one of "house". This is not the language of individualism.

Second, we are told that this covenant will be different because those with whom it is made will not break it (vs9). Throughout the OT keeping and breaking covenant are references to obedience and disobedience to the revealed will of God. Again here we find tension. There is a sense in which this is true, and yet it isn't yet true perfectly! We all know from personal experience that we DO break the covenant. We do act, not only disobediently, but even faithlessly. It is true of us now only in the sense that Christ has kept the law for us. But the New Covenant ultimately promises more than this.

Third, we find in vs 10 that "I will be their God and they shall be my people." This is perhaps the most quintessential language of the covenant! It has been promised since Gen 17 and the covenant with Abraham! But when is it perfectly fulfilled? In Revelation 21:3-4. Look at the context of the final fulfillment of all redemptive history, God says, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

Here we have the covenant language of God being our God and we being his people couched in the future tense among the language of the lifting of the curse which will only be finally accomplished in the last day.

This New Covenant has indeed arrived, but it and its work of making the OC obsolete are not yet complete. We live in between the inauguration of the NC and it's final fulfillment.

It is in this context that Christ says to leave the community a mixture of wheat and tares (weeds) until the judgment.

I really hope you will not hear me saying this in an unkind tone. But it seems to me that a view that says it is completely fulfilled and that this community is no longer mixed is the view that is flat and not in accord with the full testimony of Scripture.

I'm not sure if you find this argument convincing, but I believe I have demonstrated that my interpretation (which I believe, but must corroborate with more research, has much more historical support than the fairly recent interpretation put forth by the NC theologians) is very plausible and answers the consistent testimony of Scripture. In other words, please feel free to show me where I have contradicted Scripture or done violence to the passage.

Since you've put yourself out there (thanks so much!) would you mind helping me understand how the NC view explains Jesus' teaching in Matthew 13:24-30? He seems to clearly be teaching that the community will not only be mixed, but that telling the difference between the wheat and tares will be a precarious business at best. And that this is to be the case until judgment. How can this be if the community is only the elect now? The only answer I can conceive of is that it is pure in its invisible form, but not its visible form. Which (if that is your answer) leads me to this...

...on what basis do Baptists baptize anyone? Baptists, by their own admission, cannot discern the invisible community.

The answer I have received in the past is that they must simply receive each person's confession in good faith. I agree. This is the practical requirement. But how is this in accord with a doctrine that teaches that only the regenerate may receive the sign, knowing that not every good faith confession is a true conversion?

Blake, I've sort of hammered away here. I hope you will hear only the passion of someone who enjoys immensely the project of iron sharpening iron. This question of Jeremiah 31 is really the center of the entire question in my opinion. In my next post I am going to address directly the question of the membership of children in the covenant. I think that the assertion that children are no longer members would have been shocking to the early church. We'll consider it more closely.

Thanks! (and please feel free to rebut!)

Matthew Bradley said...

Oops...correction. I forgot that I had written an installment that I hadn't posted yet. So when I said above that I will next address children and their relation to the covenant, I really meant I will do that two posts from now.

The next installment will go up in a few minutes. I'm going to be out all day tomorrow and then home for just a minute before going out camping with my son Friday night. We'll be back Saturday late and I'll get all the comments moderated and begin responding to them if there are any. Sometime late Saturday or Sunday afternoon I'll post on children and their relationship to the covenant community.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Blake! Glad you made it over to Matt's blog. Looks like you two have a lot of good discussion material. I look forward to reading it.

Blake White said...

Thanks for the thoughtful reply Matthew. I am glad you have thought much about this issue. I forgot to mention that I love the pic.
Indeed, Heb 8/Jer 31 is THE issue between us. I have heard but never read the appleal to inaugurated eschatology & Heb 8. I think Pratt argues this way, but who else? I want to do some more reading from this perspective.

First, concerning Matt 13, I would just say, genuine faith is marked by perseverance. Those who fall away, were never truly regenerate (so 1 jn 2.19).

Also, we seek to ensure that those we baptized are regenerate by time, and instruction. Of course we will inevitably sometimes baptize those who are unregenerate, but not intentionally (part of the already/not yet tension).

Finally, it seems the heart of the contention is how much 'already' and how much 'not yet' is here during this present epoch of salvation history. You seem to have an under-realized eschatology. Christ brings significant change, namely full and final forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit. I respect, but disagree with your view of Heb 8, but what about the gift of the Spirit? Pentecost was the fulfillment of all the OT new cov. promises of the outpouring of the Spirit. One mark of the new covenant community is they all have the Spirit (i.e. are regenerate). Paul is clear on this. Thoughts?

p.s. I wrote a short book this summer called "The Newness of the New Covenant" to be published in the next couple of weeks. I'd love for you or Jay to interact with it. Or even better is Stephen Wellum's chapter on the relationship between the covenants in Schreiner and Wright's 'Believer's Baptism.'

Matthew Bradley said...

Thanks, Blake. It's been a long weekend and I'm ready to get cleaned up from a camping trip and take a nap! I did want to respond to your comments briefly.

On Matthew 13, I don't think you've addressed the question. My contention is that Baptists seem to argue that the distinction between the visible and invisible church is no longer valid. They say the covenant community is only invisible (because it is only regenerate, and we can't tell by looking who is regenerate). I agree that the invisible church has this quality. However, I also believe (and don't see how anyone could deny) that there is a visible covenant community, and that this community is made up of both regenerate and unregenerate people. I think you recognize this as well, but simply don't want to call it a covenant community. And that's the rub. It was without a doubt called the covenant community in the OT. The burden is upon the baptist to demonstrate from Scripture that there ceased to be a visible covenant community on earth after Christ. The only argument I have ever been offered is the same interpretation you offered of Heb 8. I believe I have offered an interpretation that is not only reasonable, but bears up under scrutiny. It also explains why the church (God's covenant community) still has unregenerate people in it.

Your answer that you do your best to baptize only unregenerate people is admirable, but only serves to demonstrate my point. You are busy trying to discern something that Scripture gives you no warrant to discern. Two things here:

1) My lifelong experience in the Baptist church is that they DO NOT "seek to ensure that those we baptized are regenerate by time, and instruction". It sounds as though this may be the case in your church, and based upon your view of baptism, I applaud that. But I wrestled for several years as a pastor to correct what I had experienced all my life...people being baptized at the drop of a camp is one example. Some churches I was in would even baptize you in the same service in which you came forward for baptism or to make a decision. Your claim may be true for your church, but is rare indeed in the Baptist church.

2) This will be a bit confusing, because I'm going to speak against the notion of seeking to ensure someone is regenerate before baptizing them. Baptists base their view in large part upon the examples of Baptism in the book of Acts. In no single example is there a period of catechesis prior to baptism. The gospel is proclaimed. There is faith and repentance. But there is no special effort to try and discern the actual regenerate status.

The project of trying to discern the members of the invisible covenant community is a project which Scripture tells us cannot be accomplished. THIS is what Christ is instructing in Matthew 13. The members of the invisible community cannot be discerned perfectly in the visible community. God will sort them out at the judgment.

Under your "finally" paragraph, you argue that I have an under-realized eschatology. I believe you have misunderstood. You go on to show where you think it is under-realized, but I don't disagree with any of your issues. You have only pointed out that for individuals who are regenerate, these things are true. And praise God! I agree! But we are not talking about the fulfillment of the NC for individuals, we are talking about the nature of this NC community in the current age. My contention is only that the community is not yet perfected. It still contains those that are not regenerate. Christ says as much in Matthew 13. It really isn't a matter of how much "already" and how much "not yet". On the question of the purity of the community, the mere fact of "not yet" establishes my point.

Your last comment on the outpouring of the Spirit I think continues in the same misunderstanding (of my point). You say "One mark of the NC community is they all have the Spirit (i.e. are regenerate)." You and I must agree that this is true only of the invisible community. I don't think you believe it is true of the visible community, right? Nor am I denying that it is true of the invisible community. My argument against the baptist view is that they attempt to take a sign that has been given to the visible community, and apply it to the invisible community only, despite the fact that no such command or instruction has ever been given! They do this by implying or teaching outright (according to Jer 31/Heb 8), that the visible community no longer exists. This isn't what they want to argue, but I don't see how they can navigate around it! Perhaps you can help me with this? In the OT (I assume we agree) there is an invisible community of those who are regenerate. This community is manifested visibly in the people of Israel, which has some regenerate and some not. The sign of membership is given to the visible community (and commanded forever, btw, a very important fact that I am still unsure how the Baptists ignore). Now then, what has happened to change this? The Presbyterian says, "Nothing." This is still the state of affairs in which we find ourselves (as a community). The baptist argues that something happened (based upon Jer 31/Heb 8) to change this. What changed? Did the visible community cease to exist? Did the visible community cease to consist of both regenerate and unregenerate? I think these are your only options, and both are contrary to the Word and our experience.

Your eschatological points deal with individuals. My argument is about communities. The communities (visible and invisible) were not effected by the inauguration of the NC. Now, when WILL we see a perfect visible community? Only after the judgment (when the NC is finally and completely fulfilled)! I think you would agree with this as well. It's amazing how much we agree upon, isn't it? :^)

Matthew Bradley said...

Above, I said, "The communities (visible and invisible) were not effected by the inauguration of the NC." Please read this in the context of our discussion. I've already agreed that the community changed in ethnic makeup. In my comment here I only mean the communities were not effected with regard to their invisible/visible character. Neither ceased to exist. And the members of each (qualitatively) did not change.

Blake White said...

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the reply. Just wanted you to know I am not ignoring you but it will probably be Tues. or Wed. before I can post again. I have lots of work to get done in the meantime. I would still like to know what literature you have been helped by. Give me 3 or so books/articles who would agree with your perspective. Talk to you soon,
ps. my book is available at
In it I argue that the new cov. has superseded the oc.

Blake White said...

Ok Matt, my head is above water again and I can respond: The visible/invisible language is unhelpful in my opinion. In this debate, semantics are an issue. When I say church (or NC community), what I mean is those indwelt by the Spirit through faith. By definition, the church consists of believers (jer 31, joel 2, acts 2). However, you are right, that there are unbelievers who join our local expressions. I do not want to say that they are part of the church though, biblically speaking. They lack the Spirit. The kingdom sweeps up wheat and tares, but the kindgdom is not the same thing as the church.
I am sorry that your experience with Baptist churches was only worldly. You probably had to deal with rampant semi-pelagianism, altar calls, deacons running the church, etc. It ought not be so! There are many Baptist churches that are elder-led, expositional, Calvinistic, with 3-5 membership classes and an interview before one can join. Church discipline is also practiced, but that presupposes a regenerate church membership.

One key difference is I don't see the church as equal to Israel. Jesus is the true Israel, and the church only becomes true Israel by virtue of union with Christ. CT misses the necessary Christological step (Poythress concedes as much). Jesus is discontinuous with the previous covenant heads, in that his children are not physical, but spiritual. The new covenant has changed structurally. The genealogical principle does not carry over from Abraham to Christ unchanged. Not sure if that clarifies anything or not, but there you go. Thanks for this stimulating dialogue!

Matthew Bradley said...
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Matthew Bradley said...

I wrote a response and posted it, but as I rushed out the door to come home, I started thinking about it. I think I've had a bit of a breakthrough in how we can proceed. I don't want to use language that you don't find helpful. I also don't want to mis-characterize your position. I'd much rather interact with your position as you understand it (and I'll need some help with that). So, with that said, will you be happy to use the language of a spiritual people and a physical people? By spiritual people we will be referring to those that are regenerate. By physical we will mean a community that is identified as being in some sense in relationship with God (even is not regenerate). Is this acceptable? You use this language above, leading me to believe you are comfortable with it. Before we continue to make arguments, let's get this sorted out. I don't think there's much point in proceeding until we have some common and agreed upon language with which to proceed. Once we have agreed upon this, I am anxious to interact with your post above.

Blake White said...


That language is fine I think. My point is that I reserve the term 'church' for believers in Jesus Christ. So by definition the church cannot be a mixed community. So by physical, I mean all those who join local expressions of the church, which certainly includes those who will fall away, having never been of us (1 Jn 2.19).

Matthew Bradley said...

I think that's a workable solution. Maybe we can revisit it at a later date. But for now I think we can proceed.

Do you believe that the OC had a church? Or put another way, was there a spiritual community under the OC?

Blake White said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Blake White said...

NO. But let me clarify: There was always a remnant of believers in the OC, but only leaders had the Spirit (hence the tribal nature of the OC). The church is a NC reality, where every member, not just the leaders, has the indwelling of the Spirit (Jer 31:28-34, Joel 2, Ezek 36-37). So the structure of nature of the NC is different than the OC.

Matthew Bradley said...

Then can you explain how people were regenerated in the OC without the indwelling HS? Were the leaders the only ones regenerate? Was salvation by a different means (in other words, did they have a different order of salvation)?

Blake White said...

The fact that OC believers believed shows God enabled them. I don't think they were indwelt though. Indwelling is only a NC reality, or else all the promies of the Spirit on all people make no sense. Regeneration and Indwelling are distinct. Jim Hamilton has written a good book on this (God's Indwelling Presence).

Matthew Bradley said...

And do you also deny that OT saints were saved by union with Christ?

Blake White said...

No, I believe that OC saints were saved by trusting the promises of God covenantally defined. No one is saved apart from Christ (Rom 3.25-26).

Matthew Bradley said...

Can a person be saved today without the indwelling HS? What part does indwelling play in the application of redemption?

Blake White said...

No, today when one believes the Spirit is poured into their heart.

Matthew Bradley said...

I have to admit I'm confused. I asked above if you believed there was a spiritual community in the OT. You said,

"NO. But let me clarify: There was always a remnant of believers in the OC, but only leaders had the Spirit..."

How did these people become believers without the Spirit? Do you mean there was a group of regenerate people that became regenerate without the Spirit? A group (whether they were organized or identifiable or not is immaterial) that was in union with Christ, but got that way without being a spiritual people? Christ seems not to agree that this is possible when, under the OC, he says to Nicodemus, "So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." and then lightly chastises him when he (N) expresses his confusion, saying "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?" Jesus expected Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel under the OC, to understand that regeneration (being born again) is a work of the Spirit. Jesus says it in the present tense. He isn't saying it will be, but that it is. How and why would Christ expect a teacher of the OC to know that if it isn't true yet?

There are regenerate people in the OT (as you have agreed). They are regenerate not simply because God led them to believe. There is a spiritual reality at work. The Spirit has given them life. As such, they are a spiritual people.

Since they all share the same head, Christ, they are also a community. They are a family. Paul uses the language of family in Romans 9 when he speaks of the true Israel. They are children of the promise, descended from Christ their head who is the second Adam. I feel like you agree with all the parts, but take issue with the whole.

I am only seeking to establish that there was a community of the regenerate in the OT, but that this community was spiritual, not physical. Do you agree or disagree? And if you disagree, would you please interact with John 3 (Nicodemus) and the theological argument that Christ (in whom all are redeemed, even in the OC), being our head, makes the regenerate a spiritual community throughout history?

Thanks, Blake. This has been very helpful for me. I hadn't realized just how differently the NC position viewed the OC community.

For those reading along, I want to take a quick moment to point out the importance of this discussion. I've been told in several conversations over the past week or two that the subject of baptism is peripheral. It isn't a major point of doctrine. It only divides us and we shouldn't spend so much time talking about it. Let's just focus on what matters. Well, here we are (Blake and I) having a conversation about baptism, and what should come up as an integral part of the conversation? The question of salvation! How it is affected. What it looked like in the OT. What other doctrine should immediately come up? The Trinity! What is the role of the Holy Spirit? Now? In the OT? Please, Christian, wake up from your theological lethargy and take seriously the revelation of God to us. The question of baptism should not ultimately divide us, but that doesn't mean we cannot and should not have fruitful discussions about it. Blake's participation has been very helpful to my understanding. I dare to hope some of my comments may have spurred him to understand our position better. How is this fruitless? How is this time poorly spent? "That doesn't really matter" is all too often a poor excuse for not trying to understand God's Word. It's an excuse for spiritual laziness. If you won't seek to understand the hard things, please don't influence other believers by offering them a reason not to take these things seriously. I don't mean you have to stake yourself to a point of view, but at least understand the points of view and be able to articulate why you haven't come to one or the other. Or admit that you haven't had the opportunity to consider these things well, but acknowledge that they are important. If God has revealed them, they must be important.

Blake White said...

Hey Matt,

I too have loved the interaction. But frankly don't have the time right now. Maybe a couple of more posts.
Matt 13- refers to the Kingdom, not the church.
John 3 - the spirit/water language alludes to Ezek 36, a NC promise passage. Nic. should have been aware of this, and other such promises that speak of a new covenant. Jesus, is bringing that about.
OC saints are not indwelt by the H.S like we are. John 7.39: "for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." To say OC saints had the Spirit contradicts this verse. The Spirit came at Pentecost, where the church began.
Back to Jer 31: a NC is coming that is not like the OC (v.32). The diffence is that all will now know the Lord (v.34) within the cov. community. It will not be a tribal cov (31.29-30) but all will have the Spirit (Joel 2). This is the difference between the OC and NC.
Unfortunately, I have to focus time on other things, but could you post a response and include 1 or 2 of the best works that rep. your perspective (spec. who take Heb 8 to be not yet fulfilled)? I would rec. Stephen Wellum's chapter in 'Believers Baptism' ed. by Schreiner & Wright. Thanks again Matt.

Matthew Bradley said...


I completely understand. It's been tough the last day or two for me to get to it as well. And I need to get the last couple of posts up in the series.

A point of clarification. It isn't correct to say that my view of Jer 31 is that it is not yet fulfilled. It is better to day it is in the midst of being fulfilled. This more accurately conveys the already/not yet tension. We believe it has been inaugurated. As such there is a sense in which the promises have been and are being fulfilled. But the promises in their fullest expression look forward to the eschaton, and will not find their ultimate fulfillment until then. With this in mind, go to Don Carson's commentary guide. DA Carson does not share my view, and yet two of the top three commentaries on Hebrews (according to his estimation) teach that it is saying too much to argue that Heb 8 teaches that the OC has completely fallen into disuse and is already, right now, completely obsolete. Namely, Attridge in the Hermeneia series and Ellingworth in the New International Greek Testament Commentary. Also highly regarded by Carson is Philip E. Hughes in the Eerdmans series. Others, such as John Calvin, believe that this only refers to the ceremonial aspects of the OC (since it is these that are fulfilled in Christ). If taken that way, one can argue that the old (ie, the ceremonial aspects) is indeed obsolete completely. This is also consistent with the context in Hebrews, yet does not require us to reject every principle found in the OC as you seem to suggest. Or a nuance on this is to take the OC referred to in Heb 8 as specifically the whole of the mosaic covenant (which the previous view I mentioned also does, but singles out a particular aspect of it). But since the sign of the covenant is not mosaic, it is Abrahamic, it then is not caught up in that which is passing away in Heb 8. I think any one of these views is preferable to the NCT argument which at the end of the day does not give serious enough attention to the fact that while the NC has begun to be fulfilled, it is not finished. And most of your comments (as well as those that I can understand of ST in the post above this) seem to fall off on either side. The clear fact that in eternity we will be a community that is truly made up of only the regenerate, coupled with the fact that such a community only exists today in a non-discernible form, can leave us with no other conclusion than that the NC has not become a full reality. It is, in fact, our looking forward to the complete fulfillment of the NC promises that is the hope of which the NT speaks as ours.

Matt 13: If we had more time I'd like to know the difference between the church and the kingdom. If the kingdom is only future for you, then in what sense will it be mixed? If it is now, then how is it not the church? Your answer here puzzled me.

John 3: I don't think you are giving enough weight to the present tense of Christ and the OC context in which particularly 3:8b is spoken. This is how this is now (as Christ speaks). And it's shameful for a teacher of Israel not to know that.

I'd also like at some future time to revisit with you the Person of the HS. My last argument made no reference to indwelling in the OT. Nor did it compare the Pentecost event with the OT experience. Instead I only asked how people are saved in the OT without the Spirit. I think this may be the most important implication of your argument: That the HS was not active in the act of regeneration in the OT. I'm not ready to argue that Pentecost wasn't an amazing new work of the Spirit. I think you are correct. But in what sense? What is new here that wasn't true in the OT? I think the answer to that is the key. You seem to be arguing that it was new in the sense that the HS wasn't active in regeneration in the OT. I think that's an unwarranted conclusion.

As for Wellum, I'm not likely to get to it before the Spring...I'm studying hard for ordination. But Jay Bennett will be posting his review of the work on his blog today or tomorrow. I'll point to it as soon as he does.

Again Blake, thanks for the great interaction! I hope you wrestled with my thoughts as much as I have with yours! Great iron sharpening iron. Grace and Peace.

Blake White said...

Thanks Matt,

I promise this is my last post, but I want to clarify my views.

Though unconvinced regarding Heb 8, I do understand where you are coming from (& anticipate Carson's own commentary on Hebrews ;). We simply disagree as to how much of the NC has been realized through the Christ event.

Exegetically, I don't think one can equate the kingdom and the church. The kingdom creates the church.

Finally, I DO believe that the Spirit was active in regeneration in the OT, but I don't think all OC saints were indwelt though (Jn 7, Acts 2). Sorry about the misunderstanding.

Thanks again man. This has been good, and wish I had more time. Do remember that not all Baptist churches are lame! I rejoice that we do have so much in common, namely sovereign grace and the substitutionary death of Christ for sinners!

Matthew Bradley said...


Thanks for your clarifications and your great interaction. I enjoyed it a great deal.