New Creation and Baptism

In Genesis 1, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of creation. It was out of this water that the dry land of the new earth was brought forth on the third day. The waters were separated, and dry land appeared (Gen. 1:9-10). On the sixth day when man was created out of the dust of the ground, which corresponds to the filling of that which was formed on the third day, we see that there was a mist coming up from the ground and watered the whole land from which man was created.Thus man was created from the dust that was covered in water (Gen. 2:6-7).

After the flood, we see a similar picture, with the dove, like the Spirit of God hovering over the flood waters, looking for a place to rest its feet (8:6-9).  Later, during the Exodus, when Israel was brought out of Egypt, a similar picture is given in the crossing of the Red Sea. “And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to the on their right and on their left” (Ex. 14:22). St. Paul looks back to this account in 1 Corinthians 10:2 and says that Israel was ‘baptized in to Moses.’ Deut. 32:11 even pictures God as a fluttering eagle over Israel when He brought them out through the water. This is a striking resemblance to the creation and flood accounts, when the Spirit was hovering over the waters of creation and ‘new creation.’ A similar account is recorded for us in Joshua 3:15-17 when the Israelites went into the land and the water from the Jordan River was overflowing. The Priests who bore the Ark of the Covenant went into the water, and the water ceased to flow, and Israel went over into Canaan on dry land. We might possibly see the Cherubim with their wings spread out over the Ark, which was placed in the hands of the priests who were “in the midst” of the water, as picture of the Spirit of God hovering over the water here also.

Skipping ahead to Jesus, we see the one who is the True Israel going into the water for baptism, when the Spirit of God descends upon Him in the form of a dove. This is an obvious recapitulation of all those Old Testament types, all of which find their fulfillment in Christ. Then on Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came to the Church, there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2), which might be a veiled reference to the sound of hovering fluttering wings of the Holy Spirit, since  Jesus in Acts 1:5 does refer to the coming of the Spirit as a‘baptism.’

Directly connected to these water “baptisms” is the doctrine of the eschaton. Jesus Himself speaks of the “times of restoration” that come by the hand of Elijah (John the Baptist) in Matt. 17:11; He also speaks of the time of the “regeneration” in Matt. 19:28[1]; Peter and John in Acts 3 exhort the people to repent so that the “times of refreshing” and “the time of restoring all things” can come about; Hebrews talks about “the time of reformation” (9:10); Peter in his first epistle says that their salvation is ready to be revealed in this ‘last time’ (1:5). This grace of salvation will be brought to them at the “revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.” When this revelation occurs, “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13). Peter looks for that day of wrath when the old covenant would be brought to a close. This day of wrath finds comparison with the destruction of the flood of Noah, and the manner in which they were saved from that wrath. The wrath that God indeed did pour out ended the old covenant “heavens and earth” was in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Peter thus concludes that “Baptism, which corresponds to this [the ark which saved them from the destruction of the old world and which brought them into the new] now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

How is it that Baptism saves? In just that way that Peter said. The Ark was the vessel that saved people from God’s wrath which destroyed the old “heavens and earth” and brought them into “a new heavens and earth.”  Paul tells us if anyone be in Christ, “new creation.” The old has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). The question then is; how does one participate in this new creation? Answer: By being “in Christ.” How does a person come to be, “in Christ”? By Baptism. For Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28).  Paralleling that statement, Paul says at the end of his Galatians epistle, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor un-circumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). Paul therefore seems to equate being “in Christ” with “new creation.”  He also says in Titus 3:5 that we are saved “by the washing of regeneration.”

Though this passage has been debated, I believe that the proper rendering of the text should be understood as: we are saved by the washing [baptism] that brings about the new birth (i.e., new creation). ‘Regeneration’ literally means “New Birth” and so we are born anew through the waters of baptism, not by any internal “regeneration” as classic reformed theology has understood the term, but in the external objective sense. Baptism brings us into the regeneration, the eschatological kingdom of God on earth. Connecting this Jesus Himself said that a man cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit. It is not just the spirit, but it is also the water, that is, the waters of baptism.

Thus, from a biblical theological perspective, Christ Himself is the New Creation, and it is baptism which then brings us into this new creation, i.e. Christ. All of those Old Testament types find their significance in baptism, which was the means whereby a person came into the “New Creation.” It is the not only the same in the New Covenant, but it is here where the fulfillment is.

[1] See R.T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 287-288.

Calvin on: Election (1 Peter 1:1)

Commentary on 1 Peter 1:1:

To the elect, or the elected. It may be asked, how could this be found out, for the election of God is hid, and cannot be known without the special revelation of the Spirit; and as every one is made sure of his own election by the testimony of the Spirit, so he can know nothing certain of others.

To this I answer, that we are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but ought on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect; for God thus separates them from the world, which is a sign of election.

It is no objection to say that many fall away, having nothing but the semblance; for it is the judgment of charity and not of faith, when we deem all those elect in whom appears the mark of God’s adoption. And that he does not fetch their election from the hidden counsel of God, but gathers it from the effect, is evident from the context; for afterwards he connects it with the sanctification of the Spirit As far then as they proved that they were regenerated by the Spirit of God, so far did he deem them to be the elect of God, for God does not sanctify any but those whom he has previously elected.

However, he at the same time reminds us whence that election flows, by which we are separated for salvation, that we may not perish with the world; for he says, according to the foreknowledge of God This is the fountain and the first cause: God knew before the world was created whom he had elected for salvation.

But we ought wisely to consider what this precognition or foreknowledge is. For the sophists, in order to obscure the grace of God, imagine that the merits of each are foreseen by God, and that thus the reprobate are distinguished from the elect, as every one proves himself worthy of this or that lot. But Scripture everywhere sets the counsel of God, on which is founded our salvation, in opposition to our merits.

Hence, when Peter calls them elect according to the precognition of God, he intimates that the cause of it depends on nothing else but on God alone, for he of his own free will has chosen us. Then the foreknowledge of God excludes every worthiness on the part of man. We have treated this subject more at large in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in other places.

As however in our election he assigns the first place to the gratuitous favor of God, so again he would have us to know it by the effects, for there is nothing more dangerous or more preposterous than to overlook our calling and to seek for the certainty of our election in the hidden prescience of God, which is the deepest labyrinth.

Therefore to obviate this danger, Peter supplies the best correction; for though in the first place he would have us to consider the counsel of God, the cause of which is alone in himself; yet he invites us to notice the effect, by which he sets forth and bears witness to our election. That effect is the sanctification of the Spirit, even effectual calling, when faith is added to the outward preaching of the gospel, which faith is begotten by the inward operation of the Spirit.

Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: 1 Peter 1:1.  Available at: Internet; Accessed 3 April 2009.

Covenant and Justification

The New Perspective on Paul has become a topic of much concern, debate, and intrigue as of late, and as a recent new comer to the NPP (at least I agree with some of it) I would simply like to comment on the realtionship between covenant and justification in Paul’s writings.

I would simply like to comment on a few passages in Romans to show that Paul’s usage of the word “justify” or “justification” or the like, are meant to primarily teach about covenant status/membership. What I will say will not negate the judicial/forensic aspect of justification, since to be in covenant is to have your sins forgiven, and justification is also all aobut God punishing sin as the righteous judge. But again, I believe that Paul’s Primary usage of “justify” and “justified” and “justification” are meant to be understood covenantally.

In Romans 1:18-3:20 Paul is speaking about how both Jews and Gentiles are justly under the condemnation of God. The reason Paul is doing this is so that he can affirm with the Jews that the Gentiles are both sinners and both are justly under God’s wrath; and yet, he wants to humble the Jews pride in their covenant status by making sure that his fellow Jews know that it is not just Gentiles who are sinners and deserving of God’s just wrath, but also the Jews. The reason Rom. 3:10-18 was written, “None are righteous, not even one…”, was to let the Jews know that their own Scriptures declare this truth, and since the Scriptures have universal authority over the whole world, when the Scriptures make a claim that “all are under sin“, it serves to leave the whole world accountable to God, so that every mouth is silenced, especially the Jews.

Now I believe that the key to understanding this letter is to keep in mind the question, “Who are the Covenant People of God?” or “How can we tell who are the Covenant People of God?” Now let us go back to chapter 2 and see where the first usage of “justification” comes up, keeping in mind our question about the covenant people of God.

12For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. Romans 2:12-14 ESV

In v. 12 Paul is speaking of Gentiles, as ones who have sinned without the law. The law meaning, that which the covenant people of God possess. How do we know who were the Covenant people of God in the OT? Simple, they were the ones who had the law.

In v. 13 is contrasting the Gentiles who did not have the law with those who had the law, i.e. Jews. But, what Paul is arguing for here in v. 13 is that, just because you Jews had the law, which proved your covenantal identity, doesn’t mean squat if you are not actually obeying it.

Now when Paul uses the word “righteous” in v. 13, I believe it best to be PRIMARILY understood as “covenant status“, and secondarily meaning a person’s moral character. Moral character is involved since the whole conversation is about “doing” vs. “hearing” the law. But remember, Paul is arguing about how we know who is actually in covenant with God. Suffice it to say then, that a person who is “righteous” (v. 13) is a person who is in covenant with God, and they are proved to be so, not because they simply have the law and listened to it being expounded upon in their synagogues, as the Jews did; but they prove to be in covenant because they actually obey it. And the way Paul describes a person who is in covenant with God is to use the word “Justified.”

Paul continues on in the rest of chapter 2 explaining to the Jews that just because they have the law doesn’t mean squat unless they actually obey it. In v. 25 Paul begins talking about circumcision. Circumcision was the external sign of being a covenant member. So when Paul says “Circumcision indeed is of value, if you obey the law, but if you break the law your circumcision becomes un-circumcision“, he is telling them their covenant status becomes null and void. They become non-covenant members. Thus, when Paul says at the end of chapter 2 that “a Jew is one inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter “, he is saying that true covenant membership is a spiritual reality, one of the Spirit and the heart, and not by external means such as circumcision and being hearers of the law.

Paul begins chapter 3 saying,

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Rom. 3:1-2 ESV

If covenant membership is really all about the heart, then what advantage does the Jew have? Simple, they were the ones entrusted with oracles of God, so they had the greatest advantage over everybody in knowing what the truth of God was. Paul then asks rhetorically, “What if some were unfaithful (i.e. to the covenant)? Does their (covenant) unfaithfullness nullify the (covenant) faithfulness of God? ” Then, in order to show God’s covenantal faithfulness he quotes Psalm 51:4 which says,

“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”

Psalm 51 is the Psalm David wrote after the Bathsheba incident. David called out to God and asked Him for mercy according to His steadfast love, or His Hesed, His covenantal love. David is admitting that He has been covenantally unfaithful, but he also knows that God is faithful to His covenant and He will prove to be faithful to His covenant (and His Own Righteous character and nature). God will prove Himself to be righteous (covenantally and morally) and Paul and David describe God’s covenantal faithfulness with these words:

“That you may be justified in your words and prevail when you are judged.”

My point being that the word “Justified” is used to describe God’s covenantal faithfulness.

And then Paul goes into the covenantal guilt and unfaithfulness of the Jews, as well as the guilt of the Gentiles in Rom. 3:10-20. Now here is where the fun begins. Paul says in v.21, that the righteousness of God (i.e. God’s covenantal faithfulness and moral righteous character) has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. Meaning the Law and the Prophets bear witness to God’s covenantal faithfulness that has been manifested apart from the law, i.e., it is not found in Israel among God’s covenantal people, and not found in that which is their badge of covenantal identity, e.g. the law.

V.22 now explains then how it is that God has remained covenantally faithful, and morally “righteous” in His nature and character, apart from the law, which is the very means of identifying the covenant and its people.

22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

This passage we can see very clearly that God’s righteousness is not just covenantal faithfulness, but is very much His moral “righteous” character and nature revealed in Punishing sin, which has been done in Christ Jesus. Now in verse 26, we can understand that to mean that God is just (in punishing sin, i.e. He is morally “righteous”) and He is the justifier (the one who declares a person to be in covenant with God, with their sins forgiven) of the person who has faith in Christ, of either Jew or Gentile.

V. 27ff, Paul addresses what then becomes of the Jews boasting as the covenant people of God. He says their boasting is excluded, not by works of the law, i.e. covenantal badges of identity such as circumcision and Sabbath keeping, and dietary laws, but is excluded by a law of faith. “For we hold that a person is justified apart from the works of the law.” Now here we can see how easy it is to see that Paul uses the word “justified” to mean covenantal identity. We can further demonstrate with the following verse when Paul says, “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Hence, “justification” is something that is intrinsically “Jewish”, and it now belongs to the Gentiles. We know this to be true, because “He will justify the circumcised (Jew) by faith and the uncircumcised (Gentile) through faith.”

When we understand this covenantal aspect of justification, we can see here that Paul was not battling with Proto-Pelagians, though I am sure some existed, but Paul was dealing with those Jews who believed that they were in Covenant with God simply because they were the ethnic descendants of the people who received the law, and they were marked out as the people of God by circumcision. They believed themselves to be the people of God because of circumcision and other “works of the law” when what was really needed was faith. And it was the Gentiles who were declared to be the people of God because they had faith. And the term that Paul uses to declare a person to be in covenant with God is “Justified.” Chapter 4 deals with Abraham and how he was declared to be a covenant member by faith and not by circumcision, thus strengthening Paul’s argument.

When we read Romans through this light, the whole book illuminates and its truth spills forth out of the pages. I would highly recommend that you take the time to read Romans, and Galatians, in this light, understanding that the key question is “How do we identify the covenantal people of God?” When we ask this question, we will see that this is clearly what Paul is seeking to answer. But again, this does not mean that the forensic aspect of justification is not true, or even that Paul is not seeking to address the forensic aspect. But it means that the covenant aspect of justification was his primary concern, and intrinsically tied in with the covenant is the forensic aspect.

The New Covenant & Covenantal Faithfulness

“For it is not the hears of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”  Romans 2:13

It seems to me that alot of people are so weary of joining faith and works that they say crazy things that aren’t Biblical, and are yet hidden under the guise of “the historic reformed faith” so as to stop all the mouths of any one who might approach things from another angle. Why this is so, I don’t know.

People say that we are saved by faith, and by faith alone. True. People also say that we are not saved by works. True again. But then people get into some kind of theological bind when others attempt to combine the two concepts (faith and works) and try to understand what James means when he says we are justified by works. All of a sudden the soteriological gestapo show up flashing their badges ready to throw some person into heterodoxical prison. Continue reading