The New Covenant: Jeremiah 31:31-34 Concluding Thoughts (Part 8)

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The New Covenant: Some Concluding Thoughts

As I conclude this series on the new covenant, I wanted to spend a post making some observations. The first and most obvious is a point I made in the first post, that the new covenant is the battle field for baptism arguments. In my own view, this is more than unfortunate, as I do not believe this question should have any bearing on who it is that we baptize. I understand that everyone makes this “the reason” to baptize infants or not to baptize them. I just happen to be a credobaptist for reasons completely unrelated to who is in or out of the new covenant. I do not make that argument, and deliberately steer far away from it.[1] For this reason, however, it is difficult to find a truly objective study of the new covenant, as both sides really need this passage to legitimize their views of baptism.[2] Hopefully, you can at least see the potential here to not be fair with the text, which is something we all should want to be, but often for other reasons can’t.

Second, the new covenant is not completely dissimilar nor completely similar to the old covenant(s). A friend of mine says to his Paedobaptist friends that their job is to make the Baptist prove from Scripture the reason he holds to covenant discontinuity (the baptism question immediately emerges here). This point is terribly difficult for me to comprehend, as Jeremiah couldn’t say it any more bluntly. The new covenant is “not like” the old. “Not like” would seem to imply discontinuity to me. We have seen from the language of Jeremiah that the “not like” part is especially related to the percentage of people in the new covenant (i.e. “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”).

This doesn’t mean that the new covenant is completely unlike or unrelated to former covenants. That, unfortunately, is a topic not for a blog, but for a whole encyclopedia. Different systems of covenant theology have different ways to answer this. But sticking just with the text of Jeremiah 31:31-34, we see that he incorporates all kinds of OT covenantal language that has been the focus of our posts. There were true believers in the old covenant(s) and in the new. Some in the old had God as “their God,” some “knew the Lord,” and some had their sins forgiven.

But that leads to the discontinuity again, and this is something upon which we can all agree. The truest, best “newness” of the new covenant is that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, has obeyed all of the laws under the old covenant, especially the ceremonial laws. Thus, his once-for-all sacrifice into heavenly places has secured eternal redemption. His sending of the Holy Spirit has brought about for the first time (as far as the language of the Scripture is concerned) a “circumcision of the heart.” While OT saints were regenerated by faith in Christ and were taught to know the Lord even as they knew the Spirit, something new clearly took place at Pentecost and only in the NT do we read about the circumcision of the heart prophecies actually coming to fruition in God’s people.

Therefore, if are in Christ you are a new creation. You are in the new covenant. Therefore, make it you goal to obey him in his other commandments related to this covenant, such as being in a local church, confessing your sins, obeying him out of thankfulness, and so on. If you are not in Christ, you have no reason to appropriate the new covenant blessings to yourself. But look to Jesus and they will be yours. For all who place their trust in him will never be put to shame.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

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[1] You can read my rather unique argument that we baptize professing adults because this is in line with how the OT covenantal rite of baptism was practiced. Baptism comes from baptism. See Douglas Van Dorn, Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism (Erie, CO: Waters of Creation, 2009).

[2] I realize that this is a difficult chicken and egg question: Does exegesis of Jeremiah 31 bring people to the conclusion that infant baptism is correct, or does the assumption of infant baptism bring people to the conclusion that Jeremiah 31 teaches that infants are in the new covenant? Few if any would ever admit to having a system drive their exegesis. But in dealing with a web of beliefs like this, it is almost impossible to answer that question. My own experience has shown me that on both sides of the debate, the baptism question (which is not even in Jeremiah’s radar) is always there just under the surface lurking like a shark with his fin above the water, ready to gobble away any argument from exegesis that an opponent will give that would endanger the life of that “who is in the new covenant” baptism assumption. Unless one’s view of baptism is totally and always unrelated to who is in the new covenant, I don’t see how the question of objectivity can ever truly go away.

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