Jesus, Son of David

emptytombThe Gospel of Matthew opens with these words,

The book of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

This Gospel is big on fulfilment and these two Old Testament figures take a prominent place in its opening because Jesus is being portrayed as part of a much bigger story. In the last post I looked again at Jesus, Son of Abraham. This post looks at Jesus as the Son of David.

Whilst God’s promise to Abraham was the Covenant Promise of Life, David was given a Covenant Promise of a Righteous Kingdom and King. At the time of King David, the promises to Abraham had been playing out in the lives of the patriarchs for centuries. The Israelites had increased in number, even in slavery in Egypt, and had made their Exodus to Sinai to become a nation under God, formed around another covenant, the covenant of Moses (which serves the deeper purposes of the promise to Abraham). The nation had taken possession of the land which God had promised, and had appointed kings. Kings had come from Abraham – as had been promised. The promises to Abraham were now held by a political, military, nation-state, which could hope for peace and prosperity under its king; who exercised authority over injustice and evil, and protected his people from harm. The Kingdom of God was established on earth, a mustard seed, a small beginning. And all within the context of the worship of God the King in Jerusalem. In the heady days of David’s reign, God made a covenant with him.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. … Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever (2 Sam 7:11-16).

This is the Covenant Promise of a Righteous Kingdom and King, through which the Covenant Promise of Life would be realised. The Kingdom of God, on earth. Of course, David’s kingdom declined; compromised, messy, fatally flawed. David’s days ended. He was not the king who could make the Covenant Promise of Life a reality. Yet the hope remained of the ultimate king, the Anointed One, the Messiah, who would bring the Kingdom of God and its peace, whose throne would be established forever.

Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:5-7).

As the years went by, hope faded. The nation was divided under compromised kings, exile followed. Even after the return to the land, the decline continued, until under Roman rule, the hope of God’s kingdom seemed as far away as ever. When would the Messiah appear, to bring in the Kingdom of God? At the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew is clear. Jesus is the Son of David, Jesus is the Messiah: ‘This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about…’ (Matthew 1:18).

After Jesus is crucified, his credentials as the Messiah are in tatters. But, his death turns out to bring life and forgiveness. And, at the end of the Gospel of Matthew we again find the theme of Fulfilment. We find the resurrected, living Jesus speaking these words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). The Messiah is alive. Not only that, but the Messiah is Mighty God as well as being human. In the Messiah, God has become King. His house and his kingdom will endure forever. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He is bringing in the Kingdom of God through salvation, and through judgement.

And that’s important. Because this is all history. A real story. And you’re in it.

Jesus, Son of Abraham

stars4Last Sunday, I spoke at Kilmallie Free Church on ‘The Gospel of Fulfilment’, an introduction to the Gospel of Matthew. We looked at how the ‘bookends’ to the Gospel point to the good news of Jesus Christ as part of a much bigger story, the story which unfolds in the Old Testament. In the first words of the Gospel, Matthew writes:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

The genealogy that follows makes a big play on these two Old Testament figures and the fact that Jesus is descended from them. They are picked out by Matthew because God made covenants with (gave promises to) each of these figures. Matthew wants to show in his gospel that Jesus has fulfilled these promises – that Jesus is completing the story. We didn’t have too much time to look at the texts involved, so I’m posting briefly on ‘Son of Abraham’ now – with ‘Son of David’ to follow.

The promises given to Abraham (then Abram) can be found in three parts of the book of Genesis: 12:1-3, 15:1-21 and 17:1-22. In each encounter with God, Abraham is told a little more about what God is promising. When we put them together, we find that there are three main components to what God is promising. On Sunday, I put them under the title of The Covenant Promise of Life:
  • A Relationship of Blessing with the Creator (‘I will bless you’, 12:2; ‘I am a shield to you’, 15:1; Abram counted righteous through faith, 15:6; ‘walk before me’, 17:1; ‘my covenant is with you’, 17:4; ‘to be God to you’, 17:7; ‘I will bless her (Sarai)’, 17:16)
  • Descendants to Bless the Nations (12:2-3; 15:5; 17:5,7)
  • A Secure and Fruitful Homeland (12:1; 15:18; 17:8)

This covenant is an everlasting covenant (17:7), which is important. The biblical scholar David JA Clines has perhaps put the purpose of this covenant and its promises better than anyone, in his definition of the theme of the Pentateuch:

The theme of the Pentateuch is the partial fulfilment – which implies also the partial non-fulfilment – of the promise to or blessing of the patriarchs. The promise or blessing is both the divine initiative in a world where human initiatives always lead to disaster, and a re-affirmation of the primal divine intentions for man.1

The promises have to be understood against the story of Genesis up to that point. God’s good world has descended into violence because of human sin. The relationship between humanity and their creator, the essence of true life, is broken; tribes and clans are at war; survival is difficult, land is precious (read chapters 12-16 to see all this playing out). Against this backdrop, God speaks to Abram, an everyday Chaldean; speaks promises which will change the course of history, which will see the original intentions for humanity recovered through the redemptive power of God.

The promises to Abraham (as re-stated to Isaac and Jacob) are a re-affirmation of the primal divine intentions, not a replacement intention. They affirm God’s intention for humanity to live in a good world, in relationship with their Maker. These are Covenant Promises of Life. It’s fascinating when we get glimpses of this theology in these early narratives, such as in Genesis 13:10, where the fertile Jordan valley is described as being like ‘the garden of the Lord’, a reference to Eden, the primal Secure and Fruitful Homeland.

These Covenant Promises of Life are, to the New Testament writers, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He has come to make these promises a reality. They are not to be ‘spiritualised’. For how this plays out in relation to the promise of A Secure and Fruitful Homeland, see here. As the Old Testament story unfolds, these promises become concrete in the formation of the nation of Israel, who worship Yahweh their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the land of Israel. The family-faith of Abraham becomes political state, securing its borders and seeking to achieve a society of righteousness and peace. God’s promise to Abraham about kings (17:6) is realised. But, it’s a messy, compromised, interim state. The vision is never realised, and any hope seems to ultimately be buried under failure. But, this is the way that the recovery of those original divine intentions for humanity unfolds. It is, to coin a phrase, the Extraordinary in the Everyday. Into that story, at its lowest ebb, comes a baby born as the Son of Abraham, and the Son of David (that’s the next post).

To finish this one, we can see how Jesus is portrayed as the Son of Abraham at the end of Matthew’s gospel. When we turn to the last words of this literary work (Matt 28:19), we find Jesus speaking these words:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

After the story that unfolds in the Gospel of Matthew, of Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection, we find him alive, commanding the good news to be taken to all nations. In Jesus, the Son of Abraham, the Covenant Promises of Life are taken world-wide – all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, counted righteous through faith in him. And that’s why we are his disciples. And why we are part of a vast number of disciples, like the stars.

Notes: 1. David J.A. Clines, The Theme of the Pentateuch, JSOTS 10 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978), 30, emphasis added.

Baptism and Faith

exodusIt hadn’t struck me before the last few days just how significant the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 10 are for ecclesiology. As Paul emphasises the need to ‘run in such a way as to get the prize’, he draws the Corinthians back to the story of Israel in the wilderness. He deliberately conjoins the language of the Christian church with the story of Israel…

For I don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea – and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea… 1 Cor 10:1-2

Paul uses the language of baptism to draw his parallel, evoking the story (and placing the Corinthians within the story) of the wilderness generation. Paul is a master rhetorician as well as a master theologian. And this is not merely rhetoric, but theology.

Baptism into the Church is being drawn in parallel with belonging to Israel in the Old Testament. Why? Because for Paul, the Corinthians do actually belong to Israel; they are grafted into this ancient olive tree in Christ. The story is their story. Paul is very consciously saying ‘those who do not know their own history are destined to repeat its mistakes.’

This is not only Paul’s theology of the church, but also his theology of the sacraments. Baptism here is not the baptism of individual faith, but baptism into the people of God: all were baptised into Moses. This is critical to Paul’s point: not all of those baptised into Moses were pleasing to God (v.5). In the same way, the Corinthian Christians who are toying with idolatry need to know that it is their faith in Christ, not their baptism which is the ground of their security.

In describing Israel in this way, using the language of the Church (the language of baptism), Paul is describing the mixed nature of the Church as the People of God. Within it are those of faith and those without. It is this truth that is expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 25, emphasis added):

The visible church, which is also catholick or universal under the gospel … consists of all these throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children.

Thus baptism, as the means of entry into the visible church, cannot be fundamentally based upon the faith of the one who receives baptism (WCF 28.4).

Oscar Cullmann in Baptism and the New Testament understands Paul’s link between baptism and the exodus in 1 Cor 10:1-2 as demonstrating that baptism follows the paradigm of God acting first and man responding. Indeed,

[t]he whole point of the connection of this event with Baptism is that afterwards, really and temporally afterwards, the response must follow―and this even when faith was already present before Baptism. This sequence of events: act of God―response of man―is normative. What happened to all (πάντες) the members of the people, namely, the miracle of God, is opposed to what happened to τινες, whom that miracle did not suffice to save, since they did not respond to it with faith but incurred the guilt of the sin mentioned there (p.49).

Thus, for Paul baptism is an act based not primarily on faith, but on God’s covenant promises. These promises are not just to individuals or to families, but to a whole community. In the case of the baptism of the children of believers it is a sacrament based on God’s promise, not first and foremost on the parents’ promise. It is God’s promise that demands a response. And it is a sacrament that involves a community, the Church. The sacrament demands a forward-looking response in life together, the response of faith. This is true for children of believers and for those from outside the Church whose faith has led them to baptism in the first place.

If we don’t respond to our baptism with faith, we will be disqualified from the prize.

Presbyterian Baptism

olivetreeI’m posting on baptism. In seven years of blogging, I’ve not done it much, if at all, before. One of the reasons I’m doing it now is that some Presbyterians seem to struggle with an explanation for why they baptise infants.

Theologically, Presbyterians baptise children because we understand that the Promises made to Abraham have not been altered, have not been changed, but have been ratified, secured, made certain in Jesus Christ. There is only one People of God. From the beginning with Abram, God has promised his people that he will be a God to them and to their children. He has promised a relationship with His People which is different to that with other people. All of Abraham’s descendants were born into covenant with God and the males were marked with the sign: circumcision. That doesn’t mean they were all people who had faith – and that is fundamental to understanding covenant in scripture. It draws a wider circle than ‘those with saving faith’, or ‘the elect’, or ‘the regenerate’. There were two ways into the People of God in the Old Testament: be born a Jew, or become a Jew through professing Yahweh as God and being circumcised.

When Jesus Christ comes, there is not a new beginning, as if God starts a new People of God. The Old and New Testaments witness to the fact that the coming of the Messiah beings a New Covenant which reconfigures the Existing People of God around Jesus as the Divine Messiah and which replaces the Law of Moses (which only led God’s people until the Messiah, Gal 3:23-24, 4:3). It does not replace the covenant with Abraham. It is a renewal amongst the People of God, the tribes of Israel and Judah. It’s what the prophets write about (e.g. Jer 31:31-32), it’s what Jesus speaks about, it’s what happens at Pentecost, and it’s how the apostles understand what has happened with the coming of the Christ.

Romans 11 stands as the clearest example of this. There is only one olive tree. Its roots are in the Promises to Abraham (11:16). When Jesus the Messiah comes, bringing the New Covenant renewal, the tree is shaken and pruned (11:17). Only those who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah can remain in covenant with God (11:23). Some branches are cut off. But, subsequent to this New Covenant moment, Gentiles can be grafted into that tree, whose roots are in the Promises to Abraham (11:17, 24). They do not join a different tree. It’s the same tree, the same covenant. The Promises to Abram still constitute it and they are ratified in Jesus (Gal 3:14). The promises are still to Abraham’s children (Acts 2.39), but now anyone who professes the faith of Abraham, now faith in Jesus the Messiah, is counted amongst the People of God (Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7-9, 29). Therefore, the Church is the same (albeit reconfigured) Covenant People of God that was constituted when Yahweh appeared to Abram. Richard Hays puts this very well:

It is no accident that Paul never uses expressions such as “new Israel” or “spiritual Israel”. There always has been and always will be only one Israel. Into that one Israel Gentile Christians such as the Corinthians have now been absorbed. Echoes of Scripture, 96-7

In the New Covenant, baptism becomes the sign of entry into the People of God. We are either baptised because our parents already belong to the People of God, or we come into the People of God from outside through professing our faith in Jesus. When we baptise a child, it is a sign that the child stands in a relationship to God that is different to the child of someone who is not a Christian. The child is not regenerate, nor necessarily elect (the words that are used to describe someone’s standing to God with respect to their final salvation), but they are members of the covenant community, the Church, the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).

The Church cannot simply be thought of as being comprised of  ‘those with saving faith’, or ‘the elect’, or ‘the regenerate’. It draws a wider circle. That’s how Covenant works. The Church is a visible body – like the Jewish nation. People enter it through professing faith in Jesus. And their children enter too, because the Promise is also to them. Children born to the Professing are born into it. Some of those who profess may fall away. Some of the children may not profess faith, they may not respond to the Promises of the covenant. Those who do profess but are unfaithful in profession are disciplined and perhaps eventually put outside the Church.  But within the Church we will find the professing and their children, and within that circle there is a slightly smaller one, ‘those with saving faith’, ‘the elect’, ‘the regenerate’.  No-one can discern where this smaller circle is drawn – and it’s no-one’s business to try to (here’s the root of so many problems in Highland Calvinism). But, the wider circle of the covenant is an objective reality. That these two circles exist, that the objective nature of the Church is different to membership of the elect, ought not to bother us. After all, how else do we explain texts like John 15, 1 Corinthians 7 and Hebrews 4? And, after all, it’s how Calvin understood things.

So, why are some Presbyterians wavering? When I hear Presbyterians explaining baptism as basically the Baptist view, with the baptism of infants then a sort of tacked-on addition to that view, I wonder how it got to this. I come across Presbyterians saying things like: the baptism is a sign of the faith that we hope the child will have. Or, the baptism is a sign of what Jesus Christ has done for that child. Even the explanation that the baptism is the sign of the faith of the parents of that child is not wholly adequate. In my humble opinion it is because these Presbyterians are buying into an Evangelical view whereby infant baptism is seen as an anomalous addition to a concept of baptism (the Baptist one) that is basically agreed on by all (E/e)vangelicals.

In fact, evangelical Presbyterians and Evangelicals (I would judge these different categories) do not share the same view of baptism. They have fundamentally different views on the theological basis for baptism. And, they have fundamentally different views on what the Church is. Presbyterians that turn towards other traditions for resources and for theological education have got to recognise this. If you’re listening to Driscoll or Piper, for example, they do not hold the same Reformed theology as Presbyterians do.

The whole issue is of fundamental importance. It’s not about defending some romantic notion of a Scottish or Reformed tradition. It’s about understanding God, the Church of Jesus Christ and our mission in the world.

Inheriting the Earth

earth2In the Beatitudes, the famous proclamation of the new reality of the Kingdom of God, Jesus says:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Now it might be argued that here Jesus is actually saying that the meek will inherit the land, rather than the earth, but the Jewish hope was definitely that the whole earth would come under the rule of God (e.g. Num 14:21; Hab 2:14). Various inter-testamental writings contain the idea of inheriting the earth. The idea can be tied right back into one of the foundational texts of the Torah – God’s promises to Abraham. If we want to understand the big picture of the Bible, then this is one of those key points that we have to be clear on. The promises to Abraham are perhaps the most fundamental promises in the whole of Scripture. I’m pretty convinced that when Paul talks about promises in his letters, it’s these that he has primarily in view. What is promised to Abraham? A relationship with God, a multitude of descendants, a land for a home. These promises form (in the words of David Clines):

an affirmation of the primal divine intentions for humanity. The Theme of the Pentateuch, 30.

The promises are for what was lost at the Fall. And these promises are, as Paul writes, made certain in Jesus the Messiah (Rom 15:8; 2 Cor 1:20). The promise of land as a home is fulfilled in Jesus, because through the rule of the Messiah, the earth is ultimately renewed as the home for God’s people (Rom 8:21; Col 1:20; Rev 21:1). That’s a theme of much biblical theology on covenants and creation.
In the New Testament the place where this idea is perhaps most clearly expressed is in Romans chapter 4. Paul intentionally broadens to the whole earth the scope of the promise to Abraham concerning inheriting the land. Paul compresses this into one simple statement in what seems a quite breath-taking theological move: the promise to Abraham was that he would inherit the world.

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. Romans 4:13

That really is an important move when we come to understanding how Jesus the Messiah brings the fulfilment of the covenant promises to Abraham. God’s people inherit, as part of redemption, not heaven, or an earth, but the earth. This earth.

New Covenant Patterns in Ephesians 1-2

mbephesiansA few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about how the pattern of realisation of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 might be reflected in New Testament texts about how the Gentiles have been grafted into an already-renewed Israel. One of the places I think this is seen is in Ephesians 1 and 2. Many commentaries make little of Paul’s alternating use of ‘we’ and ‘you’ in this passage, but they are missing something important. John Stott picks up the significance in his work, but of all the commentaries on Ephesians, Markus Barth’s volume is one of the best on this. Here’s an excerpt of what he writes:

The verses 1:11-13 contain distinct statements made about us (“we”) and about “you”..…

In decisive passages of Ephesians…the change between “we” and “you,” “our” and “your,” indicates something other than…an appeal to a common Christian creed, or a cavalier, unnecessary, and meaningless change of diction: as observed earlier, those addressed in Ephesians are all of Gentile origin. They have been “apart from the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, strangers to the covenants . . . bare of hope and without God” (2:12). These formerly hopeless people are distinct from other men who have equally been “under the wrath [of God]” (2:3), but were privileged to be the “first to set” their “hope upon the Messiah” (1:12). While the latter call themselves “The Circumcision” because of a “handmade operation,” the former are called “The Uncircumcision” (2:11).

In 2:17 (cf. 13), one of these two groups is called “those who are far,” the other, “those near.” 2:19 speaks of recently naturalized citizens, or newly adopted children who are now among the saints as members of God’s household. Five times the first group is called “the nations” or I “the Gentiles”; in 2:12 the second group is explicitly identified as “Israel.” It is emphatically asserted that Gentiles have now been made fellow heirs, fellow members, fellow beneficiaries in an heirdom, a body, and a promise that were established already before any Gentiles were given access to it (l:18c; 2:19; 3:6). Gentiles now partake of Israel’s privileges and possess the same rights and titles as were formerly reserved for the Jews only….

Just as in Rom 1:16, so also in Ephesians, Paul calls election and salvation by grace events that concern “the Jew first and [also] the Greek.”
Markus Barth, Ephesians: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on Chapters 1-3 (Anchor Bible, Vol. 34), 130-1, emphasis added.

More Thoughts on the New Covenant

angelsonapinI’m aware that some might see my thoughts on the New Covenant as mere doctrinal pin-dancing. I strongly disagree.
This is important for a number of reasons. Briefly (and not exhaustively):
  • There are important connections between God’s promises given to Abraham and the Genesis prologue, which are crucial for a correct appreciation of creation theology. Indeed, much foundational theology orbits around these promises. If the church sees a radical disjuncture between OT and NT, then a lot of this foundational theology is neglected and we cease to correctly understand the gospel itself. I would argue that the neglect of creation theology in the church, and the tendency to dissociate creation from redemption in eschatology is partly down to this kind of problem.
  • If the foundational links between the gospel of Christ and the promises given to Abraham are not recognised, God’s covenant dealings with human beings are not adequately reflected in the church’s life. This is especially true in the sacraments, and specifically baptism, where God’s covenant commitment to the children of his people ought to be recognised. This spins out in how our young people relate to the church into which they are born. So, it gets very practical indeed.
  • Paul makes clear in Ephesians that the maturity to which Christians ought to aspire involves understanding God’s historical acts through the OT nation of Israel, and his revelation to Israel. Whereas some Christians think that a 2-minute 5-point gospel presentation is what the world needs, it is in fact this rich view of God’s historical dealing with humans that we need to grasp and express. The gospel of Jesus embraces an expansive, comprehensive explanation of both the history and future of the world. This is the gospel that people need to hear, if they are to understand why God became a human being in order to redeem them. It’s the gospel that people want to hear, as they struggle to understand the world and their place in it. That’s Paul’s approach, and it ought to be ours.

Some Thoughts on the New Covenant

Jeremiah MichelangeloWhen Jesus took the cup at the Last Supper, he said ‘this cup is the New Covenant in my blood’ (Luke 22:20). Understanding the nature of the New Covenant is critical to understanding the Church. Somewhat surprisingly, the language of New Covenant is explicitly found in the OT only in Jeremiah 31. The New Covenant language in the chapter deserves careful study, but there’s one aspect specifically I want to reflect on:
‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…’ Jer 31:31
According the Jeremiah’s prophecy, the new covenant is made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The New Covenant is not made with the Gentiles, but is made with the Jewish people, and the words of the prophecy express the hope of tribal reunification. Where do we find this prophecy fulfilled in the NT?
First, Luke’s description of Pentecost evokes tribal reunification.
Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven… Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs… Acts 2:5,9-11
True, Luke reports that Peter immediately identifies the events of Pentecost as fulfilling the prophecy of Joel, but in the terms of Luke’s portrayal in Acts, the words must be seen in the context of the programmatic utterance of Jesus that the disciples will be his witnesses ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ (1:8). The initial movements of Acts take place in the context of a reunification of Israel, they are movements towards Judeans, and towards the lost tribes of Samaria (and the Diaspora at Pentecost and later in Acts). The events of Luke 8 can be understood as demonstrating a particular stage in the fulfilment of Jesus words. And, in Acts 9, we find that it is the church on Judea, Samaria and Galilee that enjoys peace.
Second, when we come to Luke’s associate Paul, it’s clear that Paul understands the absorption of Gentiles into a covenant that’s been made with the Jews. The locus classicus of this is in Romans 11, where Paul uses the imagery of Gentiles (as branches from a wild olive tree) being grafted into an existing, cultivated olive tree.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree do not be arrogant toward the branches… For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? Rom 11:17,24
Third, the opening chapter of Ephesians shows the same pattern. The ‘us’ of the Jewish believers, to whom God had made known the mystery of his will (1:8-9) and who were the first to ‘hope in Christ’, is followed by the ‘you also’ (1:13) of the Gentile believers, who were dead in sins, amongst the sons of disobedience (2:1). The Jews were no better off, being themselves ‘children of wrath’ (2:3) because of their unfaithfulness. But God made them alive together with Christ (2:5) at a time when the Gentiles were still separate from Christ (2:12). Only subsequently (through the preaching of the gospel) have the Gentiles been brought near (2:13). A similar pattern is seen in Galatians 4, where Christ’s redemption of those under the Law (‘we’ in 4:5, although both here and in Ephesians Paul uses ‘we’ inclusively as well as exclusively) leads to their adoption (4:5) at a time when the Gentiles did not know God (4:8). Although Paul only uses the language of New Covenant explicitly once (in 2 Cor 3:6 – he also recalls Jesus’ words in 1 Cor 11:25), his understanding of how that New Covenant has come to incorporate Gentiles seems to reflect the perspective of Jeremiah.
Richard Hays gives an excellent summary of Paul’s conception of how the blessing of God has come to the Gentiles:
It is no accident that Paul never uses expressions such as “new Israel” or “spiritual Israel”. There always has been and always will be only one Israel. Into that one Israel Gentile Christians such as the Corinthians have now been absorbed. Echoes of Scripture on the Letters of Paul, 96-7.

Paul’s understanding is that Israel has been renewed under the rubric of the New Covenant, which has been instituted by Jesus Christ through his life, death and resurrection. Into that reconfigured and renewed Israel Gentiles are now being incorporated through faith in Christ.

Holiness and Covenant

websterI’ve been dipping in and out of John Webster’s book Holiness. His account of a trinitarian theology of holiness is very satisfying. Viewing God’s holiness as being expressed in his acts, the relational aspect of God’s holiness is key to Webster’s treatment.

…God’s holiness is not simply to be associated with his transcendence, but equally with his condescension. 45

God’s holiness cannot be isolated from God’s calling of a people….This unbreakable link between holiness and covenant is crucial, because it articulates how God’s holiness is not an abstract and oppositional attribute but a relational one, the ground of the free and merciful relation of the righteous God to his people.  The holiness of the covenant creating God cannot be expounded as if it were simply a kind of moral purity that keeps itself aloof from all pollution. 46