A Change of the Law

or Holy Smoke


Doug Wilson writes:

“The debate in the early church was not whether the Jews should stop circumcising their sons; it was whether the Gentiles had to start. The decision of the Jerusalem council was not that individual Gentiles did not have to be circumcised. If circumcision had been required of them, it would have obligated them to live as Jews under the Mosaic law — which included the circumcision of all subsequent generations. Circumcision was not being waived for individual Gentiles; circumcision was being waived for Gentiles and their seed. So the Christian church did not insist that Gentiles circumcise their infants — not because they were infants, but because they were Gentile infants” (To a Thousand Generations, pp. 68-69).

Since there is no ex-plicit proof of infant baptism, Pastor Wilson’s self-stated, continuing goal here is to find im-plicit proof. My goal in the following is to show that not only do circumcision and baptism not correspond, but also that the solution to the dispute in this passage he refers to is given in the passage, leaving no room for an im-plicit reference to infant baptism.

The observation that requiring circumcision of believing Gentile males would naturally include their sons is a good one. But what was the “architectural” logic behind the thinking of those who made the accusation against Paul?

It was nothing new for Gentiles to believe and remain outside the Covenant people as those “covered” or ministered to. Nor was it new for Gentile believers to join the Covenant and become Jews, becoming physically grafted into the life of the tree.

But to begin grafting in Gentiles with no requirement of bloodshed was a new thing. This led to the belief that Paul was teaching Jews “who lived among the Gentiles” to waive this requirement for Jews as well as Gentiles. This was the kind of godless “intermarriage” committed by the sons of God (the sons of Seth) in Genesis 6, and by Solomon. God desires a mixing, but a mixing according to the right recipe. The Gentiles come under His Covenant. His people do not intermarry to submit to the gods of the Gentiles. So perhaps intermarriage was another factor here. There would been many couples like Timothy’s parents. Should Timothy be circumcised or not? His mother was a Jew, so he was raised as a Jew. But did baptism waive the necessity for his circumcision?

It is telling that baptism is not mentioned in this passage at all. Added to this, circumcision is not alone. It is part-and-parcel of the customs, the culture of Moses. What is mentioned is Jews who have believed, and Gentiles who have believed. Both Jew and Gentile could keep their cultural identities intact and yet be united in Christ. It is not circumcision and baptism that are contrasted here, or James’ ruling would have been that baptism was sufficient. But he doesn’t mention it.

The gospel had revived these Jews. They were zealous for the Law. They were reading their Bibles with new eyes. Except their Bibles didn’t have a New Testament. They had the apostles’ prophetic judgments instead. What was James’ judgment? And what was the basis for it?

If Jews were under the Mosaic Covenant, were Gentiles under anything at all? Yes, they were still under Noah, which ties in with the idea of false gods (Adam), bloodshed (Cain) and harlotry (Sons of God). God’s solution to the entirely corrupted “three-decker” first world was a three-decker miniature, a doorway into a new world, the ark. The Jews had their own ark, the Tabernacle and Temple. So, here it is not circumcision versus baptism. Circumcision divided Jew and Gentile seed. Baptism united them again. The contrast here is actually between Moses and Noah. It is not baptism that is presented as the solution. The Gentiles were called to Gentile purity, the purity of the priesthood of Melchizedek, the godly priesthood of all nations.

God – Transcendence OLD CREATION

…..Jews / Gentiles – Hierarchy (DIVISION)

……….Mosaic purity / Noahic purity – Ethics (PURIFICATION)

…..Baptism / Baptism – Sanctions (REUNION)

God – Succession NEW CREATION

Circumcision put the world on the Altar. Both Jews and Gentiles were slain under their respective Laws (guilty under Moses or guilty outside of Moses, with or without the Law). Baptism was the resurrection body, the flesh and the blood, the Melchizedekian bread and wine reunited as one new man, the Christ.

James’ judgment actually builds a new house. This is where an analysis of the literary structure exposes its Covenantal roots. Yes, I know this is too good to be true. Covenants are always bittersweet, so suck it up.

(Creation – Genesis – Transcendence)
But concerning those who have believed of the nations

(Division – Exodus – Hierarchy)
We wrote, judging no such thing to observe them,

(Ascension – Leviticus – Ethics 1)
except to keep from themselves things offered to idols, (Garden)
and blood (from things strangled) [Land]
and fornication. [World]

James finishes his structure there (although the story of Paul’s purification follows, which is probably Luke’s “Ethics 2). Ethics 2 is actually the holy fire, the Spirit of God. Ethics 3 is the smoke, the witness. (This Triune version of the Ethics is what transforms the five-fold Covenant pattern into the seven-fold Creation week. It gives a Body to the Head.)

All the Gentiles needed to do was follow, in faith, the pre-Abramic rites of sacrifice (qualified by the Spirit of the New Covenant), and the Spirit would do the rest. In Abraham, the Jews had represented the nations before God as their substitute “father”, constantly under fire, and now a single Jew did, the Son, Jesus Christ the righteous, the first man to step out of the fire in a cloud of holy smoke, a fragrant “swarm.” Gentiles are not numbered as Jews were. Jews were numbered as transgressors. Gentiles are numberless. Gentiles are a swarm. Ethics 3, Day 5, had arrived.

So, while the Temple stood, or, more importantly, while the Old Covenant high priesthood was still standing, the Law of Moses stood also. The earthly High Priest was still alive. When he died, there would be a change of the Law. Both Noah and Moses would be gone forever.

In Revelation, John wept because he could see the Old Creation coming to an end. There was no one in heaven (Garden), on the Land (Land), or under the Land (Gentile Sea) who was worthy to open the scroll. Throughout the Old Testament, every “new” covenant was built within its predecessor, as Eve within Adam, as something sweet within the eater. Abraham was separated within Noah. Moses was separated within Abraham. David was separated within Moses. Ezra was separated within David. But they were all Adamic, and the entire house was old and ready to collapse. The garment was all patches. A new one was required, one that was a gift, one that was seamless and would not be torn. (See my new book for a diagram.) That is why John wept. He was in the heavenly Temple. The Bull, Eagle and Lion were all in place. But Man-face, the Facebread, the Lamb of God, was still missing.*

As Dr. Leithart has pointed out, part of the practical ministry of the gospel was to desacrifice the world, not just the Jewish world, but the Gentile world also. As the Old Creation creaked and groaned, awaiting the revealing of the identity of, the vindication of, the true sons of God, the true Covenant Succession (Christ or Herod?), it was a battle between a Christless Jew-Gentile body in a death grip upon bloody rites, and a Spirit-filled Jew-Gentile body where the only sacrifice required now was praise.

So, according to James, it wasn’t baptism that was a sufficient “replacement” for circumcision in a Pre-AD70 world that still focussed on blood sacrifice, it was the Altar of Noah.

(*This material is from James Jordan. If we are not familiar with this stuff, we have no excuse.)

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16 Responses to “A Change of the Law”

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    I’m confused about your 5-point, Covenant chiasm. Why are Moses and Noah together in the middle? Apart from that, it seems chronological. The word ‘covenant’ isn’t mention with Adam after the Fall because that covenant came with Noah in Gen 8-9.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Robert
    Line 2 is the division of the body of Adam into Jew and Gentile. The “ethics” is what is at the centre: Jews under Moses and Gentiles under Noah (with Moses representing them before God).
    The Noahic Covenant replaced the Adamic one. From Adam to Noah is one great Covenant “cycle,” with the flood waters as Sanctions. Noah is handed the “angelic” sword to minister God’s justice. Unlike Adam, he qualified as a judge.
    Hope that helps

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Pastor Wilson commented:
    Michael, actually in this section I am looking for explicit evidence that infants were part of covenant communities.

    I replied:
    Sorry about that. However, this reader not being able to tell the difference is no support for your case. Not only is baptism not mentioned explicitly, it is not implicit in James’ solution to the problem.

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    Mike, I appreciate the thematic division of the Covenant Key, I simply mean that Biblical Revelation is laid out with Noah in the TRANSCENDENCE. Think of the ages of the men in Gen 5 and then skip over to Gen 11. It’s the same format except the ages at death exponentially plummet. The Old Creation doesn’t end until Gen 11:32.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Not sure what the problem is. Yes, Noah is at the start. But after the Abrahamic rift, it seems the Gentiles were still under the Noahic Ethics.

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    Exactly. We advanced no further. We were cut-off from salvation while the Hebrews were cut-off from their foreskins. Now, that wall has been broken down in Christ (Eph 2). Revelation has progressed. At one time, circumcision as a necessary step of Godly obedience: that time is over. Now we must be baptized. Circumcision changed into adiaphora. Baptism is the sign that the Deluge of Noah hasn’t swallowed us (1 Peter 3). Those without it are going to Hell, and that is not my children.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    All good till the last line. The border is no longer familial, or architectural. The equator is now regeneration. The term “child” has been redefined and superseded. One blood is nothing. One Spirit is everything, especially when it’s our regenerate kids.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I guess what I’m saying is, you can baptize infants and pretend they are in the ark, but they ain’t. Baptism won’t save them, but the gospel will.

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    I don’t think baptism saves per se. The ethics of The Covenant has changed, so that failure to circumcise is no longer disobedience (Ex 4). But while there is possible death in the fold of the Covenant Community (1 Cor 10), there is certain death outside of it. Salvation running in the lines of generation predates Noah (Gen 5 & 11) and continues in the New (2 Tim 1:5). http://www.covenantsuccession.com/

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Robert

    Covenant Succession certainly ran along family lines under the Old Covenant. Every now and then, where necessary, God would shake the turntable and the needle would jump a track. The line of Achan was cut off so God jumped from the line of Zerah to the line of Perez (which included Rahab). We see the same thing, of course, in Jacob and Esau, but also in the Lord’s awarding of the priesthood to the line of Phinehas.

    But all these track jumps were within the bloody boundary of Abraham. Satan could wipe out the Succession quite easily, and he almost succeeded a number of times.

    The beauty of the New Covenant is that it is supposed to jump tracks ALL of the time. There’s no way Satan or his human cohorts can keep a lid on it. In fact, persecution simply causes it to jump and spread all the more!

    Godly parenting under the New Covenant is, quite demonstrably, put in second place by the apostles. This doesn’t mean it can be ignored, as many baptists and others do. But it simply isn’t God’s primary means of Covenant Succession any longer. Witness is. The only reason it sticks to family lines is because we preach the gospel to our kids. If all we have to show for our witness is godly kids, we are not living under the New Covenant, and we are not taking the risks demanded by the New Covenant.

  • Adam Says:

    I guess I’m not sure what perspective you’re coming from, Mike. I liked everything except this: “you can baptize infants and pretend they are in the ark, but they ain’t. Baptism won’t save them, but the gospel will.”

    To the contrary, baptism *does* put a person (including a person’s children) in the ark. Absolutely. Baptism places them in the covenant, which, in the case we’re talking about, happens to be the ark. Baptism is the sign and seal of regeneration, justification, adoption, and all the rest of it. Baptism *is* the gospel embodied.

    Obviously nobody is denying that personal internal regeneration is necessary for salvation, but Peter says that baptism saves us. It puts us in the ark until such a time as we choose to jump out into the flood.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Adam

    My perspective is that circumcision symbolized the beginning of the “means” of the Law, and a circumcised heart was the “end.” It led to regeneration, but did not begin it. Then baptism follows the circumcised heart. It is the “means” of resurrection, and actual resurrection is the end.

    So, our children should be under the sound of the gospel as “flesh” set apart for the fire. But they are not yet filled with fire. The gospel cuts out hearts until we are ready to be baptized.

    Regarding the typology in the ark, it contained “You” (the Noahs), “your children” (the next generation of Noahs, all married), and “those afar off,” the “Gentile” animals who “believed” and submitted to Noah for protection. Besides the sacrificial animals (in place of the warrior bridegroom), all the “Gentile” ones were in pairs. So this is a picture of the New Covenant, where everyone pictures the marriage of the faithful warrior bride. Infants were not a part of the picture until after the flood. Baptism is for those who can say “amen” for themselves. And of course, as I keep saying, New Covenant offspring are not the same as Old Covenant offspring. Paul had plenty of kids. So did the Ethiopian eunuch.

    Also, once you were in the ark, you didn’t get out into the flood. Not possible.

    Hope that makes sense.

  • Adam Says:

    Would this make you a credo-baptist, despite being a fan of James Jordan? Baptism is clearly spoken of being the new birth in Scripture, and thus it is not just a confirming ordinance, but a creating and initiating ordinance.

    Baptism is for all those who believe, and their children. I do agree about what you say about bloodlines (great stuff, actually), but like James Jordan says, all baptism is infant baptism, and all children are adopted. Baptism means that God takes back the child that He gave to you, kills it by drowning it in the baptismal waters, resurrects it into the covenant and gives the child back to you as the child’s caretaker or guardian, not as their bloodline parent.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Most certainly. My cover is blown! (Actually, I’ve been shouting on the rooftops for quite a while now.)

    My argument is that it is only a creating and initiating ordinance for ministry. Throughout Scripture, in type and antitype, it puts people in government. It’s the white Israelite robe with four blue tassels, the New Jerusalem. It is for those from whom water now flows.

    Baptism is a new birth, but from a tomb, not a womb. It is for one who was dead under the Law and now is alive in Christ.

    So, caretaking does include baptism, but it is the vindication of the work of the law (repentance) and the authorisation of a new mediator. So the baptism is for the caretaker, not for those sheltered. It is for the Temple water chariots who carry the healing waters to the nations.

    If you click on the baptism tag here, you’ll find all manner evidence for my credobaptism, including the matrix structure.

  • Adam Says:

    I must admit, I find it intriguing that you have found a typological basis for credo-baptism. I found your discussion of the Noahic Covenant captivating, and I like it very much.

    I see this basis for typological credo-baptism as a new stage in the baptismal discussion, as the church slowly returns to reading Scripture typologically, and I hope people interact with it.

    Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that the covenant is ever made with individuals. The covenant is always a corporate act with “you and your seed.” Your point that this seed is not bloodline related is a good one, although this was apparent even when the covenant was made with Adam even. The true bloodline is always one of grace and adoption, from Adam to Christ, and has always included Gentiles. If it were a matter of blood, both Abel and Cain would have been part of it, but the bloodline proceeds through Seth, not Cain, Jacob, not Esau, and so on.

    But then, I’m an enthusiastic FVer.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Good comments.

    My only dispute would be that in Jesus, the definition of “seed” has been changed, or transcended. It’s not longer a line of blood but of Spirit, which leaves out the unregenerate. We are called to raise godly children, but we are now called to raise the nations as well. This fact shapes the way the Old Covenant informs our understanding of the New.

    I’m enthusiastic for a federal vision as well. I just reckon this practice ties it to Old Covenant limitations, a “looking in” instead of a continual “looking out.”