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.)