Reading Galatians Backwards


or Sacramental Sorcery and the Seed of Abraham

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”

Having written a (basically word-by-word) commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, one which demonstrates his use of the biblical pattern of maturity at every point and every level, it amazes me how sacramentalists are not aware that their doctrine makes them the modern targets of Paul’s ire.

ShapeofGalatians-COVERSacramentalism gets my goat for the same reason the promotion of circumcision in the Galatian churches made Paul’s blood boil. It is a false doctrine which purports to be complimentary to the Gospel of Christ but is in fact diametrically opposed to it: a cunning rival, a Judas in the ranks.

Since the “office” of Jew no longer exists in God’s economy,1See James B. Jordan, The Future of Israel Re-examined. sacramentalism has to be even more cunning than the Judaizing perversions with which Paul was confronted. Instead of promoting circumcision of the flesh, it attempts to hybridise circumcision and baptism, a division of flesh and a demarcation of Spirit, when these two are irreconcilable, forever opposed to each other (Galatians 5:17). This is why it was possible for Jews and Gentiles to unite “in the flesh” first against the Christ, and then against His Jew-Gentile Church, which was united “in the Spirit.”

So, despite their “New Covenant” pretensions, the fundamental assumptions of sacramentalism are cut from exactly the same worn out Old Covenant cloth (Hebrews 8:13; 10:20). Sacramentalism claims to be a work of the Spirit, but remains a work of the flesh. It claims to unite people in Christ, but in reality attempts to sanctify familial and tribal ties. Human nature’s desire for carnal security has not changed since Paul composed his epistle.

Since they do not see this “bap-cision” as simply an Old Covenant rite disguised in a New Covenant veneer, Paul’s argument against circumcision in Galatians is misunderstood.

Peter Leithart writes:

According to Paul, the baptized are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). In baptism, all the baptized are joined in “one” in Christ Jesus. We can read backwards in Galatians 3 to see what that means.

The “one” is the “one seed” of Abraham (3:16). We might follow NT Wright in understanding that phrase corporately (one family of Abraham) or take the view that the one is Christ. I think Wright has the better reading  of verse 16. Regardless, verses 16 and 28 are linked by reference to the “one.” Baptism gives a share in the “one seed.”

According to verse 16, the “one seed” is the recipient of the promise to Abraham. And we are told in verse 14 that this promise is the promise of the Spirit. If baptism makes the baptized a part of the one, and the one is the one seed, and the one seed is promised the Spirit, then by making the baptized a member of the one baptism confers a share in the promised Spirit.

We confirm this point by reading forward from verse 28, just one verse: Those who are baptized belong to Christ, are one in Christ Jesus. And those who are belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed and heirs (v. 29). Heirs of what promise? Reading backward one last time, we have to say that the promise of which the baptized are heirs is the promise of the Spirit.

For Paul, to be baptized into Christ is to be baptized as a son of Abraham and a son of God and so to be heir of the Spirit.2Peter Leithart, Baptism and the Spirit.

So, as he frequently does, Leithart begins with a Judaistic ecclesiology, an assumption of bap-cision, then applies all the blessings of the regenerate to anybody lucky enough to be part of a “body of Christ” based on familial, tribal and other social ties. This can only work if he reads Galatians 3 backwards, starting with a flawed baptism at the root of his logical tree. Of course, paedobaptists who are not sacramentalists have to sell out when it comes to an efficacious baptism, because there are indeed many blessings conferred upon the baptised. We just have to submit to Scripture concerning the identity of the baptised.

The solution is to read Galatians 3 forwards, with Paul’s condemnation of Judaistic witchcraft as the starting point. In Covenant terms, “witchcraft” is the attempt to obtain the promised Covenant blessings without obedience to the conditions of the Covenant.3See Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key, Chapter 7, “Ethics or Magic.” This “Covenant sorcery” began with Adam’s seizing fruit that was prohibited until he demonstrated that he was faithful to God. This seizing of kingdom without prior priestly submission was the sin of Cain, Nimrod, Israel, the Herods, and was of course the sin of the Judaizers, who conflated circumcision of the flesh with circumcision of the heart. This inversion of priesthood and kingdom is at the heart of Leithart’s ecclesiology. An individual can be declared a child of God without hearing the Gospel, without repenting, without any response to the Word, simply because they were born to, or under the care of, Christian people.

Now, I am not advocating pietism, a “kingdom of the heart” which is private and must not be allowed to speak to the kingdoms of the world. I am saying that the kingdom of Christ begins in the heart (Luke 17:20-21), with priestly submission, and authority in the kingdoms of men will follow.

As I have written elsewhere, it is from the Biblical Horizons crowd that I learned to see this pattern of judicial maturity in the Scriptures, and I am simply calling them to be consistent with it when it comes to baptism. There is a reason that Paul puts baptism at this point in his argument, and it is Covenantal. For the individual, baptism comes after the Law has done its work in circumcising the heart, just as it did for Israel.

So, Paul begins with witchcraft (kingdom-by-circumcision), a sign of judicial immaturity, but works his way forward to spiritual maturity, the work of the Law vindicated in the fruit of the Spirit, and testified to publicly in baptism as a robe of authority, a sign of qualification for priestly rule (1 Peter 2:9) just as it was at the baptism of Christ. Leithart, however, begins with bap-cision, and from this false foundation predictably works his way backwards, textually and Covenantally, into sacramental sorcery.

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1. See James B. Jordan, The Future of Israel Re-examined.
2. Peter Leithart, Baptism and the Spirit.
3. See Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key, Chapter 7, “Ethics or Magic.”

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