Those Afar Off


There are no “Abrahamic” promises concerning offspring — or real estate — for New Covenant believers.

Like the dogma of evolution, the doctrine of paedobaptism is not supported by indisputable evidence. Rather, the data must be interpreted through the lens of a pre-existing framework. The paedobaptistic lens is, however, a biblical one, being Abrahamic, and it comes in extremely handy when used in the right way. It deals with the few texts which paedobaptists rely on for proof, showing that they are not establishing a revised Abrahamic tent, but bringing the old one to an end.

The text I deal with here is Peter’s mention of the Jews, their children, and those afar off, in Acts 2. The idea that the phrase “you and your children” has anything at all to do with Christians is ruled out by the context. The audience was the “men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem” (2:14), “Men of Israel” (2:22), “brothers” (2:29), and “all the house of Israel” (2:36). Peter, who famously quotes Joel, was speaking to Jews about their accountability to the Covenant made with Abraham. But that Covenant was drawing to an end.

However, this does not explain why Peter mentions three groups of people, “you, your children and those afar off” (2:39). A clue to part of the answer is found in the preceding verses. Peter concludes his speech and the Jewish men respond:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

The men are afraid because they have realised their blood guilt, not only of a brother like Abel but of the very Seed promised in Genesis 3, a promise later ratified in Abraham. Worse, these were likely some of the same people who, after Pilate washed his hands of the execution of Jesus, declared their conviction of his guilt by taking any liability for the shedding of innocent blood upon themselves.

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:24-25).

Among Orthodox Jews today, offspring is still of prime importance. A proselyte cannot convert to Judaism without a commitment to marriage and fatherhood. Jesus was cut off without any offspring, and these men, knowing the Old Testament, realised that they, too, were liable to being cut off without any “Abrahamic” inheritance.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. (Isaiah 53:8)

They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. (Deuteronomy 28:52-55)

The curses in Deuteronomy 28 did indeed fall upon Israel one generation after Peter’s proclamation, upon these men and their children, the children whom Christ told the women weeping for Him to weep for instead. The final generation of the children of Abraham according to the flesh was either destroyed or sold into slavery, carried back to Egypt in ships as Moses predicted (Deuteronomy 28:68).

The interesting thing is that these men and their children, those who believed, could be delivered from this terrible judgment upon Israel by putting themselves under the blood of Christ in a different way. In circumcision, in the blood sprinkling at Sinai, and in the Levitical rites, His blood had always been upon them, for blessing or for cursing.

And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words. (Exodus 24:6-8)

But now in Christ, Abraham had obtained a heavenly country, so an earthly Abrahamic inheritance, both the fruit of the Land and of the womb, became redundant. This is why the Jewish Christians, unlike Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:6-9), sold their lands (Acts 4:34-35).

So, there is really no doubt about who these children were. But the identity of “those far off” is more difficult to discern. Are they the Jews and Jewish proselytes scattered across the Roman empire, or is Peter referring to Gentiles? The Abrahamic Covenant promised an earthly inheritance of not only Land and womb (narrowing the curse of barrenness upon Adam and Eve to Abram and Sarai that it might be borne and resolved) but also promised that all the families of the “earth” (literally, ’adamah, the ground, and thus all mankind) would be blessed.

Not only was the promise of the Spirit for the Jews, but also the Gentiles, which later events in Acts make plain. Not only Jews but “those far off,” both Jews and Gentiles, received the Spirit of God. Paul uses similar language concerning Gentiles in Ephesians 2, where Jew and Gentile are united in a new household of faith. The Ephesian Christians were no longer “strangers” who could attend only certain festivals, but heirs along with believing Jews.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:17-18)

Paedobaptists assume that this language means Peter should really have said, in Acts 2:39:

For the promise is for you
and for your children
and for all who are far off,
and for their children,
everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

The problem is that this is not what Peter says, and to conveniently assume that this is what he meant is to ride roughshod over the entire Abrahamic Covenant, the one which is supposed to provide all that imaginary support for the practice of paedobaptism.

Not only is Peter’s audience different from that of Paul, Paul makes no mention whatsoever of children as part of the promises of the New Covenant. Certainly, he instructs the saints concerning parenting, and marriage, and even instructs the children, but there is no “promised seed.” This is because, after the flood, where all flesh was “cut off,” all the cutting off was done in the microcosm of Israel for the sake of the life of the world. The children in Acts 2 are mentioned because all of the Jewish rites, and indeed the Temple, were still in place. The children are mentioned because they were still under the curses of Moses if their parents disobeyed the Lord.

If the Jews would not be “brought near” in Christ (our “near bringing” or sacrifice), they would be brought near for destruction. If they would not celebrate “Ingathering” but instead rejoice as rebels in a Passover already made redundant by Christ and His cup, they would be gathered as food on the table for the Roman eagles.

All of the Jews who rejected Christ, and their children, and indeed all of the Jews and Jewish proselytes (whom Jesus called “twice children of hell”) from across the empire were trapped in Jerusalem by Titus, whose clever strategy had been to wait until Passover to besiege the city. If the identity of “those far off” in Acts 2 is indeed Jewish, these are the people whom Peter was referring to, those who were either still under the Law, or who had placed themselves under it voluntarily. I believe this is the most likely solution, given the context. But those curses were finished in AD70.

However, even if Peter is referring to Gentiles, the architecture of this favourite proof text of paedobaptists betrays them. It not only follows the Covenant-literary structure, hinting at the Ten Words, working from above, to beside, to below, it is actually a textual map of the progress of the Gospel, by the Spirit, from Jerusalem into all the empire before AD70. The shape of the verse itself defines both the temporal and geographical boundaries of its scope. So, whether “those far off” are Jews or Gentiles, either way, the reach of Acts 2:39 ended with the abolition of the oikoumene.1The oikoumene was the “household” of the empires established by God in the book of Daniel. The destruction of the Herodian Land beast and the Neronic Sea beast in the Revelation ended not only the division between Jew and Gentile but the Covenantal authority of these institutions. See James B. Jordan, The Handwriting On The Wall, A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, or search this blog for the tag oikoumene.


(CREATION: Light – command/Ark – Day 1)


(DIVISION: Waters – Veil – Day 2)
being baptised all of you


(ASCENSION: Land – Bronze Altar – Jewish courts – Day 3)
In the name (Most Holy – Father)
of Jesus Christ, (Holy Place – Son)
for the forgiveness of your sins (Courts – Spirit)

(TESTING: Ruling Lights – Lampstand – Day 4)
And you will receive the gift of the holy spirit

(MATURITY: Oikoumene – Incense Altar – Gentile courts – Day 5)
For the promise is for you
(Garden – Abraham & Sarah – Adam and Eve)
And for your children
(Land – Fruit of land and womb – Cain and Abel)
And for those afar off
(World – All nations of the oikoumene about to be judged “as in the days of Noah”)


(CONQUEST: Mediators – High Priest – Day 6)
All whom the Lord shall call


(GLORIFICATION: Rest & Rule – Ingathering/Shekinah – Day 7)
unto Himself.”

The architecture of the verse puts a three-level house at both altars, the microcosmic one (Jerusalem) and the Jews (or believing Gentiles) throughout the  oikoumene, neither of which exist any longer. The fulfilment of the Feast of Booths, also known as Ingathering, was predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:31, and likely occurred just before the siege of Jerusalem.2See Sin City – 3.

In the Garden of Eden, the Covenant “Oath” was the failed confession of Adam, his unwillingness to submit to the authority of heaven, and the Covenant “Sanctions” was the limited curse of barrenness upon the fruit of the Land and womb. This is the difference between baptism (oath), and circumcision (sanctions). The testimony of Jesus is the oath upon the lips of the faithful, and in Him there are no Mosaic Sanctions upon our fruitfulness. This is why there are no “Abrahamic” promises concerning offspring — or real estate — for New Covenant believers. There are certainly correspondences, but they transcend the originals. We are called to give up our families and possessions for the sake of the Gospel, yet are told we will receive siblings, sons, houses and lands in this life the way Jesus did (Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:28-30), by adoption, since one day we shall possess them all. Land and offspring were closely related in Abraham’s earthly inheritance, but the New Covenant is about a heavenly country, and about “sons of God,” those who believe the Word as Abraham did, and become the friends, the confidants, of God (Isaiah 41:8; John 15:15; James 2:23).

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1. The oikoumene was the “household” of the empires established by God in the book of Daniel. The destruction of the Herodian Land beast and the Neronic Sea beast in the Revelation ended not only the division between Jew and Gentile but the Covenantal authority of these institutions. See James B. Jordan, The Handwriting On The Wall, A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, or search this blog for the tag oikoumene.
2. See Sin City – 3.

4 Responses to “Those Afar Off”

  • Chris W Says:

    Since the punishment which the people of Israel were awaiting was the destruction of Jerusalem then the “forgiveness of your sins” language means being RELEASED from the covenant curse upon Israel. It’s strictly Jewish language, hence why every time an equivalent expression (forgiveness/washing away of sins) is used in Acts, it is in reference to Jews.

    The key is public identification with Christ. Identification with Christ in Baptism frees you (and your children) from that specific curse. Repenting but not publically submitting to Christ in Baptism would be like 1 Corinthians 3:15 – “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Good point. Baptism is public allegiance, a legal testimony, identifying with a better sacrifice.

  • Seth P Says:

    Thanks for your work on this topic Mike. I’ve been systematically reading through each of your posts under the baptism tag and although a number of the concepts fly over my head, I’m finding it all very helpful. Ever since a good friend of mine attended a reformed seminary and baptized his daughter, I haven’t been able to stop digging into this topic. Reformed Baptist theology has meaty roots, particularly in the 1689 confession, however it has been parched and had little to offer by way of typology. Paedobaptists have claimed typology as their own but Baptists have a lot more to fall back on here than they realize! You’re filling an important gap in the breadth of the argument. Thanks again Mike and I’m looking forward to your long forthcoming book on the subject. It’ll be easier to follow (and recommend) than 108+ blog posts. Please keep up the good work!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Seth. Good to be spurred on to finish this book.