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The Jesus Covenant, Part 9: The Mysterious 2 Corinthians 3

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3 (ESV)

After my brief detour into Ephesians 2 back in Part 7 of this series, and a deeper look at the Abrahamic covenant as it applies to the nations we saw in Part 8, I’m ready to continue pursuing my look at the New Testament scriptures that refer to the New Covenant.

But first, a brief review.

We see Jesus referring to “the covenant” (the word “new” is added in some later texts) in the Last Supper narratives:

  • Matthew 26:26-29
  • Mark 14:22-24
  • Luke 22:19-20

But there are a number of passages in the New Testament letters that specifically refer to the New Covenant. We’ve already examined the following:

Today, we’ll take a look at the above-quoted 2 Corinthians 3, keeping in mind that we still have to address:

  • Hebrews 8:6-7
  • Hebrews 9:15-22

Before continuing, I just want to point something out. Based on the last part of this series, it seems that the primary gateway for the Christian to enter into a covenant relationship with God is through the Abrahamic covenant and specifically, the portion that describes the blessings of the nations through Abraham’s offspring (singular), which we interpret as meaning the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. If the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36) is a confirmation, validation, and expansion upon the previous covenants God made with the Children of Israel, then for our purposes, the New Covenant confirms, validates, and expands upon the blessings we receive for the nations that come from God, through Abraham and our faith in Jesus.

OK, here we go with 2 Corinthians 3.

On the surface, this chapter in Paul’s letter tends to confirm the traditional interpretation of the church, that the Law or Torah “was being brought to an end,” supposedly to be replaced by the New Covenant of grace through Christ. I found the following commentary at BibleGateway.com:

What to do when old ways die hard? Paul’s overall approach is not to denigrate the Mosaic covenant but rather to demonstrate the superiority of the new covenant over the old. To do this he uses a Jewish form of argumentation called qal wahwmer, or what today we would label an a fortiori argument (from lesser to greater). His line of reasoning is that if the glory of the old covenant was transient yet came with such overpowering splendor that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of its minister as he descended from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the law, how much greater must the new covenant be, whose splendor is permanent and whose glory does not fade. The implication is that though the Mosaic covenant can impart an initial glory and credibility to its ministers and adherents, because of its transitory character it has no lasting effect. Therefore for these visiting preachers to link themselves with a covenant that is fast becoming obsolete is to suggest that their competency is fading and their credentials are of no lasting importance. It is only the new covenant with its enduring splendor that can impart a permanent and lasting credibility to its ministers.

Paul’s evaluation of the Mosaic ministry is even more to the point. Far from being the key to the victorious Christian life, it is in reality a ministry that brings nothing but death (v. 7) and condemnation (v. 9) to those of God’s people who strive to live by it. To be a minister of the old covenant is therefore to be an instrument of death and destruction. The new covenant ministry, on the other hand, brings the Spirit (v. 8) and righteousness (v. 9). So to be a minister of this covenant is to be an instrument of life and salvation.

I know, the commentary seems pretty hard on the Mosaic covenant and its conditions, the Torah, but then, who is Paul’s audience. Is he addressing a group of Jewish disciples? It seems unlikely. This commentary might make more sense if he’s talking to a group of Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah who have been listening to other Jewish teachers emphasize that the Gentile must “obey Torah” and even convert to Judaism.

I have problems with the references to the Mosaic law “going away” but then again, should the Gentile disciples be listening to teachings that say they are to rely only on Torah obedience for the purposes of justification before God? Doesn’t the Abrahamic covenant emphasize faith?

The clue may be in another part of the commentary:

Paul’s emphasis in particular on the greater glory of the new covenant suggests that his opponents associated themselves in some fashion with Moses and the law–but not with its legalistic side, since there is no mention of circumcision or obedience to the law.

Paul’s Gentile audience may have been tempted to take on board the full yoke of Torah (and perhaps even to convert to Judaism) in order to achieve salvation. Is that why Paul refers to the Torah as “the ministry of death” in verse 7? Paul, in Galatians, was very harsh toward the Gentiles who were considering conversion to Judaism, even going so far as to say that if they did so, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross would become meaningless to them. (see Galatians 5:2)

Still, the content of this letter is puzzling, particularly in light of what we read in the Christian commentary:

To speak of the Mosaic covenant as a ministry that dispenses death would have sounded blasphemous to Jewish ears. It was the uniform opinion of the rabbis that what Moses gave the people of Israel were “words of life,” not words of death (as in Exodus Rabbah 29.9).

The BibleGateway.com commentary is quite correct in asserting this, but then how can they follow-up with this statement?

In verses 10-11 Paul takes his argument one final step and advances the idea that the splendor of the old covenant is not only dwindling but also completely eclipsed by the surpassing glory of the new covenant. This is because the Mosaic ministry is temporary, while the new covenant ministry is permanent.

It doesn’t sound like he’s saying that the Law is for the Jews and faith and grace is for the Gentiles, but that indeed, the Law is fading away and has disappeared altogether and has been replaced by the “new covenant.” But how can this be if the New Covenant merely confirms and expands upon all of the previously established covenants including the Abrahamic and Mosaic?

Seeking an alternate interpretation, I found one at torahtimes.org (Note: I know nothing of this ministry and so cannot vouch for their accuracy or legitimacy. I merely report an alternate way of looking at these verses):

It is the nature of a drash דרש to combine texts that on the literal level have little to do with one another in order to make a point. Paul is not trying to tell us that the ten commandments are the ministry of death. The common element in his quotations is the ministry of death, or the ministry that makes rebels guilty. This is what unites the drash. When the text “engraved … in stones” comes together with the text about the veil on Moses face, we must not assume that Paul is saying the two tablets of the ten commandments that Moses had at the time. That’s not how one interprets a drash. You have to find the homiletical theme of the two quotations and not assume that the use of the two texts mean anything other than what they are used for. The ministry of death in the stones were the curses inscribed upon Mt. Ebal when Israel came into the land. It’s mention next to Moses face is not Paul’s intent to confuse the literal facts but to give a homily on the ministry of death” (torahtimes.org, DLC).

Because I don’t like posting content from a source I am unsure of, I tried to find out something about the commentary’s author Daniel Gregg. I discovered something about him on Derek Leman’s blog. You can read the content there and make whatever evaluation of Mr. Gregg’s legitimacy as a Biblical interpreter you see fit.

That said, Gregg’s interpretation does point out that we may be missing something by trying to understand Paul’s letter in terms of modern Christian thought. Paul’s entire world view was as a Jew and a teacher, and his commentaries on the older scriptures were most likely to be a halalach interpretation that operates outside of traditional Christian thinking. In that sense, we may not easily grasp the meaning behind how Paul (apparently) speaks against the Law or defines it as being ended or fading away, Gentile audience notwithstanding.

My last source, the Rosh Pina Project has a viewpoint that seems to dovetail with Gregg’s (please click the link and read the entire commentary for the full context):

If the Ten Commandments are the ministry of death and condemnation, there is no way we can find life in them. The Ten Commandments are the ministry of death and condemnation, and not because they themselves are unrighteous. They are the ministry of death and condemnation because they show us to be unrighteous, and they show how utterly incapable we are of obeying God’s commandments.

From my own point of view, my reach may have exceeded my grasp. I don’t know what to make out of 2 Corinthians 3. If I maintain my basic assumption that the New Covenant cannot undo or replace the older covenants God made with Israel, then the surface meaning of Paul’s words and the traditional Christian interpretation of this chapter cannot be correct. The closest interpretation that fits my paradigm is the aforementioned Rosh Pina Project, and in this case, they say the Torah is only inadequate because we are inadequate.

Our incapability to serve or honour God through the commands which he decreed should force us to our knees, to cry out for mercy, and to place our trust in the atoning death and triumphant resurrection of Moshiach, without whom all our ‘righteous acts’ are like filthy rags before the Holy One.

I don’t know if I find that a completely satisfying explanation for everything Paul writes in this chapter, but I think it points in the right direction. Your opinions may provide more illumination in uncovering the mystery. Then we’ll proceed to Part 10 and Hebrews.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Galatians 3:15-16 (ESV)

For the past several installments of this series including Part 7, I’ve been focusing on aspects of the New Covenant, mainly because the little bits and pieces that relate to Christianity can only be tracked down in different parts of the New Testament. However, recent conversations have shown me that I should probably return to the foundation of my understanding for a bit to illustrate its solidity, or at least describe the trail of reasoning that I’m pursuing.

As you have probably guessed, it all goes back to Abraham and the covenant God announced to him in Genesis 12. But what exactly did God promise Abraham and what does it have to do with us, that is, with Christians?

Here’s my understanding:

  1. Genesis 12:1-3 – God promises to make Abraham into great nation, bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham.
  2. Genesis 15:18–21 – God promises to give Abraham’s descendants all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, and this area is later referred to as the Promised Land or the Land of Israel.
  3. Genesis 17:2–9 – God promises to make Abraham a father of many nations and of many descendants and the land of Canaan as well as other parts of Middle East will go to his descendants.
  4. Genesis 17:9-14 – God declares that circumcision is to be the sign of the covenant for Abraham and all his male descendants and that this will be an eternal covenant.

This covenant is then reaffirmed to Isaac in Genesis 21:12, and again reaffirmed to Jacob in Genesis 26:3-4. (the New Covenant as recorded in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 affirms and expands upon this and the Mosaic covenant) God confirmed that the promise of the covenant is specifically for the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the Children of Israel, in many places in the Torah, not the least of which is in Deuteronomy 34:4 (ESV):

And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”

As far as the land of Israel goes, there is no provision in the covenant to give it to anyone or any other people group besides the Children of Israel and their descendants forever, the Jewish people.

That takes care of the Land. But what about us?

We learn from Galatians 3:15-16 which I quoted above, that through Abraham’s seed, through his offspring (singular) we among the nations would be blessed. Paul declares that the offspring in question is specifically the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our blessings that issue from the Abrahamic covenant are directly transferred to us through the Messiah.

So far, of the four items in the above-referenced list, only one of them seems to apply to Christians, the blessings of the Messiah.

What else do we know about the Messianic blessings in the Abrahamic covenant?

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. –Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

We see that it was Abraham’s faith that was counted to him as righteousness, and this was before the sign of the covenant was placed upon Abraham. We too, the “uncircumcised” of the nations, are called “righteous” because of our faith. Thus Abraham Avinu is our father, according to Paul, not just the father of the Hebrews. No, that doesn’t mean we are Hebrew (Jewish) too, nor does it mean we inherit the total body of covenant blessings and responsibilities that are incumbent upon the Jews, but it does make us connected to Abraham as the father of our faith, and through his covenant and the Messiah, with God.

This is kind of a delicate trail to negotiate, and we have to be careful that we don’t slip off the path and fall into erroneous thinking. The promise of the Land, and I believe the other specific promises, including the covenantal sign of circumcision, are for the physical descendants of Abraham and of Isaac, and of Jacob. That’s not the rest of us. That’s just the Jewish people.

In other words, all of the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, including the blessings of the Messiah, flow to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The single blessing that we can be attached to through the Messiah is attached to Abraham alone, as he was before his circumcision, as he was before Isaac; a man of faith and righteousness before God.

That’s the split, the demarcation line between Christian and Jew, the slender thread of “covenanthood” by which we Gentile Christians are connected to Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant, and thus, to God.

So what do we get out of it? Well, first of all, a cautionary tale:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Romans 11:17-24 (ESV)

Paul seems to be toggling back and forth between addressing the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. “You wild olive branches, you Gentiles,” Paul is saying. “Don’t get cocky just because you were grafted in. Remember, it’s the root that nourishes you, not the other way around. You think you are so hot just because a few Jews were knocked off the root to make room for you Gentiles? So what,” he might be saying. “If you fall away from the kindness of the Messiah, you can be knocked off and the Jews can be put back twice as fast!”

So to the Jews, don’t be arrogant to the Gentiles because they’re “newbies.” To the Gentiles, don’t be arrogant because some Jews were removed from the root to which you are now attached. Nothing is necessarily permanent. Anyone can be “ungrafted.”

That’s a terrific lesson for many non-Jewish believers to learn because, through one process or another, we have come to feel superior to the Jewish people who God, in the end, will reattach to the root, all of them. Remember, any of you out there who are not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (apart from legitimate converts to Judaism) don’t get cocky. God not only didn’t get rid of the Jews, it is through them that your salvation and covenant connection to God is established and nourished in the first place.

And for those of you who feel that being “grafted in” has whitewashed any physical and covenant distinctions between you and the “natural branches,” think again:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Romans 3:1-8 (ESV)

Being Jewish is not beside the point just because we Gentiles have been grafted in. There remains much advantage to being Jewish. Even those Jews today who do not acknowledge Christ as Messiah are not permanently condemned as many Christians seem to believe. They are not discarded and cast aside.

Israel will be saved:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29 (ESV)

I’ve probably wandered from the strictly Abrahamic path, but with good purpose. The purpose is to illustrate that just because Jews and Christians share the Messianic blessings that are part of the wider Abrahamic covenant through faith, that does not mean we share all of the blessings attached to that covenant. Paul was extremely clear that there is a distinction between Jewish (native) and Gentile (wild) olive branches. They all didn’t “morph” into a single type of branch with no way to tell them apart.

Also, Paul was extremely clear that there were many advantages to being a Jew. Further, he said that even if some of the Jews were temporarily removed from the root for the sake of we Gentile Christians, in the end, God’s promises to the Jewish people are irrevocable; they cannot be revoked!

The really interesting thing about all of this is that a Christian must choose to become part of the covenant with God through Jesus and Christians can also “unchoose” Christianity for another religion or no religion at all. Not so with the Jewish people. If you are born a Jew, you are automatically born into the covenant (actually covenants, but I’m only talking about Abraham for the moment). God has temporarily turned His face away from His people Israel in the past, and He has temporarily exiled them in the past, but as “temporarily” implies, He always takes them back and He always will take them back.

In spite of the fact that this missive is longer than I intended, I didn’t get to say everything I could have said about Christianity and the Abrahamic covenant. Hopefully, I’ve said enough for now.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 7: Sampling Ephesians

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 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. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22 (ESV)

I suppose this is something of a detour from the recommended reading list for the New Covenant I presented in Part 6 of this series, but a person named “Zion” (presumably, not his real name) suggested I put it at the top of my list in a comment he made on another one of my blog posts:

Ephesians 2 establishes gentiles as now part of the covenants, which I wonder how you deal with such, as I have never seen you address Ephesians.

Really? That only sort of lines up with the path I’ve been following thus far. On the other hand, I do want to be fair, and hence, my taking a small detour into Ephesians 2 and sampling the relevant verses in that part of Paul’s letter.

I feel that after reading the relevant portion of Paul’s aforementioned letter, my original response to Zion on the previously referenced blog post will do quite nicely as my analysis of this scripture’s relationship (or not) to the New Covenant.

The quote begins here (I’ve edited my original comments somewhat to make it more relevant)—

I read Ephesians 2 (ESV) and particularly verses 11-22 which are supposedly the ones that should lead me to believe that Jews and Gentiles in Christ have both been made “one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” (vv 14-15)

So Christ made Jews and Gentiles one by abolishing the law, which is how most traditional Christians read it. Sorry, but I disagree. Being “one” doesn’t necessarily mean we’re a single, great, homogeneous mass of humanity (but I know you don’t believe this because of our past conversations).

However, if you don’t believe in the absolute obliteration of Jewish and Gentile distinctions, then “one new man” can’t possibly mean to you what it means to a lot of traditional Christians. For all I know, the law of “commandments expressed in ordinances” that was abolished was the halakhah of Paul’s day that erroneously stated that a Jew even entering a Gentile’s home made the Jew unclean (see Acts 10). That’s just a guess of course, but it’s as good as any.

I’ll assume (though I’ve been wrong before) that you’re focusing on vv 19-20:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, (or sojourners) but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”

I suppose another way of saying it would be that “you are no longer strangers and God-fearers…” meaning that the non-Jewish disciples entered into a covenant relationship with God through Israel and specifically the living embodiment of Israel, Jesus Christ.

Verse 22 is interesting: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

In fact, this whole sequence of verses reminds me of an argument I once made relative to the Good Shepherd:

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”John 10:16 (ESV)

I once tried to make an argument that Gentiles and Jews are equal in the Messiah across all theological attributes because we are two pens that have been merged into a single flock with Jesus as our good shepherd. Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the results of a conversation between Gene and I which I called Lamb Chop. You can read the whole blog rather than have me copy and paste all the text over here. You should know that Ovadia’s blog no longer exists (that info will make sense when you read “Lamb Chop”) and I can only find “Shelters and Housing for Sheep and Goats” at issuu.com now, which is not the ideal interface for reading the document (but it’s better than nothing).

The core statement from “Lamb Chop” is this:

“Farmers have many sheep pens on a farm for the same flock. When it’s time to lead the flock to pasture you let them all to lead them to pasture. After they return from feeding, a shepherd separates each sheep into their respective pens.”

You can be part of the same flock but for various reasons, still be kept in different “pens”. That’s how I consider myself as being “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Eph. 2:19) We can be fellow citizens of the household of God as covenant people, and I believe we all are, Jews and Christians alike, but trying to either eliminate our covenant distinctions or “shoehorning” the Sinai covenant into the Gentile sheep pen (forgive the mixed metaphor) seems a bit of a stretch given the text available.

—That was the entirety of my blog comment response but not of my thinking on the matter.

So what were we before we came to God through Christ and what are we now? Consider something from last week’s Torah Portion:

They provoked Me with a non-god, angered Me with their vanities; so shall I provoke them with a non-people, with a vile nation shall I anger them.

Deuteronomy 32:21 (Stone Edition Chumash)

This compares well with both of the following:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:10 (ESV)

The commentary for Deut. 32:21 in the Chumash states:

Israel angered God by worshiping deities that had no power or value. Measure for measure, God will let them be defeated and subjugated by nations that have no cultural or moral worth…

All of that describes us, the nations of the earth before coming to Christ and through him, being reconciled to God.

Not a pretty picture, but it gets worse.

Not for our sake, Hashem, not for our sake, but for Your Name’s sake give glory, for Your kindness and for Your truth! Why should the nations say, ‘Where now is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; whatever He pleases, He does! Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man. They have a mouth, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear; they have a nose, but cannot smell. Their hands – they cannot feel; their feet – they cannot walk; they cannot utter a sound from their throat. Those who make them should become like them, whoever trusts in them!

Psalm 115:1-8 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

That’s us, or rather, that was us before turning away from our sins, repenting, confessing Christ, and coming to God. That was the state of Paul’s audience in his letter to the Ephesians before they too became disciples of the Master and worshipers of the God of Israel.

But what did they become and indeed, what do we become when we start calling ourselves Christians; when we choose to escape our fate as people of “nations that have no cultural or moral worth?”

Did we become “Jews” and convert to “Judaism?” It would appear not, even though it seems possible that some non-Jews did convert to Judaism in Paul’s day. In fact, the formerly-pagan Gentiles couldn’t have automatically converted to Judaism when they first became disciples of the Jewish Messiah. Here’s why.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

Galatians 5:2-3 (ESV)

So when we stopped being pagan idol worshipers, if we didn’t become Jews and start practicing Judaism, what did we become and what did we start doing? Did we become “Israelites” and convert to some sort of “Israelism”. I’ve recently discovered a term and a movement called Adonaism, so did we convert to that and become “Adonai-ites?”

For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Acts 11:26 (ESV)

According to traditional Christianity, it was the Jews who surrendered their Judaism and converted to Christianity, but my long-term readers know I reject this claim. Rather, the Jews who came to faith in Jesus as Messiah became one of the number of sects of Judaism that existed at that time, in this case, a Judaism referred to as “the Way” or “the Nazarenes.” Christianity is just another way of saying “Messianism” or “Messianic,” so I suppose we could render Acts 11:26 as saying in part, “And in Antioch, the disciples were first called Messianics.”

But that still doesn’t appear to provide any differentiation between the Gentile and Jewish believers. We only know that prior to coming to Christ, the Gentiles were totally lost, separated from God and from His covenant people Israel. In entering into covenant with God through Christ (through the Abrahamic and New Covenants, though they are not specifically mentioned in Ephesians 2), we, along with Israel, have entered into closeness with our God.

But Israel was a covenant people long before the coming of the Messiah as recorded in the Gospels. We Gentiles depend totally and completely upon Christ to enter into any kind of relationship with God at all. The Jews, on the other hand, have had such a relationship with God since Moses and arguably, since the days of Abraham. We have not. That does not mean that the Jews do not need the Messiah. Far from it. In Judaism, it is well-known that the Messiah will restore all of Israel; all of the people; all of the Jews, to national and personal redemption and reconciliation with God, restoring them as the most honored among all nations; bringing to them the full measure of the promises.

And if their nation is not restored and their covenants are not all upheld, we Christians have no hope, because it is through those covenants; through Israel itself; through her firstborn son, the Jewish Messiah alone that we are also saved. It is in our own best interest as Christians to uphold and support the Jewish return to Torah as their birthright as a people, and to claim all of Israel as their national heritage.

So who are we?

We are sheep. We are sheep from a certain pen, a really, really big pen. The Jews are also sheep in a pen but a different pen from ours. Yes, we were all brought together in the same flock and indeed, we all answer (or someday will answer) to the voice of our one “good shepherd.” We Gentiles were once far off but have been brought near (which is not the same as being fused into) the people of Israel. We have commonality with the Jews in that we enjoy covenant relationship with God, but this does not change or diminish the specialness and the uniqueness of the specifically Jewish covenant responsibilities they alone must discharge for Hashem.

But why should we complain? We have been grafted into the root and from its sap, we are given life; eternal life with God through Jesus Christ. What more could we want?

Part 8 goes back to the roots of this series and takes a closer look at Abraham and why the covenant he made with God is so important to Christians.

Update, October 18, 2012: I found a rather interesting interpretation of Ephesians 2 and the “one new man” passage that quite clarifies my position. Go to a comment made by someone named “benkeshet” on Gene Shlomovich’s blog for the details.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 6: Tracking the Elusive Covenant

Then he began with Mosheh and all of the Prophets and explained to them all of the Scriptures that spoke about him. They came near the village to which they were going, and he set his face as if he were continuing on his way. They urged him, saying, “Stay with us, for the time of evening has arrived, and the day has stretched on.”

So he entered the house to stay with them. When he reclined with them, he took the bread, made a barchah, broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he turned aside and passed from their eyes! They said to one another, “Were our hearts not burning within us as he spoke to us on the road and interpreted the Scriptures?”

Luke 24:27-32 (DHE Gospels)

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends
With a little help from my friends

-Lennon and McCartney
from the song, With a Little Help from My Friends (1967)

I wish that the Master would speak to me and cause my heart to burn by starting “with Mosheh and all of the Prophets and explaining…all of the Scriptures that speak about him.”

As you know, particularly from Part 4 and Part 5 of this series, I’m having trouble matching up the New Covenant as described in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 with the words of the Master we find in Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20. If, as I learned from Derek Leman, the New Covenant is directed specifically at the Jewish people but possesses blessings for non-Jews, where can I find the blessings for the nations? Where can I find the connection?

As it turns out, the connection not only eludes me but, perhaps generations of people who are far more learned than I am:

I would not claim to be in any of the categories you mention, but we have history of nearly two thousand years of scholars who have traveled the same terrain – some of the most profound issues of our faith – and other who are doing the same right now. You really would benefit from some familiarity with their work. –Carl Kinbar

I feel better knowing that I’m not alone. I’m encouraged that I’m pursuing something that is as mysterious to others as it is to me. But then, what hope do I have in discovering answers to questions that scholars and saints have been wrestling with for the better part of 2,000 years? On the other hand, if I don’t attempt to also wrestle with these questions, how can I ever come to terms with my faith or have confidence that I, as a Christian, am also in covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

So many Christians take their faith for granted; they simply assume that the covenants and promises they’ve heard about from the pulpit are all explained and settled. Almost magically, the church leaps from “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” which we see in Jeremiah 31:31 (ESV) to this interpretation, taken from the The World Alliance of Reformed Churches website (added emphasis mine):

First, it is a community of God’s Torah: “I will put my torah in their midst” (31.33). The word torah means “law” and the teaching of the law and points to a way of ordering all of life under the covenant God. Specifically, torah provides a way of seeing reality through the lens of God’s passion and grief. Thus, the new covenant community (church) with torah in its midst will be transformed from self, indifference, and trivial moralisms to neighbour, witness, and costly love.

…Second, the new community (church) will be in covenantal solidarity about the knowledge of God: “They shall all know me, from the least of these to the greatest” (Jer 31.34).

Third, the new covenant community (the church) will know, experience and practice forgiveness: “I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31.34).

broken-crossNot to be too harsh toward my brothers and sisters in the church or the many Christian scholars who support these conclusions, but I can find no method of transferring the New Covenant which God has and will make with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” to the Christian church of non-Jewish believers in Jesus Christ. It’s just not there in Jeremiah 31, nor in Ezekiel 36. So then, where do I look? As I alluded to above, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” Here’s what one of them had to say.

I also don’t see how the Jeremiah and Ezekiel passages relate to Gentiles (at least not directly) and no exegetical commentary will claim that they do. That’s the stuff of homiletical commentaries. The only passages I know that implicitly make the connection are 1 Cor 11 and 2 Cor 3, both of which clearly have Gentile settings. While we see plenty of prophetic mention of light to the Gentiles and New Testament expansion of the gospel to Gentiles, the connection with the New Covenant seems to be a Pauline revelation/midrash. Exegetical commentaries should be helpful there, too, although many of them are supersessionist.

That’s a start, but before pursuing those scriptures in earnest, I want to outline the rest of the search.

I’ve already mentioned Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20, where Jesus connects the shedding of his blood with the inauguration (but not completion) of the New Covenant. We see the same scene displayed before us in Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV):

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the (Some manuscripts insert “new”) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Also, as I previously mentioned, Hebrews 8:6-7 addresses the New Covenant, however, a significant mention of the New Covenant is present in the following chapter of Hebrews, especially 9:15-22. We do see Paul talking about a covenant in Galatians 3:15-18, but it is specifically the Abrahamic covenant, so I’ll bypass Galatians until another day. Hebrews 6 also discusses God’s promise to Abraham.

Before going on, we need an anchor in the language of the New Covenant as recorded in the Tanakh (Old Testament). All of the “connectedness” we see in the New Testament that ties back to the original New Covenant language is through Christ who the church recognizes as the Jewish Messiah. He must be our anchor, or there is no connection at all.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ –Jeremiah 33:14-16 (ESV)

With our anchor, the Messiah, the “righteous Branch”, now firmly in place, our next stop in following the trail of the elusive New Covenant connection is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for (or “broken for”) you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. –1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (ESV)

One thing the plain meaning of the text does for me is to more solidly connect the term “New Covenant” with that we call “the Lord’s Supper.” However, Paul seems to be employing the imagery we find in that event (Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 26:26-29 ESV) as a commentary or perhaps as midrash, using the people and activities associated with the Last Supper to describe the implications of the New Covenant upon the non-Jewish Corinthian church as those implications link back to the covenant’s core values and ideas.

Thus, if Paul believed it was through the blessings in the New Covenant (which primarily solidified and expanded the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants with the Jewish nation) that the Gentile Christians were also allowed to have a covenant relationship with God, he is saying that, by his audience behaving in a reprehensible and disrespectful manner when gathering together to break bread, they were also desecrating their New Covenant relationship, and thus bringing shame, rather than honor, to the Messiah. The result was that the Gentile Christians brought judgment upon themselves so that, through that discipline, they would not be condemned as will be those who are not in covenant relationship with God.

While Paul is using the Lord’s Supper/New Covenant language as metaphor and midrash to drive his point home to the Corinthians, from our point of view, we see a stronger link between the New Covenant, the “New Covenant” language used by Jesus during his last meal with his closest disciples, and how it can be applied, both positively and negatively, depending on the behavior of those people who are subject to specific covenant blessings; to the non-Jewish disciples who are called by the Messiah’s name.

To me, this is very encouraging. Although the route isn’t exactly straightforward, I can follow my “trail of breadcrumbs” from Jeremiah, to the Last Supper, and then to Paul’s “Corinthian midrash” on the New Covenant. It’s as if I’m trying to watch a television set from my youth, persistently adjusting the fine tuning knob to slowly produce a sharper image. But can we find even more clarification by progressing further along the path? What about 2 Corinthians 3? We’ll get to that particular milestone in Part 7 of this series.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 5: Blessings and Consequences

I had a strange dream last night (actually, several nights ago as I write this). Actually, I had a number of strange dreams (but then again, all of my dreams are strange). What was really unusual about this particular dream though, is that I was composing this “meditation” in the dream. You know when something has captured your attention when you start having dreams about it.

More specifically, I was pondering the covenant relationships involved in the “Jesus Covenant,” or what binds we Christians to God, and what attaches the Jewish people to the Creator. As you know, by the end of Part 4 in this series, I still hadn’t figured out how or if the New Covenant we see prominently mentioned in Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36 has any sort of blessings for the non-Jewish people of the world. Since then, I’ve gotten some feedback saying, in part, that it is exceptionally difficult for “virtually all individuals to adequately grasp a topic so profound (and yet so intricate) that it has engaged believers, including scholars, on the deepest levels for two thousand years.” That was a different wake up call than I expected. However, I wrote the bulk of this blog post before Part 4 was ever published so, as you read this, please keep that in mind.

Now to continue with the original missive:

As I’m writing this, I still haven’t received any illumination from God or any response but the knowledgable people I’m associated with, so I guess I’ll wait a bit longer before calling it a wash.

But I dreamed something last night.

I dreamed about this.

Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying: Observe all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Teaching. When you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you — upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Ebal, and coat them with plaster. There, too, you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not wield an iron tool over them; you must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. You shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice there offerings of well-being and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God. And on those stones you shall inscribe every word of this Teaching most distinctly.

Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Silence! Hear, O Israel! Today you have become the people of the Lord your God: Heed the Lord your God and observe His commandments and His laws, which I enjoin upon you this day.

Thereupon Moses charged the people, saying: After you have crossed the Jordan, the following shall stand on Mount Gerizim when the blessing for the people is spoken: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And for the curse, the following shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphthali. –Deuteronomy 27:1-13 (JPS Tanakh)

No, I didn’t dream about the actual scene being described above, but I could see blocks of paragraphs on my blog that I knew where talking about the blessings and the curses. The rest of Chapter 27 and part of Chapter 28 describes the specifics of what was cried out between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, in case you want to read about the details.

But that’s not all I dreamed.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV)

TranscendentPart of what I believe about The Jesus Covenant is that it doesn’t exist as a discrete and stand-alone element (which I discovered only recently, much to my surprise). It is derived from blessings included in the Abrahamic and arguably the New Covenant, but the actual people of both covenants are the Jewish people. I further believe that the Sinai or Mosaic covenant, the conditions of which are included in the Torah, possesses no blessings for the nations and thus, does not contribute anything to what binds we Christians to the God of Israel (although even traditional Judaism does believe that certain, limited aspects of Torah coincide with a non-Jew’s responsibilities to God).

The Torah is very specific and detailed in describing the terms of the “agreement” between God and the Jews. But what about us? What about Christianity? What have we agreed to do and what are the consequences of failing our Savior and failing God?

That’s what I dreamed about. I dreamed about the specifics of the consequences, the blessings and the curses, that the Jewish people agreed upon as a condition of the Sinai covenant. I also dreamed about the passage from Matthew 25, and while it isn’t constructed as an agreement as such, we see that Jesus has posed conditions upon us and consequences for accomplishing or failing to accomplish those conditions in our lives.

I guess even when I’m asleep, I’m looking for clues. I’m looking for connections. I’m looking for attachments. Theologically, what I’ve just suggested may be total baloney, but the dream was still with me when I woke up this morning, (again, as I write this) even though I was having a completely different dream when my alarm went off.

So I had to write it; I had to share it by way of an interlude within this series, standing between the mystery of the New Covenant and what I hope will become the solution. My quest now is to get further along in my understanding of the New Covenant, both with the help of God and a few scholarly human beings. As Lennon and McCartney famously wrote, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”

That “little help” has made Part 6 of this series (and more) possible. See you there.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 2: Abraham

What is the intent of a covenant? (See Likkutei Torah, Devarim 44b.) When two people feel a powerful attraction to each other, but realize that with the passage of time, that attraction could wane, they establish a covenant. The covenant maintains their connection even at times when, on a conscious level, there might be reasons for distance and separation.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Standing Before G-d”
from the “In the Garden of Torah” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah

A biblical covenant is an agreement—generally between God and humanity—recorded in the text of the Bible, the common Holy Scriptures of both the Jewish and Christian religions.

-Covenant (biblical)

In Part 1 of “The Jesus Covenant, I started exploring my (mis)understanding of the covenant(s) that attach me, as a Christian, to God. To that end, I accessed some textual and video information produced by Derek Lemen, including his Covenants video (it’s very brief and straightforward, so please give it a look).

In the video, Derek outlines the five covenants that are described in the Old Testament or the Tanakh, three of which are in the Torah or the Five Books of Moses.

  • Noahide
  • Abrahamic
  • Mosaic
  • Davidic
  • New Covenant

Of these five, only the Noahide covenant (see Genesis 9) includes all humanity universally as the people of the covenant. It is God’s promise never to destroy the world again by flooding, and the sign of the covenant is the rainbow. For the other four covenants, the people of each of them is specifically the Jewish people (the specific descendants of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Of those four, according to Derek, only the Abrahamic and New Covenant contain blessings for the non-Jewish people of the world, although the Davidic covenant, which declares that a descendant of David will always sit on the throne of Israel, has certain Messianic applications.

It is through the blessings of the Abrahamic and New Covenant, that we who call ourselves Christians, are able to enter into a covenant relationship with God through the Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ.

But from here on in, the path gets a little muddy. Traditional Judaism disagrees with the statement I made in the previous paragraph, and believes that only (or primarily) the Noahide covenant applies to the nations. Traditional Christianity believes that the New Covenant is specific to the church, deletes the previous covenants (except for certain aspects of the Abrahamic covenant), and transfers all the relevant covenant promises from the Jews to all of Christianity, creating new, “spiritual Israel”

I’m going to set aside traditional Judaism’s viewpoint here and focus on Christianity, since after all, I’m a Christian. I’m forced to disagree with the teaching we see in many churches that tells us Christianity has superseded Judaism in the covenants. This is a very old and well accepted belief in the church, but as my long time readers know, I strongly oppose any sort of replacement theology and believe that God did not reject the Jewish people when He allowed His blessings to flow through them in order to touch the Gentile.

So where does that lead us?

It leads us, and I’m continuing to use Derek as my source here, to the understanding that God chooses to bless the Gentiles through Israel without doing away with Israel or fusing the original Israelites with the later occurring Christians, essentially forming a new corporate entity which I’ve previously called “spiritual Israel.” In fact, the concept of “spiritual” vs. “physical” Israel requires more than a little theological and “exegesic slight of hand” to pull off. Also, there’s nothing I can see in the Old Testament prophesies where God comes right out and says to the Children of Israel that they’ll eventually become obsolete, replaced, or watered down by the inclusion of the rest of the world into their ranks. Isn’t Israel always supposed to be a special, unique, and set apart people before God? (see Jeremiah 31:35-37)

I suppose the next step in my quest is to examine the Abrahamic and New Covenants more in detail to try to find where the blessings are for the nations and how that translates into a covenant relationship with God for “the rest of us.”

I found a pretty good summary of the Abrahamic Covenant at GotQuestions.org and looked at the three main features of this covenant. Only one feature directly provides blessings for the nations (the other two apply exclusively to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

The promise of blessing and redemption (Genesis 12:3). God promised to bless Abraham and the families of the earth through him. This promise is amplified in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; cf. Hebrews 8:6–13) and has to do with “Israel’s spiritual blessing and redemption.” Jeremiah 31:34 anticipates the forgiveness of sin. The unconditional and eternal nature of the covenant is seen in that the covenant is reaffirmed to Isaac (Genesis 21:12; 26:3–4). The “I will” promises suggest the unconditional aspect of the covenant. The covenant is further confirmed to Jacob (Genesis 28:14–15). It is noteworthy that God reaffirmed these promises amid the sins of the patriarchs, which fact further emphasizes the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant.

More specifically, it is the fulfillment of this feature that most concerns Christianity.

The Abrahamic Covenant finds its ultimate fulfillment in connection with the return of Messiah to rescue and bless His people Israel. It is through the nation Israel that God promised in Genesis 12:1–3 to bless the nations of the world. That ultimate blessing will issue in the forgiveness of sins and Messiah’s glorious kingdom reign on earth.

It should be noted that I reject the idea that the Jewish people will need to “convert to Christianity” and abandon Judaism in order to fulfill the prophesy of Israel’s national repentance and forgiveness as we see in Zechariah 12:10-14 and Romans 11:25-27. There’s no logic in a Jew having to stop being a Jew in order to give honor and devotion to the Jewish Messiah King and to worship the God of Israel.

However, we’ve discovered the blessing that comes to us through the Abrahamic Covenant and the Jewish people that allows our covenant connection to God. The promise of the blessings of Messiah are for the Jewish people and the rest of the nations through faith.

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. –Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

The blessing is for the circumcised (Jews) and the uncircumcised (people of the nations) alike and the way to access the blessing is through faith. Non-Jews do not have to take on the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (circumcision), since that is not a requirement to access this particular blessing. Abraham had faith prior to circumcision and thus it is our faith as well that binds us to God through this blessing. Faith is the medium that connects both Jew and Christian to our Creator, and it is specifically in faith that all people are equal before God.

Thus the ancient Hebrews (circumcised) and their descendants have access to all of the features of the Abrahamic Covenant, while we non-Jewish Christians (uncircumcised) have access to one of the covenant features, which is specific to the blessings for the nations. I suppose I could say a lot more about this, but it seems clear that we Christians are connected by faith to God through this blessing which is the promise of the Messiah, and that promise is realized in the coming of Jesus Christ.

But GotQuestions.org also says that this feature of the Abrahamic Covenant “is amplified in the New Covenant.” That’s where we’ll pick up this discussion in the next part of the series.

In the meantime, feel free to comment, ask questions, and add details to the elementary understanding I’ve presented here. As I keep telling people, I’m not a theologian, Pastor, teacher, expert, or anything else lofty. I’m just a guy; an average Christian (sort of) who is trying to get a better handle on my faith. I don’t think that you have to be an expert or a scholar with a ton of degrees to understand what we believe as Christians and why we believe it. I invite everyone like me, and everyone else, to join me for Part 3 of “The Jesus Covenant.”