What is the Abrahamic Covenant?
As mentioned in my previous article on the covenant of grace, the outward administration of the covenant of grace began with Adam in Genesis 3:15. In the Abrahamic Covenant, that seed is beginning to germinate and blossom.
God’s promises and plans become more revealed to Abraham. Meredith Kline said it well,
“Redemptive history enters a distinctive new stage with the Abrahamic covenant but without interrupting the underlying continuity and coherence of the covenant of grace” (Kingdom Prologue, p. 292).
The substance of the covenant of grace is always the same—it’s Christ. To use holiday imagery, if the New Covenant is the full [insert your favorite] pie, Adam received a small bite and Abraham got a full piece, but only believers living in the New Covenant receive the full pie. It’s the same substance, but in the New Covenant it’s much more substantial and realized: the Word was made flesh.
A simple and understandable way to define the Abrahamic Covenant would be that it’s God’s covenant of grace established with Abraham and his offspring, wherein he promises the entire future of his covenant kingdom, in both its old covenant and new covenant stages (Sacred Bond, p.91). Jews and Gentiles who trust in Christ are Abraham’s offspring (Gal 3:29). We belong to the same covenant. We partake of the same substance of the covenant—Christ.
How was the Abrahamic Covenant Fulfilled?
The promise made to Abraham didn’t come all at once. It was accomplished in two phases (administrations). The first phase was in the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham regarding a son, family, and nation—Old Covenant (Mosaic). But what about the land? All the promises made to Abraham regarding a land were also totally achieved. Scripture straight out says—Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:43–45).
The second way the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled is in the New Covenant—in Christ. Christ is THE offspring of Abraham and all the promises made to Abraham come to us who trust in Christ—the true offspring of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9).
If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:29). And even the land promise was just a small piece of the pie of what awaits Abraham’s true offspring—a heavenly country: the new heavens and the new earth. This was the real estate Abraham was truly seeking (Hebrews 11).
Is the Abrahamic Covenant the same thing as the Mosaic Covenant?
The Abrahamic covenant is not synonymous with the Mosaic. There is some crossover as the thread of the chosen one (Abraham’s offspring: Christ) runs from Genesis 3:15 to the Second Coming. But whereas the Mosaic had an ending, the Abrahamic Covenant has no end. It was never annulled. It’s an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7) that comes to fruition in the New Covenant—in Christ.
Is the Abrahamic Covenant the New Covenant?
It’s best to say the New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul says they’re SO connected that believers in the New Covenant are Abraham’s children (Galatians 3:29). This would mean they are children of the Abrahamic Covenant. Notice that Paul never calls Christians Moses’ children.
The Abrahamic and New Covenants can be distinguished but not separated. This is because they are both chapters in the great story of the Covenant of Grace. The New Covenant is really the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Olive tree, which began as a small seed, comes to fruition in Christ in the New Covenant.
Abraham, Moses, and all the people of God have been saved in only one way, the same way Abraham was: Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:8). People in any of the covenants are saved by placing their faith in the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant—Christ.
Because of this strong connection between the Abrahamic and New Covenant, Calvin could say the Abrahamic covenant is no less in force today for Christians than it was of old for the Jewish people (Institutes 4.14.6). The mode of administration is different in the New Covenant but the substance—Christ—is not.
What Are the Implications?
So, if the Abrahamic and New Covenants share a robust link as different administrations of the one covenant of grace—what are the implications?
- The children of believers belong to the covenant community and should be given the covenant sign (baptism).
Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness he had by faith. In the context of the Abrahamic Covenant, the sign of the covenant—circumcision—had nothing to do with Moses or the Law, which was given 430 years later. It was THE sacramental sign to Abraham of God’s grace.
And what was Abraham told to do? To give the sign to his son when he confessed the faith? No! He gave this sign to his son as an infant…BEFORE a profession of faith had been made.
Okay, great you may say, what does this have to do with baptism? Well, Paul connects circumcision with baptism in Colossians 2. Since Jesus fulfilled what circumcision pointed to: He was “cut off from the land of the living” when he died on the cross, the covenant sign changed from circumcision to baptism.
If there is a parallelism between the two, the unity of the covenant would show that the children of believers are entitled to the outward covenantal sign. We’re Abraham’s children and this is what he did. And since the New Testament is more inclusive, females also now receive the sign of the covenant.
Calvin would ask this: if “the Lord, immediately after making the covenant with Abraham, commanded it to be sealed in infants by an outward sacrament [Gen. 17:12], what excuse will Christians give for not testifying and sealing it in their children today? (Institutes 4.16.6)
Since we are in the same covenant as Abraham, the reasons to give the covenant sign would remain the same. The only difference would be that the type of sign is different.
- Unity of purpose: Christ
God has one plan of salvation. We can take comfort in knowing we’re saved today in the exact same way Abraham was → By faith alone in Christ. The Old Testament is not a dry and distance piece of history, but it’s about the Offspring: Jesus Christ (Gal 3:17). It’s also about our family’s history.
Both Old and New Testament believers are the one people of God—true spiritual Israel. The Olive Tree described in Romans 11:17 is literally OUR family tree and it’s the perfect illustration of the visible outward administration of the Covenant of Grace.