Monday, May 23, 2011

Acts 2 - The blessing of the promise of Abraham... the Holy Spirit

I have discussed the nature of the promise of the Spirit in Acts 2 with some folks in the #prosapologian chat room. One person in particular made the claim that the promise that Peter mentions in Acts 2 "isn't the Abrahamic promise in any way, nor is the children referring to Abraham's children". The problem here is that the Bible clearly teaches the opposite.

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

There are some important things about this passage to notice.

Firstly Peter is addressing "men of Judea" and all who dwell in Jerusalem, later he addresses "men of Israel". Peter's sermon is specifically directed toward the Jews and Jewish converts in the audience. Peter, at this point, doesn't have Gentiles in view or recognize that the promise of salvation extends to them outside of Judaism. While it is true that Peter is quoting Joel, the context is strictly within the boundaries of Israel, thus the quote is covenantal in scope. Notice what the quote says:
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy...
your young men shall see visions...
your old men shall dream dreams...
even on my male servants and female servants...

The actual passage in Joel says "your male servants...", the context here is federal household relationship within the covenant of Abraham. There is simply no way that Peter, a devout Jew would be dichotomizing the covenant, or even foreseeing a divergence therein.

Paul, in expressing dismay at the people of Galatia who are seeking circumcision to be included with in the covenant of Abraham, states something astounding:

Gal 3:14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

It seems that Paul sees the promise of the Spirit and the blessing of Abraham as one and the same. This makes perfect sense given Paul's theme of a contrast between the offspring of the flesh and those of the Spirit. (Rom 8, 9, 10, Gal 3-5, et al) Thus Paul does not see the New Covenant as a completely new covenant, never before seen, not having anything to do with the promise of the Spirit, but rather a fulfillment and continuum of the covenant of promise made with Abraham.

This is why Paul states that Gentile believers are in fact Abraham's true offspring and thus inheritors of the promises of that covenant. He doesn't say that they're part of a different covenant, but the one same covenant made with Abraham. The New Covenant therefore cannot be completely new, in the sense that Reformed Baptists mean it, but rather a new administration of that one covenant of grace made with Abraham, with new rites, signs and seals.


  1. Very interesting post! And it sounds like a very interesting channel discussion!

    I'm actually surprised too that someone made the argument that Acts 2 is not referring to the Abrahamic covenant in any way. The language couldn't be any clearer!

    In fact, my pastor is preaching through Acts, and when he came to that verse, he interpreted it as a promise made to the physical seed of Abraham. The "call" here is not the inward, effectual call but the outward call, he argued. This is the Gospel going to the Jews first. Like you said, Peter had not yet had the vision on the rooftop, so of course he's going to have the physical descendants of Abraham in mind here.

    I also agree with you that the New Covenant is "a new administration of that one covenant of grace made with Abraham, with new rites, signs and seals." But I also think (as a Baptist) that there was a change in the covenant community too. I have to go, so I can't go into more detail at the moment, but great food for thought!

  2. I believe that the New Covenant is entered by profession of faith in Christ (the outward signs/seals being baptism and the Lord's Supper). Of course, there's the question of whether or not the community is mixed.

    I actually have a Baptist brother who argues that it is mixed, not professing Christians and their children, but false professors and true professors. Hence, he'd say, the language of places like Hebrews 6.

    I noted you have Robertson's Christ and the Covenants at the top of the screen- I plan to read that! I also plan to read Ridderbos' The Coming of the Kingdom. One of my pastors did a Sunday School series recently on big-picture covenant theology, and he got much help from those two books.