Some Thoughts on Covenant Continuity

While Abraham, Moses and Israel enjoyed ever more specific and progressive covenants with God, the rest of the world remained under the Covenant of Works given to Adam. Now, Gentiles who are saved by the New Covenant trace their covenantal roots not to Moses but directly to Abraham.

Rom. 4:8-12 (ESV)
…blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’ 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.

All that took place, covenantally, between Abraham’s believing and Christ’s inauguration of the New Covenant happened apart and distinct from the covenantal roots of Gentile believers. Abraham was the father of what would be two covenantal streams: those who are circumcised and walk in the footsteps of his faith; and those who would eventually believe without being circumcised. Abraham’s circumcision was the point where those two future covenantal streams were separated. As Gentiles, we are not now nor have ever been subject to circumcision or to any of the Mosaic Covenant, which was for Israel alone. None of the covenantal continuity from Abraham’s circumcision to the Mosaic covenant is included in the covenantal continuity from Abraham’s covenant to the New Covenant for Gentile believers.

Rom. 11:17-24 (ESV)
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.

Israel was the “cultivated olive tree” that enjoyed all the unity and progression of covenant relationship with God as His chosen nation of people. The Gentile world has grown alongside this cultivated olive tree as a “wild olive tree.” The cultivated olive tree had both physical and spiritual aspects, as it applied to a physical people in many respects, while requiring true faith as the ideal. With the advent of the New Covenant, only those of Israel with true faith remained as branches (true faith resulting in belief in Christ), while those of physical Israel without true faith were cut off. And now, Gentiles who come to Christ in faith are as branches of a wild olive tree now grafted into the cultivated tree. But they are grafted into this covenantal tree at the point of Abraham’s faith, and not at the point of the Mosaic Covenant, whose heritage and history the Gentile believers (and the people they come from) missed entirely. It is a spiritual ingrafting, and it is a spiritual salvation, indwelling and union of the Church with Christ. The cultivated olive tree began with many physical elements and aspects, but as it changed from the Old Covenant to the New, it became a purely spiritual tree. Now, it’s not about a physical people, but about the whole spiritual Church of God in Christ. Israel obtained their place in God’s olive tree through a different and special covenantal route; and Gentiles through a more general route. But both have become one spiritual New-Covenant people of God.

Ken Hamrick, 2020