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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 22

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-19



Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:1-21; Genesis 17:1-14; Genesis 22:1-19

One’s understanding of these covenants affects all of his theological and church relations. If he confounds them, or reckons them as identical, he never gets out of the Old Testament for a plan of salvation, system or doctrines, idea of the church, nature, objects, and subjects of church ordinances. Hence it is easy for him to drift into ritualism, accept the doctrine of union of church and state and coercion of conscience by the magistrate. If he regards them as distinct, one to replace the other, he finds in the New Testament a plan of salvation, system of doctrine, idea of the church, number, nature, object, and subjects of church ordinances. He naturally rejects union of church and state, believes in liberty of conscience, opposes all hierarchies, advocates congregational form of church organizations and their independence of each other.

The covenants have been a battleground between Baptists and pedobaptists throughout their history. A man’s views on the covenants easily locate him in one or the other rank. While multitudes of books have been written, the strongest pedobaptist argument in favor of their construction of the covenants is a brief statement by that eminent Presbyterian divine, Dr. N. L. Rice. The substance of his argument is this:

(1) "The covenant with Abraham is the covenant of grace, therefore it did not belong to the Jewish dispensation and did not pass away with it.

(2) The covenant confessedly embraced believers and their infant children, and since it remains unchanged it embraces them still.

(3) All who were in the covenant had a right to its seal, and those embraced in it now have the same right. And since professed believers and their infant children did receive the seal of the covenant by expressed command of God, the same characters must receive it still.

(4) As circumcision was the first seal, and was administered to professed believers and their infant children, so baptism is now the seal and must be administered to the same characters. Or (1) the Abrahamic covenant was and is the covenant of grace; and the church of God, as a people in covenant with him, was organized on this covenant. (2) As the church was organized on this covenant, it embraced in its membership all who were embraced in the covenant, namely, professed believers and their infant children. (3) The Christian church stands on the same covenant and is identical with the Abrahamic church, and embraces the same characters in its membership, viz.: professed believers and their infant children. (4) All embraced in the covenant and in the church membership are entitled to the initiatory rite, and since professed believers and their infant children did receive circumcision, the first initiatory rite, the same characters, being still embraced in the same covenant, have a right to baptism, which is now the initiatory rite."

To this very able statement of his case we submit the following reply: Dr. Rice assumes instead of proving his premises:

(1) He ignores the fact of two covenants with Abraham – the covenant of grace and the covenant of circumcision, which he blends with great confusion of thought.

(2) As the covenant of grace made with Abraham was but a continuation and enlargement of previous covenants and promises reaching back to the fall of Adam, any church argument based on this covenant should no more commence with Abraham than with Noah or Seth, why not commence with Adam?

(3) Neither the covenant of grace nor the covenant of circumcision "confessedly embraced believers and their infant children." Ishmael, the first descendant of Abraham who received the rite, was neither a believer nor an infant. The adult slaves of Abraham who received it at the same time were certainly not "infant children" of any believer, nor did the law require that they themselves be believers. They were circumcised because they were Abraham’s slaves, without any regard to age or personal faith. The law as to such subjects of circumcision was never changed.

So far as Abraham’s lineal descendants are concerned, on all millions of them, circumcision, if performed according to law, could never by any possibility be administered to a believer. The law requiring its performance when the subject was eight days old must be neglected or violated before a believer could have any chance to reach circumcision. By its own provisions of enforcement it perpetually excluded believers from its reception, just as infant baptism necessarily tends to drive believer’s baptism from the face of the earth. Dr. Rice’s plural, "believers," is an impossibility; therefore, under the regular workings of the law, Abraham would be only one. So much for Abraham’s fleshly descendants.

In the case of a proselyte from the Gentiles who voluntarily became a Jew, he need not be a believer in the New Testament sense, and no descendant of his till the judgment day could reach circumcision by faith. We thus see what becomes of the doctor’s fundamental premise: "Believers and their infant children."

(4) Dr. Rice makes an utterly unscriptural use of the word "seal." To Abraham personally, unto him alone, is circumcision declared to be a seal, a seal of his faith which he had before he was circumcised. It could never be this to any of his descendants under a proper enforcement of the law. To them it might be a sign. The Bible never calls baptism a seal in any sense. New Testament believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit, not by water.

(5) Dr. Rice assumes the identity of the Christian church with what he is pleased to call the "Abrahamic church." "The Abrahamic church" is too vague a term for such an important premise. It needs to be defined somewhat. The Christian church is a visible organization. The only visible Abrahamic organization is national Israel. Substitute "national Israel" for "Abrahamic church" in the premise, and the identity theory perishes by its own weight. You need not argue against it – it falls to pieces if you look at it!

(6) Dr. Rice assumes that baptism came in the place of circumcision, which is at war with both Scripture and history. If he means only that there is some analogy between the place occupied in the Christian system by baptism and the place occupied in the Jewish system by circumcision, this is cheerfully granted, but all the force of the analogy is against infant baptism, thus: Circumcision was administered to Abraham’s fleshly seed; baptism must be administered to Abraham’s spiritual seed.

It is well just here to fix carefully in our minds the elements of the law of circumcision. Circumcision was administered,

(1) to Abraham’s natural seed;

(2) and to their slaves;

(3) but to males only;

(4) when eight days old;

(5) was by obligation a family rite;

(6) could be legally performed by man or woman;

(7) it obligated to keep the whole Sinaitic law, with which it was incorporated, as a means of justification and life, under a covenant of works;

(8) is guaranteed by an earthly domain for a possession.

With these elements before us, it will be easy to show why baptism did not come into its place, and what did come into its place, and how the analogy between baptism and circumcision is destructive to infant membership. This may be made manifest under the following heads:

(1) Both are "shadows." A shadow cannot cast a shadow.

(2) Its antitype, regeneration, came in the place of circumcision.

(See Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11.)

(3) In the New Testament, the same people, if Jews, were baptized after being circumcised, as in the case of Jesus and his apostles, or were circumcised after baptism, as in the case of Timothy by Paul.

(4) The case in Acts 15:1-30, settles the question:

(a) The Judaizing teachers who tried to force circumcision on the baptized Gentiles at Antioch could not have understood that baptism was appointed to succeed circumcision;

(b) the apostles and elders at Jerusalem could not have so understood it either, for while the question was argued at length and exhaustively, no one referred to such a simple fact, which, if true, would have settled the whole controversy in a word. Their silence about it on this occasion was both inexcusable and criminal, if it were true.

(5) Utterly unlike circumcision, baptism is for Jew and Gentile, male and female, for believers, only, when they believe, without regard to age, is an ecclesiastical and not a family rite, is administered by special officers; as a mere memorial rite to the covenant of grace, it is in no sense essential to justification and life, and guarantees neither an earthly nor a heavenly Canaan.

(6) If baptism came in the place of circumcision, then it must be confined in its administration either to Abraham’s natural seed, or to his spiritual seed. If his natural seed only, that excludes the Gentile pedobaptists, as well as their children, and contradicts the Scriptures

(Matthew 3:7-9). If to his spiritual seed, that excludes their infants for whose benefits the argument is made and establishes the true scriptural position – baptism for believers only. (Compare Acts 8:12; Acts 8:37; Acts 16:33-34; Acts 18:8.)

The next point necessary in this argument is to show that circumcision was passed over to Moses and became an integral part of the covenant of Sinai. The proof is this: In Genesis 17, God proposes an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his natural seed after him. The stipulation on God’s part was to give them the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. The stipulation on their part was to keep the ordinance of circumcision and all that is involved. Any male not circumcised was cut off from the people and the inheritance. In Exodus 4:24-26, we learn that God sought to slay Moses because, on account of his wife’s objection, his child had not been circumcised. Moses was not relieved from the hazard until his wife, Zipporah, to save the husband’s life, yielded, though reluctantly, and circumcised the child.

Moses was now the appointed deliverer to lead the children of Israel into the land which God, according to his stipulation of the covenant, was to give them (Exodus 6:4-8). Their final deliverance was accomplished by the Passover, which they were commanded to celebrate by a memorial feast. But no uncircumcised male was allowed to eat this feast (Exodus 12:44-48). Thus Moses gave them circumcision in a national and perpetual statute. Then the nation was organized at Sinai and the covenant re-enacted and the law given; circumcision was incorporated in it as an essential feature of it (Leviticus 12:3). Thus, according to our Lord, Moses gave them circumcision as a national statute, and not as originating it, but as a requirement from the fathers when the original covenant was established (John 7:22-23). So it is testified that all who went out of Egypt to seek the land promised were circumcised (Joshua 5:5). Again, when Joshua led them across the Jordan into the Promised Land, the Lord halted them at Gilgal until all born in the forty years of wanderings should be circumcised (Joshua 5:6). They could not secure title to the land until their stipulation was fulfilled.

Thus we see circumcision made an essential feature of the Sinai covenant, since that is only an enlargement of the original covenant of circumcision. The proof becomes conclusive when we consider the relation of circumcision to the Sinai law. This is set forth by Paul: "For circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the law; but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision" (Romans 2:25). "Behold, I, Paul, say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision that he is a debtor to do the whole law" (Galatians 5:2-3).

This Sinai covenant was strictly a covenant of works. It promised life solely on the condition of exact, implicit, and complete obedience to all its mandates. So testify the Scriptures: "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and mine ordinances; which if a man do, he shall live in them; I am Jehovah" (Leviticus 18:5). "For Moses writeth that the man that doeth the righteousness which is of the law shall live thereby" (Romans 5:5). "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou dost not commit adultery, but killest, thou art become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10-11).

On this very account there could be no life by it. It gendered to bondage and was a yoke of bondage, which their fathers were unable to bear (Galatians 4:24; Galatians 5:1; Acts 15:10).

Their circumcision covenant said, "Do and live."

The grace covenant said, "Believe and live."

The clearest exhibition, perhaps, in the Bible of the contrast between this covenant and the covenant of grace made with Abraham, appears in Paul’s allegory (Galatians 4:21-31). Just here dates become very important. That you may for yourself compare the respective dates of the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of grace we submit the following orderly statement: Paul says (Galatians 3:17) that it preceded the law by 430 years. Reckoning back from the giving of the law, we have, first, the stay of the Israelites in Egypt 210 years, Second/Jacob was then 130 years old. Third, when Jacob was born Isaac was sixty years old. Fourth, the covenant of Acts 7:2-3, and Genesis 12:1-4, was thirty years old before the birth of Isaac, making exactly 430 years. Or Abraham was seventy years old when the covenant of grace was made with him (Acts 7:2-3; Genesis 12:1-4), which was thirty years before Isaac’s birth (Genesis 21:5; Genesis 25:26); Jacob was 130 when he entered Egypt (Genesis 47:9), accordingly, their stay in Egypt was 210 years. So 30, 60, 130 and 210 is 430. But the covenant of circumcision was twenty-nine years later, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old (Genesis 27:1-14). There is a great distinction in the law of descent between the two covenants; one national or fleshly, the other spiritual or supernatural.

1. How does one’s understanding of these covenants affect his theology and idea of the church?

2. What is the substance of N. L. Rice’s argument to prove that the church commenced with Abraham and that infants are members of it?

3. How does the expositor answer it?

4. What are the elements of the law of circumcision?

5. Show why baptism did not come in its place, what does come in its place, and how the analogy between baptism and circumcision destroys infant baptism.

6. Give Scripture proof that circumcision was passed over to Moses and became an integral part of the Sinaitic covenant,

7. What is the relation of circumcision to the Sinaitic law?

8. What did these covenants say respectively?

9. How does Paul get his 430 years of Galatians 3:17, and when was the covenant of circumcision given?

10. What New Testament allegory contrasts this covenant sharply with the covenant of grace?

11. What is the great distinction in the law of descent between the two covenants?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Genesis 22". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/genesis-22.html.
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