Monday, August 19, 2013

How Did Gentile Men (and Women) Join the Covenant of Ancient Israel? [One Law Theology in a Nutshell]

If we answer, "through circumcision" then the rebuttal is "well, what about the women?"

Here's what Paul says:


"9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised," (Romans 4:9-12)

In other words, G-d entered into covenant with Abraham even while Abraham was uncircumcised.  So it is faith that initiates one into the covenant.

But what about initiation into Israel?

Note that Genesis 17 (the covenant of circumcision passage) says that Abraham had to circumcise all the males of his household:

"10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”" (Genesis 17:15)

And it's the same for the "ger" in Exodus 12:

48 “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you," (Exodus 12:48-49)

This correlation tells us that just as Abraham had joined the covenant prior to circumcision, the ger also joined the covenant prior to circumcision.  And this covenantal membership obligated the male head of the house to circumcise the rest of his males.  The women didn't even need an outward sign!  

So if an uncircumcised ger can be a covenant member then that means he is part of the congregation ("edah") of Israel.  And all of the congregation of Israel was obligated to observe Passover:

"All the congregation of Israel shall keep [the Passover]" (Exodus 12:48)

This shows that G-d wanted all the uncircumcised Gentiles to keep the Passover so that they could be reckoned as a "native" of Israel:

"The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you," (Exodus 12:49)

But under the New Covenant, inclusionism becomes even more clear (e.g. Ephesians 2, etc).  

I guess that's One Law in a nutshell.  Does any have a different opinion they'd like to express?

7 comments:

  1. It seems to me that in the historical context of the Tanach passages cited, women were legally reckoned to belong to their husbands or fathers. So if a husband and father of a family was included in Israel according to the prescriptions of Ex. ch. XII, his circumcision was the ritual marker of the transition and of initiation in Israel. His wife and daughters were automatically included. His sons were to be circumcised on his authority, to symbolize that the inclusion was to be for all generations to come. For in the future his sons would become heads of families on their own. His male slaves were also to be circumcised. They were his property. In this manner an entire family was included if the head of the family decided to join the nation of Israel.

    That's why the text says that only after circumcision a person is equal to one born in the Land. Women can thus eat from the Passover sacrifice, as soon as their husbands or father have gone through the rite of circumcision. That's why this moment of circumcsion is very important. It marks the exact moment from which the new family is under the obligation to lead a Torah observant life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Messianic 613,

      So, according to your theory, what would be the fate of a foreign woman who, at the time of her moving to Israel, was old, fatherless, and a widow?

      Delete
    2. In that case she would be under the protection of her closest relatives, for example her sons, if she had any. Family ties in biblical times were patriarchal and tight and people lived together in large families, which often included grand parents, cousins, &c. Women seldom had land property or other means of existence of their own. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Accepting a position of a slave was also a means of escaping poverty in the ancient world if one had lost one's relatives.

      Would there be many women moving to Israel who were old, fatherless, and widow? People in these circumstances are in most cases not very mobile and — except when they are refugees fleeing from war and famine — are regularly better off at home, where they oftentimes have at least some relatives and friends.

      I would like to add to this that in my opinion your perspective on covenant membership doesn't differ much, in its practical results, from what I said. For if it is true what you say, that strangers in ancient Israel gained covenant membership by faith, then the husband or father of my earlier example had the obligations and rights of the covenant as soon as he embraced the faith. Which implies, of course, that the obligation of circumcision applied to him from that moment on. So if he was included by faith, he — and his sons and male — had to be circumcised right away and the practical result would be the same.

      It is clear, however that the inclusion of strangers in the nation of Israel in the context of the rulings of Ex. ch. XII was not by one's individual and saving faith. The proof is that the sons of a husband and father, and his slaves, had to be circumcised with him. All his males had to be circumcised. If there were litte children, they couldn't have faith anyway, and if there were lads still under the authority of their father they had to be circumcised, faith or no faith. Slaves had no voice at all but were simply forced to obey their master if he demanded their circumcision. The fact that all these categories of males were circumcised illustrates that they were reckoned as covenant members. And this is nothing to wonder about. Inclusion apart from faith is the normal case for all Israel, since Jews are members of the covenant simply by birth. Faith has nothing to do with their covenant membership.

      It seems off the mark and anachronistic to me to view in Ex. ch. XII a ruling for strangers motivated by individual, saving faith. This ruling demands no personal faith of strangers. It simply presupposes that one accepts the national heritage of Israel and the obligations following from it.

      I conclude that faith was not demanded, either from Jews or Gentiles, for obtaining covenant membership. Jews were covenant members by birth and Gentiles could become covenant members by means of the procedure of Ex. ch. XII.

      Delete
    3. Messianic 613,

      You changed the fact-pattern of my hypothetical. : )

      I used this fact-pattern to illustrate how your theory would leave such a person excluded from Am Yisrael.

      Now, I agree that the native-born was automatically part of the covenant. At issue here is how the foreign-born is brought into the covenant.

      You argue that faith is not required for converts.

      There are several ways that this assertion is refuted:

      (1) Avraham is the prototypical convert who had faith first followed by the sign of circumcision. He was initially an uncircumcised proselyte;

      (2) it says "ger v'asah Pesach", the term "asah" meaning to carry out a Divine command, BEFORE it says all the males of his house must be circumcised. In other words, the ger in Exodus 12:48 is responding to a covenantal command even though he is uncircumcised. And that's why we can conclude that the "One Law" passage applies to both circumcised and uncircumcised proselytes.

      Delete
    4. Peter says:
      “Now, I agree that the native-born was automatically part of the covenant. At issue here is how the foreign-born is brought into the covenant.”

      My response:
      In a similar manner as faith is not required as a precondition for the home-born to be reckoned as a member of the covenant, it is not required of the stranger. This doesn’t take away the fact that when a stranger wants to join Israel, it is desirable that he has faith. It can even be said that faith is presupposed or assumed. But the point is here that legal covenant membership is not acquired by this faith. If a stranger in ancient Israel were motivated by faith, and went through the procedure of Ex. ch. XII in order to become a member, while afterwards it appeared that his faith was not genuine, this fact would not annul his covenant membership. Covenant membership is thus independent from faith. It is the process of Ex. ch. XII which is decisive here, not faith.

      Peter says:
      “You argue that faith is not required for converts.
      There are several ways that this assertion is refuted:
      (1) Avraham is the prototypical convert who had faith first followed by the sign of circumcision. He was initially an uncircumcised proselyte […]”

      My response:
      Abraham was not a proselyte in the sense of a stranger who became attached to a covenanted nation. There was no chosen nation at Abraham’s time and Abraham did not enter an existing covenant. Abraham was a true and faithful believer and was blessed for this not only for himself, but also in his posterity, as is shown in Genesis ch. XV, where the covenant starts. His posterity, along the chosen line, would be a nation in covenant with G-d, irrespective of the faith of this posterity. It was a blessing conferred to them on account of Abraham’s faith. Naturally, this blessing brought responsibilities with it, and the chosen nation would be punished if they acted contrary to the covenant. True, the Torah demands faithfulness. Not, however, as a legal prerequisite for entering the covenant, but in order to have a fruitful covenant relationship with HaShem, and to attain the ultimate goal of the covenant.

      Peter says:
      “[…] it says "ger v'asah Pesach", the term "asah" meaning to carry out a Divine command, BEFORE it says all the males of his house must be circumcised. In other words, the ger in Exodus 12:48 is responding to a covenantal command even though he is uncircumcised. And that's why we can conclude that the "One Law" passage applies to both circumcised and uncircumcised proselytes.”

      My response:
      The relation between circumcision and keeping the Passover is that of a conditional. As long as the stranger remained uncircumcised, he couldn’t legimately keep the Passover and his will or desire to respond to the covenantal command wasn’t legally binding upon him. He could walk away from it without anyone bothering him. If, for example, he were taken aback by the demand of circumcision, he would not be considered an uncircumcised covenant member. He would be no covenant member at all.

      The position of the stranger in ancient Israel is not the same as that of Abraham. The stranger had to deal with an actual existing nation and a covenantal and legal framework which he could enter by fulfilling the requirements attached to it. This was not the case with Abraham. Abraham was the starting-point of all this.

      Delete
    5. Re: "But the point is here that legal covenant membership is not acquired by this faith."

      Was Avraham's pre-circumcision covenant membership illegal then in your opinion?

      Re: "Abraham was not a proselyte in the sense of a stranger who became attached to a covenanted nation."

      Avraham wasn't attached to a nation; Avraham WAS the nation. Just as it says "G-d made the sky" it literally says G-d made Avraham a nation ("Ve'e'escha legoy-gadol). Thus the entire nation of Israel was made by faith.

      Re: "As long as the stranger remained uncircumcised, he couldn’t legimately keep the Passover and his will or desire to respond to the covenantal command wasn’t legally binding upon him."

      If the ger of Exodus 12:48 was circumcised then he would've ALREADY circumcised his males because this was required. But it says that the ger must circumcise his males (Ex 12:48) which tells us that the ger was uncircumcised. Since it says that the uncircumcised "ger ve'asah Pesach", we know that he was responding to a Divine command. Torah says that "asah" is the response to a Divine command. G-d speaks, we listen, we do (asah).

      Delete
    6. You are making a false logical distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’, since both categories belong to the domain of law. The proper logical opposition is between ‘legal’ and ‘non-legal’. There are non-legal domains of reality which aren’t illegal at all. But apart from this logical matter, as I have already stated, Abraham did not enter the covenant by means of circumcision. He entered it by faith, or more accurately, when HaShem passed between the pieces of the sacrifice in Gen. ch. XV. The covenant was made in Gen. 15:18, as a divine response to Abraham’s faith.

      The posterity of Abraham, however, did not enter the covenant by their faith, but they were born in the covenant community. And later on, when the nation of Israel was created, outsiders could only partake of the covenant if they were included in the covenant nation. This inclusion was not simply by faith, since admission to the covenant nation is not in the hands of the one who wants to be admitted and has faith, but in the hands of the regular authorities of that nation. Only after a person is admitted he is a member of the covenant. The process of admission is described in Ex. 12:48-49.

      The entire nation of Israel was erected on the basis of the faith of Abraham and the other Patriarchs. But not on the basis of the individual faith of each member of the later generations of the nation. Israel is a nation to which one belongs either by birth or by a legal procedure of admission, for this is part of the very essence of being a nation. Even if a Gentile had all the faith in the world, he had still to be admitted to the nation in order to gain membership of it. Only by this admission, not by his faith, did he become part of the nation.

      Don’t you see that your position turns against itself? If the stranger of Ex. ch. XII was already a covenant member by his faith, the necessary consequence is that he was to be circumcised immediately. This implies that for all practical purposes of law and custom the moment of his circumcision would still be the decisive thing for considering him a covenant member. So even if you position would be true — which I deny — then for all practical purposes circumcision would be the thing that really mattered, which would validate my position. How could it be otherwise? In the social reality of national life there has to be tangible, visible marker, a transitional ritual, by which a stranger is admitted.

      Delete