How Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Christians Today? Dr. Tom Schreiner

Guest: Dr. Tom Schreiner | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Schreiner about the role of the law for Christians today.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Tom Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament Interpretation and professor of Biblical Theology, as well as associate dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books, including, as part of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, Romans (Baker Academic, 2018), The New American Commentary Volume 37: 1-2 Peter, Jude (Holman Reference 2003), and The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Baker Books, 1998).

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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:19):

One of the most frequent arguments made against Christians today is that we pick and choose what we will follow from the Bible. We obey and uphold the parts we like; we disregard the parts we don't. I hear this most often when it comes to things like homosexuality. A Christian will point to Leviticus 20:13, which reads, "if a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." To which someone will respond, "I'll see your Leviticus 20:13 and raise you a Leviticus 19:28, "You shall not make cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord." As they point to the Christian with tattoos all up and down the arm. It's a "gotcha" kind of moment. To be honest, many Christians aren't quite sure what to do with the Old Testament law.

Brian Arnold (01:06):

How does it apply to Christians today? Does it apply, in light of Jesus and the New Testament? Are Old Testament laws arbitrary, or do they reflect something about the character of God? Well, to help us understand the Old Testament law today is Dr. Tom Schreiner. Dr. Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament Interpretation and professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Seminary, where he also serves as associate dean of the School of Theology. Dr. Schreiner is a prolific writer, having published numerous books, including commentaries on Romans and First Peter, Second Peter, and Jude. And significantly for today's conversation, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. And I've got to say as well, one of my favorite professors during my time at Southern Seminary. Dr. Schreiner, welcome to the podcast.

Tom Schreiner (01:52):

Well, good to talk to you again, Brian. And just call me Tom.

Brian Arnold (01:56):

<laugh>. Well, Tom, I will say—I'm a little less sweaty today than I was when taking Romans Exegesis class and fearing to be called on to translate. So this is a much more comfortable situation.

Tom Schreiner (02:09):

<laugh>. That's great

Brian Arnold (02:10):

<laugh>. But in all seriousness, appreciate what you've done to train up thousands of ministers for the gospel. Well, we always ask our guests a big question, today that question is—how does the Old Testament law apply to Christians today? So when we even say “Old Testament law”, what is it that we're talking about?

Tom Schreiner (02:27):

Yeah, well actually that term is somewhat complex, because the word law is used different ways in the Bible. Sometimes when they use the word law, they're just referring to the Old Testament as a whole. Right? Paul can quote from Isaiah and say it's the law. Or you can have "The Law and the Prophets," which is a way of referring to the whole Bible. So it can refer to the Pentateuch, it can refer to particular commandments. But usually people are talking about the commandments found in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch.

Brian Arnold (03:02):

So let's talk about those first five—the Pentateuch, the Torah. It has a couple different names—book of Moses—that we refer to it by. So what does law mean in that context?

Tom Schreiner (03:13):

Yeah. Well, there are laws in that there are covenantal laws, or you could say instruction. There's actually a big debate—should we say instruction or law? I actually feel that debate...I think both are actually true most of the time, because the laws, the commands, are also instructions. So, you know, most of what we find when the word law is used, are particular commands that are given, right? Honor your father and mother, and so forth and so on. Or even the commandments you mentioned at the beginning. So usually when the word law is used, and that's true in Paul as well, especially, it has in view particular commands that are given by God.

Brian Arnold (04:01):

Okay, well, so I've heard the number 613 of these laws given in the Old Testament. It can seem like God is a little persnickety in terms of what he's wanting his people to do. Some of the laws, which seem really strange to us today as we hear them, which obviously in the original context would have meant a lot more to the original readers of the text—why all these laws? What is God trying to do? Especially if you can put that in light of covenant, I think it'd be really helpful.

Tom Schreiner (04:32):

Yeah, I think that's a good way to frame it. What we have in the covenant is—God saves, he delivers, he rescues his people from Egypt. So he bestows his grace on them by liberating them and freeing them from Egyptian slavery. And then he gives them commands and laws. So the laws were not given, even in the Old Testament, in order to establish a relationship with God. But the laws were given as a response to God's saving and redeeming work of his people. And yeah, there's a lot of laws, but many of those laws relate to—how do you offer sacrifices? There's a lot of detail there on the sacrifices and the tabernacle. And there are other specific laws as well, but the broader category we should keep in mind is their response, their loving response, to God's grace. How do you follow the Lord? That's what the laws are given for.

Brian Arnold (05:39):

So even if we highlight what most listeners would know—the 10 Commandments—as kind of foundational laws of the Old Testament, I think a lot of people miss the preamble, right? Which reads, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." He's already done the saving. And I think a lot of Christians kind of get this muddled in their minds, of the laws functioning as a way of earning righteousness or earning salvation somehow. Instead of, as you mentioned, recognizing God has already done the saving, and now, in light of what he's done, and in light of the covenant that he's given them, they're doing this in response, in many ways. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? What does it mean to love God and love your neighbor? And these laws reflect the character of God. One of the things I hear a lot today from people—and I don't know if you're hearing this too—is that the laws seem arbitrary, or the Bible teaches things that are arbitrary. So do we see in the Old Testament law just God just kind of picking and choosing arbitrary laws? Or does this say something about who he is?

Tom Schreiner (06:41):

Yeah. Well, I don't think the laws are arbitrary. I would argue that the laws reflect the character of God. I think it's in Deuteronomy four, and I don't remember the exact reference, but what other nation has such good laws? So the law was not viewed as a burden. Read Psalm 19, read Psalm 119—the law is a great gift in that sense. God clarifies, as you said really well, I think, all the laws summarize—love the Lord and love your neighbor. So they're really a beautiful description of what it means to live in relationship with God, and to live in relationship with one another.

Brian Arnold (07:28):

So now let's kind of even shift to the New Testament a little bit, because how are we to read the law in terms of like a Pauline lens? So you've spent a lot of time in your scholarship thinking about, writing about these things, especially as they come through books like Romans and Galatians, and Paul wrestling with the law. I think about something like Romans seven, where the law is this good thing that was given to the Israelite people, but Paul's trying to help his readers—oftentimes a mix between Jews and Gentiles—understand what the law was in place for, and now their response to the law. So how is Paul wanting us, as Christians today, even to understand the Old Testament law?

Tom Schreiner (08:14):

Yeah. Well, one of the major themes that comes out is Paul emphasizes repeatedly—no one can keep the law sufficiently so that they're justified before God. And as we said earlier, I don't think that's a new teaching. I don't think Paul's making this up, de novo. This is...I think this has already been taught in the Old Testament, but he is very clear—salvation only comes through the grace of God that is given to us in Jesus Christ. So the law is not a ladder by which we enter into a relationship with God. And clearly, even today, people misunderstand that, don't they? I mean, most people would say—if they're not Christians—what does it mean to be right with God? Well, it means being a good person. And Paul teaches—but no one's a good person. Everyone falls short of what God requires. If you try to base your relationship with God on your obedience to the law or any moral code, you'll fail. So that's a fundamental theme, right? What does Paul say? We're not justified by works. We're not saved by works. He says that again and again. I think that teaching is in Jesus as well.

Brian Arnold (09:33):

So if we can even move back...I want to go back and talk about Old Testament law. Do you find it helpful to even give the threefold understanding of kind of like that moral/ceremonial kind of breakdown of the law? Do you find that to be a helpful idea? Because again, thinking about like how I started my introduction, when people say—oh, well, you say homosexuality is a sin, but then you have tattoos. And there's a hermeneutic question that is involved with this as well, of even understanding the purpose of the law then, and how we understand it now. So is that a helpful breakdown or not?

Tom Schreiner (10:11):

I would say yes, but I want to explain. I think it is helpful. I think, at the end of the day, it is right. I don't think Paul discusses the law specifically in that way. By which, I mean, for Paul...well, I think what Paul argues is we're not under the covenant with Moses, the covenant with Israel. So I think he argues comprehensively—that covenant is no longer the covenant under which Christians live. We live under the New Covenant. All the stipulations of that covenant, then, have passed away. By which, I mean the covenant made with Moses. We're not under any of those stipulations, per se. So that's the first thing. So we're under the New Covenant, not the Old. But then we circle back and we find Paul citing some of the commands of that covenant as authoritative, right?

Tom Schreiner (11:10):

"Honor your parents, don't commit adultery, don't murder, don't steal, don't lie," et cetera. "Don't commit idolatry." So why does Paul quote certain commands as authoritative, if he says we're no longer under that covenant? And I think the answer is—those commands are not authoritative because they belong to that covenant. We're not under that covenant anymore. Those commands are authoritative because they reflect the character of God. And then, I think it's right to say theologically—well, why do they reflect the character of God? Because there are absolute moral norms, and there is a sense in which that's different from ceremonial law. So Don Carson—you know that name well, many of the listeners will know that name—I think Don rightly says—the moral/ceremonial/civil distinction is helpful, if I can use a technical term, not a priori, but a posteriori. Which means, at the end of the day, theologically, I think it's right.

Brian Arnold (12:16):

I think it's pretty helpful too, especially as we move into hermeneutics and how we're to interpret some of these laws. Some of them, like you said, are repeated in the New Testament. They're obviously something that has a Christian ethic to it for all times. Right? And some of the ceremonial ones that the whole book of Hebrews is telling us are null and void, because the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin. Christ is the final sacrifice. All those were meant to foreshadow what his atonement would accomplish for humanity. And then obviously, civilly, we're not under any kind of a theonomy at this point anymore, no matter how much some people would like that today, <laugh> it seems like, as that's become an enraging debate once again, of do we want to have an Old Testament Israel, kind of civil religion here in America? So how...I mean, you've done a lot of work in the Reformers as well, and they talked about this "third use of the law." What is the third use of the law? And is that an appropriate way for us to view the law today?

Tom Schreiner (13:19):

Yeah. Well, the third use of the law is that the law gives us instruction on how to live. And if you keep in mind what I said in my previous answer, then I would say yes, the moral norms of the law describe for us what it means to reflect back on what we talked about earlier—to love God and to love our neighbor. So it, you know, it applies to what you talked about at the outset. Homosexual relations are wrong, because they violate a moral norm, a moral absolute. But eating, you know, pork—which was forbidden in the Old Testament—that does not violate a moral norm. Or getting a tattoo. Those...there were certain ceremonial laws that set Israel apart from the nations. And I think that was the fundamental purpose of many of those laws. Those laws are no longer needed, because now the gospel, in the New Covenant, is going to all nations. Whereas in the Old Covenant, the gospel was primarily restricted to Israel.

Brian Arnold (14:32):

Well, let's dive in a little bit more there, because I could see somebody saying—who gets to decide which ones are more ceremonial, and which ones have more of a moral flavor to it? So why couldn't the homosexuality piece just be a ceremonial kind of thing for Israel in that day, to set them apart from other nations, but that it doesn't have this kind of blanket moral undertone to it?

Tom Schreiner (14:58):

Yeah. Well, I mean, the first thing I think I'd want to say is—this is not new. You know, what we're saying. You know, I think contemporaries might think—oh, well now they're making this up about homosexuality, because they're biased against us, or something like that. But what we're talking about right now, Brian, it's the historic Christian position throughout history, making these distinctions between moral norms and ceremonial norms. So I think that's helpful, right at the outset. We're not saying anything new here. But then secondly, Scripture itself is our guide, and our authoritative guide. And we see, say in Romans chapter one, that same sex relations are wrong, because they violate God's created intention. From creation, God made man male and female. So Paul doesn't only give a moral norm, but he gives a rationale for it—when God created human beings, he created them male and female. And it was his intention that male and female unite together in marriage, one man and one woman. And that's very clear in Genesis 1 and 2. And that's what Paul draws on. So it's really a whole Bible theology of what it means to be a human being.

Brian Arnold (16:21):

I think that's really helpful. We're not just plucking verses out and saying, "Aha, there you go!" It really fits within the whole framework of what Scripture is, and understanding why God has given us certain human institutions like marriage, what it represents in Christ and the church, and how that can only be represented through a male and a female in a marital union. That we're not just saying, "Well, Leviticus 20 says this." It is—look at the whole Bible and why God has given us these important relationships, and how they reflect upon him as well. Well, you've been, obviously, a professor for a number of years, and a pastor as well. Where do you see in scholarship—because this is one of the most contested issues, I feel like, is Paul and the law—and then even pastorally where you see Christians struggling with this idea of the law. I would love to hear your thoughts on both sides of that, of why you've spent so much time in your scholarship on this question, and how you've helped people as a pastor.

Tom Schreiner (17:21):

Yeah. Well, I suppose I've spent a lot of time on this because the law is so closely tied to the gospel. How we understand the law relates both to—how are we saved? Are we justified by our works? Are we justified by the works of the laws, as Paul says? Are we justified by our performance? Now the Reformers and Evangelicals have, I think, been clear throughout the years, but there are always people who are disagreeing, and there are movements that call into question these fundamental truths. And I think this is so important, pastorally, that we're right with God not based on what we do, but based on God's grace through faith. So that's the first thing. And then the second thing, something we've talked about—yes, I also want to say that the the power of the Spirit, God empowers us to live in a way that's pleasing to God. Not perfectly. But know, we're saved by faith. We're saved by God's grace, but then God empowers and strengthens us through his Spirit. And pastorally, that's really important to me. I want people to be saved, and to rest in God's wonderful grace, and not look fundamentally to themselves. And then I want people to look to the power of God, to the Spirit, to transform their everyday lives. And that's a beautiful and wonderful reality.

Brian Arnold (19:00):

So to get a little technical, you know, one of the interlocutors you've had for the past couple of decades is what we call the New Perspective on Paul. Do you still see that as a significant challenge to your reading on some of these areas of Paul and the law? Or do you see some new things on the horizon that are more challenging today?

Tom Schreiner (19:25):

Yeah, there are some new movements out there, but I don't think they're having a great impact—at least right now—on evangelicalism. I think the New's not new anymore, right?

Brian Arnold (19:38):

Right. It's as old as I am, I think...well, older than me, actually. Yes, yes.

Tom Schreiner (19:42):

Yeah. Sanders's book was written in 77, so I always joke now when I talk about it—how new is this anymore? <laugh>? But I think it has, though, filtered down enough into the churches. I mean, fascinating—when I was in Ethiopia, they had tons of questions about it, because they've been taught a lot about the New Perspective. So I think, at the pastoral level, it's still important. Actually, at the scholarly level, I don't see it's not being talked about as much at the scholarly level right now, interestingly enough.

Brian Arnold (20:18):

Well, that was my feeling. Yeah, that's why I asked, is because it seems like that was like all a plague, if you will, in the moment of everybody talking about it. And it was like locusts eating up all the trees of theology in 2005, kind of when I started seminary. And it was all the rage. And now I just don't hear it as much anymore. Which is why I wanted to get your take on that. But it's like a lot of things that start in the academy, like the New Perspective, and they filter their way down. And so I could see it actually being more of a challenge in the churches today than it was 15 years ago, as these ideas have been now brought in through so many different pastorates.

Tom Schreiner (20:55):

I think that's exactly right. That's where I'm encountering it more now—people in the churches. And when I went to Ethiopia, all the students had so many questions. And it's not just there. When I'm here as well, just at the everyday church level now, there are people who have been influenced by the New Perspective. I think it's still a minority, but it's out there.

Brian Arnold (21:18):

Well, and I appreciate your work on this. I think it's been important to spend so much of your career dealing with this. And saying what you said earlier in our discussion—this is what the church has held. You know, my work focused on this, even in the early church, and we see it obviously through the Reformers and evangelicalism. And when these doctrines come under attack, it makes me sad, because it's dealing with the fundamentals of the gospel and what does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to not look to our works, not look to ourselves? But we must find our righteousness in someone else, and that's Christ. And the double imputation that comes at the cross is so central to the gospel, that we need it. So thank you for your voice on this. What are the resources you would recommend to people as they're trying to think through issues of the law—how that relates to the New Testament, what that means for Christians today? What do you find to be the most helpful?

Tom Schreiner (22:11):

Well, I like Steven Westerholm's work. So he has a long book on Old and New Perspectives on Paul, but he has a shorter one called Justification Reconsidered. I think that's a very helpful work as well. And I have a shorter book on the law called...I think it's called 40 Questions for Christians on the Biblical Law, something like that. I also like Frank Thielman's work on the law. I think that's a helpful resource. And I almost forgot this one—Brian Rosner has a nice book on the law. I'm trying to think of the title, but it's in the series edited by Don Carson in the New Studies of Biblical Theology.

Brian Arnold (22:54):

Which is a great series for understanding these kinds of questions. I've been helped by many of those volumes. If I could even throw one out, talking about the law—L. Michael Morales's book it, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? or whatever. It's a biblical theology on Leviticus, which I found—

Tom Schreiner (23:12):

Yeah, I read that book. Yeah, that's fantastic.

Brian Arnold (23:14):

It is. It's a fantastic book. Yeah. And let me just say, it is amazing, I'm sure, for our listeners just to know how much scholarship you've brought to this world, that you're not remembering the title of your own book. <laugh> That's pretty impressive.

Tom Schreiner (23:26):

I don't know if that's impressive or not.

Brian Arnold (23:30):

Well, it's in the Kregel series, and that whole series is great, especially for introductory works. I've not been able to look at your book on that one yet, but I'd love to—for helping my own understanding on this. Well, Dr. Schreiner—Tom—it's always a pleasure to talk to you. I've benefited from you, not only as a professor, but also through your writing. I'm thankful that you've spent so much of your career getting people to look back to Christ and the gospel. What it means to be justified by faith alone, and how the law plays into that. So thank you for your work, and for our discussion today.

Tom Schreiner (24:04):

No, it was great being with you, Brian. Thank you.

Outro 1 (24:06):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

Outro 2 (24:49): 

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about an exciting event we're hosting on the campus of Phoenix Seminary this spring, our first annual Sacred Truths Conference on February 24th and 25th. Our featured speakers will be Fred Sanders, Steve Duby, Bobby Jamieson, and myself. Our theme will focus on the core of Christianity—who is Christ, as one person with two natures, both human and divine. So I hope you'll join us, and invite anyone you know who's interested in learning more about Christian doctrine. Click the link in the show notes, or learn more and register at

What Do the Biblical Prophets Say About Justice? Dr. Peter Gentry

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Gentry about the Biblical prophets and their role in understanding modern social justice.

Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Peter Gentry is distinguished professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary, having previously served for 22 years at Southern Seminary. Dr Gentry is the author of many books, including Kingdom Through Covenant (Crossway, 2018), and How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets (Crossway, 2017).


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Intro (00:00):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.


Brian Arnold (00:16):

If there are two words that can spark a debate amongst Christians today, it is social justice. As Christians, we care deeply about justice, because it is inescapably at the heart of God for this world. Justice matters, and we should be concerned about it. But how the justice of God intersects with the world, and what the role of Christians is to bring about justice, is a hotly contested matter. Even to have this discussion, we must turn to Scripture to understand what justice is. Oftentimes, the Old Testament prophets are conscripted to make the case for modern day social justice. Think about Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I have a dream" speech, where he invoked the prophet Amos, saying, "we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."


Brian Arnold (00:56):

Any time social justice is mentioned today as a way to activate Christians to issues of justice, you can be sure that the biblical prophets will be used. But how do we understand them in their context? Were the prophets social justice warriors in the modern understanding? Or was their message particular to Israel? And how can we carefully retrieve the prophets in our day on this critical issue of justice? Well, to help us understand the prophets and what they say about justice, we have with us today, Dr. Peter Gentry. Dr. Gentry is distinguished professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary, having previously served for 22 years at Southern Seminary. Dr. Gentry is known worldwide for his research on the Old Testament, and he's written several books, including Kingdom Through Covenant, and How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets. Dr. Gentry, welcome back to the podcast.


Peter Gentry (01:43):

Thank you very much.


Brian Arnold (01:44):

Well, the big question we're going to have today is—what do the biblical prophets say about justice? And if you recall as a listener, the last time we had Dr. Gentry on we were talking about the prophets and how we might read the prophets to our benefit, and we kind of glanced off the topic of justice and social justice in the prophets. And we just knew we had to have Dr. Gentry back on the show to really explain those ideas further. So maybe we can just dive in here, Dr. Gentry, on defining some of these terms like justice and righteousness in the Old Testament.


Peter Gentry (02:16):

Sure. Well, when we look at...people like to appeal to particular passages in the prophets of the Old Testament, especially where we see the powerful and the rich oppressing the poor and the powerless. And there are some very excellent and exciting examples of these in the prophets of the Old Testament, especially in the book of Amos and in the book of Isaiah. But when we look at these examples, there are two things that we have to keep in mind in particular. First of all, when the prophets give these examples—and one of the examples, for example, is Isaiah chapter five, where he says, "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A 10-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine; a homer of seed only an ephah of grain."


Peter Gentry (03:38):

So here's an example where people who are powerful and rich are adding property to property and dispossessing the poor and the powerless in the process. The two things...first of all, we have to realize that these examples are always in the context of calling the people back to the covenant, the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. So for example, in the book of Isaiah, as we discussed last time when we were talking about how to read and understand the Hebrew literature, they go around a topic over and over again, looking at it from different angles, different perspectives, different points of view.


Peter Gentry (04:37):

So in chapter one of Isaiah, he charges the people with two things—with idolatry and with mistreating one another. And we know that we can summarize the covenant in two commands—to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. So with idolatry, they are violating the command to love God and with mistreating one another, they are not loving their neighbor as themselves. Then in chapter two, he has a vision of the future Zion. Then in chapter three and four, he goes over the topic again, mentioning some examples of social injustice, and ending with another vision of the future Zion in chapter four, verses two to six. And then in chapters five to 12, he goes around the topic a third time. And this time, since the people aren't listening, he uses a parable to try to communicate with them.


Peter Gentry (05:41):

So what we see, when we read the passage in context, is that Isaiah is giving this example in the eighth century B.C., because it's a particular example of violating the covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai. The second thing that we need to realize, is that there has always been an attempt to try and boil down the covenant into a single sound bite. So many of us are familiar with the expert in the Torah who came to Jesus and asked him what was the greatest commandment. And Jesus answered—love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. And then he said the second is like it—to love your neighbor as yourself. Well, this effort to try and boil down the covenant relationship into a single sound bite has a long history.


Peter Gentry (06:53):

And we see that already in the Old Testament prophets—what does the Lord, your God require of you, but to love justice and seek mercy and walk humbly with your God? So there's another example of where they're trying to boil it down. And one of the most concentrated ways is to use what we call a word pair—two words...and the best way to think of it is that these two words word is functioning as the left speaker in a stereo system, and the other word is functioning as the right speaker in a stereo system. So if we have the term justice and righteousness, which occurs over and over again in the narratives of the Hebrew Bible, this is a word pair. And the word pair is...we could translate it with the English expression social justice.


Peter Gentry (07:56):

But what we need to realize in the book of Isaiah is that this word pair is split over parallel lines of poetry, as a way of summarizing in a single soundbite the covenant relationship. And Paul does the same thing in the New Testament when he says in Ephesians four that we should be "truthful in love," or "speak the truth in love." He's using the word pair hesed and emetloyal love and faithfulness. It's another word pair that tries to summarize what it means to have a right relationship with God and to treat each other in truly human ways. And so we see that we can't just use the term social justice willy-nilly to mean whatever we want it to mean, because the prophets are using this expression as a way of summarizing the requirements of the covenant relationship, which in turn is an expression of the character of who God is.


Brian Arnold (09:20):

So let's kind of lay that out for the listener even a little bit more. So for those who are not even familiar, kind of with the covenants and kind of what God's doing—these are promises that God is making with his people. And as you had mentioned, the Mosaic covenant at Sinai, Moses is going up, he's receiving the Law from the Lord. And at the very end of the first five books of the Old Testament, the end of the Pentateuch, you have these blessings and curses that are laid out in Deuteronomy 28 through 30. And God's people all say, "Yes and amen, we're going to do these things." And God says, "If you do these things, you're going to be blessed. If you don't do these things, you're going to be cursed." Well Israel, as fallen people in a sinful world, oftentimes are not keeping up their end of the covenant. And God is sending the biblical prophets to remind them of the covenant that God had given them, and to remind them that they had said, "yes, we will do all these things" and they're failing to do it. And one of the ways they're failing to do it is...well, I guess, in the two prongs, right? They're not loving God, like you said, through idolatry, and they're not loving their fellow man. And so they're lacking in those areas of righteousness and justice. So is that a pretty good summation of what you're saying?


Peter Gentry (10:30):

Yes. And I think when we as Christians want to apply that today, first of all, we have to think of ourselves in terms of the New Covenant. Our relationship with God is not defined by the Mosaic Covenant. America is not Israel. America is not a Christian nation. It's not a nation in a covenant relationship with God. There's an element of that that goes through American history, but it's false. We''s the church of Jesus Christ that is now bound to God, through the New Covenant that was established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the content of that New Covenant is the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Now when we look at the righteousness of God that is expressed in the New Covenant, it's the same righteousness that we see expressed in the Old Covenant. It's still being truthful in love. It's still justice and righteousness. It's still loving God. Loving God has been replaced by loving Jesus Christ, and loving one another begins first and foremost in the church of Jesus Christ. So the first place where we have to practice this is in the church, and then in our relationships with those who are outside the church.


Brian Arnold (12:08):

All right. So much good stuff there. So one of the errors you would say people are making, is they are taking what God is saying to Old Testament Israel, specifically in their context of the prophets calling people back to what they said they would do in the covenant, and just kind of pulling that out and applying it directly to an era of the New Covenant, where God is not working through nation-states the way he was working before. So to say like, "America is the new Israel" or something would definitely be a false equivalency. And so then to take some of those issues of the Old Testament and apply them directly to the current circumstance isn't right. So the parallel you're making, which I think is really important for our listeners—and this is what gets missed a lot of the times—is what is happening in Old Testament Israel and those commands come within the defined people of God. And the defined people of God happen to be a nation-state called Israel. In the New Covenant and in our day, it is defined as the church. And because we're in the Church Age, how do the Old Testament prescriptions of social justice apply? Well, first and foremost, they apply to the people of God. So it's how we're carrying out those acts of justice within the church. Is that what you're saying?


Peter Gentry (13:27):

Yes. And, I mean, obviously there are instructions on how we're to relate to those outside the church, and how we're to treat our fellow humans. But first and foremost it begins within the church.


Brian Arnold (13:44):

So I think these are really important lines of demarcation. So how could we talk about the prophets? I think we've kind of laid out how they're functioning within Old Testament Israel in calling people back to covenantal faithfulness. How are they important for us today, as we're thinking about how to deal with those outside the church? So we're in an American culture—I'm assuming most of our listeners are here—and we're trying to figure out—how does the Bible apply, not just inside the church, because if you're saying that that's how...we're taking the prophets primarily as an Inside-the-covenant kind of piece, and that's the church now, but what are they saying in their original context to the world around them that we could use today, especially as it relates to issues of justice? I think that's kind of the burning question that I think a lot of people have today.


Peter Gentry (14:29):

Yes. Well, another thing that's extremely important to realize is since the social justice comes out of this context, it's defined by the character of God, and by his instructions on what it means to treat him the right way and to treat each other in the creation the right way. And even to treat...there are instructions in the covenant on how we should relate to the creation, the environment. The reason why this is important is because many people today, they use the term social justice and they have their own idea, you know? Their idea of equity, or fairness, or majority rule, or cultural approval, or tolerance, or diversity, or even using a Marxist framework to try and define it. So the first thing that we have to realize is that we don't get to define these things. They're defined by who God is, and the standards that he has established.


Brian Arnold (15:52):

Well, I think you're hitting some of the most important issues of our day today, is kind of some foreign models of understanding human relationship and superimposing them onto Scripture. And then what that's saying about the character of God, if I'm hearing you, right. So let's take one of those. You mentioned it—because it's so prevalent today, I think it's worth mentioning—and that's Marxism, of reading all of humanity through a lens of oppressor and oppressed. And then, when people look at the Old Testament, they say—well look, it's right here as well. And then kind of bring in a lot of Marxist-type of interpretation onto the text and say—see, this is what the biblical text is about. And this is what God cares about. How do you respond to those types of hermeneutics?


Peter Gentry (16:41):

Yes. Well, I mean, people have been...already, for example, 10 years ago, there was an article in Time Magazine by a famous professor of ethics. And he described how divided America had become and how this is especially seen because Americans are divided on how they define fair and just. For some Americans, fair means proportionality, which means that people are getting benefits in proportion to their contributions. For others, fairness means equality—everyone gets the same. And a third definition of fairness is procedural fairness, which means that honest, open, and impartial rules are used to determine who gets what. So already, even 10 years ago, there were greatly different rules, different ways of looking at these things. And Marxism comes with a metanarrative. It comes with a storyline. And the problem is, is that storyline is not the storyline of Scripture. And the term social justice, justice and righteousness in the Bible, and the examples that come from the prophets, are coming in that context. They're not coming in the storyline of Marxism. And once we change the storyline, the concepts of social justice change quickly and radically,


Brian Arnold (18:18):

And I think that's what's unfolding in front of us. And I see it being infiltrated into the church as well, with even kind of that postmodern shift and the decentralizing of that metanarrative, right? François Léotard saying that postmodernism is the "incredulity of the metanarrative." That means there is no one story that explains all these stories. And so then truth becomes something that's not absolute. It becomes localized, so that we need people from each of these different places to provide truth, and that the oppressed have more access to truth than anybody else. And then that begins to change the way that we read Scripture. And I see this as a mistake being made quite often in the church today, where this kind of foreign understanding is read into the text without the two things you've laid out—the covenantal framework of the prophets and what they're speaking into as a specific nation-state under the covenant of God, and secondarily, the character of God, who absolutely cares for the poor, who absolutely cares for the oppressed. It's just that the solutions being offered today come from a foreign framework instead of out of the Biblical storyline.


Peter Gentry (19:26):

And what's deceptive is that Marxism is coming with a metanarrative. So that's totally contrary to post-modernism at the same time.


Brian Arnold (19:40):

It's always the irony, isn't it, Dr. Gentry?


Peter Gentry (19:42):

Yeah. <laugh>


Brian Arnold (19:43):

That in the rejection of the metanarrative, another metanarrative is offered in its place, and everything becomes subservient to that. So how would you encourage pastors today who are dealing with these issues constantly—about justice, about righteousness, about Old Testament prophets, you know? Encourage them in how to think through this, but also in ways that they could teach this to the church.


Peter Gentry (20:08):

Well, you know, it comes out of the character of God. The wonderful thing about the Christian view is that God is a Trinity, and there are three Persons in the one being of God. And that shows us that social justice is not simply something that is determined by the relationship of God to his world or our relationship to each other, but it's also part of who God is in himself. You can't have social justice unless you have more than one person. And we have that in the being of God. So I think we need to start with our Trinitarian theology. And we need to also carefully go through each issue and show from the Bible, and from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and the New Covenant, what the standards of social justice actually look like, issue by issue.


Brian Arnold (21:26):

That's right. Each of them require that kind of biblical, theological approach, that systematic theological approach, to say—how does this flesh out the character of God? In loving God and loving our neighbor, and letting those be the beginning points of this. I know pastors are just inundated with these issues right now, and it's a bit of a crisis in the church. And so I'm hoping that people will see the prophets, especially in their context. And from that, be able to build out that biblical theology that you've done such a good job of modeling.


Peter Gentry (21:57):

Thank you.


Brian Arnold (21:58):

So maybe what are some other resources that people could be looking at to really help them think through these issues? Because let's be honest, we're inundated in our day and age with lots of this kind of talk about social justice, and it pretty much seems to be coming from one side. So what are some things that are helpful resources to put into the hands of our listeners?


Peter Gentry (22:20):

Well, as something that's general, I wrote this little book How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets. And I have an entire chapter there on Isaiah and social justice. There's also an article published in the Journal of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. But other people are addressing particular issues. So for example, let's say that you of the big topics today is, you know, all the gender issues. Well, I would recommend...there's a little book by Sharon James called Gender Ideology: What Do Christians Need to Know? She describes what biblical social justice is going to look like in this area, and how we help those who are disturbed and hurting in these areas.


Brian Arnold (23:42):

Well, I think those are really helpful resources to put in their hands. I think it's important what you've said about—it's having kind of that framework, and then applying it, issue by issue. And something that I'd want to say, too, for our listeners is—this is not denying that there's important issues of justice, both within the church and in culture today that we need to be thoughtful about. But first and foremost, we need to understand the Bible in its context, before these things are just kind of plucked from their context and used in a less-than-careful way. Well, Dr. Gentry, it's really helpful always to have your perspective on these things. I think you're one of the best voices on the biblical narrative and on the prophets. So thank you for helping set that stage of their covenantal place in the canon, but then also pointing us back to the character of God. And if we have the character of God right, these issues will fall into place. So thanks for joining us today.


Peter Gentry (24:35):

Thank you.


Outro (24:36):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like you to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at

Fingerprints of God: Lessons from the Book of Esther

Last year, I had the privilege of preaching through the book of Esther at Roosevelt Community Church. The sermon series was such a reminder of God’s sovereign hand at work behind the scenes and his providential care for his people living in exile. The tagline that we said repeatedly to sum up this great book was “God is active even when we don’t directly see it.” Our lead pastor, Vermon Pierre, was on sabbatical for a couple of months, so he allowed me to preach this narrative to our congregation. (So big shout out for churches that allow their pastor to take sabbaticals for rest, refreshment, and nourishment. Also, big shout out to pastors entrusting the pulpit to younger preachers to equip and edify the body of Christ.)

Through prayer and help from the Holy Spirit I mapped out the series in 11 sermons. I titled it “Tracing the Fingerprints of God,” because I was struck by the providential fingerprints of God throughout the book. I define a fingerprint of God as those things you fail to understand in the moment, but with hindsight, see clearly as God's working. For instance, Esther becoming Queen in Persia is a fingerprint of God.

Though it’s odd for a Jewish orphan woman to replace Queen Vashti (Es 2), it’s not till later in the book we see the full significance. This position allowed Esther to play a major role in saving the Jewish people from destruction. I’m sure she did not know what God was doing when allowing her to become Queen, but looking back, there is no mistaking why he sovereignly allowed this to happen, for the redemption of His people. What a great fingerprint!

Here are three things I learned from preaching through the book of Esther:

God is truly in control over everything

Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens, and he does as he pleases.” Yahweh is fully and truly in control from every aspect of life even the things we do not understand. In Esther, we see how he is sovereign over Esther becoming Queen (Es 2), Mordecai discovering the plot (Es 2:19–23), and Mordecai challenging Esther to go to the King (Es 4:14). God is even sovereign over King Ahasuerus’ insomnia (Es 6), which leads him to listen to the story of Mordecai foiling the plot of two eunuchs against the king. The king then wanted to honor Mordecai, which eventually leads to him replacing Haman as the second in command in the kingdom. God is in the details!  All of these are fingerprints of God.

Systemic injustice has historic roots

In Esther 3, there is an intriguing story between Mordecai and Haman. Essentially, we see the reality of how systemic injustice occurs. It happens in three movements.

  1. Systemic injustice occurs when there is a certain disdain for a group of people (Es 3:1–6). Haman hated Jewish people. His hatred was rooted in historical tension between the descendants of Agag and the descendants of Saul (Ex 17:14–16; 1 Sam 15:32–33). As an Agagite, Haman’s lineage was linked to Agag.
  2. Systemic injustice occurs when a person (or people) abuses power and authority (Es 3:7–11). Haman was second in command in the kingdom. He has access to the King and advocated for a Jewish Holocaust way before Nazis in Germany. His prejudice towards Jews led to his abuse of power.
  3. Systemic injustice occurs when laws harm a certain group of people tremendously (Es 3:12–15). After the king agrees to permit this future massacre, Haman put this into an edict—what we would refer to as an executive order. This threw the city into confusion.

Systemic injustice still occurs today, and we see the same steps for its inception and execution.

God cares and loves his people

In the book of Esther, we see that God cares for and loves people. He set a plan in motion to save his people from their enemies. Esther goes to the king to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people; she reveals Haman’s wicked plot, and he is thwarted. In chapter 8, God uses Esther as a representative to save the Jewish people through a new edict.

An intriguing question: could Esther be a type of Christ? Could she be foreshadowing the great salvation that we see in Christ Jesus? Throughout the Holy Scriptures, God uses all sorts of people for his ultimate glory, and these mini-narratives of salvation point to the greater deliverance at the cross. God cares and loves his people—so much so he gave his only begotten son (Jn 3:16).


The book of Esther is amazing! It’s a great book for pastors to preach and teach through. There are so many different things that I’ve learned and I encourage pastors to prayerfully consider preaching through it. I’m confident their congregations will be encouraged by the heart of God. His name is not directly mentioned, but he is always active even when we don’t directly see it.

John Talley III serves as the Executive Pastor of Mission & Vision at Roosevelt Community Church in downtown Phoenix. He serves on the Executive Leadership Team of the Surge Network, a movement of local churches putting Jesus on display in Arizona. Also an adjunct professor at Arizona Christian University, he graduated from Grand Canyon University with a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies and Phoenix Seminary with a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Biblical & Theological studies. He, his beautiful wife, Celeste, and their daughter reside in Phoenix, AZ.


Preaching Through Exodus: A Q&A with Pastor Chris Newkirk

For many pastors, expositing an entire Old Testament book like Exodus can feel daunting. Chris Newkirk, Pastor of Whitton Avenue Bible Church in Phoenix, AZ, recently did just that. We sat down with him to ask seven questions about his church’s experience walking through Exodus. We hope this Q&A encourages you to preach through entire Old Testament books to bless your congregations and show them the Christ-centered narrative thrust of all Scripture.

Phoenix Seminary: How long did it take you to get through Exodus? 

Chris Newkirk: Our church family walked through the book of Exodus verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter over the course of 39 sermons. We spread those over a year and a half, using the natural narrative breaks of Exodus to preach various, shorter New Testament books.


PS: Why do you like to alternate between OT and NT books in your preaching? 

CN: At Whitton we have a deep commitment to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This is not only the pattern that we see in Paul’s ministry it; naturally flows from our doctrine of Scripture. So, even in what we choose to preach, we aim to teach our congregation that the entire counsel of God’s Word (‘All Scripture’) is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Furthermore, by alternating between Testaments and even genres within those Testaments, we hope to train our people how to read their own Bibles faithfully and give them an appetite to do so.


PS: What did you find to be the central message of Exodus?

CN: Although Exodus is a relatively long and quite diverse book, the central message that we returned to throughout our study was simply this: God sovereignly saves a special people for his own glory.


PS: What did preaching through Exodus teach you about God? 

CN: As with every book in Scripture, Exodus is all about God. He is the hero and the focus of each and every section. Therefore, we learned a tremendous amount about God. Exodus contains two of the most explicit passages of God’s own self-disclosure: Exodus 3:14-15 and Exodus 34:6-7. Yet, even more broadly than the explicit self-revelation passages, Exodus shows us that God is the singular, sovereign, supreme God of the universe. He is the God who makes and keeps covenant with his chosen people. He reigns over creation itself (the Red Sea, the plagues), king’s hearts (Pharaoh), salvation (the Exodus, Passover, Sinai), and even the smallest details that we might otherwise call coincidence (Moses’ being found by Pharaoh’s daughter but then reared by his own mother on Pharaoh’s dime). We also learn a tremendous amount about God’s holiness and redemptive plans through the commands, laws, and tabernacle in the later chapters of Exodus.


PS: How did your people benefit from hearing Exodus preached weekly? 

CN: First of all, our church family loved our study of Exodus just as they had when we walked through Genesis the years before. We constantly heard good feedback on what people were learning, how they were being encouraged, and how they were applying what they had learned. One man came up after our final sermon and said, “So, when do we start Leviticus?” – what a blessing to a pastor’s heart. By God’s grace, the congregation not only benefited from studying one book, they learned core truths and biblical stories that are vital to understanding every other part of Scripture. People learned to see and cherish Christ. They learned what it looks like to love God and their neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). And, people were drawn to rest in the hope that God is working to not only create a people but to dwell with them in a restored and better Eden.


PS: Any tips or recommendations for those considering preaching through Exodus? 

CN: First off, DO IT! Pastors tend to shy away from preaching consecutive exposition through larger Old Testament books. But, it is worth it and, if preached faithfully, your people benefit greatly.

Second, preach the entire thing. Although it is fine to preach sections of books, ultimately, our people are most blessed and benefited when we let Scripture speak for itself. Our people are grown and stretched as we preach not only the sections that seem to us to be relevant but the whole narrative. After all, our hope and prayer is that God’s people would read their Bibles devotionally just like we are modeling in our preaching.

Third, preach Christ. One of my mentors tells a story about how, after preaching an Old Testament text, a member came up to him and said “That was a great synagogue sermon.” The point was clear, where was Christ? Pastor, you don’t have to get creative or do interpretive ‘off-roading.’ Christ is rich and ever present in Exodus—its themes, typology, doctrines, and theological trajectory. Show your people Christ in all the richness of Exodus, and they’ll be richly blessed.


PS: What commentaries, articles, podcasts, or other resources helped you prepare to preach Exodus?

CN: A two commentaries that proved really useful in our study were John D. Currid’s 2 volume commentary set and T. Desmond Alexander’s commentary 

I also consider Philip Ryken’s Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory and Tony Merida’s Exalting Jesus in Exodus to be very helpful resources for expository preaching.


Dr. Newkirk is the lead pastor at Whitton Avenue Bible Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He has been involved in vocational ministry for 15 years, in Oklahoma, Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington D.C. In addition to pastoring, Dr. Newkirk has earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Reformed Theological Seminary, and he teaches adjunct at Phoenix Seminary as part of our Ministry Apprenticeship Alliance program.

How Jesus was, is, and always will be the Light

Darkness is an apt metaphor for 2020. Yet in spite of how we might feel at the end of this long year, we are surrounded by lights on trees and houses, in windows and on lawns. Why are we drawn to light? Why do we long for the days to lengthen and for the gray of winter to fade away?

God made light and darkness and he called them day and night. There was nothing evil in night. But when sin entered the world, night and darkness became places to hide and symbols for places where sin and evil rule.

The Light From Before the Beginning

Matthew and Luke began their gospels with Jesus’ birth, his entrance into the darkness of this world. Mark launched immediately into Jesus’ mission as the son of God who would suffer and die before being resurrected and glorified. John begins, not with Jesus’ birth, nor his mission, but with his eternal existence.

“In the beginning” Jesus was already there. Everything and everyone else has a beginning, but not Jesus. Yes, as Matthew and Luke recount he was born as a man, but he had always been. He had always been with the Father. He had always been God. And from before the beginning of time, the beginning of the earth or the universe, Jesus had always been the Light. And now with darkness reigning, Jesus has come to earth, born as a man, but still God from all eternity. He came and shone in the darkness and the darkness could not, cannot, and will not overcome the Light.

The Light Foretold in the Old Testament

John’s teaching that Jesus is God and that he is the Light was not new. He was connecting with a significant theme in Isaiah. Isaiah spoke of a savior who would come, someone who would be called Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa 7:14). Other deliverers had represented God to man (Exod 7:1), but this one would truly be God among men. This savior would be called Mighty God, and he would be the great Light that would shine on people who walk in darkness (Isa 9:2, 6). This savior would be a suffering servant whom God would make a Light to the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6) and who would carry our sorrows, be crushed for our sins, and bring us peace. He would bear our iniquity, to make us righteous in him (Isa 52:13–53:12).

The Light for Those Who Have None

This is the story of Christmas. The Light has come into our darkness and he has conquered sin and death. We try hard, in the darkness of our own lives, to light our way, but the savior Isaiah promised comes for those who realize they have no light of their own, to those who trust the name of the Lord, and in the Light he has given to the world. May God grant us eyes to see and hearts to receive the Light that shines forth from before the beginning.

J. Michael Thigpen (Ph.D.) serves as Provost and Professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary. His special areas of interest are prophetic literature, God’s motives, and the theology of work and economics in the Old Testament. Dr. Thigpen’s passion is to help the church connect more deeply to the Old Testament by understanding its literary nature and historical background. He and his wife Bonnie have two daughters, Abigail and Hannah.

What Is the Deal with Circumcision?

We have all probably wrestled with this question: of all the signs and symbols that God could have chosen, why on earth did he have to choose circumcision (Genesis 17)? What is with all the seemingly unnecessary pain? Baptism makes sense (symbolizes cleansing), the rainbow makes sense (symbolizes peace), and the Lord’s Supper makes sense (symbolizes body and blood). But, does circumcision make sense? I can just picture Abraham’s face after God told him to cut off his foreskin. “Umm... you want me to... what?”

Phoenix Seminary Professor Dr. John Meade recently wrote a chapter titled “Circumcision of the Flesh to Circumcision of the Heart: The Typology of the Sign of the Abrahamic Covenant” which appears in the book “Progressive Covenentalism” and is published by B&H Academic. Below I will summarize some of the points that he makes in that chapter. I will give some background to the ways in which Abraham’s neighbors viewed circumcision, then I will demonstrate the different ways in which it carried meaning in the Old Testament, and finally, I will demonstrate its connection to the New Testament and the church today. Ultimately, I want you to clearly see that circumcision is about devotion to God.

Significance To Abraham’s Neighbors

Abraham spent time in Egypt, which archaeologists and historians have found to have practiced circumcision well before Abraham. With the vast majority of the symbols in scripture, God does not simply create them out of nothing, but rather he reinterprets and repackages the symbols of the surrounding culture(s) to make significant points in his people. In Egypt, the clearest evidence we find indicates that circumcision was a rite that was reserved and obligatory for the king and those serving in his court (i.e. the priests and family members). For those who underwent circumcision, it was viewed as an initiation sign for those were devoted to service of the “god”. Circumcision identified the royalty and clergy as ones who belonged to and were devoted to the service of their deity.

Significance in the Old Testament

In God’s providence and wisdom, he chose to reveal the special relationship Abraham and his family would have with him through the already familiar cultural and religious category of Egyptian circumcision of royalty and priesthood. The sign of circumcision intended to mark out Abraham and his family as devoted to the service of Yahweh and his kingdom. Such a sign was perfect for this covenant people whom God would use to extend his blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). The external sign of inward devotion to God was not enough, however: their hearts were still stubborn and wicked (Jer 7:24) and their hearts were not circumcised (Jeremiah 9:25)! So God spoke of a True and Greater circumcision—an inward one: circumcision of the heart. Deuteronomy spoke of a people who were to love God with all their hearts (6:5); and then speaks twice of a future reality in which God will heal their hearts through “circumcision” (10:16, 30:6). Even within the Old Testament, circumcision of the flesh was a picture of the greater future reality: being devoted to God at the heart level.

Significance Today

Some would argue that we should make a connection between circumcision (Old Testament) and baptism (New Testament), but this misses the symbolic progression of Old Testament itself. The New Testament texts that speak to this issue reinforce that heart circumcision is a reality tied to the coming of the Spirit and union with Christ (Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11). In this the New Testament is in complete continuity with the Old Testament development of circumcision that Yahweh would circumcise the hearts of the people (Deut. 30:6), would write the law on their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34) and replace their stony hearts with fleshly hearts (Ezek. 36:22-36) with the result that the people of God would be loyal to him and obey him. This is fundamentally what it means to be Born Again (John 3:1-21) and converted: to be circumcised and sealed by the Holy Spirit in the heart.

If you are in Christ, “you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands” (Col 3:11) and the center of your being is now devoted to serving the Lord.

Are you devoted to the Lord? Would anything be able to shake that devotion? If you are circumcised in the heart, this cannot be the case! I pray that we as a people would live in light of the beautiful covenant that God has made with us by the blood of Jesus Christ!

Seth TrouttSeth Troutt is a graduate of Phoenix Seminary (MDiv), a doctoral student at Covenant Seminary, and a pastor at Redemption Gateway in Mesa, AZ.