What is the Promise of Acts 2?

Many Baptists recently seem eager to divorce the promise in Acts 2 from the promise given to Abraham in Gen 17, seemingly as a way to distance baptism from circumcision and the repercussions therein.

I first encountered this viewpoint several years ago when Jamin Hubner posited it while in discussion in the #prosapologian chat room. I seemed novel then, even to his fellow baptists. Then, a few months back, Chris Whisonant proffered the same view.  Now I see that Matt D. Robertson is saying the same thing.

The basic argument of the viewpoint goes like this:

Oftentimes in discussion paedobaptists will bring up Acts 2:38-39. Frequently they seem to throw this verse down as though it’s supposed to be incontrovertible proof of their position, which has always confused me…

When we look at these verses together, we are equipped to answer the most important question of vv.38-39: What is the promise? Is this not the key question?

The way this passage is used by our paedobaptist brethren, we can only assume they believe that the promise is New Covenant membership. “New Covenant membership is for you, and for your children…” Now I must say, if that is what the text said, there would be no discussion. It would be the power-verse many use it as. But if we look at the wider context, the identity of what (more accurately, Who) the promise is becomes clear.
Look at verse 33. “Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear.”…

This is extremely important, because if the promise is the Holy Spirit, then the promise is not explicitly Covenant membership.


For just a moment, let me say that I agree with Mr. Robertson that the “promise” in Acts 2 is indeed the promise of the Holy Spirit. Peter quotes Joel 2 explaining how the outpouring of the Spirit will be manifest.

Joel 2:28
“And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.”

The problem with Mr. Robertson (and the rest) who posit this as a definitive rebuttal of the paedobaptist position, is that the promise given to Abraham in Gen 17 etc. wherein we read the covenant formula “for you and your children” – is directly tied to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 3:13-14
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

According to Paul, and thus the God-breathed commentary on the Old Testament, the promise to Abraham included Gentiles receiving the Spirit through faith. This is supported elsewhere by Paul wherein he writes:

Romans 4:13
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

Galatians 3:29
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Thus, according to Peter, Paul, and therefore God himself, the outpouring of the Spirit is the definitive evidence that the promise to Abraham is being fulfilled.

Remember, the promise in Gen 17 includes this:  “you shall be the father of a multitude of nations” – and here the people of God are now reaching out to the nations, as expressed by the Holy Spirit’s gift of Gentile tongues.

Also note that the passage Peter is quoting in Joel, wherein he’s expressing the manifestation of the Spirit, calls on the people of God to “gather the children, even nursing infants”to meet with the bridegroom (Joel 2:16).

Attempting to divorce the promise of Acts 2 from the covenant promise to Abraham in Gen 12,17 etc. is not supported by Scripture.

A short reply to Brandon Adams re: R Scott Clark

I want to address a few points in this article by Brandon Adams. Adams seems to be suggesting in his second section (“Or is he?”) that other paedobaptists disagree with this statement (and the previous section) from R Scott Clark:

“The comparison and contrast is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The covenant that God made with Abraham was a covenant of grace, the covenant he confirmed with the “blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20).”

He then notes a disagreement about Republication of the Covenant of Works. The problem is that even those who disagree with a complete republication would agree with Clark’s statement above.

Note Clark has written elsewhere:

“It is not the case that, because Paul associates circumcision with Moses, there is no fundamental difference between the Abrahamic administration of the covenant of grace and the Mosaic.”

So R. Scott Clark allows for the Mosaic covenant to be an administration of the Covenant of Grace, though a temporary addendum (Gal 3:17) to it. There really are no orthodox paedobaptists who disagree with this point.

The disagreement extends primarily to whether and how, the Mosaic covenant was a republication of the Covenant of Works, and the quotes of Winzer you supply following are addressing that issue, which is not really the view you brought up in your first section.

Later he states:

“Notice that Calvin speaks of “the covenant” in the singular. He is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant.”

But that’s simply untrue and Clark provides the proof. http://heidelblog.net/2014/11/calvin-on-the-distinction-between-the-old-and-new-covenants/

As Calvin states: “Hence, in general, the Old Testament [covenant] is the name given to the solemn method of confirming the covenant comprehended under ceremonies and sacrifices. Since there is nothing substantial in it, until we look beyond it, the Apostle contends that it behoved to be annulled and become antiquated, (Heb. 7:22,) to make room for Christ”

Both Calvin and Clark agree that the Mosaic and the New Covenant flow ultimately from the Covenant of Grace that God gave to Abraham.

In essence, none of his arguments really hit the target he intends. All involved agree that “Moses flows from Abraham”.  The rest of the article then builds on these errors and misapplications.

Hesitant debate… A Capella

In the past, when I’ve strongly debated with Dr. R. Scott Clark, I eventually found myself agreeing with him. It is with this in mind that I hesitantly approach the subject he has recently been discussing on his blog and spoke of in his good book Recovering the Reformed Confession.  Since the RPW is a topic of interest within Reformed circles, and since he addresses some of the questions I’ve posed, I wanted to point out a couple logical problems I see with one of his arguments.

Firstly, instrumental worship remains a difficult issue, and the arguments supporting exclusive a capella worship seemingly amount to arguments from history, arguments based on worship in the New Testament, and fulfillment of type and shadow.  I recall my grandparents, who belonged to the Pelagian group Church of Christ, argued similarly (there are no instruments in the New Testament), but one has to remember that the anabaptist Campbellite cult has no real understanding of covenantal structure, much less worship and argues against Paedobaptism on the same basis.

Dr. Clark writes:

It is often asked (as I myself asked Bob Godfrey 23 years ago), “Why do you want us to sing Psalms but you won’t let us do what they say?” (i.e., play instruments). After all, Psalm 150 lists a number of instruments.

Yes, exactly. Doesn’t it seem odd that we sing God’s commands while simultaneously denying them? I recall holding a similar view in regards to the Sabbath not too distantly. I couldn’t consistently read the ten commandments, sing about, and worship God on the Sabbath while denying it’s ongoing nature in the New Covenant era. I think one needs to parse these arguments carefully.

Clark’s answer is:

 The difficulty that the Reformed saw with this line of reasoning is that it proves too much. They were convinced that the period of types and shadows had been fulfilled in Christ. This is why, in the new covenant, the church did not seek to kill the Canaanites. That commission ended with the death of Christ. In the “once for all” (Heb 7:27) death of Christ the bloody sacrificial ministry of the Levitical priesthood ended. 

While this is true of specific commands, why does it apply specifically to something commanded in the very Psalms we use to worship?  Again, the issue is about the Regulative Principle of Worship, not “killing Canaanites”. If the Bible commands specific actions in worship, then they are to be followed unless they’re typified by Christ and fulfilled therein or expressed in some other manner in the New Covenant. Where do we find in Scripture the usage of instruments to worship YHWH fulfilled by Christ?

Clark continues:

In the “once for all” (Heb 7:27) death of Christ the bloody sacrificial ministry of the Levitical priesthood ended. Jesus’ priesthood was greater than Aaron’s and Levi’s. Those priests had to sacrifice for themselves. Jesus did not. His sacrifice was for us.

Amen, and yet, the Psalms were sung as part of the temple liturgy, so why are they still used?  Were not their usage also done away with by Christ’s sacrifice? Quoting Paul here doesn’t change the question, even though Paul said we are to worship with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”, and though Clark presents a good case for all three of those terms relating to specific portions of the Psalms, the argument could be made that Paul is referring to new psalms etc.  (I don’t necessarily buy it, but my point is, if Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled it, why are we singing it?)

An argument from history is then presented:

The Reformers knew their history, that the early church accepted these principles and worshipped without musical instruments for the first 7 centuries—8 if we count the Apostolic church.

This argument is however flawed. Firstly it suggests that the early church didn’t use instruments because they believed the type fulfilled, but in reality the early church wanted to distance themselves from the pagan worship around them. They saw “the use of instruments in Jewish worship as a “childish” weakness, less glorifying to God than words of praise.” 

We must be careful not to emulate the early church or the Reformers simply for the sake of being historically correct, but like the Reformers we should evaluate their practices with Scripture as our authority and reform when necessary.  We should be very careful in regards to the possibility of gnostic thinking when it comes to how we approach things.  Just because the pagans do something, doesn’t make it automatically unChristian.

As for exclusive Psalmody, in the footnotes to his post, Clark acknowledges that the Reformers did in fact sing non-inspired texts (a major portion of the argument for exclusive psalmnody) when he writes:

The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 seems to have included some non-canonical songs. The songbook used in Heidelberg in 1563 and 1573 seems to have contained non-canonical hymns. I investigating whether non-canonical songs were sung in public worship. The Apostles’ Creed was the only non-canonical song sung in the Genevan liturgy but it was sung in place of the reading of the Word or as a summary of the Word. When the conjugation responded to the Word they also prayed or sang the Word. The Church Order of Dort (1619) provided for the singing of a song that may have been a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer or it may have been a non-canonical song. It is lost.

So as early as 1545, Reformed congregations were singing non-inspired songs including the Apostles’ Creed.  The fact that it was sung instead of read doesn’t change the fact. Plus, the fact that none less than the Church Order of Dort provided for a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer should put the “Reformers did it” argument to rest, in that there was clearly a variety of opinion on the matter.

On another post, Dr. Clark replies to a comment:a

[This] seems to assume a couple of things, e.g., that 1 Tim 3:16 is a hymn. It may be. It also seems to assume a different relation between the canonical and post-canonical periods than I do. The church did things, under the direct inspiration of the Spirit, that we do not do in the post-apostolic age. In the apostolic age the NT Scriptures were in the process of formation.

So, the whole “how they worshiped in the New Testament church” argument is hereby undone.  If the New Testament church sang new inspired hymns and they were even written in Scripture (and I’ll grant that Clark says “may”), then the claim that EP is a return to New Testament worship is baseless.

I’m very thankful for Dr. Clark. His work on the nature of the New Covenant and paedobaptism was instrumental in pushing me over the fence. That said, the portion of Recovering the Reformed Confession that focused on psalmnody and instrumental worship was a major speed bump in what was a fantastic treaty on confessional Christianity, it stuck out like a sore thumb.  (I also feel the same about Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s fantastic book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith. She also took a major sidetrack into the discussion.)

R. Scott Clark on the New Psalter Hymnals for the URC

R. Scott Clark mentions some interesting issues regarding the upcoming new Psalter Hymnals for use in the URC congregations. Apparently there is the suggestion that the new Psalters will use gender-neutral language in place of strict literal Biblical language.  Keeping in mind that RSC is for a capella, psalms and inspired hymns only, a position I’m in no way convinced of, the issue of editing the psalms for gender neutrality is a serious one. We’re not singing Fanny Crosby, we’re singing the Word of God.  Our psalms should conform to the most literal yet metrical language they can.

Again, this may just be a question of the RPW gone wild, for if God says “all men” in a verse specifically addressing nations, we know that he includes women in that. If the Scriptural text is ambiguous as to the gender, we should be also, but if Scripture specifically addresses “men”, we should honor God’s Word and do likewise.  Part of this is a question of how one translates the languages of Scripture.

I’ve not done the research, and while I’m concerned that there may be a sense of KJV-Only fundamentalism in the argument, some of the cited examples are troubling. 

One of the principle guidelines of the committee states: “When Scripture is set to music, the words must remain faithful to the inspired text.”1 This principle has been violated in a song from the Psalm section of the PH now put into the hymn section of the HP. This song is #150 in the PH: “Let children hear the mighty deeds Which God performed of old, Which in our younger years we saw And which our fathers told.” It is based on Psalm 78. Psalm 78:3 is God’s word; it is translated “our fathers have told us” in the NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV. The original Hebrew noun is “ab”, masculine gender. However, HP# 223 defies this very clear reference to the masculine so that “fathers” becomes “parents.” This violation of God’s Word is also evident in HP# 69. – “URCNA Hymnbook Proposal: Gender-neutral Language?”, by Sheila Ypma, The Outlook, March 2011

 The basic gist here is that the text of Psalm 78 reads:

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
   incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
   I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3things that we have heard and known,
   that our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
   but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
   and the wonders that he has done.  (ESV)

The point of the text is not a generic “our parents” but specifically points to our fathers generally meaning the patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, etc.  While the concept does include the father of individual believers, since it was the men who were responsible for the education of children, the Psalm goes on to specifically mention Jacob commanding the fathers to tell the children to set their hope in God.  In this case fathers is gender exclusive while children is not.  The text of the Psalter should follow this pattern.

That said, we use the blue hymnal currently in our church and it’s clearly old and many are falling apart. The language of the Confessions in them is different than that used by Westminster on their website and in their recent app. I tried to answer a HC question this past Lord’s Day evening and was out of step with the others who were using the blue psalter, this is a different issue though.

Our church could just order new ones but we’ve been told the new and improved one is coming. We’ve seen copies of the new Sovereign Grace (Stuart Townend) tunes in our bulletin, I’m not sure if those will be in the new Psalter hymnal or not, and while they’re good… they’re not great when played on a pipe organ.

So let me offer an easy solution to this. The URCNA should move ahead with the new psalters and get rid of the CRC ones but before doing that they should conform the psalters as much as possible to the ESV or NKJV in use in a majority of URC churches. The Psalms will be familiar to the singers and conform likewise to the text. 

Then , let’s agree on one version of the confessions and put them in there, publishing that version online and elsewhere.

Finally, let’s do away completely with the light-blue songbooks… 😉