Oath And Ordeal Signs -- By: Meredith G. Kline

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 27:2 (May 1965)
Article: Oath And Ordeal Signs
Author: Meredith G. Kline


Oath And Ordeal Signs

Meredith G. Kline

A more authentic identification of the covenant signs of circumcision and baptism has been made possible through the recovery of their original historical context of covenant form and ceremony.1 It will be found that the new view of these rites opened up to us by our improved historical perspective challenges the divergent ecclesiastical traditions, not merely at distinctive points peculiar to one or another communion but, more significantly, in respect to that which has been their area of (at least formal) agreement. Specifically, the traditional consensus that these sacramental symbols are primarily if not exclusively signs of divine grace and blessing is now called in question. And perhaps in this there is cause for hope. For if it should really be the case that our common foundations are being shaken under us by advances in historical knowledge, it could prove difficult to maintain our composedly adamant stance of antagonism over against each other. We might find ourselves tumbling together, head over traditions.

I. Circumcision, Symbolic Oath Sanction

A. Sign of Malediction

Genesis 17 contains the record of the institution of circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his house. This chapter is not, like the Decalogue or Deuteronomy, the text of a treaty but an historical narrative describing the ratification ceremony of the covenant. The narrative, however, consists largely of the words that God spoke to Abraham

on that occasion and those words comprise the standard elements found in ancient vassal treaties.2

Corresponding to the usual preamble with its introduction of the speaker is the Lord’s declaration to Abraham: “I am God Almighty” (v. 1b).3 Prominently featured are the stipulations of this covenant, including the so-called GrundsatzerklÄrung, a general statement of the nature of the covenantal relationship: Yahweh will be a God to Abraham and his descendants (v. 7) and Abraham is to walk before him in true loyalty (v. 1e). The special obligation laid upon the covenant servants is that of circumcision (vv. 9–14). The communal performance of this rite on that very day served to consummate the ratificatory proceedings of this particular covenantal engagement (vv. You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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