Excursus on Internal/External Distinction (a)

Peter Leithart addresses the external/internal distinction with characteristic clarity and faithfulness here. Here's what he writes:

"At the same time, I acknowledge that the Bible regularly teaches that human beings have an internal and an external dimension. The tabernacle is, among other things, an architectural human being, and it has an “inner” and “outer” sanctuary. Paul uses an “inner man/outer man” distinction in various places (Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 3:16). So, the issue is not whether this distinction is a biblical one; it is. The question is what the Bible means by this distinction and how it functions. It’s very easy for us to read the Biblical inner/outer distinction through our own cultural lenses, where the Cartesian subject/object, mind/body dualism is still instinctive (emphasis mine, BDJ).

Let me briefly analyze one important use of this sort of distinction, Romans 2:27-29. In the context (I believe) of a discussion of Jews and Gentiles, Paul introduces a distinction between different sorts of circumcision. There is the manifest circumcision in the flesh, and the “secret” (kruptos) circumcision of the Spirit. Jews who don’t keep the law are not Jews, and their circumcision is uncircumcision (v. 25). Only those who keep the law by the power of the Spirit are Jews and the true circumcision. Within Israel, then, there are some who are circumcised only in the manifest, fleshly sense, and others who are circumcised also in the secret, Spiritual sense.

For Paul, however, this does not mean that fleshly circumcision is meaningless or useless, or that those who received fleshly circumcision received nothing. As Paul’s argument continues into chapter 3, he asks “What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” (v. 1). Clearly, he is speaking of what he has just described as Jews and circumcision according to flesh; the advantage of those who are circumcised by the Spirit is obvious. Given Paul’s distinction between fleshly and Spiritual circumcision, we might expect him to answer his question with “Fleshly circumcision gives no advantage.” That is not what Paul says, however. “Great in every respect” (v. 2). Here, he lists only one of the great advantages of fleshly Israel – “they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (v. 2).

When Paul picks up the argument later in Romans, however, he expands on the advantage of fleshly Israel: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (9:3-5).

Fleshly Israel – the “visible church” of the Old Testament – received great blessings. They were the son(s) of Yahweh, had the glory of Yahweh dwelling in their midst, received the covenants and promises, had a law that was the envy of the nations, was privileged with the temple service and the great heritage of the patriarchs. Above all, they were the people of Jesus, the Christ, the king of all things. When God blessed forever became flesh, He became Jewish flesh. These are blessings enjoyed by the “manifest” or “external” Jew, and they are considerable.

I don’t think I am imagining things to conclude that Paul’s is not the view of many in the PCA. Do we tell baptized children, “Yours is the adoption; yours the glory and the covenants and promises and commandments; you have a great heritage, and are privileged to have a place in the temple of the living God”? If Reformed theologians and pastors had so robust an understanding of the gifts conferred in baptism, I would not have devoted so much time to the subject of baptismal efficacy."

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