Tag Archives: Old Testament Salvation

Were the Old Testament People Saved? – The Witness of Romans 4


If you were able to watch the video I posted a couple weeks ago, which attempted to answer the question of salvation prior to Christ’s death, then you know that the theologian in the video dismissed any notion of Abraham’s salvation citing Genesis 15 and referencing Paul’s use of this passage in Romans 4 as simply an illustration, “In the same way God made a promise to Abraham He makes a promise to us.” But is that Paul’s (and ultimately the Divine Author’s) purpose in citing Abraham in Romans 4?

Let’s examine the context.

After the Apostle Paul’s introduction and brief prologue concerning the power of the Gospel for salvation to both Jew and Greek, the book of Romans begins with a general condemnation of the non-Jewish world, commonly called Gentiles or Greeks (though perhaps more helpfully known as the nations or pagans) for their vile sins and idolatries committed against a Holy God.

As Paul transitions into chapter 2, the focus shifts from the pagan world to those who had experienced the privileges and blessings of God, commonly identified as the Jews. Woven throughout chapter 2 is condemnation of the Jewish world with an eye still toward the pagan world before bringing them both under condemnation of God’s wrath for their sins in chapter 3 of Romans. Note the following verses:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:9-18

With both Jews and Gentiles under the condemnation of God for their sins, it therefore begs the question how can anyone be saved? Paul provides the answer as he shifts to faith in Christ as the basis for justification, not the law.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26

Verse 22 sets forth the thesis that the Old Testament, here summarized as the Law and the Prophets, bears witness to gospel of Jesus Christ, namely “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” and that redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ is by faith alone. This really sets the groundwork for Chapter 4.

Important in our discussion of Abraham, and Old Testament salvation in general, is the placement of verse 25, “because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” These former sins, or perhaps more importantly those who were guilty of these sins, were those under the Old Covenant, prior to Christ just as is seen in Hebrews 9:15. There they are identified as the called, lest there be any notion of Old Covenant universalism.  God then becomes just and the justifier of the one who has faith, even in Old Testament times!

At the conclusion of chapter 3, the Apostle sets forth God as the God of both Jew and Gentile, uniting them together in Him and showing that it is by faith and not adherence to the law, namely via circumcision, that one is justified. This is the background and context for Chapter 4, which begins with an introduction of Abraham within the context of justification by faith, not on the basis of adherence to the law.

The introduction here of Abraham cannot be understated. He stands as the patriarch of Israel and is the physical father of the Jewish people; though as Paul asserts in his epistle to the Church at Galatia and here in this chapter, he is the father of the spiritual people who are in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:29).

We have already seen that Romans 2 supports this notion by saying, “25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

This passage really serves as a prelude to the ensuing discussion in Chapter 4 regarding Abraham because any understanding of the relationship between circumcision, obedience, and faith must begin with Abraham and this is precisely what the Apostle does.

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:1-3) Notice that verse 3 cites Genesis 15:6, the verse that’s in question from the aforementioned video and the basis for our understanding of whether Abraham was saved or not.

Remember that in the video, the objection was that Abraham is not exercising belief in God or belief that God exists, because he already had that according to Dr. White, and that his justification here is generic and has nothing to do with being restored into a right relationship with God. Is it as Dr. Randy White has posited? Namely that Abraham is just used as an example of how we should believe in God’s promises. In other words, is Abraham merely a pattern for our good, moral obedience? OR is there something far more being asserted here, perhaps a theological foundation for understanding how one is justified (being brought into a right relationship with God) on the basis of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (A phrase Dr. White explicitly denounced) apart from works of the law. That last phrase CANNOT be understated because it is critical to our understanding of salvation in the Old Testament.

Again, not to pick on Dr. White, but he is representative of the view that asserts that salvation in the Old Testament required something more than just believing, as he clearly stated in the video. His particular view, that of classic dispensationalism as he self-identified, sees salvation in the Old Testament (if we can even squeeze that out of him) as reliant upon obedience to the law. That is precisely contrary to what the Apostle Paul is saying in Romans 4. Below is the remainder of the chapter (in italics) with my comments interspersed in bolded blue:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

We have to fundamentally understand Paul is saying that for the one who works, i.e. obeys the law in the hopes of being justified, his wages (what he earns) are not a gift, but requires payment because salvation cannot be earned. In clear terms, the more you work, the more you owe.

Secondly, note the contrast with the “one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly”. Clearly then justification (for sake of clarity – salvation) is on the basis of faith ALONE, not on the basis of obedience to the law. Finally, note that the one who believes, “his faith is counted as righteousness.” Who was the prototypical example of this? Abraham! Paul’s argument is that believers today are justified on the basis of faith in the exact same way that Abraham was.

The word counted, used both in verse 3 (the Genesis quotation) and here in verse 5 is better translated imputed or credited. It carries with it the idea of a financial transaction, a ledger book if you will. On the basis of faith, righteousness is therefore “credited” to the account of the believer. Though developed more in the discussion below, this idea of imputation is particularly addressed in chapter 5 of Romans.

It’s important to note here that faith does not merit righteousness, but as has been seen in Chapter 3, the object of faith is Christ and it is His righteousness that is credited to the believer. In this way, it is an alien righteousness, as Luther so famously expressed it. Paul next moves from his example of Abraham’s justification by faith alone, which he concludes is likewise true of all believers, to King David.

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Again, the point is proven, though this time with David the argument is made on the negative side of imputation. David here is said to have spoken of the “one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works”, so this is Paul’s argument restated but the answer from Psalm 32:1-2 is on the negative side of imputation, particularly in regards to sin. He states blessed are those who lawless deeds (sin – 1 John 3:4) are forgiven, those whose sins are covered, the man whom the Lord will not count (impute) his sin. Further discussion on this can be found in Romans 5 where we see the sins of the believer are imputed to Christ, but the clear implication is that God does not count/impute/credit sin to the believer, but does count/impute/credit righteousness of Christ to the one who has faith.

The argument next returns back to discussion of circumcision, as representative of the law, by again looking to Abraham.

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Here, Paul returns again to his discussion on Jew/Gentiles and advances it on the basis of circumcision/uncircumcision by asking the question of whether the blessing of righteousness is counted to the former only? He answers again with Abraham and concludes that his justification occurred in Genesis 15, prior to his circumcision which came later in Genesis 17. The obedience that he exhibited in circumcision was a seal of the “righteousness that he had by faith” prior to his circumcision. Similarly, baptism is a step of obedience reflecting the righteousness that believers today have. Now, should there be any discussion on the viability of paedobaptism, that path is cut off by verse 11b, “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.” Abraham is the father of believers, not believers and their children. The continuation of the trail blazed by the imputation of righteousness to Abraham flows directly to all believers who are likewise shown to be justified by faith alone apart from works of the law. Abraham is not merely a moral example of obedience, but the pattern of justification by faith alone throughout redemptive history.

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.

14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Note here that Abraham’s offspring is comprised of both Jew AND Gentile, both the circumcised (who walk by faith as he did) and the uncircumcised who believe likewise.

18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

As the Apostle concludes this section, it is clear that the same faith that saved Abraham (and David!), saves us today. The same righteousness (which is Christ’s as we read in Romans 3 & 5) was credited to Abraham as believers today. His faith did not merit righteousness, though Abraham was saved and his salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. He believed in the promise, we believe in the fulfillment of that same promise.

Perhaps without even knowing it, the views expressed in the video mentioned above undermines the entire basis for the Reformation and the doctrine of justification by faith alone (Sola Fide).  It is clear that the argument of Abraham here is not made as a pattern for our moral behavior to exhort us to believe the promises of God, but is instead to show the prototype for justification by faith alone apart from works of the law. Should we exhibit faith like Abraham did?  Absolutely, but as has been shown, this is not the central purpose for writing Romans 4.

Salvation in the Old Testament, on the basis of the truths set forth by the Apostle Paul under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was exactly the same as it is now. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. There is simply no room for disagreement on the issue, lest we subvert the glory of the Gospel and create a path for more than one way of salvation.

Salvation in the Old Testament – A Dispensational Critique


Below is a video which highlights some of the various misunderstandings I pointed out in the last post.  In the video, Dr. Randy White attempts to answer the question that we began looking at in that post, Were Old Testament People Saved?

This is not a personal attack on either Dr. White or his ministry, it’s simply an interaction with the doctrinal views that he sets forth in the video below.  As a side note, I am thankful that in putting forth his answer, Dr. White has indicated his theological position as a dispensationalist.  That is extremely helpful in understanding what he is trying to say and the direction he is coming from.  Take a listen to his response and perhaps re-read the last post.  I hope to follow this critique up with a post addressing some of the passages he brings up, but more fully the continuity of salvation between the Old and New Testaments.

Below the video, I’ve transcribed some of his more interesting notes/comments in black, along with my interaction in red.


  1. What about the salvation of those who lived before Jesus Christ 2:10 This is the fundamental question.
  2. We look back (propitiation) Glad that Dr. White has pointed out the biblical necessity of propitiation, more on this later.
  3. 3:05 Dispensational theologian This is good. He helps us identify where he is coming from.
  4. 4:00 simplistic answer – “Saved in OT just like in NT; saved in that day just like in this day- by faith in Jesus Christ. We look back, they looked forward” His summary of this view is fair.
  5. 4:50 No doubt that Jesus was promised in the OT; The first promise of salvation Gen. 3:15 This is interesting that Dr. White has recognized the protoevangelion, or first Gospel because this is precisely what I brought up in the previous post.
  6. Were they saved by simply looking forward to the coming Messiah or is there something else to it? Good summary of the problem.
  7. 5:30 – Proof text He identifies what a proof text is; This is helpful, but it’s a setup for a straw-man.
    1. Genesis 15:6 – This is the text identified as a Proof text.  Those who use this text say everyone is saved by believing; by grace through faith
    2. Counted unto him for righteousness – Abraham believed in the Lord and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
  8. Charge to be Berean -like Acts 17
  9. Does this answer square up with the Bible? Ask a few questions: What did Abraham believe? What does credited unto righteousness believe?  These are fair questions to ask
  10. 7:20 “In the Context of Genesis 15 it wasn’t that Abraham had belief in a coming Messiah, I think he already did that.  I think he already had that belief and held to that belief.” Notice what Dr. White is saying here.  He is asserting that Abraham had faith in the coming Messiah.  How did he know about a Messiah?  Let alone have faith in him?  And as we’ll see it is THIS faith that results in righteousness being credited or imputed to him.
    He really believed that God would give him an offspring.
    From his own body. This is true, in the near context.  However, the Apostle Paul’s explanation of this passage offers much more.
  11. So “just believe and they were saved.  That’s how Abraham was saved.  But what did he believe” In his coming son.” With all due respect to Dr. White, he seems to take a condescending tone to the concept of salvation by faith alone.  I’m uncertain if this is intentional or not, but later on this will come up again.
  12. Different than believing in the propitiation of a coming Messiah. This is true, but God had not yet revealed this to Abraham, or anyone else for that matter.  Even as a dispensationalist, Dr. White should recognize and agree with the doctrine of progressive revelation and realize that God calls Abraham to believe in the promise of a coming Seed; yes, in the near context this is his own son, but more was revealed to Abraham in Genesis 12.  He is not asking him to provide a dissertation on substitutionary atonement, simply to believe.
  13. 9:05 Romans 4 “counted unto righteousness used in reference to justified.” Dr. White offers a warning of using these terms in reference to personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
    It may mean something else.  You can be justified in a number of different ways.
    – 9:42 Gen. 15 used in the NT as an illustration – In the same way God made a promise to Abraham He makes a promise to us.
    – Given to us by faith.
    – 10:15 Paul uses the illustration to say that Abraham was saved by grace through faith.  James comes to say, using the same
    verse, to say Abraham was not saved by faith alone by also by works.  When we begin to ask questions is not as cut and dry and as simple. There are several problems to be noted with this section, not the least of which is that Scripture never contradicts itself.  In a subtle way, Dr. White has left this door wide open without explaining how Paul in Romans and James do not contradict each other, but rather compliment each other.  Secondly, dispensationlists are fond of using the term “illustration” when citing the New Testament use of the Old Testament because it frees them from the responsibility of seeing continuity between the Testament’s and allows them to remain “rightly divided”.  The Apostle Paul is using the reference to Abraham as much more than an illustration, but as an example and one with application to Paul’s audience and our own day.  Namely, that just as with Abraham, so now, salvation is by faith alone.  He cites Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham was justified, i.e. made right with God prior to his circumcision, i.e. obedience to the law. The “counted as righteousness” is actually better translated imputed righteousness, giving clear implication to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to Abraham.  More on this passage in the next post.
  14. Dr. White cites Ephesians 2:11-12 and comments You Gentiles in times past (previous dispensation) were aliens, foreigners, not in commonwealth of Israel; strangers from the promise; Because of this you had no hope, without God in the world
    – Clear and powerful words
    – Gentiles in the previous dispensation, unless they found a way to come into the commonwealth of Israel were without hope; absolutely no hope
    – What does this do to “Just believe and you are saved?”
    – Well not if you were a Gentile you didn’t; you were without hope.
    – Only in THIS dispensation (but now) are made nigh by the blood of Jesus.
    – Previously it didn’t matter if you had faith, didn’t matter if you were sincere, didn’t matter if you believed in a coming Messiah
    – YOU WERE WITHOUT HOPE  The use of this passage would fit well with  his description of a “proof text”.  If I understand him correctly, he is using the phrase “without hope” to mean that the Gentiles had no chance of salvation prior to Christ.  This is alarming to say the least.  Why then would God waste His time by sending the prophet Jonah to the gentiles in Ninevah?  Maybe it should be noted that Abraham was a gentile also.  Who exactly was a Jew?  One whose father was “Jewish”?  That would eliminate Jacob and our Lord Jesus Christ by the way.  So maybe its through matrilineal descent; then what about the entrance of Ruth into the line of David.  Not to mention the line of Christ which included the gentile women Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba.  Dr. White may want to rethink his supposition that gentiles, simply because of their race or heritage, could not be saved in the OT.  It is meant to be a general statement referring to those people who did not fear God and obey His commandments, summarized as “gentiles in the flesh” (which is an important reference to the uncircumcised), because they were outside of the Jewish community and the benefits and promises that God had given them.  No hope does not mean no chance, as Dr. White seems to imply.  
  15. 13:40 So then, maybe it was just the Hebrew people that could have faith. But what about the law?  What about the sacrifices? What about the Passover Lamb?  Was all that symbolic, did it just take faith to be saved?  Or did it also take the sacrificing of a lamb and the placing of the blood on the doorpost? This is the erection of a classic straw-man argument.
  16. 14:12  If you had faith but didn’t have obedience, then I wonder would you have been saved?  If you had faith but no lamb would you have been saved? If you had faith but you had some kind of physical ailment that prevented you from putting blood on the doorpost would you have been saved? Not according to Scripture.  According to Scripture – it was the physical blood on the doorpost that was the sign to cause the Angel of Death to pass by. What Dr. White has actually set forward here is that Jews, because they had the  law, were saved on the basis of that law.  In other words faith + works.  And thus we have the classic dispensational two-ways of salvation.  The entire book of Hebrews undermines this assertion.  In fact, if salvation could come under Old Covenant obedience to the law, then there was no need for Christ.  He ruined a good thing.  He was unnecessary.  Surely Dr. White would not assert this, but by necessary implication this is where his view ultimately leads.
  17. What about the law given to Moses at Sinai – were they just ceremonial? I don’t think so. If an Israelite chose not participate in the covenants of Israel, would he be saved? Even if he had faith? No I don’t believe so, it really did take some more.  Salvation has never been faith + works, but though saved by faith alone the believer now has a desire to obey and “work” so to speak.  The Pharisees were guilty of superficial obedience to the law, when God required a heart of obedience (Mark 12:29-33).
  18. The problem is we’re asking the wrong question that the OT doesn’t answer. Redemption in OT is actually a word about the redemption of creation. Salvation is about Israel and created order. OT is more about the redemption of creation than it is the salvation of an individual.  Only when we come into this dispensation do we see any word about going to heaven after you die or having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This isn’t what the OT is about; it’s about something else. There is alot in here to respond to, but let me just summarily say that these statements, while partially true, fail to recognize that the entirety of the Old Testament anticipates the coming of the Messiah, who will redeem not only creation, but a people for Himself and this begins no less with the people of the Old Testament.
  19. Going to OT to ask about personal salvation, but it is not a book about personal salvation
  20. 17:00 Many people of the OT were people of faith, no doubt about it. Sites Hebrews 11.  If the OT has many people of faith, what was their faith in?  What good was it for?  There are certainly people in the OT who walk by faith. Faith in Whom?  He has no answer for this, nor an answer for salvation in the OT, so he again resorts to Genesis 15:6 and sets up an argument for how it doesn’t mean what Paul says it does in Romans 4 by taking the phrase “counted to him as righteousness” and showing how Scripture uses it in other ways.
  21. Ps. 106:30-31 Counted to him as righteousness; same words as Abraham. Unto all generations for evermore; even stronger than Abraham. He is using Scripture against Scripture again without any explanation and this is simply indefensible.
  22. Too simplistic to just believe; dangerous just to simplify Scripture Too simplistic to just believe?  Friend, this is precisely what Scripture commands, a simplistic, child-like faith.  If we are required to DO anything in addition to our faith, then we have a works-righteousness religion and the Reformation never happened.
  23. Deut. 6:25 – Righteousness for us, if we do these commandments
  24. Lev. 18:5
  25. Ezekiel 18:9
  26. Ezekiel 20:11
  27. 21:30 Luke 10 – story of Good Samaritan. If you love the Lord your God…you shall live. “Wait a minute Jesus, why didn’t you tell them if you believe? You told them they had to do the law.” Paul quotes the same verse, those who live by the law its how they shall live.  This is simply shocking.  Using the OT to defend a belief that the Jews were saved by faith + works is one thing, but using the NT, a quotation of Jesus no less, to prove faith + law= salvation is simply wrong!  I sincerely hope this is not what he meant, but it is what he said.  He is showing here how his dispensational system cannot only rectify salvation in the OT, but law in the NT.  It is a flawed understanding of Law/Gospel that is at the heart of dispensationalism and ultimately drives the distinction between Israel and the Church.
  28. 22:00 Cannot put away obedience to the law; would marginalize the strict nature of the law in the OT.  Again, this is faith + works and it violates everything the OT says about the law and certainly everything the NT says about the law, namely Romans 3:21-31.  Obedience is required of believers, but not for their salvation.
  29. 22:10 “Ugh, just believe! Well it did take belief.  The Lord wants belief even before He wants sacrifice, but in the OT He wanted that sacrifice as well.” I don’t wanna marginalize the law. On the one hand he affirms the necessity of faith, then on the other affirms faith plus works.  The contradictory nature of his responses reveals much about the position he represents.  It is internally inconsistent and therefore unbiblical.
  30. If we come along and we see that there really is a difference before the cross of Christ and after the cross of Christ, then I think what we’re doing is exactly what Scripture tells us to do and “Rightly divide the word of truth.” This is a fundamental dispensational misapplication of this passage to “rightly divide the word” which they take to mean divide it between the testaments.  – There’s alot of sloppy division going on. Agreed, primarily within the dispensational stream (sorry couldn’t resist!).
  31. If you’ll rightly divide the word of truth and recognize there really is a difference in dispensation, that will help you to understand the whole word of God in a way that is rich and true and powerful. This video helpfully illustrates the point I was interacting with in the previous post and it serves to reveal the fundamental error of two-ways of salvation that the classic dispensationalist sets forth.  The Bible, in both testaments, has only known salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and Lord willing, I can show that more fully in a subsequent post.

Were Old Testament People Saved? – Examining the Biblical Narrative, Part 1


(Warning: This is going to be a long post and I’ve already split it into parts. It is such an important and broad topic that in order to maintain the thought, there’s no easy way to split it up further. So grab something warm to drink, a snack, and settle in! I’ll try to make it as painless as possible.)

One of the more common questions and misunderstandings that I encounter on a regular basis concerns the salvation of those who lived in the Old Testament, i.e., those who lived and died prior to Christ’s death on the cross. Were any of them saved? If so, how and when were they saved? If not, what are we to make of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not to mention Moses, Joshua, and David? Likewise, what about John the Baptist or the Apostles themselves? Were they saved prior to Christ’s death or subsequent to His resurrection or perhaps not until Pentecost, if at all?

Much of this confusion and controversy comes from the proliferation of dispensational theology that swept through England in the late 19th century and was fertilized by the fundamentalist movement of the United States in the early 20th century. I’ve introduced Dispensational Theology here, with a partial critique. I still hold out hope that I’ll one day have time to interact more with dispensationalism, particularly how the system interprets Scripture and arrives at some of their last days (eschatology) beliefs.

If you haven’t the time to read that post or are unfamiliar with the doctrines that this system proposes, then you should at least know that at its root dispensationalism drives a wedge between the Old and New Testaments which in turn affects how salvation in the Old Testament (Israel) and salvation in the New Testament (the Church) is viewed. This is often referred to as discontinuity between the testaments. Granted, this view has migrated since its early days and has settled into a more progressive form of dispensationalism which still maintains a division between and Israel and the Church, but has abandoned any thoughts of two separate ways of salvation.

Which brings us to the purpose of this post. Much like a surgical scar, dispensationalism has left an indelible mark on Christianity in America. Most church-goers these days have dispensational beliefs without ever knowing where they came from or what they are called, let alone the Scriptural basis for them. In this way, dispensationalism has become the default tradition for many. It’s likely, particularly in the old “Bible Belt” of America, that one has been influenced by dispensationalism without ever knowing it.  We must lay down our traditions and pick up our Bibles to find out what God’s Word has to say about salvation in the Old Testament.

In order to speak to this, no argument from silence will suffice. We must examine Scripture to see what, if anything, it has to say about the salvation of Old Testament saints. Any discussion of the Old Testament understanding of the Gospel must begin where Scripture begins, with an implicit announcement of the Gospel as found in Genesis 3:15

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15

This passage is often referred to as the protoevangelion, or first gospel. If this is true, and the gospel is present in this passage from Genesis, then is faith in this promise of the gospel sufficient for salvation? Could an evangelist in that day have simply said, “Believe in the Gospel and be saved?” Likewise, what are we to make of this Promised Seed[1] or Offspring? Whoever it may be, revealed only in this promise thus far, it is clear that Eve embraced the promise of God through the expected arrival of Cain[2]. As pointed out in more detail from this post The Gospel Hope of Eve, The evidences suggests that Eve had an expected fulfillment of God’s promise, i.e. faith in the Promised Seed of God.  Her faith was seemingly not void simply because she expected Seth to be the fulfillment of that promise, as the would-be skull crushing seed.  Her faith was still in the promise of God’s Seed. Though it may not have been as clearly revealed yet who that Person may have been, faith in the substance of that promise was still in effect.

The Promised Seed comes on the scene again by the time we reach Noah in chapter 5 of Genesis. Here we find an expectation for the arrival of this Promised Seed, though this time the hope for fulfillment looks towards the birth of Noah. For the expectation of hope that Noah’s father, Lamech, had in this Promised Seed, see The Gospel Hope of Lamech. After obeying God and experiencing His merciful deliverance from judgment, Noah is given the details of the covenant that God makes with him, commonly referred to as the Noahic Covenant.

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 (emphasis mine)

With this covenant, God has insured that His Promised Seed will be protected, given a seminal line through which to proceed, lest the promise of Genesis 3:15 fail.

Just 3 chapters later, we encounter a man named Abram (who interestingly proceeded through the line of Noah’s blessed son Shem see Gen. 9:26-27; 10:21-31; 11:10-26). Here we are given a fuller picture of this Promised Seed through the Abrahamic Covenant, the divine promises given to Abraham by God.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

“Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land…” Genesis 12:7

“The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” Genesis 13:14-17

“3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son[b] shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:3-6

“13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” Genesis 15:13-14

“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” Genesis 15:18-20

“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:7-8

“And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.” Genesis 17:9

“God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Genesis 17:19

“15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his[d] enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Genesis 22:15-18

As the promises of this Abrahamic Covenant are restated and reemphasized from Genesis 12 through Genesis 22 we can begin to see how the lens comes more into focus. The seed promised in the garden, carried along in the flood of judgment, given a covenant of preservation has now been given a familial line and promised the land in which it will grow roots and begin to bring forth fruit. These promises are reiterated to the “offspring” of Abraham, namely Isaac, then Jacob.

By the time we come to Moses in the book of Exodus, the sons of Jacob have settled in the land of Egypt and have become numerous.  At the command of God, Moses leads the burgeoning nation out of slavery and headed toward the land promised in the Abrahamic Covenant.  The familial line of the Promised Seed has now become a nation, whom God declares to be a royal people and a holy nation.  In order to structure the formation of this new nation, God provides them with moral, civil, and ceremonial guidelines and enters into a covenant with them, known as the Mosaic Covenant, sometimes called the Sinaitic Covenant.

To this point in the biblical account of redemptive history, Moses has been the human author of the first five books of the Bible (or Torah in the Hebrew Bible). So we can conclude that he at least has a broad exposure to this concept of seed and through divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit has written extensively about it. Note what he writes for us in Numbers 24 (see also ch. 23) the oracles of Balaam which includes an interesting reference

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, 4 the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: 5 How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! 6 Like palm groves[b] that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters. 7 Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows.9 He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” 15 And he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: 17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. 18 Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. 19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!”

Balaam’s oracle clearly has an expectation for the arrival of a sovereign king, while verse 9, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you” calls to mind the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant given in Genesis 12:3. In verse 17 we should recall the blessing of Jacob to his son Judah as recorded in Genesis 49, while the prophecy to “crush the forehead of Moab” is a clear reference to the language of Genesis 3:15, specifically the skull-crushing seed, here spoken of as a star from Jacob and a scepter rising out of Israel. Moses, writing the inspired words of the Torah in recording the God-given oracle to Balaam, records God’s consolidation of the promise given in Genesis 3 with the promise given through the Abrahamic Covenant and focused in the blessing of Jacob to his son Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Genesis 49:10

Fast forward through redemptive history to the theocracy of Israel and we arrive at the anointing of King David. The Promised Seed is again mentioned in the Davidic Covenant of 2 Samuel 7:8-17

“8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince[a] over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.”

Here, we find that the royalty of the Promised Offspring which was spoken of to Abraham (Gen. 12) and by Jacob (Gen 49), and alluded to by Moses (Numbers 24), is now clearly seen to come from the lineage of David. In the immediate context we may conclude that this is a reference to Solomon who would build God a physical house, the temple. However, 2 clues in this passage show that while Solomon may have at least been in view in the near context, the far context points beyond him. First is the statement by God that He would build David a “house” in verse 11 (an additional note is the promise of rest, surely recalling Genesis 1 and calling forward to several passages from Hebrews and the eschatological rest of God). The reference of house here is not a reference to a physical dwelling place, but is instead a royal house, a lineage, and what will ultimately be a spiritual house. How do we know this? Our first clue may be that David already had a house, 2 Sam. 7:1, and that there is no recorded biblical evidence that God built David a separate physical, material house to live in. When we arrive at verse 13, “He shall build a house for my name” we must at least have this understanding of house in mind, especially since God says the house will be for His Name. However, as mentioned earlier, we do know that it was Solomon that built the temple, commonly called the House of God. Secondly, the kingdom promised to David’s offspring is perpetual, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Not only was Solomon’s reign brief by dynastic standards, since it split due to the infidelity of his father and his own shortcomings, but the throne of David had no earthly descendents after the exile of Jehoiachin in the 5th century BC (see Ezekiel 1:2). A compelling argument could be made that David on some level grasps this. Note the following Psalm

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Psalm 110:1

David sees the enthronement of another King and it’s not himself or Solomon, but one whom he references as Lord, a point that we will clarify as we examine the New Testament in the next post.

These promises often in the form of covenants (prophecies and promises also) given in the Old Testament, though distinct in some ways, still have as their substance the Promised Seed of God. Is faith in this Promised Seed misplaced faith? Is it insufficient faith? Is it a faith that brings about salvation from sins and life everlasting with God in heaven?  In the next post, we will examine passages from the New Testament to see if they help illumine our discussion here and answer some of the questions regarding salvation in the Old Testament.


[1] Some have rightly concluded that this “seed” can be plural or referring to an individual; A similar wording in English would be sheep, deer, or fish with the same word is used in both the singular and the plural. See T.D. Alexander From Eden to the New Jerusalem footnote on pg 105. For a more in-depth discussion on the seed, see Hamilton http://www.sbts.edu/resources/files/2010/07/sbjt_102_sum06-hamilton.pdf . Note also the interplay of singular and plural in Genesis 22.

[2] This is clear evidence that the expectation of the seed was a singular individual, not a plurality.