September 2, 2012
The Abrahamic Covenant: Still Applicable Today?
As the Jewish New Year begins later this month, I will join Jews in reflecting on beginnings. I was married earlier this year, and celebrate my birthday on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Since neither Rosh Hashanah nor my temple wedding would have been possible without the covenant that God made with Abraham, I can’t think of a better time to give an overview of the LDS concept of the Abrahamic covenant and its centrality in our theology.
Many Christian churches believe in supersessionism (so-called “replacement theology”), which holds that the Christian churches have replaced Israel in God’s plan, that Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, and that the Abrahamic Covenant has been fulfilled in Christianity. What do Mormons have to say about these beliefs?
It is an article of our faith that other Christian churches do not have divine authorization to “replace” anything, let alone the Jewish people. If you ask a Mormon to join a debate on supersessionism, don’t be surprised if he declines. Claims that Israelites (including Jews) no longer have a covenant with God or that they have been replaced by modern Christian churches are non-starters for us.
For Mormons, the Abrahamic covenant is as valid today as it was on the day that God gave it to the biblical patriarch. However, we don’t believe that the covenant is restricted to Jews. Anciently the covenant was extended to all Israelites, and Latter-day Saints believe that everyone who is accepts the gospel of Jesus Christ and is baptized into our church becomes a child of Abraham and therefore a covenant Israelite.
The last belief – that the Abrahamic covenant has been fulfilled in Christianity – requires a much more nuanced answer. Compared to Judaism, LDS theology posits an expanded definition of the Abrahamic covenant. For Jews, the only affirmative obligation listed in the Torah in order to receive the blessings promised to Abraham is to circumcise their newborn boys (though Moses certainly lengthened the list). For Latter-day Saints, the covenant involves the higher priesthood and related covenants (including eternal marriage) that Abraham received.
The covenant also requires us to engage in missionary work in order to encourage people worldwide to take upon themselves the name of the Lord (indeed, Jews at one time were the most aggressive missionaries in the world). So the next time you see Mormon missionaries on the street, remind yourself that they are fulfilling what they understand to be their obligations under the Abrahamic covenant.
In other words, the question for Mormons is not whether the Abrahamic covenant still applies to Jews, the descendants of the ancient Israelites (it does). The question for us is whether Jews (or Mormons, for that matter) are keeping the terms of the covenant. Given the LDS understanding of the covenant that God made with Abraham, it can find its fullest expression only through the higher priesthood and temple ordinances.
While Mormons and Jews may differ on the scope of the Abrahamic covenant, we definitely agree that it is as valid today as it was during Abraham’s lifetime. It helps to define us as a people and to inspire us to honor God in all that we do. Circumcision for Jews, and priesthood ordinances for Mormons, help to remind us of who we are and Whom we serve. As I blow out my birthday candles on Rosh Hashanah, I plan to make a special wish that the names of Abraham and his God will be honored to a greater extent throughout the world in the coming year.