Home > 1689 federalism, covenant of works, Leviticus 18:5, old covenant > Clarification on the Mosaic Covenant and Eternal Life

Clarification on the Mosaic Covenant and Eternal Life

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Jeff Johnson on The Confessing Baptist Podcast. I really enjoyed it and I hope it encourages people to read Jeff’s book.

However, I do want to offer some clarification on one of the views he puts forward. When I first read his book, though I loved it, the one thing that stuck out to me, that I disagreed with, was his view that the Mosaic Covenant offered eternal life upon the condition of perfect obedience. Through my studies, I had become convinced that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works, but only for life in the land of Canaan, not eternal life.

This issue came up in our interview, but I didn’t want to detract too much from the rest of the conversation (and I need to re-read Petto). So hopefully this will help clarify the difference of opinion:

  1. The Mosaic Covenant was a national/corporate covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan: physical/temporary blessings and curses. Israelites could not be saved through obedience to the Mosaic Law because it was not offered as a blessing of the Mosaic Law. (Myself, Sam Renihan, James Renihan, Richard Barcellos, John Owen, Nehemiah Coxe)
  2. The Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan as well as eternal life. This was a new, post-fall offering of eternal life to any who perfectly obeys. Israelites could not be saved through obedience to the Mosaic Law because their fallen nature hinders their perfect obedience. (Jeff Johnson, it seems Petto, and some particular baptists)

#1 is the view presented in the 1689 Federalism videos.

This can become a little confusing when reading through the New Testament because the word “law” can refer to the Mosaic Law, to the Pentateuch, or to the law of creation written in the hearts of all men. For example, Johnson sees Jesus’ discussion with the rich young ruler as a discussion about the Mosaic law, while I see it as a discussion about the law of creation. Charles Hodge, talking of the Mosaic Covenant, explains:

First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said. “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom. ii. 6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. If a man rejects or neglects the gospel, these are the principles, as Paul teaches in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, according to which he will be judged. If he will not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace, he is of necessity under the law.

Note that this was a “renewed proclamation” not a “new establishment”. John Owen says the same thing (see Richard Barcellos’ Appendix in the Coxe/Owen volume for a very helpful analysis of this):

This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.

The church of Israel was never absolutely under the power of that covenant as a covenant of life; for from the days of Abraham, the promise was given unto them and their seed. And the apostle proves that no law could afterwards be given, or covenant made, that should disannul that promise, Galatians 3:17. But had they been brought under the old covenant of works, it would have disannulled the promise; for that covenant and the promise are diametrically opposite.

“Now this is no other but the covenant of works revived. Nor had this covenant of Sinai any promise of eternal life annexed to it, as such, but only the promise inseparable from the covenant of works which it revived, saying, “Do this, and live… Therefore it is, that when our apostle disputes against justification by the law, or by works of the law, he does not intend the works peculiar to the covenant of Sinai, such as were the rites and ceremonies of the worship then instituted; but he intends also the works of the first covenant, which alone had the promise of life annexed to them.”

A crucial point is recognizing that the Mosaic Covenant was a corporate covenant, national covenant:

“The national covenant did not refer to the final salvation of individuals: nor was it broken by the disobedience, or even idolatry, of any number of them, provided this was not sanctioned or tolerated by public authority. It was indeed a type of the covenant made with true believers in Christ Jesus, as were all the transactions with Israel; but, like other types, it ‘had not the very image,’ but only ‘a shadow of good things to come.’When, therefore, as a nation, they had broken this covenant, the Lord declared that He would make ‘a new covenant with Israel, putting His law,’ not only in their hands, but ‘in their inward parts’; and ‘writing it,’ not upon tables of stone, ‘but in their hearts; forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more’ (Jer. 31:32-34; Heb. 8:7-12; 10:16, 17). The Israelites were under a dispensation of mercy, and had outward privileges and great advantages in various ways for salvation: yet, like professing Christians, the most of them rested in these, and looked no further. The outward covenant was made with the Nation, entitling them to outward advantages, upon the condition of outward national obedience; and the covenant of Grace was ratified personally with true believers, and sealed and secured spiritual blessings to them, by producing a holy disposition of heart, and spiritual obedience to the Divine law. In case Israel kept the covenant, the Lord promised that they should be to Him ‘a peculiar treasure.’ ‘All the earth’ (Ex. 19:5) being the Lord’s, He might have chosen any other people instead of Israel: and this implied that, as His choice of them was gratuitous, so if they rejected His covenant, He would reject them, and communicate their privileges to others; as indeed He hath done, since the introduction of the Christian dispensation” (Thomas Scott).

The above is quoted by A. W. Pink, who then notes:

The above quotation contains the most lucid, comprehensive, and yet simple analysis of the Sinaitic covenant which we have met with in all our reading. It draws a clear line of distinction between God’s dealings with Israel as a nation, and with individuals in it. It shows the correct position of the everlasting covenant of grace and the Adamic covenant of works in relation to the Mosaic dispensation. All were born under the condemnation of their federal head (Adam), and while they continued unregenerate and in unbelief, were under the wrath of God; whereas God’s elect, upon believing, were treated by Him then, as individuals, in precisely the same way as they are now. Scott brings out clearly the character, the scope, the design, and the limitation of the Sinaitic covenant: its character was a supplementary combination of law and mercy; its scope was national; its design was to regulate the temporal affairs of Israel under the divine government; its limitation was determined by Israel’s obedience or disobedience. The typical nature of it—the hardest point to elucidate—is also allowed. We advise the interested student to reread the last four paragraphs.

Likewise, Bryan D. Estelle, in his essay on Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical and Theological Development notes:

[T]he life promised upon condition of performing the statutes and judgments in its immediate context in Leviticus here is “the covenantal blessing of abundant (and long) life in the land of Israel.”… One should not stop here, however, for these potential temporal blessings (and we might add potential curses as well) were intended only as an incremental stop or sign of something far greater, what has recently been called “temporal blessings and curses with an eye to Christ.” My own position is that the temporal life promised in the Mosaic covenant portended and typified the greater “eternal life,” which seems the clear position argued by the apostle Paul.

In other words, when the New Testament authors discuss the concept of law keeping, they speak of it with reference to eternal life and justification because they have both the Creation Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant in view. Both covenants operate upon the “do this and live” principle and so Paul can articulate principles of the original covenant of works by quoting the Mosaic covenant because the New Testament authors view the types of the Old Testament eschatologically. Tenure in Canaan no longer matters. The issue at hand is eternal life. Nehemiah Coxe explains how the NT authors speak of the thing typified by appeal to the type:

the apostle argues from the carnal seed as typical to the spiritual seed as typified by it. In so arguing he makes special use of the terms in which the promise is made as purposefully fitted to its typical respect or spiritual sense. Similarly, the prohibition of breaking a bone of the paschal lamb, which was a type of Christ, is applied by John to Christ himself who was typified by it (John 19:36 with Exodus 12:46). (76)

This is why I can still agree with the vast majority of what Johnson says about the Mosaic Covenant while disagreeing that it offered eternal life.

My point is not to provide these quotes to prove position #1, but simply because I know this is a potentially confusing issue and these quotes have been helpful in my attempts to make sense of it. I appreciate the opportunity this has provided for brothers to sharpen one another. I think how this all relates can be confusing, so it has been beneficial for me to reconsider it.

Point of Agreement

John Owen claims that the Mosaic Covenant did not (in and of itself) bring death to any… It did not bring about  man’s condemnation, but the manifestation of man’s condemnation. (142, Fatal Flaw)

I agree. Men, including Israelites, are condemned eternally by the original covenant of works, not by the Mosaic Covenant.

Point of Disagreement

It was not just any law, but the Mosaic Law that Christ fulfilled (Matt 5:17-18)… For this reason the Mosaic Covenant had to be a covenant of works. If it had not been, there would have been no hope for humanity… Imputed righteousness cannot exist without a covenant of works… In this sense God’s law does not exist outside of a covenant… This means that it was necessary for a covenant of works to be in operation during the life of Christ. For Christ to merit righteousness, He had to be born under the law; that is, born under a legal covenant of works… Otherwise, there would be no covenant to reward Him for His righteousness… If all this is true, then the Mosaic Covenant had to be a covenant based upon works; our salvation depended upon it… The Mosaic Covenant gave man another opportunity to merit life. (145-147)

It seems the fundamental assertion here is that a covenant of works had to be established with men for Christ to then be born into. I’m not convinced that is true. I see no reason why God the Father could not establish a unique covenant with God the Son in the same way that He created a unique covenant with Adam. I believe the Covenant of Redemption provides the legal basis for imputed righteousness, not the Mosaic Covenant, for the following reasons:

1) Just because the Mosaic Law overlaps with the Law of Creation does not mean they therefore offer the same reward. The role any law plays is determined by the covenant. The same law of creation operates in the New Covenant, but not in the same way. Therefore the same law can operate in the Mosaic Covenant, but towards a different end (life in Canaan vs eternal life). (For more on this see Venema’s review of The Law is Not of Faith; 1.C.iii)

2) The NT says the old covenant was rendered obsolete because it was broken. I’m not certain how we can say Christ fully obeyed the terms of the old covenant if we are told the old covenant was broken irreparably. We do read that Christ fulfilled the law, but law has a broader meaning than just “old covenant” (though it can mean old covenant).

3) When we read of the covenantal rewards Christ earned, we read that they were prepared for Him by the Father, implying the Covenant of Redemption, not the Mosaic Covenant. Luke 22:29 says that the Father assigned a kingdom to the Son. Furthermore, John 17 teaches that Christ’s reward was the elect – something never offered as a reward for obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, if the Father can give the Son rewards not found in the Mosaic Covenant, I don’t see why eternal life for the elect could not be one of the rewards offered in the Covenant of Redemption, and thus I see no reason why the Mosaic Covenant had to be the condition for Christ to fulfill.

Perhaps the strongest support for this view can be found in Gal 4:4-5

But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

However, I don’t think this passage is strong enough to overturn the other factors under consideration. Furthermore, there is trouble here with strictly identifying the law as the Mosaic law, for that would exclude Gentiles as those under the law, who were also redeemed and receive adoption as sons. I agree with Meredith Kline’s comments:

6. Design of the Typal Kingdom
A variety of purposes can be discovered to explain the insertion of the old covenant order and its typal kingdom into the course of redemptive history. Of central importance was the creation of the proper historical setting for the advent of the Son of God and his earthly mission (cf. Rom 9:5). In accordance with the terms of his covenant of works with the Father he was to come as the second Adam in order to undergo a representative probation and by his obedient and triumphant accomplishment thereof to establish the legal ground for God’s covenanted bestowal of the eternal kingdom of salvation on his people. It was therefore expedient, if not necessary, that Christ appear within a covenant order which, like the covenant with the first Adam, was governed by the works principle (cf. Gal 4:4). The typal kingdom of the old covenant was precisely that. Within the limitations of the fallen world and with modifications peculiar to the redemptive process, the old theocratic kingdom was a reproduction of the original covenantal order. Israel as the theocratic nation was mankind stationed once again in a paradise-sanctuary, under probation in a covenant of works. In the context of that situation, the Incarnation event was legible; apart from it the meaning of the appearing and ministry of the Son of Man would hardly have been perspicuous. Because of the congruence between Jesus’ particular historical identity as the true Israel, born under the law, and his universally relevant role as the second Adam, the significance of his mission as the accomplishing of a probationary assignment in a works covenant in behalf of the elect of all ages was lucidly expressed and readily readable.

Two Level Fulfillment

Hope that helps at least clarify the issue!

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  1. DiAnn Adams
    August 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Brandon, I praise God for the bright, intelligent brain he gave you.  Really.  Some of this is so deep for me and hard to understand.  I’m a slow reader and have to take my time to try and follow and understand.  Thank you for all the time and effort you put into Contrast to help the rest of us understand. I love you. YFM

    ________________________________

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  2. August 21, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    “I am far from thinking that the mount Sinai dispensation was a covenant of works to Israel, as if the design and intendment of God therein had been to afford eternal life to Israel upon their own doing…” (57). “The Sinai law is, the covenant of grace as to its legal condition (even for eternals) to be performed by Jesus Christ, held forth under a servile, typical, conditional administration of it, for temporals, unto Israel.” (125). “…the Sinai covenant, under a typical servile administration of the covenant of grace, promised temporal mercies to Israel, upon the condition of their obedience.” (139). This is Petto.

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    • August 22, 2013 at 7:36 am

      The key phrase there seems to be “intendment”. According to God’s secret will, it was not his purpose that Israel should attain eternal life upon their own doing. But he does seem to say that according to God’s preceptive will, Sinai offered eternal life to Israel.

      Petto: That such a perfect obedience is indispensably required in the Sinai Covenant as a condition of Life is evident, Levit. 18. vets. 5., (128)

      Brown: It was not a hypothetical offer of salvation, but a real offer in which “a perfect doing was aimed at” (90)

      Petto: Yet the Lord intended that not Israel (the principal debtor) but Jesus Christ the surety should perform for them, the obedience therein required unto Life; his pay should be accepted for what Israel had hereby Covenanted to yield, and through inability was never able to perform (125-126)

      Brown: God’s intention in the Mosaic covenant “was not that Israel should, by their own obedience, obtain eternal life and salvation.” Sinners can never fulfill the demands of the law due to their guilt and corruption (95)

      That seems to be option #2 as I outlined above. Israel actually covenanted to yield perfect obedience for eternal life, but they were unable to do so.

      What do you think?

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      • August 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm

        Brandon, well, I read the quotes you provided and re-read portions of both Petto and Brown. I think Petto held there were two intendments for the Mosaic Covenant. Cf. Brown, 90, n. 12.

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        • August 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm

          Sure, I see that. My point was that by “intendment” I think Petto was referring to God’s decretive will. I think his other quotes make it clear that God covenanted with Israel for eternal life upon perfect obedience (preceptive will), with the purpose/”intendment” of Christ ultimately fulfilling those terms (decretive will).

          I’m really not sure how else to understand Petto. If the Mosaic Covenant did not offer eternal life to Israel upon obedience, I don’t know how it could do so to Christ.

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  3. August 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    also, cf. Brown on Petto, top of page 88.

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  4. jeff Johnson
    August 22, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Richard, I agree with these above quotes from Petto. For national Israel, at best the Old Covenant only provided physical, temporary, and topological blessings. For Christ, the true Israel of God, the Old Covenant provided eternal and spiritual blessings.

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  5. August 22, 2013 at 7:50 am

    A discussion of this particular issue with B. Adams, J. Johnson, R. Barcellos and S. Renihan would make a great podcast! BTW I really enjoyed the interview brother; very edifying!

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    • Nolan Flowers
      August 22, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      Podcast, please,….podcast. R. Barcellos, J. Johnson, P Denault all commenting on one of my “new’ favorite blogs about CT….NICE!

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  6. August 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    I don’t have my books right now, but I think the following argument is from Petto. He convinced me of the doctrine of republication by saying that the first Covenant of works had no sacerdotal options neither did it offer any substitutional possibility. Once it was broken the only thing it could give was death. Therefore, God republished His Covenant of works into a second Covenant of works (the Old Covenant) which was based on a sacrificial system. That particular Covenant was set up in order that Christ accomplishes all required righteousness (passive and active). Petto argues that the Old Covenant had not the same intend for Israel and for Christ. What do you guys think?

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    • Jeff Johnson
      August 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      Pascal, what you just said is my position summed up nicely.

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    • August 22, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      I suppose I’ll have to wait until I can get a copy of Petto before causing any further confusion. So as to whether or not that’s what Petto meant, I have no idea. As to whether or not it makes sense, I would have to say no. 🙂 I don’t really understand how we could bifurcate the Mosaic Covenant like that and still call it the same covenant.

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      • August 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm

        my head is spinning

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      • August 22, 2013 at 6:46 pm

        Maybe the bifurcation could be viewed this way: the Mosaic Covenant was for Israel an “in-the-land” extension of the conditional aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant (which finds its ground in the covenant of works though in this case utilized for a new purpose, toward a different end) and for Christ a republication of the condition of the covenant of works. I say this because the covenant of works conditioned eternal, eschatological life upon obedience by a sinless federal head. Since Israel was not sinless nor a federal head, the Mosaic Covenant did not offer her eschatological life upon obedience, though it could and did typify it. Since Christ is a sinless federal head and since the law of creation is repeated in the law of Moses, … I am thinking that Christ as last Adam, as a sinless federal head, has a lot to do with this. I know this much, the covenant of works is the covenant of works prior to the Mosaic Covenant. 🙂

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        • Jeff Johnson
          August 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm

          Richard, I think you and I agree on this. I fully agree with what you just said here. For Israel, the Mosaic Covenant could not establish eternal life. God did not intend for them to even try, but rather he gave them the Law of Moses to condemn them and point them to the one seed who would obey the law and bring eternal life for all who would believe.

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        • August 23, 2013 at 6:50 am

          That sounds to me too much like a one covenant multiple administrations model (in matter of methodology) – you start fitting whatever you want into it.

          If the Mosaic Covenant did not offer eternal life to any and every Israelite who fully obeyed, then I don’t know how it could do so to Christ.

          And I don’t know how the Mosaic Covenant could justly be a new offer/contract/covenant for eternal life if it is made with those who are already under the curse of a previously broken covenant for eternal life.

          If we say Christ has an utterly distinct relationship to the terms of the covenant than the rest of Israel, then I fail to see how we can maintain it is the same covenant made with both. I would say that just as Israel is a type of Christ, so too is the covenant.

          Btw, just saw this last night: http://reformedbaptist.blogspot.com/2013/08/eternal-life-and-mosaic-covenant.html
          Thanks Jeff

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  7. August 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Jeff, I am not sure if I agree with what I wrote. 🙂

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    • Jeff Johnson
      August 22, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      Lol. 🙂

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    • Jeff Johnson
      August 23, 2013 at 7:38 am

      Brandon, it is not splitting the Mosaic Covenant into different administrations to say God had two different purposes for given the Law to Israel. In fact, there are multiple purposes of the law. It is true, hypothetically, that if Israel could obey the Law, then they would be able to live before God. But God did not intend for Israel to use the law for this purpose, but rather He gave Israel the law to kill their self-righteousness. Even so, God also gave the law for Christ to obey in order to bring justification/life for all who believe. For Christ is the end of the law for all who believe (contextually, the law that is being referred to is the Law of Moses)
      .

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      • August 23, 2013 at 8:44 am

        Right. That is the point I was trying to make regarding Petto – I think that he was saying the same thing: God actually offered eternal life to Israel upon their obedience (contrary to view #1 above). If one wants to deny that point and still claim Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant, then I think it is bifurcating it beyond recognition.

        So then the remaining objection is: how can God justly enter into covenant to offer eternal life to those who are already under the curse of a previously broken covenant. That is like a judge telling an inmate with a life sentence that he can stay out of jail if he follows the rules and checks in with his probation officer: the guy is already in jail.
        It does not evade the dilemma to say that only Christ could fulfill the conditions because that still does not answer how God could justly enter a covenant of those terms with fallen men.

        This dilemma is resolved if we say that the same law was used within the Mosaic Covenant to a new end: life in Canaan. The judge can tell the inmate that he will get his own private cell with cable TV and catered meals and freedom from dangerous inmates if he obeys the law. In this way the original law that the inmate broke is “revived” (that is, he is reminded of its power and sanctions – what got him in jail in the first place) but the reward is different: better life in jail vs life outside jail.

        contextually, the law that is being referred to is the Law of Moses

        This gets at the heart of the disagreement. If we agree with Owen that the Mosaic Law republished the law of creation and revived it’s sanctions (without the Mosaic Covenant itself making a renewed offer, but instead limited to land in Canaan), then Paul’s quotation of and reference to Moses takes on a greater nuance and complexity. For example, in the quote I provided above, Owen says 2 Cor 3:9 calls the old covenant a ministry of condemnation not because it condemned men eternally, but because it “revived the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works”. So was Paul referring to the Mosaic Covenant or the Covenant of Creation? Both. And yet we must still distinguish between the two, Owen argues – they are not the same thing.

        Bryan Estelle does a good job of demonstrating this nuanced understanding of the old covenant. He argues that in the course of redemptive history, by the time we reach the New Testament “Israel’s disobedience has triggered the curse sanctions. Therefore, the new covenant context has essentially changed matters here… What was prototypical [life in Canaan] has been eclipsed by what is antitypical [eternal life].”

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        • Jeff Johnson
          August 23, 2013 at 8:52 am

          Brandon, it is not unjust for God to demand from man what He knows that man cannot preform. This is why Augustine prayed for God to give us grace to do what he asks. Moral ability is not required for moral responsibility.

          The fact is, Israel was already under the covenant of works in Adam, the Mosaic Covenant did not change, alter, or add any additional requirements to them. As Paul says, the Law was added to more clearly show them their transgression. In other words, Israel, along with all the Gentiles, were under the covenant of works, but Mt. Sinai made the terms and demands of the covenant of works more clearly manifest to Israel.

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        • August 23, 2013 at 9:57 am

          I’m not referring to ability/inability. I’m referring to the legal nature of contracts/covenants. God was already in covenant with every individual Israelite. They had all broken the covenant of creation. Therefore God could not enter a new covenant with the same people for the same terms without annulling a previously ratified covenant (Gal 3:15), which would be unjust.

          I don’t know how you can say the covenant on Mt. Sinai was the exact same covenant as the one made in the garden. I can understand how the law can overlap and how the principle of “do this and live” operates in both. But they have different parties and different details (tree of knowledge of good and evil, etc). They are definitely not the same covenant, even if you want to argue they offered the same reward upon the same condition. If they were the same covenant, then Christ would have been born under Adam’s federal headship.

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  8. Jeff Johnson
    August 23, 2013 at 7:58 am

    I cannot separate the physical blessings from the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. In the age to come, when Christ comes again, the physical and spiritual blessings will be fully realized (heaven and earth will be one).

    The Mosaic Covenant was not only unable to establish the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, it was also unable to establish the physical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. Thus, in the Old Testament dispensation, the Old Covenant (prior to being fulfilled by Christ) at best could only produce empty shadows. But again, these shadows were empty not because the Mosaic Covenant did not promise eternal life, but because the Mosaic Covenant could not establish for sinners the spiritual and physical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.To put it more plainly, though the Mosaic Covenant promised eternal life it could not provide eternal life for the sinner, therefore the Mosaic Covenant at best was a temporal and typological covenant that pointed to the spiritual and eternal realities that would afterwards be established in the New Covenant.

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    • August 23, 2013 at 8:13 am

      “…though the Mosaic Covenant promised eternal life it could not provide eternal life for the sinner, therefore the Mosaic Covenant at best was a temporal and typological covenant that pointed to the spiritual and eternal realities that would afterwards be established in the New Covenant.” But just how is the promise of eternal life revealed in the Mosaic Covenant? Do this personally and live eternally, i.e., be justified, adopted, sanctified and glorified by obeying the terms of the MC? Or by belief in the promise of salvation, which promise predates the MC and is typified by various aspects of the MC?

      Brandon, my attempt at the bifurcation theory was to try to sort out Petto.

      I know this much: men are condemned based on the violation of the covenant of works in the garden; men are justified by the fulfilling of the covenant of works by Christ.

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      • Jeff Johnson
        August 23, 2013 at 8:37 am

        Richard, I would answer that question by saying the Old Testament did not speak of eternal life with the same clarity (justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification) as does the New Testament. But to “live” before God does imply all these things. “Do and live.” I would also say, that when the MC said ‘obey and I will be your God, and you will be my people,’ this also implied a eternal and saving relationship with God. For Paul, when contrasting the Mosaic Covenant from the New Covenant he did not seek to make a distinction between the “life” that was offered in the Mosaic Covenant from the “life” offered in the New Covenant, but rather Paul made the distinction between how this “life” is obtain–one by the works of the law, the other by faith in Christ. In other words, it is the same type of life, but the MC required perfect righteousness and the NC requires faith. “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says…For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:5, 10). “But law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them’” (Gal. 3:12).

        And I would add to your second comment that the same law that was violated in the garden is the law that was issued in the Mosaic Covenant. For there are not two covenant of works anymore than there are two covenants of grace. Yet, thankfully, there are two federal heads. Thus, I also agree that “all men are condemned by the violation of the covenant of works in the garden; men are justified by the fulfilling of the covenant of works by Christ.” And, the law, which Christ fulfilled is repeatedly referred to as the Law of Moses (Matt. 5:17-19, Gal. 3:10-14).

        Thus, I believe that the law/covenant of works in the garden and the law/covenant of works at Mt. Sinai are one and the same, and thus held out the promsie of eternal life and death. Or otherwise, like NCT says, the Law of Moses is only external and deals with external blessings.

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        • August 23, 2013 at 8:56 am

          For Paul, when contrasting the Mosaic Covenant from the New Covenant he did not seek to make a distinction between the “life” that was offered in the Mosaic Covenant from the “life” offered in the New Covenant, but rather Paul made the distinction between how this “life” is obtain–one by the works of the law, the other by faith in Christ.

          See comments above regarding the eschatologizing tendency in the NT authors who recognize the typical nature of OT realities. This is a very important point we have to recognize.

          Or otherwise, like NCT says, the Law of Moses is only external and deals with external blessings.

          What is wrong with NCT is not that they see the Mosaic Covenant as dealing with externals, but that they deny the original covenant of works and its spiritual significance for the law.

          Like

    • August 23, 2013 at 8:48 am

      I cannot separate the physical blessings from the spiritual blessings

      but can you separate/distinguish life in Canaan from life in the new earth?

      Like

      • Jeff Johnson
        August 23, 2013 at 8:59 am

        No, for the physical land promised to Abraham was not received by the Jews in the Old Testament. For Abraham, knew by faith, that the promised land was speaking about a heavenly city, who’s builder and maker was God. It will not be unto the Lord returns that Abraham receives the physical promises. Again, this is why Old Testament Canaan, which was never free of the wicked inhabitants, was merely an empty sign or shadow of glory. The spiritual blessings of Abraham are not realized to the New Covenant, and the physical blessings of Abraham will not be realized to glory.

        Like

      • Jeff Johnson
        August 23, 2013 at 9:20 am

        Brandon, NCT also does not look at the Law of Moses as a perfect manifestation of the moral law of God. They (or least many of them) see the Law of Moses as only requiring external obedience.

        Like

        • August 23, 2013 at 9:39 am

          That is why the quote above from Pink/Scott is a helpful corrective to NCT. It acknowledges that the moral law was enforced upon the nation of Israel in terms of external obedience (because it was a national covenant, thus obedience can only be measured outwardly), but also acknowledges that this law functioned differently for the individual within the nation because of its relation to the law of creation
          https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/pink-and-nct/

          Like

    • August 23, 2013 at 9:30 am

      these shadows were empty not because the Mosaic Covenant did not promise eternal life, but because the Mosaic Covenant could not establish for sinners the spiritual and physical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant

      The book of Hebrews says they are shadows because they are copies of the antitypical reality in heaven, not just because they couldn’t obtain eternal life in heaven because of disobedience (it’s not either/or).

      They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying,“See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
      Hebrews 8:5

      For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities,
      Hebrews 10:1

      Like

      • Jeff Johnson
        August 23, 2013 at 9:42 am

        I agree, it is “not either/or.” God knew from the beginning that the shadows were not the realities, and one of the reasons the shadows come before the realities to point/foreshadow/reveal the realities.

        What I am saying is that the Old Testament was full of shadows, which typologically pointed to the realities (antitypes) of the New Covenant, but these shadows were not the fulfillment of the physical blessings that were promised to Abraham. We must remember that although the church is the spiritual seed of Abraham, one day the church will be glorified in their new bodies and will inherit the earth that was promised to Abraham.

        Like

        • August 23, 2013 at 11:07 am

          the physical land promised to Abraham was not received by the Jews in the Old Testament…these shadows were not the fulfillment of the physical blessings that were promised to Abraham.

          You do a good job of arguing for the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic covenant. I think an important part of this dichotomous nature is what Kline refers to as two-level fulfillment. Joshua 21:43 says that the first level of promise was fulfilled in the land of Canaan. The Mosaic Covenant governed this first level, not the second.

          Step by step what was included in the promised kingdom land at the first level of meaning was more precisely defined… That the territory eventually occupied by Israel fully corresponded with the geographical bounds defined in the promise is explicitly recorded in Joshua 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20,21 (cf. Num 34:2ff.; 1 Chr 18:3; Ezek 47:13-20).

          …Moreover, and more decisively, in the New Testament there are clear indications of a positive kind of the shift to the second level of meaning of the land promise. Indeed, with surprising abruptness the New Testament disregards the first level meaning and simply takes for granted that the second level, cosmic fulfillment is the true intention of the promise. In keeping with Old Testament prophecies that Messiah, the royal seed of Abraham, would receive and reign over a universal kingdom (e.g., Pss 2:8; 72:8; Zech 9:10), Paul identifies Abraham’s promised inheritance as the world (kosmos, Rom 4:13). What is more, the New Testament attributes to Abraham himself as a subjective expectation an eschatological hope based on a second level understanding of the land promise. According to Hebrews 11:10,16 the object of Abraham’s faith-longing was not any earthly turf of this evil
          world-age but a better, heavenly country, the city of the new age, the creation of God. The promised land at the second level of fulfillment is no less a solidly physical reality than it was at the first level.

          …Kingdom level one is identified with the old covenant and
          level two with the new covenant

          Kline, Two Level Fulfillment

          Like

  9. August 23, 2013 at 9:05 am

    I found Guy Waters’ piece on Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works in the Law Is Not of Faith very helpful.

    Like

  10. August 23, 2013 at 9:23 am

    J. Reisinger views the Mosaic Covenant as a covenant of works for eternal life obeyed by Christ for Jews and Gentiles and, at the same time, a temporary covenant given to Israel and for Israel alone.

    Like

    • Jeff Johnson
      August 23, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Richard, but would you not say that NCT does not look at the Law of Moses as the eternal moral law of God? My point is, if the Law of Moses is the prefect moral law of God (the very the same law that was given in the garden), then how could it not promise eternal life for all who perfectly obeyed and eternal death for all who disobeyed? On the other hand, as I have heard some NCT people say, the Law of Moses dealt with only external obedience, then I could understand why the Law of Moses only promised eternal and temporal blessings.

      Like

      • August 23, 2013 at 9:41 am

        The law reflects God’s holiness. The law does not in and of itself require the reward of eternal life. That was added to the law in the covenant of works with Adam.

        London Baptist Confession, Chapter 7.1._____ The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
        ( Luke 17:10; Job 35:7,8 )

        Like

        • Jeff Johnson
          August 23, 2013 at 9:54 am

          I agree, but God did condescend when He entered into a covenant with Adam and gave him the law. This same law, which was given to Adam, was reissued (or more clearly revealed) to Israel at Mt. Sinai. The same law, the same covenant, the same condition, the same promises, and the same threats were given to Israel that was given to Adam. Israel was already guilty before God because of Adam, but they needed help seeing their guilt so God did not reveal the law to them afresh so that they may try to obey but that they may close their mouth before God.

          Moreover, when Paul in Romans 7 was contemplating the Law of Moses, he did not simply come to the mere conclusion that he would not enjoy earthly blessings and physical prosperity, but by studying the 10th commandment he realized that he was already eternally condemned before God.

          The Point is, the Law of Moses was given at Mt. Sinai to reveal to fallen man that they are spiritually dead before God.

          Like

        • August 23, 2013 at 10:02 am

          You argued that the moral law must necessarily promise eternal life – LBC 7.1, referencing Luke 17:10 says no. Eternal life is a reward added above and beyond the law itself. So the moral law can be used without necessarily including the promise of eternal life.

          Like

  11. August 24, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Indeed, I think, one great end of God in bringing Israel under this Sinai covenant, was to make way for Christ, his being born or made under the law, in order to the fulfilling of it for us. I do not see how (by any visible dispensation) Jesus Christ could have been born actually under the law, if this Sinai covenant had not been made; for the covenant of works with the first Adam being violated, it was at an end as to the promising part; it promised nothing; after once it was broken, it remained in force only as to its threatening part, it menaced death to all the sinful seed of Adam, but admitted no other into it who were without sin, either to perform the righteousness of it, or to answer the penalty; it had nothing to do with an innocent person, after broken, for it was never renewed with man again, as before: therefore, an admitting an innocent person (as Jesus Christ was) into it, must be by some kind of repetition or renewing of it, though with other intendments than at first, viz. that the guilty persons should not fulfil it for themselves, but that another, a surety, should fulfil it for them. (S. Petto, The Great Mystery of the Covenant of Grace, p. 131-32.)

    What do you think of this argument: the first Covenant of Works cannot be fixed without the Mosaic Covenant? Isn’t our doctrine of atonement and substitution entirely based upon MC or how you relate it to the First Covenant of Works?

    Like

    • August 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

      I do not see how (by any visible dispensation) Jesus Christ could have been born actually under the law, if this Sinai covenant had not been made

      “By visible dispensation” is the key here. Jesus Christ could have been born actually under the law “invisibly” by way of covenant with the Father. But for us to understand what was “invisible” between Christ and the Father, Christ was born under the Mosaic Covenant, which was a typical, visible dispensation of law limited to life in Canaan realities. The “do this and live” principle of the Mosaic Covenant helps us better understand both the Covenant of Works with Adam and the Covenant of Works with Christ, while being neither. This is Kline’s point in the quote at the end of my post.

      In accordance with the terms of his covenant of works with the Father he was to come as the second Adam in order to undergo a representative probation and by his obedient and triumphant accomplishment thereof to establish the legal ground for God’s covenanted bestowal of the eternal kingdom of salvation on his people. It was therefore expedient, if not necessary, that Christ appear within a covenant order which, like the covenant with the first Adam, was governed by the works principle (cf. Gal 4:4). The typal kingdom of the old covenant was precisely that. Within the limitations of the fallen world [read: not re-offering eternal life] and with modifications peculiar to the redemptive process, the old theocratic kingdom was a reproduction of the original covenantal order. Israel as the theocratic nation was mankind stationed once again in a paradise-sanctuary, under probation in a covenant of works. In the context of that situation, the Incarnation event was legible; apart from it the meaning of the appearing and ministry of the Son of Man would hardly have been perspicuous.
      -Kline

      So the Mosaic covenant was incredibly helpful to understanding the work of Christ, but it was not necessary for the work of Christ.

      Isn’t our doctrine of atonement and substitution entirely based upon MC or how you relate it to the First Covenant of Works?

      Not at all. Our understanding of atonement and substitution is based upon the Mosaic Covenant, but the entire point of the book of Hebrews is to demonstrate that the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant because Christ was not the mediator of the Old Covenant and He was not a priest of the Old Covenant and His sacrifice was not part of the Old Covenant.

      The Old Covenant helps us understand the Son’s covenant with the Father, but they are not the same thing.

      Like

  12. August 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Some thoughts/questions I’ve been having, mulling over all this:

    1. Not having finished Jeff’s Fatal Flaw yet, is the “dichotomous” view of the Abrahamic covenant the same as Coxe’s view? From what I’m reading, I’m suspecting not, but I just want to see how Jeff, Brandon, and Rich all answer this question.

    2. The law of God can be considered as an objective set of commands, not necessarily a covenant. With that in mind, saying “Christ fulfilled the Law” is not necessarily the same thing as saying “Christ fulfilled the ‘Mosaic’ covenant.” In my view of the topic under discussion, the covenant Christ fulfilled was the covenant of redemption. Part of the stipulation of this was being born under the Mosaic LAW (not covenant). This view of mine includes the assumption that the Mosaic law (moral & civil) was a time-and-space-nation-specific republication/expansion of the eternal moral law of God, with the addition of typological ceremonial laws.

    3. A question for those who believe Christ fulfilled the Mosaic COVENANT (not merely the Law): Leaving aside the sinlessness of Christ for a moment, could Christ have personally sinned, but offered the necessary sacrifices, and still be said to have kept the covenant? Aren’t the sacrificial laws themselves part of the covenant, enabling covenant-breakers a way to be considered covenant-keepers?

    Like

    • Jeff Johnson
      August 25, 2013 at 6:34 pm

      G. K. Beale has been helpful (“A New Testament Biblical Theology” and “The Temple and the Church’s Mission”). I do not believe that the Abrahamic Covenant is two separate, distinct covenants. But rather it is a single covenant. If pressed, I would say that it was a covenant of works that promised the kingdom of God (a redeemed people and restored creation) based upon the fulfillment of the moral law of God. With this in mind, according to Beale, the physical and spiritual promises of the Abrahamic Covenant cannot be separated. For God did not just promise a spiritual kingdom and a spiritual people, but He also promised Abraham a renewed creation. God promised Abraham the world (Rom. 4:13).

      The reason the Abrahamic Covenant must be viewed in a dichotomous manner is not that it is two covenants, but that the physical seed (i.e, Israel) was unable to obey the condition and thus unable to enter into the promised inheritance. For not only did Israel not enter into the spiritual blessings of Abraham, they did not enter into the physical blessings of Abraham either (for the land was never rid of the wicked inhabitants and the thorns and thistles never removed). Thus, the Old Testament is only filled with empty shadows and types.

      But, Christ has fulfilled the Abrahamic Covenant and its condition (which was codified in the Mosaic Covenant). Christ is in the on going process of subduing the world to Himself. Though the kingdom is now spiritual, we await till it becomes consummated in the new heavens and the new earth. Only afterwards will will the Abrahamic Covenant be fully established.

      Thus, I believe removing the Mosaic Covenant out of the redemptive story destroys the story. That is, God did not simple insert the Mosaic Covenant into history just to provide nice pictures and types of New Covenant realities. The Mosaic Covenant is not simply parenthetical. Rather, the Mosaic Covenant was necessary. It was born not out of the thine air, but born out of the Abrahamic Covenant. It was given to clarify to the seed of Abraham the condition that was placed upon the seed of the seed of the women, the seed of Abraham, the seed of David. Though all the seed of Abraham and David failed to bring out the physical and spiritual blessings of Abraham, within the stump was a holy seed who was born of women and was the promised child of Abraham.

      Like

  13. August 25, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I don’t think the covenant of circumcision (Acts 7) is two covenants either. Neither does Coxe. I also don’t think the Mosaic covenant is parenthetical, but I also don’t think saying it didn’t offer eternal life makes it merely parenthetical.

    Like

    • Jeff Johnson
      August 25, 2013 at 7:32 pm

      Patrick, I believe that the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant included “eternal life,” but the promise included much, much more than that…it promised the gospel, which ultimately includes the new heavens and the new earth (a complete reversal of the fall). The Abrahamic Covenant promised that the seed of the women (God’s people) would overcome the seed of the serpent (the wicked). Yet, the Abrahamic Covenant was conditional. The Mosaic Covenant held out all these promises on the condition of obedience (“I will be your God, and you shall be my people”) as well. In other words, the Mosaic Covenant is a clearer manifestation of the conditional side of the Abrahamic Covenant. The seed of Abraham would be God’s people and they would overcome the wicked (the seed of the serpent). The Abrahamic or the Mosaic Covenant did not place the emphasizes upon personal salvation (eternal life), but upon the restoration of creation…which happens to include eternal life for God’s people.

      I am currently preaching through the book of Isaiah and it is filled with not only reminders of the conditional nature of the Mosaic Covenant but also prophesies of the new heavens and the new earth. I use to think these promises of the kingdom of God were merely typographical, but have come to realize that they point not only to the “now” but also to the “not yet”, that they look ultimately to the age to come.

      With this in mind, it seems like the Mosaic Covenant would be parenthetical if it did not hold out the same promises and was based upon the same condition. Was the Mosaic Covenant parenthetical to the Abrahamic Covenant or did it flow out of the Abrahamic Covenant?

      My position, of course, acknowledges the great discontinuity between the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, but my position also acknowledges a certain measure of continuity as well. The difference between them is not that they promised two different things (one physical and the other spiritual blessings) but that the Abrahamic Covenant promised Abraham that His seed would fulfill the condition while the Mosaic Covenant did not give any of the children of Abraham any such promise.

      Like

      • August 26, 2013 at 3:52 am

        I agree that the Sinai covenant grew out of the covenant of circumcision (Gal 5:3), but I am consistent in that I don’t believe the covenant of circumcision *in and of itself* promised eternal life.

        I see the CoC (and its later “blooming” form, the Sinai covenant) related to the new covenant in two ways:

        1. Typological. The physical people, physical land, and material blessings were all types of spiritual realities accessed only via the NC.

        2. Subservient. Without the physical, material blessings of the CoC, the stage would not/could not be set for the inauguration of the NC into redemptive history.

        So not only is there a type-antitype, shadow-reality relationship, but also an organic relationship. This means when the promise is made to Abraham, “In your seed all nations shall be blessed,) this is a promise belonging exclusively to the covenant with Abraham (the promise does not apply to Lot, or myself, for example), but is a promise that through Abraham would come the Messiah. Thus this promise – not the covenant of circumcision itself – is the gospel preached to Abraham (Gal 3:8). Abraham understood the typological nature of the CoC, so while he took literally the promises of physical descendants and land given to them, etc., he also believed in what those blessings foreshadowed, recognizing that the former came on condition of circumcision, while the latter were received by a circumcised heart – faith alone.

        Like

      • August 26, 2013 at 11:33 am

        I do not believe that the Abrahamic Covenant is two separate, distinct covenants. God did not just promise a spiritual kingdom and a spiritual people, but He also promised Abraham a renewed creation. God promised Abraham the world (Rom. 4:13).

        First, what do you think of what Denault says on pp. 121-22 on the issue of the Abrahamic Covenant? Coxe did not believe there were two Abrahamic Covenants.

        I’m having a hard time reconciling what you’re saying with what you wrote in your book:

        The Abrahamic Covenant included at least four major promises:

        – a seed
        – a land of rest
        – that Abraham would be the father of many nations
        – And, ultimately, that Abraham’s children would be the ‘People of God’

        The key to understanding these promises is distinguishing between their two-prong fulfillment. That is, there is a dual nature to the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant must be viewed from two perspectives. Each promise must be interpreted as having both a natural and a spiritual side.

        …In addition to the two types of seeds, there are two types of fulfillments in regard to the other Abrahamic promises. There are the shadows of the old covenant and the realities of the new covenant.

        God fulfilled the promises of Abraham in two distinct ways. First, the Lord brought about the fulfillments of the natural promises, which included Isaac, the physical nation of Israel, and Canaan. Later, in the fullness of time, God fulfilled the spiritual promises, which are found in the realities of the new covenant. These spiritual realities include Jesus Christ, those who are in Christ by faith, and the heavenly rest, which is found in Christ Jesus.

        Nevertheless, the natural fulfillments of the Old Testament foreshadowed the spiritual fulfillments of the New Testament. The real fulfillments are the spiritual promises of Abraham, which are revealed in the new covenant. By real, I mean eternal. The natural fulfillments, consisting of the temporary types and shadows, did not fulfill the eternal and spiritual promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.

        pp. 210-212

        How is this not exactly what I have been arguing? You seem to be arguing now that the promises to Abraham must be understood in the singular so that the land of rest has only one meaning, not two.

        I’m trying to read between the lines here, but are you saying that previously you thought the spiritual promises only meant eternal life in heaven, but now you believe they include the new heavens and the new earth? Because we all agree the true antitypical fulfillment in the consummated New Covenant is the new heavens and new earth.

        Like

        • Jeff Johnson
          August 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm

          Patrick, I understand where you are coming from, and your potion is consistent if you believe that God made two different covenants with Abraham (as some believe that God made a covenant of promise and a covenant of circumcision).

          I believe, however, that God made one covenant with Abraham that must be understood from two perspectives.

          Brandon, I still believe that the Abrahamic Covenant must be understood from two perspectives. Everything I said in the Fatal Flaw I still affirm. All I am saying is that the physical promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were not fully fulfilled in the Old Testament dispensation any more than the spiritual promises were fulfilled. Although we must speak of the Abrhamic Covenant as having two dimensions, both dimensions ultimately find their fulfillment in Christ, the church, and the age to come. for this reason, as I have already said, the Old Covenant is only filled with empty shadows. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.

          Like

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  1. August 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm
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