OPC Republication Report – Summary

Lord willing, I will be writing a series of posts on the OPC Report on Republication. Below is a summary. It was written for those who have not had time to read the full report and would like the gist of it, as well as for those (me) that would like a way to review the essential points of the report. If you desire to discuss the please make sure you have read it. This summary is not a substitute.


The WCF speaks to many, but not all the issues raised regarding republication, thus some issues (i.e. typology) remain “extra-confessional” (though others very much are confessional issues).

I. Why the Discussion?

Disagreement over whether or not the covenant of works is in some sense echoed in the Mosaic Covenant.

II. What is “Republication”?

“Republication is the notion that the covenant of works is in some sense echoed in the Mosaic covenant at Sinai… As a term, republication describes how the Mosaic covenant is a renewed proclamation or reenactment of the original covenant of works in Israel’s history. It has also been used to understand patterns and parallels between Adam, Israel and Christ.”

III. What is Typology and Symbol?

“Typology has to do especially with people, places, and events that are set forth in the OT in a shadowy form in order to point forward to a reality to come.”

IV. Need for Terminological Distinctions: What is Merit?

“To subscribe to the WCF is to affirm “the merit” of our Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 17.2). We cannot and should not exclude the language of merit when talking about Christ’s active and passive obedience.”

“Another concept of merit, especially relevant with respect to Adam’s probation, is the notion of ex pacto merit. In other words, it has to do with “the notion that the merit (or demerit) of Adam’s act was determined not by inherent value but by God’s promise of reward (or punishment).” In other words, Adam could merit eternal life because God said so.”

“Both parties can affirm WCF 7.1 wholeheartedly (on the issue of grace or merit before the fall).”

V. What is a Works Principle, Broadly and Narrowly?

“Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions.”

“We can say with confidence that the law was necessary for introducing a works principle that Christ would fulfill. Since Christ was the second Adam, the Mosaic law was an administration that reemphasizes a works principle for him to perform.”

Narrowly defined “Some theologians with sympathies for republication speak of a works principle in a more specific sense, with reference to external blessings… especially Israel’s tenure in the land, or their exile from the Promised Land (cf. Deut 28, Lev 26).”

Part I – The Westminster Standards and Covenant Theology

Ch. 1 Substance and Administration

A. Substance

“The confessional standards assume that the covenant of grace is one and the same substance no matter where it is found in redemptive history… (WCF 7.6)… What is that substance? According to our doctrinal standards the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ… In short, there are not two ways of salvation…”

“However, it is also true that some Reformed theologians have seen the idea of substance in a more technical way; namely, the core condition that governs the covenant. Thus, when the condition is essentially the same, the covenant is also essentially the same; and when the condition differs, so does the essence of the covenant.”

B. Administration

“The different administrations of the covenant of grace share in the unity of substance, yet this is balanced by the ways in which those administrations are distinguished. The standards do not understate these differences (WCF 7.5; LC 33).”

Ch. 2 Typology and Confessional Interpretation

I. Typology

“[R]epublication paradigms typically (!) encourage a particular typological understanding of corporate Israel, temporal blessings and curses, and obedience to the moral law pointing to Christ and his active obedience… Our standards neither affirm nor reject a typological approach to the moral law in the Mosaic economy or to persons in the Old Testament text. Of possible relevance by way of contrast, the confession does explicitly ascribe a typological function to the ceremonial laws, and relates them to the covenant of grace (WCF 19.3).”

II. Varieties of Views

III. Confessional Interpretation

“It is a worthwhile endeavor to attempt “to use these biblical texts to understand confessional phrases” in any study.”

We must carefully understand the concepts of assembly members, rather than just appealing to phrases or language.

Ch. 3 Law and Covenant

I. Creation and Covenant

“[T]he law of God was implanted in us at creation, and yet we cannot flourish without covenant, and so God brought our first parents into a covenantal relationship with himself through a “special act of providence” (SC 12). This means, among other things, that creation does not seem to be synonymous with covenant.”

II. Law and Covenant

Therefore “Natural law does not seem to be synonymous with the covenant of works.”

“[L]aw itself, it would seem, does not include threats and promises for sin and success in the same manner as does covenant (WCF 19.1, and especially 19.6). Nonetheless, in descriptions of the law in LC 93, the catechism notes that there are threats and promises contained within the law. The law has covenantal features, and is presented in a covenantal context. Perhaps the catechetical text intends for us to see that that there are ways in which law does promise a general pattern of blessing for obedience, and harm for disobedience; or it may see threats and promises as features of every covenant administration, and not merely that of the covenant of works.”

III. Historical Exegesis

“[W]hat did the assembly’s members and commissioners intend by citing these passages in support of their statements in WCF 7.2, set forth here?

The first covenant made with man, was a covenant of works [Gal 3:12], wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity [Rom 10:5; Rom 5:12–20], upon condition of perfect and personal obedience [Gen 2:17; Gal 3:10].”

“[W]e must determine if the citation of these texts in this place was intended to communicate or permit [1] a works principle not only as part of the prelapsarian covenant, or [2] as a continuing rule for unbelievers living under the covenant of works, but also in some sense [3] as a unique (perhaps typological) aspect of the nature of the Mosaic economy for Old Testament believers.”

“[W]e must test the assumption that an assembly member quoting Lev 18:5 or Deut 27:26 (texts of the Mosaic economy) and applying it to the prelapsarian covenant of works is also, inevitably, saying something about the Mosaic economy in particular. If we are to build a case that does not leak, we must demonstrate that these passages are understood to pertain to believers in the biblical nation of Israel.”

“With respect to covenant in particular (and not merely to the moral law) the usual trend in the interpretation of these texts can be summarized as follows:

Galatians 3:12 (quoting Leviticus 18:5)… simply as witness to the existence of a prelapsarian covenant of works with an emphasis on obedience…

Romans 10:5 (quoting Leviticus 18:5)… (1) to accentuate the need for obedience in a prelapsarian covenant of works, a covenant which endures in the postlapsarian period for all unbelievers, or (2) to emphasize the promise of life in the covenant of works in the prelapsarian covenant of works only, or (3) a promise of life extended hypothetically for all people in all time, or (2) and (3).”

“The paucity of support for a works-principle reading of these passages thus far is surprising to your committee, and striking, leading to the conclusion that however close assembly members might come to expressing some kind of substantial republication of a works principle in the Mosaic economy, there seems to be no clear association of that principle with these texts among members of the assembly. Indeed, it appears that at most divines understood these texts, when discussed in relation to the covenant of works, in just the way they have been presented above. They do not employ these texts to argue for a typological and thus pedagogical works principle unique to the Mosaic economy, but as an expression of the abiding conditions of the prelapsarian covenant of works to which all unbelievers are subject, including a threat of death for the disobedient, and perhaps an unattainable promise of life for the obedient. In other words, assembly members do not write as though these texts suggest a works-principle for old covenant believers, or a principle of inheritance for national Israel that is distinct from the principle of inheritance that operates in the covenant of grace, or as if these texts supported the attainment of temporal blessings, or the avoidance of temporal curses, by means of works rather than faith.”

IV. Strands and Systems

“[T]hroughout the standards every postlapsarian covenant is fundamentally characterized as an aspect or administration of one covenant of grace, a covenant with an unchanging substance, even if the manner of that administration varies (WCF 7.3; LC 33).”

“No such [works] principle is ever granted any typological importance in our confessional standards. Nor is the Mosaic economy bracketed off in the confession, or even offered a unique place within the Old Testament—indeed, the whole Old Testament is simply characterized as “the time of the law” (WCF 7.5).”

Ch. 4 Merit and the Mediator

I. Merit and Demerit

“In terms of classical theology and philosophy, is the relationship between works and rewards real or nominal (the latter being a position sometimes called “simple justice”, “ex pacto merit”, or “covenantal justice”)?” “it appears from our standards that a properly meritorious work must be free, perfect, personal, profitable, and proportional.”

Free: “If one must perform a work as a matter of debt, he or she can hardly request a reward for that work when completed… (WCF 7.1, 2.2)… But Jesus Christ, by way of contrast, is no mere creature and he owed no obedience to the creator… (WCF 8.4)… His work was meritorious because it was free.”

Perfect: “There must be nothing lacking in the performance of the work that would make it unworthy of reward… The whole of WCF 6 precludes the possibility of making a beneficial covenant of works (in substance) with fallen man… [Christ] can offer “perfect obedience” in our place (WCF 8.5). His work was meritorious because it was perfect.”

Personal: “If we are to claim a work as our own, we must not be borrowing the efforts of others… His work was meritorious because it was personal.”

Profitable: “it has purchasing power… Luke 17:10… Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the other hand, found all of his work profitable. He could “procure” the Lord’s favor and “purchase a peculiar people” (LC 38). As mediator he “purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him” (LC 8.5).”

Proportional: “A day’s pay for an hour’s work is a matter of grace not works… The eschatological advancement offered in the Scriptures is way out of proportion to even our best works, even if they were offered freely, perfectly, and personally… Even pre-fall merit is thus excluded, in any proportional sense, because of the ontological difference between the Creator and the creature… there was no possibility of Adam or his descendants accelerating an eschatological or glorified state by means of any real merit of his own; he could only do so through a covenantal arrangement, where God, in his benevolent freedom, would reward his obedience with a gift beyond that which he had earned… some argue that there is merit in a covenantal (ex pacto) sense for prelapsarian Adam, an arrangement of works and reward which God determines that can legitimately be described in terms of merit… The Reformed orthodox uniformly deny [postlapsarian] ex pacto human merit for eschatological blessings… WCF 8.3 emphasizes that the divine person of the mediator (an ontological matter) and the indwelling of the Spirit (an economic reality) are necessary for the removal of demerit. Similarly, WCF 8.4, 8.5 and LC 38 emphasize that the divine person of Christ is necessary for the provision of merit… His work was meritorious because it was proportional. And this brings us back to where this discussion of merit began: with an insistence on real, rather than nominal categories in defining biblical conceptions of merit as articulated in our confession. This is why the confession speaks of Christ, by his obedience and death, fully discharging debt and making “proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice” (WCF 11.3).”

II. Typology of Merit

How can a postlapsarian imperfect works principle be analogous to or typological of Adam or Christ? How can it lead men to Christ if it is on terms they can fulfill imperfectly?

III. Other Observations

The Westminster standards “stress a core commonality in the manner of God’s dealing with people both covenant administrations of the covenant of grace… in our confessional standards the Mosaic economy is not given any particularly unique place.”

IV. Preliminary Conclusions

  1. “it is basic to our confession’s presentation of covenant theology to distinguish between the substance and administration [accidents] of the covenant of grace”
  2. “the confession allows for an administrative republication of the covenant of works”
  3. “standards are very modest…with their use of typology”
  4. “Biblical and theological cases for substantial republication of some kind are stronger than the confessional case for substantial republication”
  5. The WCF does not explicitly reject every position that is inconsistent with it.
  6. The WCF “does not explicitly teach the doctrine, nor is it obvious that its system of doctrine welcomes such a principle in the Mosaic economy.”
  7. “if church officers subscribing to the system of theology contained in our confessional standards refer to the Mosaic administration as a covenant of works in some sense, it would seem that there must be qualifiers added to explain what is and is not meant by the use of this terminology… The qualifiers that your committee recommends can be found at the conclusion of our report.”

Part II – Views of Republication

Ch. 5 Taxonomy of Views

“The mandate from the General Assembly asks our study committee to determine “whether and in what particular senses” the covenant of works was republished in the Mosaic covenant and to relate our findings to our doctrinal standards.”

“The key question turns on whether there is a substantial difference between the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of grace… The idea of the “substance” of the covenant involves its core content… Throughout this taxonomy the term “substance” refers to the nature of the essential condition of covenant. Conversely, the term “administration” when applied to the covenant of grace refers to the outward means by and in which the grace of Christ is communicated to the elect.”

I. Toward a Taxonomy

“[T]here are basically only two forms of republication: substantial republication and administrative republication. Substantial republication occurs when God is said to institute at Sinai a covenant that is essentially characterized as a covenant of works (as in the Garden of Eden) in terms of its principle or constitutive condition. Administrative republication occurs when the covenant of works is declared, materially presented, or redemptively reenacted in the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace.”

A “fourfold taxonomy of the substance of the Mosaic covenant is as follows:

  • View 1: The Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of works, promising eternal life and/or salvation upon condition of perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience.
  • View 2: The Mosaic covenant is in substance a mixed covenant, containing elements of both a covenant of works and a covenant of grace.
  • View 3: The Mosaic covenant in substance is a subservient covenant, promising temporal life in Canaan upon condition of perfect obedience to the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws.
  • View 4: The Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace, although uniquely administered in a manner appropriate to the situation of God’s people at that time.

“Views 1–3 fall into the designation of substantial, since they place the republication of the Adamic covenant works in the substance of the Mosaic covenant in some fashion (e.g., in terms of its principle or constitutive condition). Whereas, View 4 is seen as administrative, since advocates of this position remove any “works” element from the substance of the covenant, and restrict it to an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace.”

  1. The first view states that the substance of the Adamic covenant is republished to Israel pure and simple. God makes a covenant with Israel requiring perfect, personal obedience and promises eternal life upon condition of such obedience.
  2. The second view states that the substance of the covenant is in part a republication of the Adamic covenant of works pure and simple.
  3. The third views states that the substance of the covenant is a republication of the Adamic covenant of works, although adjusted to temporal blessings in Canaan.
  4. The fourth view argues that the substance of the Sinaitic covenant is in substance not a republication of the Adamic covenant of works, but instead an administration of the unfolding covenant of grace. Any republication or restatement of the covenant of works appears solely on the administrative level, and in a way that is consistent with its fundamentally gracious substance.

“with regard to the two interpretations of Kline’s view in this report, the first reading of Kline sees… him as advocating substantial republication… The second reading of Kline understands him to advocate an… administrative republication.”

II. Outlining the Four Traditional Views

  • View 1: The Mosaic Covenant as a Covenant of Works Pure and Simple

“this view sees the covenant made at Sinai as being in substance a covenant of works, and thus not in substance a covenant of grace. The relationship of the Mosaic and new covenants is such that they differ not simply in degree, or merely in administration, but in substance and in kind. Likewise, it is important to note that this view did not deny the presence of redemptive grace during the Mosaic era. Instead, it denied the location of grace within the substance of the Mosaic covenant.” Anthony Burgess identifies this as a Lutheran view in opposition to the Calvinist view. Francis Roberts identifies the Reformed authors of the Leiden Synopsis as holding this view. Historic criticism was that this view seizes on Scripture’s antithesis between the Old and New Covenants (2 Cor 3:6-7, Gal 4:23-24, etc) and overlook descriptions of Old as gracious.

  • View 2: The Mosaic Covenant as a Mixed Covenant

“the mixed covenant position distinguishes between two “givings” of the law at Mt. Sinai, and conversely between two distinct covenants given through Moses… First, the moral law alone was presented to Israel, which is said to contain in substance a perfect covenant of works… The law was then issued a second time, but with moderation, promising pardon to the penitent, and thus in substance offering a covenant of grace… If the strength of the mixed view is that it tries to account for both legal and gracious aspects of the Mosaic covenant, the basic criticism of this position is that it lacks exegetical and theological coherence… ‘God doth not at once, with the same people enter covenant upon so opposite termes… Rom 11:6”

  • View 3: The Mosaic Covenant as a Third “Subservient Covenant”

“This view maintained that there were three kinds of “special” or “hypothetical” covenants made between God and man: (1) a covenant of works with Adam, (2) a subservient covenant made with Israel, (3) and a covenant of grace with both old and new administrations…

1.    Covenant of works: perfect obedience to the moral law
2.    Subservient covenant: perfect obedience to moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws
3.    Covenant of grace: faith in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ

1.    Covenant of works: earthly life in the Garden of Eden
2.    Subservient covenant: blessed life in Canaan
3.    Covenant of grace: eternal life in Heaven

“proponents of the subservient covenant view did not view themselves as advocating a version of View 4 outlined below (i.e., that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace with a unique administration)… a core theological objection to this view is that it is indistinct. In other words, although it claims that the “subservient covenant” is distinct in kind from the covenants of works and grace, its essential component does not adequately differ from the covenant of works to constitute it a third kind of covenant.”

  • View 4: The Mosaic Covenant as a Covenant of Grace, Uniquely Administered to Israel

“This view teaches that the Mosaic covenant is substantially a covenant of grace, although uniquely administered in a way appropriate for God’s people of that time… This view is affirmed by the Westminster Confession of Faith. WCF 7.5–6… The most extensive criticism of the position comes from the works of John Owen and Samuel Bolton.” Lutheran Martin Chemnitz objected “Shall I follow Calvin when he says there is actually only one covenant? Or shall I follow Scripture which testifies that the new covenant is better than the old?” “pervasive criticism of view four is its perceived failure to account for passages of Scripture that highlighted strong contrasts between the old and new covenants.”

III. Distinctions for Describing the Role of the Law on the Administrative Level [View 4]

  1. “The law considered broadly [“the whole economy or dispensation of the Mosaic covenant inclusive of both the moral and ceremonial laws”], strictly [“simply the Decalogue given at Mt. Sinai with the preface, promises, and threatenings added to it.”], and most strictly [“meer preceptive part of the Law… may be called a legal covenant of works”].
  2. “[T]he matter [referring to the commands of the Covenant of Works] and form [referring to the means of obtaining righteousness] of the moral law.” Thus “what has been called ‘material’ republication and ‘formal’ republication.”
  3. “the law as a covenant of works versus the law as a rule of life… WCF 19.1-2 distinguishes the law given to Adam as a covenant of works, and the law given to Israel as a rule of life. Further, the distinction appears again in 19.6, where it asserts that true believers ‘be not under the law as a covenant of works’… Since the law as a rule of life is distinct from the law as a covenant of works, it seems best not to classify the former as a version of “republication”—of either the substantial or administrative variety. ”
  4. “the “making” of the covenant of works with Israel and the mere “declaration” of that covenant… The covenant of works was not demanded of the sinner (or “made” with him), but as a declared reminder of its terms and previous violation. The actual relationship between God and Israel was essentially gracious, although the manner in which it was dispensed contained a declaration of the covenant of works… This declaration is a form of “administrative” or “accidental” republication because the declared covenant of works does not actually govern the terms of Israel’s actual relationship to God, nor does it apply to the way believing Israel will receive and retain the promised blessings of the covenant.”
  5. “the intent of God in giving the law versus the [perverted] intent of Israel in using the law… The idea of considering the law as it has been abused or perverted by the Judaizers has also been called the “misinterpretation principle.” This is a form of “accidental” republication, because the law’s function as a covenant of works is not present in the covenant by God’s intention and design, but only in the Jewish perversion and misinterpretation of the law.”
  6. “the Mosaic covenant itself and the law abstracted from the covenant…

IV. Summary and Analysis

Two options for republication: substantial or administrative/accidental. Within the latter, 6 different distinctions are utilized. “This can take the form of “declarative republication” (where the covenant of works is declared, but not made with Israel), “material republication” (where the moral law or “matter” of the covenant of works is restated), or an “accidental” misinterpretive republication (where the Jews pervert the law and turn it into a covenant of works for themselves).”

V. Provisional Points for Assessing Views of Republication

Does the position sufficiently account for the fundamentally gracious essence of the Mosaic covenant?
Does the position coherently relate the ideas of “works” and “grace” in the Mosaic covenant?
Does the position preserve the distinctive character of the covenant of works in describing its presence in the Mosaic covenant?
Does the position restrict all “covenant of works” aspects of the Mosaic covenant to the administrative level?
Does the position consistently relate any “administrative republication” of the covenant of works to the fundamentally gracious essence of that covenant?

Ch. 6 Strengths and Weaknesses of the Various Views

“our assessment of the varieties of republication will focus on the question of systematic consistency with our confession of faith and catechisms.”

I. Covenant of Works “Pure and Simple”

“Our standards speak of the Mosaic covenant being the same in substance with the new covenant, and thus as being in substance a covenant of grace. By contrast, this view speaks of the Mosaic covenant as in substance a covenant of works, and thus not a covenant of grace. The standards regularly affirm that the various Old Testament covenants between God and man after the fall are “one and the same” covenant of grace “under various dispensations” (WCF 7.5–6). This is a blanket hermeneutical axiom for interpreting every covenant in this Old Testament era. This affirmation not only excludes Tobias Crisp’s idiosyncratic view that there are “two covenants of grace, differing in substance,” but also lays down a positive boundary marker for any other view: it must be “one and the same” covenant of grace… To affirm that the Sinai covenant itself was a covenant of works is to affirm the opposite of what is affirmed in our standards… a theological weakness emerges when we consider the idea of the unrepeatability of the covenant of works… God cannot actually renew this covenant with man such that he relates to him upon its essential terms, distributing rewards or punishments according to the fulfillment or breaking of its condition…” God is also said to be merciful and forgiving to Israel (Ex 34:6-7). Also “it is not immediately apparent how the sacraments of the covenant of grace can signify and seal a covenant that is substantially a covenant of works.”

II. Mixed Covenant

“Insofar as the mixed covenant view affirms that the covenant of works is part of the substance of the Mosaic covenant, it is weighed down by many of the same weaknesses we have noted with regard to view 1 (outlined above). Most other weaknesses of the position flow out of the fundamental concern over its internal coherence.”

III. Subservient Covenant

“Instead of perfect obedience to the moral law, the subservient Mosaic covenant is said to additionally include stipulations regarding the ceremonial and judicial law. Instead of eternal life (or even a blessed life in Eden), the subservient covenant promises only temporal life in Canaan… these modifications are not sufficient to constitute a third kind of covenant distinct from both the covenants of works and grace. If the substance of the covenant is closely related to its basic stipulation and requirement, it is difficult to see how two covenants that both require perfect obedience can be said to be different in kind. The mere addition of ceremonial and judicial stipulations do not appear to be sufficient to change the essential nature of the covenant… their proposed solution is unsatisfactory in that the subservient covenant remains virtually indistinguishable from view 1 in its constituent, characteristic features (in particular, the condition of perfect obedience to the moral law)… it is difficult to harmonize this view with the confessional affirmations (outlined above) regarding the Sinai covenant as being in substance and kind a covenant of grace.”

IV. The Mosaic Covenant as in Substance a Covenant of Grace

“The fourth view maintains that the Sinaitic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. As noted above, this is the position affirmed in our standards… how can that be a covenant a grace which the Scriptures refer to… as an “administration of death” (2 Cor 4), that is “not of faith” (Gal 3:12), that articulates the “righteousness of the law” over against the “righteousness of faith” (Rom 10), and a covenant that is a “new covenant” that is “not like” the “old covenant” (Heb 8:6–13; Jer 31:31–34)? This view’s consistent answer to such questions is that the differences between the Sinai covenant do not lie in the substance of the covenant, but in the administration (or “accidents” of the covenant)… An appeal to the substance-administration distinction should not be used as a dogmatic “short-cut” to bypassing the text of Scripture.”

Ch. 7 M.G. Kline as Advocate of a Version of Substantial Republication

(1) His description of the nature of the Sinai covenant itself.

(2) The way he contrasts the Sinaitic covenant from the Abrahamic and new covenants.

(3) The role he assigns to ratificatory oaths in promise covenants and law covenants.

(4) The meritorious character he ascribes to the conditionality of the Sinai covenant.

“the “old Mosaic order” as a whole is an administration of the covenant of grace. Nonetheless, he speaks of the Sinaitic covenant itself as a “specific legal whole,” identifying it as making the inheritance “to be by law, not by promise—not by faith but by works.”… Kline does view the Sinaitic covenant as a separate covenant, distinct in nature from the covenant of grace… Relative to their probationary experience as a theocratic nation in the land, Israel was under a covenant of works opposite in nature to a covenant of grace… God superimposes over the Abrahamic covenant “a works arrangement, the Torah covenant with its ‘do this and live’ principle (cf. Lev. 18:5), the opposite of the grace-faith principle (Galatians 3 and 4; Rom. 10:5, 6).”… “The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith… It is difficult to consider how Kline could have stated the difference between the two covenants more strongly… on this interpretation of Kline, the “merit” of Adam, of Christ, and of Israel are systemically coordinated as subsets of the same category… Kline maintains that the Mosaic economy contains a distinct covenant that is itself a covenant of works in contrast to the covenant of grace. It is for that reason that Kline’s teaching on the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of works can be categorized as a form of substantial republication.”

Ch. 8 M.G. Kline as Advocate of a Version of Administrative Republication

“while the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are essentially distinct administrations of the one covenant of grace, both have a typological feature that enshrines a works principle within them… Abraham’s imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience is tethered to the acquisition of the typal inheritance… When Israel failed to demonstrate the faithfulness of Abraham, Israel, as the typal son of God (Exod 4:23) forfeited the land-inheritance that was granted to obedient Abraham… Thus, the works principle that originally tethered eschatological inheritance to sinless obedience is redemptive historically recalibrated through Abraham. [Kline’s] notion of the works principle after the fall cannot be captured adequately by the language of substantial republication.”

I. Protological and Typological Intrusions: Eden and Canaan

“The projection or intrusion of the holiness of the future theocratic kingdom in protological form (Eden) and typological (Canaan) form supplies a central structure in Kline’s conception of covenant theology… The obedience of Adam is tethered to at least two features of Eden. First, his ongoing obedience is necessary to protect the realm of Eden from defilement. Second, his ongoing obedience, when put to the test, is the ordained means of advancing beyond probation in Eden to Sabbath Rest…  in addition to the intrusion of the holiness of the age to come in the prelapsarian, protological kingdom, there is a second, typological intrusion of the holiness of the eschatological kingdom within the theocracy of Israel, and this second intrusion is redemptive in character… The protological intrusion in Eden is not redemptive in substance, whereas the typological intrusion in Canaan is redemptive in substance.”

II. Protology, Typology and the Works Principle

“[Kline:] ‘in the Mosaic economy there was a reproduction of the creational order as a whole (within the limitations of the fallen situation and with the adjustments resulting from the redemptive process)… Flawless obedience was the condition of Adam’s continuance in the Garden; but Israel’s tenure in Canaan was contingent on the maintenance of a measure of religious loyalty which needed not to be comprehensive of all Israel nor to be perfect even in those who were the true Israel. There was a freedom in God’s exercise or restraint of judgment, a freedom originating in the underlying principle of sovereign grace in his rule over Israel. Nevertheless, God did so dispense his judgment that the interests of the typical-symbolical message of Israel’s history were preserved.’”

“The fundamental difference, then, between Adam’s tenure in Eden and Israel’s tenure in Canaan turns on the distinction between “flawless” obedience of a sinless man and “a measure of religious loyalty” expressed by a redeemed, covenant people… To put Kline’s point in language from the Westminster Confession of Faith (9:2,4) Adam’s obedience as a sinless federal head operates in an estate of innocency; Israel’s obedience as a redeemed people operates in an estate of grace. This distinction explains in unambiguous terms the limitations and adjustments introduced in light of sin and the redemptive process.”

“Israel is not judged instantly for sin due to the presence of underlying, redemptive grace, sovereignly administered in terms of the covenant of grace. It is this underlying principle that explains the discontinuity between the instant judgment enacted against Adam for his sin versus the protracted legal process enacted against Israel for countless sins over hundreds of years.”

“although graciously redeemed and given an inheritance in Canaan, Israel spurned the typical indicative—the gracious provisions of God under the covenant of grace—and engaged in long-term apostasy and faithless rebellion and disobedience against God. Hence, God judged Israel in a manner consistent with the dual sanctions of sacramental-sign function of circumcision—the faithless are cut off.”

“It is this typological function of national Israel’s obedience relative to land retention or land loss that Kline terms the works principle… Lev. 18:5”

“It is not a correlation between pre-fall Adam in Genesis 2 and the demand for flawless obedience relative to eschatological inheritance that comes into view when Kline makes the comparison between Israel and Adam. Rather, it is the correlation between post-fall Adam in Genesis 3 and the consequence of his sin leading to exile east of Eden that comes into view when Kline makes the comparison between Israel and Adam. Rather than thinking in terms of a republication of the covenant of works with pre-fall Adam, Kline brings into view a redemptively qualified recapitulation of post-fall Adam and the loss of inheritance. That is the point to grasp when it comes to the correlation of Israel and Adam in light of the works principle.”

III. Typological “Merit” in Relation to the Works Principle: Abraham’s Obedience as Redemptive-Historical Prototype for National Israel’s Obedience

“Kline pinpoints a specific issue with which the Reformed exegete must wrestle: “How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant.” Kline’s point is that just as God would have rewarded Adam in terms of an ex pacto principle of merit, situated within the broader context of a non-redemptive, gracious condescension (see above), so likewise something similar obtains in the case of Abraham as a typical head of a new redeemed humanity… Kline distinguishes the Spirit-wrought obedience of faith performed by Abraham (common within the ordo salutis) from the unique typological character of that same obedience (unique to the historia salutis).”

Kline: “God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come.”

“Abraham’s obedience and the notion of “merit” in view can be at best only analogical to the true merit of Christ… The sign, Abraham’s obedience, and the thing signified, Christ’s obedience, cannot be conflated or confused. Abraham’s obedience at every point remains the obedience of one redeemed under the covenant of grace… Abraham’s obedience is wrought by the Spirit of Christ (WCF 16.2), and, while remaining at every point imperfect (WCF 16.5), is accepted on the basis of his faith-union with the promised Messiah (WCF 16.6). Yet, at the same time, Abraham’s obedience foresignifies Christ’s active obedience (WCF 7.5) and is from that perspective a “type” that “signified” the coming Messiah (8.6)… That God accepted Abraham’s “obedience of faith” must depend on Abraham’s union with the promised Messiah by faith. This is the point taken from WCF 16.”

“Abraham’s obedience is typological precisely to the degree it (a) provides an imperfect “ground” for a kingdom people and (b) pertains to the typical realm the kingdom people will populate… Abraham’s obedience also supplies the prototype for the character of Israel’s meritorious obedience under a works principle… Israel’s national obedience under the Mosaic covenant is an organic extension of the nature of Abraham’s obedience under the covenant of grace. Therefore, Abraham’s obedience is not different in kind from the obedience of Israel as a nation… The obedience of Israel, like Abraham, exhibits a righteousness that is a “gift of grace from the God of her salvation.”… To the extent that national Israel lacks fidelity to the Lord and engages in long-term apostasy, the typological son reenacts in key ways the sin and exile of Adam and undergoes exile from the holy realm of Canaan.”

“it appears that Kline is using two distinct conceptions of merit—ex pacto merit and typological merit, respectively. The former denotes flawless obedience offered by a sinless federal head that is bound to the acquisition and permanent maintenance of the eschatological kingdom. The latter denotes imperfect obedience offered by sinners (by grace through faith in the promised Messiah) tethered to the acquisition and maintenance of the typological kingdom.”

“While it is understandable that some would express concern with the felicity of Kline’s use of typological merit language as applied to sinners, it appears that there is nothing in the concept of typological merit itself that runs counter to the Westminster standards.”

IV. Leviticus 18:5, the Works Principle, and Apostasy: Corporate and Individual

“Kline believes that apostasy is possible under the covenant of grace… the new covenant, like the old covenant expression of the covenant of grace, has dual sanctions of blessing and curse… circumcision has a judgment function when applied to the “uncircumcised heart” of national Israel in a manner similar to the way it has a judgment function in relation to an “uncircumcised heart” of an individual within Israel (or in the Abrahamic or new covenant)… In both instances, there is a threatened sanction—a judgment according to sinful works—that is expressed… Just as an individual who turns apostate loses eschatological inheritance, so national Israel in apostasy loses the typal kingdom-inheritance in Canaan. This reality can be helpfully understood in terms of the analogy with church discipline of individuals—the difference being that Israel experiences a sort of corporate form of church disciple focused to the loss of the typico-symbolic inheritance land of Canaan… This, as we have seen, comprises the essence of the works principle relative to judgment in the typal kingdom. In both instances, the apostate, whether individual or national, is judged according to a principle of works.”

V. The Old and New Covenant Orders and “Breakability”

“[T]he old covenant order as a whole at the national, typological level is breakable in the sense that the nation Israel is exiled for apostasy and disobedience. While the new covenant order as a whole is not breakable at the level of the historia salutis, it is breakable by the individual at the level of the ordo salutis.”

VI. Objections Considered

A. Oath Swearing Relative to National Israel in the Mosaic Covenant

“It is through Abraham that a “works principle” that exhibits “merit” supplies the historical category that redemptively recalibrates the works principle that would pass into the Israelite theocracy. The works principle after the fall tethers Spirit-wrought obedience to the typal kingdom, whether acquisition (Abraham) or maintenance (Israel) is in view… Kline’s point is that it is not the suretyship of Christ that perpetually secures the maintenance of the typal kingdom; it is Israel’s obedience, national fidelity, or religious loyalty that performs such a function… It is this carefully qualified and nuanced situation that Kline deems the works principle, and it is this principle that comes into view relative to Israel’s oath swearing… The typal kingdom order did not endure forever, because its permanent maintenance was not rooted in the suretyship of Christ but the obedience of national Israel. This is perhaps the core insight of Kline’s theology of the works principle.”

B. Kline’s Confusing Use of Merit Terminology

Kline’s “infelicitous use of merit language… is novel and muddies the waters when it comes to explaining the nature of Abraham’s and Israel’s obedience.”
The Mosaic covenant requires imperfect obedience and does not bring immediate judgment. Therefore “what Kline understands by ‘typological merit’ must differ in kind from what he means by merit as it pertains to sinless federal heads.”
“Kline is not applying his notion of typological merit to the ordo salutis but to the historia salutis.” Thus he is not using “merit” according to its historical meaning. “Thus, Kline’s concept of ‘typological merit’ is a tertium quid that must be substantially distinguished from proper and ex pacto merit.”

Summary and Conclusion

“Kline does not advocate a ‘merit principle’ that competes with the presence of redemptive grace… Rather, he advocates a works principle adjusted to the realities of sin and redemption… The failure of Israel to render such fidelity results in a loss of the typal kingdom. The national apostasy of Israel can be correlated to individual apostasy in the church through the meaning and function of the sacraments of circumcision and baptism.”
“While other interpretations of Kline would suggest he endorses substantial republication of the covenant of works with Adam, the line of argumentation developed in this chapter, particularly the integral role played by Abraham as the redemptive-historical frame of reference for the nature of corporate Israel’s obedience, suggests otherwise.”

Addendum: John Murray and Geerhardus Vos on the Mosaic Covenant


Murray: ”At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfillment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant… [it] does not itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic.”

“Murray’s basic concern is to avoid the ‘grave error’ that the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works in the sense that it is ‘totally different’ from the Abrahamic covenant… Murray’s predominant concern is the unity of the ordo salutis in both Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations of the covenant of grace. Commensurate with that emphasis, he gives very little attention to the unique typological features… What Murray does not develop in his comments on the covenant of grace, particularly in its Mosaic administration, is the notion of redemptive intrusion within Cannan as a typical paradise-land.”

“[I]f we follow the interpretation of Kline as an advocate of administrative republication, then we could affirm a baseline unity between Murray and Kline with regard to the substance of the Mosaic covenant.”


“Kline’s notion of Canaan as an intrusion of the holiness of the age to come, as well as Kline’s notion of Israel’s obedience as “appropriateness of expression” appear in Vos’ work… Kline echoes Vos’ formulation in both Treaty and Kingdom Prologue, where he speaks of a “principle of sovereign grace” regulating the relationship between Yahweh and national Israel… Vos also correlates a continuity between apostasy at the individual level in the ordo salutis and what happens uniquely with Israel in the exile at the level of the historia salutis… There is thus an analogy to be drawn between the apostasy of the individual under the covenant of grace and national Israel under the covenant of grace…”

“Kline extends beyond Vos specifically in his appreciation of redemptive typology in relation to Abraham, which, in turn, helps him develop the theology of the works principle with both Abraham and national Israel. The development from Treaty of the Great King to Kingdom Prologue and God, Heaven and Har-Mageddon turns on clarifying the works principle in Israel as it finds its genesis in Abraham and his unique obedience as a type of Christ. The controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen supplied polemical contexts for developing the unique features of redemptive typology that extend many of the insights from Vos, but in a way that does not undermine Murray’s insistence on a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. The development of Abraham as the historical figure who supplies the redemptive historical prototype for the works principle that will come to apply to national Israel develops after the controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen in the 1970s and 1980s, but in a way that bears organic continuity with his earlier work from the 1960’s.”

Ch. 9 – M.G. Kline: Strengths and Weaknesses

I. Kline and the Administrative Republication Interpretation: Strengths and Weaknesses

“[I]t locates the character of Israel’s national obedience under the Mosaic covenant as an organic extension of the nature of Abraham’s obedience under the covenant of grace… Thus, the presence of the works principle at a typological level with respect to Abraham and Israel operates within the covenant of grace and therefore cannot be construed as a bona fide covenant of works… the language of “meritorious ground” in the case of Abraham or Israel is principally distinguished in its meaning from the same phrase when it applies to sinless federal heads, (pre-fall) Adam and Christ. Additionally, the concern that sinners can somehow merit God’s favor apart from the presence of redemptive grace loses traction on this reading of Kline, given the way that after the fall the works principle coexists with Spirit-gifted faith and obedience.”

“[O]n the question of merit, this appropriation or reading of Kline seems open to embracing the traditional distinction between ex pacto (covenant) merit and condign merit. The latter is reserved for Christ alone as the God man, whereas the former is applied to Adam in the garden. Neither notion of merit can be attributed to sinners such as Abraham or Israel.”

Weaknesses: “If our standards teach a works principle, it is found in the requirement of the moral law as a covenant of works regarding Adam’s perfect, personal, exact, and entire obedience. Every other arrangement in which obedience is rewarded is subsumed under a different category—that of sovereign, free, gracious union with Christ by faith… [A] works principle that partakes of the essential character of the covenant of grace… could tend toward confusion… It might seem more accurate to speak of a unique typological “tethering-principle” in which Spirit-wrought obedience is connected to typological land-blessing.”

Kline’s “application of merit language to sinners who are not federal heads” is a deep concern. “[I]t is very difficult to find theologians who apply the category of merit, defined in a way that is functionally similar to but ontologically distinct from ex pacto merit, to figures within redemptive history (e.g., Abraham or national Israel)… [I]t might be desirable to find language other than typological merit to express the same concepts Kline expressed, and this question ought to provide the context for continued intramural discussion within our denomination.”

II. Kline and the Substantial Interpretation: Strengths and Weaknesses

“[T]his reading of Kline… means that the Sinai covenant and the Abrahamic and new covenant are not really the same covenant differing only in degree or circumstances, but in substance or essence… Not unlike the subservient covenant position, this view holds that the conditions of this covenant are essentially changed in the coming of the new covenant, and that the difference between the old and new covenants cannot be relegated to that which is formal or administrative. Instead, the two are characterized by substantial differences in kind.”

“[T]he first weakness of this view is that it cannot easily account for those passages of Scripture that point to a gracious substance in the Sinai covenant itself… these gracious aspects of the Mosaic covenant [are, per] our confession, in the “substance” of this covenant.”

“Kline, and others developing his thought along the lines of this interpretation, have explicitly rejected the principles of proportionality and non-indebtedness in assessing the meritorious character of human obedience. Instead, merit is determined “covenantally” according to the particular terms of the covenant… [and is] simple justice… While Kline and others have rejected these principles of disproportionality and non-indebtedness, the standards regularly employ them… (WCF 2.2, 7.1… LC 193)… The proposed redefinition of merit by some proponents of republication is markedly different from that contained in our standards. In some instances, the difference and modifications are self-conscious, and done with the stated intention of making the confession more consistent.”

“[T]he idea that Old Testament figures can “merit” a blessing on a principle that is opposite to or in sharp contrast to grace is another weakness… On the “administrative” reading of Kline, these problems were mainly linguistic, in that “merit” language is used “improperly” to describe a phenomenon that is in actuality fundamentally gracious (i.e. Spirit-wrought obedience rewarded by grace). However, on the “substantial” reading of Kline, the merit-language is expressive of an arrangement undergirded by a covenantal relationship that is in substantial contrast to grace.”

“Our standards contain comprehensive rejections of the idea of the terminology of “merit” being applied to the obedience of sinners, both for temporal blessings and for eternal ones (WCF 16:5: LC 129).”
“[I]t is not clear how the redefined view of merit affects our conception of Christ’s work.”

A. Weaknesses Related to the Covenant of Works

“[A] potential weakness of this view arises when we consider the unmodifiable character of this covenant. Hence, in our standards the covenant of works is consistently defined by its essential condition requiring perfect, personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience (WCF 7.2, 19.1; SC 12; LC 20)… The works principle is said to require only imperfect obedience on the part of covenant members which functions as the (meritorious) ground, basis, or cause of the reward. God’s standard of perfect obedience in the Adamic covenant of works is thus modified. This raises the legitimate question of whether such a covenant (i.e., that which requires and/or rewards less than perfect obedience) consistently expresses the confessional idea of a covenant of works at all.”

B. Weaknesses Related to the Administration of the Covenant of Grace

“[I]t has been said that the substance of the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace, while the administration is a covenant of works… Simply stated, anything that functions as an “administration” of the covenant of grace must, in fact, administer grace to those who are under it… The administrative aspects of the old covenant were to function as the “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates” to Israel “the benefits of redemption” (SC 88).”

“As typology is a subset of the broader category of the administration of the covenant, the same basic weakness arises… Saving grace was not simply administered merely as a consequence or by-product of these types. Rather, saving grace was present by and in these types, and in this way communicated grace to believers.”

“Measured by our historical taxonomy, the idea that the Mosaic covenant is in substance or kind a “works” covenant, but at the same time an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace, seems to create a hybrid position that combines elements of positions that viewed themselves as alternatives to one another… The Mosaic covenant was either a covenant of grace that differed only in administration from the Abrahamic and new covenants (among others), or it was a substantially distinct covenant that stood in essential contrast to grace.”

C. Weaknesses Regarding the Uses of the Law

First, “While not enumerated as such in our standards, the Confession of Faith speaks of the moral law delivered at Mt. Sinai as the “perfect rule of righteousness” or “rule of life” for Christians in the covenant of grace (19.2)… if the Decalogue is expressive of a covenantal dynamic covenant that is “not gracious,” or one that is different in substance or kind from the covenant of grace, it is difficult to see how it can serve as the “rule of life” of the believer in the way defined and delimited in our standards. Simply stated, that which is intrinsically a covenant of works cannot function as a rule of life for the believer.”

“This merging of the moral law and the covenant of works in the Sinai covenant also seems connected to a tendency to merge the two in the covenant of creation… If law and covenant are so inextricably identified in creation and at Sinai, it is difficult to see how law in its natural form (i.e. the law written on man’s heart) or in its Sinaitic form (i.e. the Decalogue) can serve as a rule of life for the believer…”

Second, “it is not clear how a principle of “imperfect obedience” that at certain times has been fulfilled by fallen man is really a function of the “second use” of the law.”

Looking Back and Looking Forward

1. We have presented two readings of Meredith Kline’s corpus on covenant theology. The committee does not find these two views equally persuasive; we all agree that one understanding of Kline offers a construction of covenant theology compatible with our doctrinal standards, and another understanding of Kline (that which sees in his corpus an advocacy of substantial republication) that does not.

12 thoughts on “OPC Republication Report – Summary

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  4. Andrzej

    thanks Brandon, that was helpful, that allowed me to see the big picture in a much clearer way, cause when reading the whole report I felt at times like I could not see the wood for the trees. much appreciated!


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