Below is a summary of the confessionally (WCF) acceptable way that the Mosaic law may be understood, according to the OPC Report on Republication. I believe that they have accurately explained the meaning of the substance/administration distinction according to the WCF. They have also drawn out a necessary conclusion regarding Lev. 18:5 that was not necessarily drawn out by all who have historically held to Westminster’s version of covenant theology.
- “it is basic to our confession’s presentation of covenant theology to distinguish between the substance and administration [accidents] of the covenant of grace”
- “the confession allows for an administrative republication of the covenant of works” [not a substantial republication]
- “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.”
In this report, we have identified two basic senses of republication: substantial and administrative. Administrative republication is consistent with our standards in that it coherently maintains that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. Examples of administrative republication include declarative, material, and misinterpretive republications, as well as an indirect, redemptive reenactment of Adam’s sin and exile (as described in our report).
Views of substantial republication which are theologically inconsistent with our standards include: pure and simple republications, subservient republications, mixed republications, and a direct, non-redemptive reenactment of Adam’s pre-fall covenantal probation.
Administrative Republication (compatible with WCF)
administration: By “administration” of the covenant of grace, covenant theologians denote the outward means by which, or a redemptive era in which, the benefits of Christ’s redemption are communicated to the elect. Thus, while the covenant of grace is the same in substance in the old and new covenants, it is administered differently in the old covenant age of promise (e.g., through promises, types and sacrifices) than in the new covenant age of fulfillment and the advent of Christ (cf. WCF 7.5; 8.6).
administrative republication: republication occurs when the covenant of works is declared (but not made) or materially present in the administration of the covenant of grace. However, there is not a substantial republication of the covenant of works as the way of obtaining eternal life through perfect obedience.
declarative republication: the covenant of works broken with Adam is declared at Mt. Sinai to communicate the grace of conviction of sin, and function antecedently as a schoolmaster to lead Israel to Christ.
material republication: a second promulgation of a works principle that operates without reference to redemptive grace at any point or any level.
misinterpretation principle: the notion that Paul, in texts such as Gal 3 and Rom 10:4–5, is refuting a Jewish misinterpretation of the law (namely, that the Mosaic law contained a substantial republication of the covenant of works).
misinterpretive republication: the idea that the covenant of works is not actually republished in a substantial sense in the Mosaic covenant but is present only in the misunderstanding of those who opposed Paul’s teaching of a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. Hence, the language of contrast between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants rests in the minds of Paul’s opponents, but not in Paul’s actual theology.
accidental republication: in this understanding of republication the covenant of works is present in the Mosaic covenant merely as a byproduct of God’s intention and design. For example, it can be a byproduct of the misinterpretation theory. This would mean that there is no substantial republication of the covenant of works per se in the Mosaic covenant, but that such a republication is mistakenly perceived to be present through misunderstanding by the interpreter.
indirect redemptive reenactment: language that describes the way that Israel’s sin and exile from Canaan as a typological Son (Exod 4:23) recapitulates in a context adjusted to sin and redemptive typology Adam’s sin and exile from Eden (Gen 3:22ff.). This view would also construe the works principle operative in Israel at the national level as a redemptively recalibrated principle, differing in substance from yet similar in function to the prelapsarian works principle in Eden. As such, the redemptive works principle that applies to national Israel tethers typical land maintenance to Israel’s corporate fidelity to the Lord under the covenant of grace. [“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.”]
recapitulative republication: the idea that national Israel’s sin and exile from Canaan functions to present in typological forms adjusted to redemptive history the sin and exile of Adam from Eden.
Substantial Republication (incompatible with WCF)
substance: in covenant theology, a discussion of the “substance” of God’s covenant involves the essential nature of, and/or condition of, the covenant. The covenant of grace promises eternal life and salvation through faith in Christ. The covenant of works promises eternal life on the condition of perfect, personal, exact and entire obedience to God’s moral law.
substantial republication: the view that the Mosaic covenant is essentially characterized as a works arrangement in terms of its fundamental principle or condition. A substantial republication of the covenant of works would therefore be different in kind from the covenant grace. [“Is the Mosaic covenant itself a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, or something else? At other times, the question was asked relatively, focusing on the relationship between the old and new covenants. Is the Mosaic covenant the same in substance as the Abrahamic and new covenant administrations of the covenant of grace? Whatever the approach, the focus was same: identifying the substance of the Mosaic covenant. The key question turns on whether there is a substantial difference between the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of grace… [The idea] that the Sinai covenant is in substance or kind a covenant of works in contrast to a covenant of grace. The language utilized to express this fact has been varied, but (on this reading) produces a similar theological result. The nature of the Mosaic covenant is said to be “legal” or governed by a works principle in contrast to grace; it is said to be a different covenant that is different in kind from characteristically gracious Abrahamic covenant; it is said to be a covenant that is itself not gracious; or that it places Israel under an arrangement that is fundamentally similar or analogous to the original covenant of works with Adam. Put absolutely, the Sinai covenant itself is therefore substantially not a covenant of grace, but a distinct covenantal arrangement governed by a works principle. Put relatively, this language 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.”]
subservient covenant: the view that the Mosaic covenant in substance, and at the national level as opposed to the individual level, promises temporal life in Canaan upon condition of perfect obedience to the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws.
direct, non-redemptive reenactment: on the reading of Kline as advocate of substantial republication, this view would understand the Mosaic covenant to enshrine a non-redemptive works principle that is republished from the prelapsarian covenant with Adam and thereby places Israel under what is in substance a covenant of works relative to land retention.
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. Simply stated, there were really only two categorical options for speaking of the Mosaic covenant within the systemic framework of historic Reformed covenant theology, with various other possible permutations under each.
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.
works principle: In Kline’s writings, a “works principle” is, on an administrative reading, a covenantal feature that tethers the acquisition or loss of a promised inheritance to the representative obedience or disobedience of a sinless federal head (Adam or Christ), a believer (e.g., Abraham), or a nation (Israel). As such, the works principle is not identical to the covenant of works with Adam, because it can operate in both pre-redemptive and redemptive settings. A works principle, on a substantial reading of Kline, would denote the reappearance of a graceless principle of Adamic probation, set in substantial contrast to redemptive grace, that is applied at the typological level to the nation of Israel. [“A fourth phrase commonly associated with the discussion of republication is the “works principle.” When defining the works principle, it is first important to distinguish it from what it is not. It is not identical to the idea of retribution as discussed in biblical studies. Retribution can be stated simply as the notion that God rewards the good that men do and punishes their evil… a works principle, broadly and strictly conceived as it relates to republication, is not merely a discussion about the retributive principle found in the Scriptures. Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions.”]
Leviticus 18:5, the Works Principle, and Apostasy: Corporate and Individual
Apostasy occurs when an individual in the new covenant fails to appropriate the indicative of the gospel and walk by faith working in love (cf. Rom 1:5; Gal 5:6). The individual is cut off from the covenant community, invoking the curse sanction of the covenant, and loses eschatological inheritance.
Put a bit differently, blessing in the new covenant operates within the contingent confidence of one who, by virtue of Spirit-wrought union with Christ, walks by faith and not by sight. This may be expressed in confessional language as “improving our baptism” by faith and obedience in union and communion with Christ (cf. LC 167). Kline speaks of a form of conditionality that appends to the covenant of grace, due to the fact that the Lord’s demand for holiness is consistent in its expression. The sacraments of circumcision and baptism, while holding forth the promised indicative, do so in such a way that the demands for consecration and holiness are escalated and perfected. Finally, and underwriting these points, Kline appeals to the dual sanctions of the covenant of grace, both in its old and new covenant administrations.
Let us now briefly extend this discussion, using Kline’s sacramental theology to guide us. Explaining Israel’s exile and loss of national election in relation to apostasy under the covenant of grace, we can say that 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). Moses and the prophets appeal to the fact that Israel as a nation has an uncircumcised heart (Deut 10:16; Jer. 4:4). This uncircumcision brings the nation under the threatened sanctions of the covenant in a manner analogous to the way that an uncircumcised heart brings an individual under the threatened sanction of the covenant of grace. In both instances, there is a threatened sanction—a judgment according to sinful works—that is expressed.
Where, then, is the difference? The difference between national Israel and the individual in the new covenant is that Israel as a nation bears the curse sanction of circumcision at a typico-symbolic level. The substance of that reality consists in Israel’s apostasy invoking the curse sanction of circumcision in a unique, typological setting whereby the nation forfeits the typal kingdom. 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. Failure to demonstrate appropriate fidelity to the Lord, whether individual or national, results in a judgment to be borne by the individual or nation, the latter being in the form of exile from Canaan. And insofar as Israel bears the threatened circumcision curse at the national level, there is a repetition of sin in the likeness of Adam and a repudiation of the faith-obedience of Abraham. The uniqueness of Israel’s apostasy turns on the fact that judgment expresses itself in the form of typological land loss, which adds a unique feature to Israel’s national apostasy that in the final analysis redemptive-historically reenacts the sin and exile of Adam.
This theme of covenantal judgment continues with the sacramental significance of baptism in the new covenant. Baptism, like circumcision, brings dual sanctions into view.
The idea that the Mosaic Covenant is different in substance from the Abrahamic and/or New Covenants is contrary to the WCF. If the condition of the Mosaic Covenant differs from the condition of the Abrahamic/New Covenant, then it differs in substance. According to the WCF, the condition of the Abrahamic/New Covenant of Grace is faith in Christ. Therefore, according to the WCF, the condition of the Mosaic Covenant is also faith in Christ. The Mosaic Covenant offers the land of Canaan as a type of heaven. It was received and retained through faith in Christ. The dual sanctions (blessings and curses) of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut 28) are sanctions of the Covenant of Grace and are included in every administration of the Covenant of Grace, including the New. Leviticus 18:5 epitomizes these dual sanctions. In its original context, Leviticus 18:5 states the condition of the Covenant of Grace: a “redemptive works principle.” This obedience to the law is not contrary to faith, it is of faith. Paul’s quotation of Leviticus 18:5 in “texts such as Gal 3 and Rom 10:4–5 is refuting a Jewish misinterpretation of the law… Hence, the language of contrast between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants rests in the minds of Paul’s opponents, but not in Paul’s actual theology.” As corporate Israel’s retention of the promised land depended upon their faith and Spirit-wrought works according to Lev. 18:5, so too the individual’s retention of their eschatological inheritance depends on their faith and Spirit-wrought works according to Lev. 18:5 (note that Lev 18:5 is a proof text for WCF 19.6 in the OPC Standards).