Promise, Law, Faith – A Review Article (JIRBS 20)

The 2020 edition of the Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies has just been published. It includes a lengthy (46 page) review of T. David Gordon’s “Promise, Law, Faith: Covenant-Historical Reasoning in Galatians.” The review incorporates various points I have made on this blog, builds upon them, and adds to them. Readers of this blog will most likely find it worth reading. In the end it presents a 1689 Federalist interpretation of Galatians, particularly Galatians 3.

It also includes a brief review of Richard P. Belcher Jr.’s new book on covenant theology by Sam Renihan.

The Reformed Baptist Academic Press website is undergoing construction so the journal is not available through the site currently. Instead, you have two options:

There are a couple of things I came across after writing the review that I would have added. On page 88 I note the NET translation of Gal. 3:18. I should have also noted the CSB translation. Also, in fn29 I would add Aquinas’ statements on the New Covenant.

If you read the review, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

10 thoughts on “Promise, Law, Faith – A Review Article (JIRBS 20)

  1. I just emailed my request to Rich to pick this one up. I didn’t even know this volume was out since I don’t have FB and RBAP doesn’t have it listed yet. I’m looking forward to reading your article.


  2. Pingback: Podcast: Responding to Reformed Forum on 2LBC 8.6 @ The Particular Baptist – Contrast

  3. Pingback: Re: Steffaniak’s “Reforming Credobaptism” – Contrast

  4. Pingback: Covenant (4) - 1689 Federalism (feat. Brandon Adams) | Reformed Brotherhood

  5. Pingback: RB| Covenant (4) – 1689 Federalism (feat. Brandon Adams) – Society of Reformed Podcasters

  6. I will never read Galatians the same again after reading Brandon Adams’ review article on Promise, Law, Faith. Not only is it a practical guide to help us understand Paul’s words (especially in chapter 3), it also clearly demonstrates subservient covenant theology is what the Bible teaches. I highly recommend reading through Galatians as you study this paper. Gordon’s tertium quid between the dominant protestant view and the new perspective on Paul is greatly enhanced by Adams’ work of taking Gordon’s findings to their necessary inferences. He cordially wrestles with and sometimes disagrees with Gordon, and I can definitely say those parts of the paper were very helpful. When I first began delving into 1689 Federalism, I found myself latching onto Coxe’s ideas of the Abrahamic Covenant. This paper, however, convinced me of the tri-partite Abrahamic Covenant – all three of the promises being Abrahamic promises, not New Covenant promises.
    Some key takeaways and notes:
    –The 3 Abrahamic promises: “to become numerous, to inherit the land of Canaan, and to bless all the nations of the world” (Adams 83).
    –The 3 Abrahamic offspring: “it must be observed that with regard to the promises, there are three, and only three, offspring of Abraham: his numerous carnal offspring, his singular, Messianic carnal offspring, and his spiritual offspring (all those united to Christ). The offspring of those united to Christ are not Abraham’s offspring. None of the Abrahamic promises were to them” (Adams 86).
    –The relationship of the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants: “The best way to understand the relationship between the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai covenant, I suggest, is that the later served as an addendum to the former, elaborating upon the obedience required by Abraham’s carnal offspring inherent in the original covenant of circumcision” (Adams 92).
    –Judaism, which was Paul’s former religious disposition, insists on excluding the Gentiles from faith in the God of Abraham and Moses (Adams 66). Gordon does not believe that the Galatian error is a doctrinal one. Justification by faith alone is not at stake; rather the Gordon argues the Galatian error is behavioral (See Adams 98).
    –The Judaizers may not be as prominent as many of us first thought. The Greek word for Judaizer comes not from “believing like a Jew,” but from “living like a Jew.” Galatians 2:14 uses this word: “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” Also Esther 8:17 says, “And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.” In the LXX, this word was used. These examples do not ever even hint at justification or salvation, but rather on outward conformity to Jewish ceremonies (Adams 67).
    –It’s important to keep “we” and “you” distinguished while reading Galatians. “We” often refers to Jews by birth (Galatians 2:15), whereas “you” often refers to the Gentile Galatians (3:1). Further, Galatians 2:18-21 are not autobiographical, but rhetorical. V. 18 refers to Peter, not Paul; “Peter re-establishing the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile by withdrawing from Gentiles” (Adams 68).
    –Paul’s reasoning is covenant-historical, not personal historical.
    –“Life in Christ means death to the Mosaic law” (Adams 68).
    –Abraham is introduced for the first time in Galatians 3:6. Gordon calls this the beginning of Paul’s temporalizing argument concerning the Sinai covenant (Adams 69).
    –Just as the Galatians received the Spirit via hearing with faith, so also Abraham was justified via hearing with faith. Therefore, those who have faith and are justified are Abraham’s children, whether Jew or Gentile.
    –This very message was preached to Abraham in this third promise: “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18 ESV). See Galatians 3:7-9.
    –WOW: “[T]he particular ‘blessing’ pledged to the nations through Abraham was the justification that would come through the Christian ‘gospel’” (Gordon 110).
    –The ESV translation “all who rely on works of the law are cursed” is not reliable and misconstrues Paul’s argument. It more properly “is the Sinai covenant administration itself, as mediated to the Israelites through the hand of Moses and the Levites, that places Israel under the threat of curse” (Gordon 118).
    –Gordon comments that v. 13 refers also to the Sinaitic covenant. This means that the verse is talking about Christ overcoming and abolishing the Sinaitic covenant by bearing its curse on the tree and delivering the Jewish Christians from the temporal curse (Adams 70-71).
    –Gordon’s position is: When Christ’s curse on the tree took place, He inaugurated the New Covenant, which abolished the Old Covenant. I dissagree with him as Adams does. See Adams 107 on Galatians 3:13. There he says that Christ bore the wrath of the Sinai covenant in our place. My personal opinion is that Christ bore the curses of every transgressed covenant in Scripture, so as to fulfill them in his death and thereby enact His New Covenant founded in that eternal Covenant of Redemption. However, Paul in Galatians is focusing on the Sinaitic Covenant alone, so it is best to keep in narrowed to that covenant when reading the book.
    –V. 14 once again refers to Genesis 22:18, wherein God promises that in Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The other 2 promises were fulfilled in Israel, while this 3rd one was PROMISED to Abraham but FULFILLED in Christ alone.
    –Gal. 3:15 = A fortiori argument: “If even human covenants cannot be annulled by subsequent covenants, then the Sinai covenant cannot annul the Abrahamic covenant” (Adams 71).
    –1st Abrahamic Promise must be plural: numerous seed
    –2nd Abrahamic Promise must be plural: seed inherits land
    –3rd Abrahamic Promise must be singular: seed blesses all the nations of the earth
    –Paul probably was drawing from the following singular seed passages:
    “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV).
    “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him’” (Genesis 4:25 ESV).
    –The original grammar of Genesis 22:18 indicates a singular seed as well.
    –3:17-18 are the hinges of Galatians: the book is centering around the Sinai covenant
    –“The law, whose recipients live under the threatened curse sanction, cannot be the means of inheriting the blessings that were promised to Abraham without corrupting entirely what ‘promise’ means” (Gordon 140).
    –The first two promises were fulfilled in Israel, but that third promise could never be attained apart from Christ.
    –The word for law lexically means Sinai covenant here. The whole of Galatians should be interpreted this way except when the text itself clarifies the meaning.
    –Why then the covenant? It was added to preserve Abraham’s seed from intermarriage with the peoples of the land. Since the Abrahamic Covenant was insufficient to this end, the Sinai covenant was added to insure that the seed would come.
    –This is an important point: the Sinai covenant truly does subserve the New Covenant in that it preserves the lineage of Christ. Therefore the Sinai covenant played an important role in the historia salutis.
    –By keeping the covenant, Israel could achieve “sub-eschatological” temporal life in Canaan (74).
    3:21 should replace “the law” with the “Sinai covenant”, and “a law” with “the law.”
    –“Paul’s allegory is not an argument proved from Genesis, but rather the summary of his argument illustrated by the Genesis narrative” (Adams 76).
    –“both the Abrahamic and the new covenant embrace all nations, are characterized by faith, and are free of any threatened curse sanctions. Furthermore, the new covenant is the fulfillment of what was pledged in the Abrahamic covenant” (Adams 76).
    –Brandon says “our mother” probably refers to both the Abrahamic and New Covenants. Gordon, says he, is not sure.
    –In this section, the DP has characteristically mistook Paul as describing the perverted Mosaic laws (fence laws). Brandon and Gordon argue that it is referring to the Sinai covenant as it was designed to be. These points are extremely helpful, because the way some Christians describe the Sinai covenant really robs it of its true subservient intent and lays so much weight on “Judaizers” who perverted it.
    –Under the law = enslaved (Galatians 4:21).

    –The “law of Christ” is similar to “the law.” Just as the later referred to the Sinai covenant, so also the first refers to the New Covenant stipulations. Thus, the “law of Christ” does not refer to the Sinai covenant (Adams 79).
    –Gordon’s synecdoche tends to commit the part-to-whole fallacy in that all 3 of the Abrahamic promises are referred to by the “promise” whereas it is really referring to the 3rd promise alone.

    Concluding thoughts:
    Gordon’s reasoning that “Abraham was justified; therefore, the Abrahamic covenant justifies” (93) is faulty because justification is an eschatological doctrine. We know that the Abrahamic covenant was not an eschatological covenant like the New Covenant, therefore it could not justify.
    Brandon asks: “How could Abraham have received the future-promised Spirit through faith “just as” (3:6) the Galatian Gentiles did? How could Abraham be justified by the Abrahamic covenant if in the course of history the Abrahamic covenant is just as pre-eschatological as the Sinai covenant? One cannot say the Abrahamic covenant justified without rejecting the historia testamentorum” (Adams 93) The answer is that Paul is saying “justification is not a contrast between the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai covenant, but between the new covenant and both the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants” (Adams 93-94).
    The Abrahamic covenant promised the historia salutis, not the ordo salutis. I 100% agree.

    Once again, this was a very helpful article. I completely agree with your concluding thoughts: “The church would be greatly benefited from more work applying the Particular Baptist understanding of covenant theology to biblical studies.” You’ve inspired me to dive even deeper into 1689 Federalism, do historical theology, then show how the Bible itself teaches that covenant theology.

    Finally, there is a dilemma I’m working through:
    How did Abraham receive the ordo salutis? If it was by placing his faith in the gospel and the messianic seed (Gal. 3:8), then wouldn’t that indicate he was saved by means of the third Abrahamic promise? Is it contradictory for me as a 1689 Federalist to say that the Abrahamic covenant’s 3rd promise reveals the gospel to his descendants? I hope you can help me understand this better!


    1. Thanks for sharing your notes Joseph. I’m glad the essay was helpful!

      As to your question at the end, no it’s certainly not contradictory for 1689 Federalism to say that the various post-fall covenant reveal the gospel. That’s what we believe. The point of contention is whether or not that entails that the post-fall covenants were the covenant of grace. The paedobaptist logic is: whatever reveals the gospel is the covenant of grace. However, they don’t follow the same logic with regards to the law and the Mosaic Covenant. They argue that the Mosaic Covenant reveals the Covenant of Works (the law) without being the Covenant of Works. We make the same point, just in reverse.

      Also, to be more specific: “wouldn’t that indicate he was saved by means of the third Abrahamic promise”? Certainly. But lets be careful not to equivocate on “by means of.” Does it mean he was saved “by means of” the third Abrahamic promise in the same way that he was saved “by means of” the New Covenant? No. The promises are related, but not identical.

      3rd Abrahamic promise: In Abraham will all nations of the earth be blessed (i.e. Abraham will be the father of the Messiah).

      This was a “means of” Abraham’s salvation insofar as it revealed the gospel: that there would be a man who would bless the nations by reversing the curse (that Abraham and everyone else was under).

      New Covenant promise: I will give you my Spirit, a new heart, and remember your sins no more.

      This was a “means of” Abraham’s salvation insofar as it actually brought about Abraham’s salvation. It enabled him to believe the gospel that the 3rd Abrahamic promise revealed. The third Abrahamic promise did not give him a new heart to believe. The New Covenant is union with Christ. The Abrahamic Covenant was not. Thus the New Covenant is a “means of” Abraham’s salvation in a much more involved since than the third Abrahamic promise.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With regards to Westminster’s view that the Mosaic revealed the law but the law was not given as a covenant to Israel, as well as 1689 Federalism view that the Abrahamic revealed the New, yet was not the same covenant, see these three posts:

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for the reply. That’s a helpful distinction. So, throughout all OT history people have been saved by the gospel as it is revealed to them through shadows and types. I love how 2LBC 7:3 says that the Cov. of Grace/NC is revealed in the gospel. Therefore, to have the New Covenant revealed to an OT saint, they must hear the gospel. The two are absolutely inseparable. By being called, hearing the gospel, receiving it in faith and repentance, OT saints entered the NC retroactively.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s