A few days ago, Toby Sumpter asked 4 questions of his “1689 Brothers” regarding covenant theology (post, video). I appreciate his questions and the spirit in which they were asked. Here are my answers:
As Toby mentioned, the primary difference between our views relates to how much continuity we see between the Old and the New Covenants. Toby sees great continuity between the covenants, identifying them both as the Covenant of Grace because he tends to read the covenants with more of a systematic bent that flattens out the particularities whereas we approach the covenants through biblical theology. This is not to say that systematic theology and biblical theology are at odds, but we would argue that systematics should arise out of biblical theology, not the other way around. We must be careful not to let our system iron out the contours of redemptive history and the differences between the various covenants in the Bible. We argue that this difference in our approach leads to the difference in our covenant theologies.
For example, when Scripture says that Abraham or Moses was saved through faith in the Messiah, Toby concludes that the Abrahamic or Mosaic Covenants were the Covenant of Grace. But that is a non-sequitur: it does not follow. It assumes that the Abrahamic or Mosaic Covenant served the same function as the New Covenant. But careful attention to the particularities of redemptive history reveals that is not the case. Those covenants each had particular parties and promises that were distinct from the New Covenant (though certainly related to it). Jesus Christ is only mediator of the New Covenant and thus salvation is found only in the New Covenant, even for those who were justified before the death of Christ.
It is also worth noting that we must be careful not to let parables drive our reading of more clear and explicit passages about the covenants. We don’t want to be slaves to metaphor.
Finally, keep in mind that when we are discussing covenant theology, we are discussing how to put the entire bible together – which makes it one of the most complex topics in theology. So if you’re looking for pithy pep rally one-liners, you’re wasting your time. Playing that game won’t get us anywhere.
First Answer (Vine and Olive Tree)
Toby said that Israel is referred to as an olive tree in the Old Testament (Jer. 11). It is also referred to as a vineyard planted by God. In those passages God warns that he will destroy the vineyard because it did not produce fruit (Isa. 5:1-7; Ezk. 15; 19:10-14; Ps. 80:8ff; Jer. 2:21; 12:10ff; Hos. 10:1-2). God also prophesies of a future vineyard that will bear fruit (Is. 27:2ff; Ezk. 17). “It is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who replaces sour grapes with new fruit” (Reformation Study Bible). In John 15, speaking to Jews, members of the Old Covenant, Jesus references Ezekiel 15’s warning that the fruitless vine will be cast into the fire. He has in mind the nearing end of the Old Covenant, when its curses will be poured out upon Jerusalem. The only hope they will have at that point is in Christ, the obedient son of God, the obedient Israel, the true and new Israel. In contrast to Israel’s failure, Jesus is the “true vine,” bringing forth the fruit that Israel failed to produce. “A paradigm shift has taken place: faith in Jesus has replaced keeping the law as the primary point of reference” (Kostenberger). “If the Jews wish to enjoy the status of being part of God’s chosen vine, they must be rightly related to Jesus [through faith]” (Carson). In Matthew 21, Jesus references Isaiah 5 again in the parable of the vineyard. There, the removal of the tenants refers to “the transferal of the kingdom to a new people of God” (Reformation Study Bible). Thus John 15 does not refer to someone who has been baptized and later apostatizes, but rather to the replacement of the Old Covenant with the New, the transfer of the promised kingdom from Israel (Old Covenant) to those in Christ (New Covenant).
The olive tree of Romans 11 is similar. The tree itself is not to be equated with a covenant, though it is related to the different covenants. The tree can be understood as Israel, but like the vine it should be understood in both its typical and antitypical sense. The root of the tree is the Covenant of Circumcision, which was made with the patriarchs and their natural offspring. God promised to multiply Abraham’s natural offspring as the stars of heaven, which was the nation of Israel, the natural branches (1 Kings 4:20). But again, with the end of the Old Covenant in 70AD the natural branches lost their connection to the root. Their privilege was forfeited by their disobedience and they were cut off. The only natural offspring that remained with a privileged connection to the root is Jesus, the offspring of Abraham who would bless the nations. He transformed the tree as the new Israel. Jesus is now the trunk and only those united to Christ through faith are grafted in as branches. Note that it is through faith, not simply a profession of faith, that one is grafted into the tree. Indeed, Paul warns those with faith that they will be cut off if they cease to believe. Paul wasn’t lying. If someone is united to Christ through faith and they fall away from faith in Christ, they will be cut off. Spurgeon put it this way:
God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces… So God says, ‘My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.’ What does the child do? He says, ‘Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.’ It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution[.]
Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 10 does not rest upon strong continuity between the Old and New Covenants. Paul is not arguing that New Covenant Christians have what the Old Covenant Israelites had. There is a similarity, but also a difference and an escalation. Baptism into Moses is not baptism into Christ. Moses was not Christ. Manna was not the Lord’s Supper. (See here and here for more).
But to Toby’s point “If the New Covenant, marked by baptism and the Lord’s Supper, does not have unbelievers, how does Paul’s warning apply?” Being baptized does not make you a member of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is our marriage union with Christ. Baptism is a symbol of that covenant union. However, it is possible to have the symbol without having the union. Just because someone puts a ring on their finger doesn’t mean they’re married. That’s precisely Paul’s point. Don’t rest in your baptism, in your partaking of the Lord’s Supper, or in being part of this group of people called Christians. Do not take Christ for granted. Cling to him and flee sin and idolatry. This warning applies to the unregenerate, but also to the regenerate as an effectual means of our perseverance. Yet that does not entail a mixed, breakable, ineffectual New Covenant. We learn from passages that explicitly expound the nature of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8, etc) that it is made only with the regenerate elect who will not be lost.
Third Answer (All Shall Know Me)
Toby asked why can’t we understand “all shall know me” and similar passages to just mean that the New Covenant is, percentage-wise, better (even WAY better) than the Old Covenant. Why doesn’t it just mean that the New Covenant will be WAY more efficacious than the Old Covenant? Because the text says that the Old Covenant wasn’t efficacious at all! It doesn’t say it was partially efficacious and that the New is also partially efficacious, but WAY more so. It says that the New is efficacious and the Old was not. The New saves. The Old did not. See Hebrews, 2 Cor. 3, Acts 13:38-39, Galatians, etc.
Thankfully, Jesus gave a commentary on these passages. In John 6, Jesus says “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out… No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” Jesus was referring to Isaiah 54:13 and Jeremiah 31:34, which are parallel prophecies of the New Covenant, and it’s clear in this passage’s context that “all” refers to the regenerate elect.
Fourth Answer (Exclusion of Children)
Toby wonders why there was no controversy in the early church about the exclusion of children from the covenant. I’m afraid the answer is staring him straight in the face, but his paedobaptist lenses filter it out. What was the mark of offspring inclusion in the Covenant of Circumcision? Circumcision. What came to an end? Circumcision. There was definitely a controversy about that.
Simply put, the end of circumcision marked the end of any covenant inclusion of the natural offspring of Abraham.
To conclude, you can see why it is important to pay attention to the progress of redemptive history and the particular historical context of passages to avoid flattening out the covenants.
That said, I appreciate the questions that were asked in the spirit of sharpening. I’m thankful for the opportunity it gave me to revisit some of these passages and test my understanding. I hope that my responses and my questions will be taken in the same spirit of sharpening, so that together we can come to a right understanding of God’s Word.
Toby, I’m sure you will have plenty of “Yeah, but…” responses to what I said, and maybe even some more questions. In fact, I’ve got 3 counter questions for you. But rather than going back and forth like this, let’s sit down and get into the weeds on passages like Acts 2. It would make for a great conversation.
I’ve been reading through Scripture chronologically. When I read Isaiah 49:23 I was struck by how entirely out of place it is to interpret that text as teaching the civil government’s duty to use the sword to enforce both tables of the law, or even to say anything at all about the nature of civil government. The whole point of the prophecy is about Israel’s enemies becoming their slaves. It’s rather amazing that the Westminster Larger Catechism cites the text to prove that obedience to rulers is required under the 5th commandment.
Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.
 Isaiah 49:23. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
The passage is about how “my servant Israel” (Christ) will bring the remnant back from exile among the nations who conquered them and took them away as captives.
49:22 This is what the sovereign Lord says: “Look I will raise my hand to the nations; I will raise my signal flag to the peoples. They will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders.
49:23 Kings will be your children’s guardians; their princesses will nurse your children. With their faces to the ground they will bow down to you and they will lick the dirt on your feet. Then you will recognize that I am the Lord; those who wait patiently for me are not put to shame.
49:24 Can spoils be taken from a warrior, or captives be rescued from a conqueror?
49:25 Indeed,” says the Lord, “captives will be taken from a warrior; spoils will be rescued from a conqueror. I will oppose your adversary and I will rescue your children.
49:26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will get drunk on their own blood, as if it were wine. Then all humankind will recognize that I am the Lord, your deliverer, your protector, the powerful ruler of Jacob.”
Israel’s adversaries who oppressed them and took them captive will turn and lick the dirt on their feet. Their conquerors will become their slaves. This is in line with the Old Covenant’s blessing for obedience:
Deut 28:13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
The word “nurse” (for “fathers” is not to be found in the original text) does not imply supremacy, but is indicative of the labors of a servant. The nurse of a royal child—this being applicable to the church—is less than the child who is being nursed… Thus, the idea of dominion is not implied in the word “nurse,” but is expressly excluded.
It is truly bizarre the way the reformed tradition has historically interpreted and employed this passage – influenced in no small part by Aristotle’s political philosophy. The text is not a statement about “civil magistrates.” It is a statement about the enemies of Israel.
Israel was to be the greatest, most prominent nation in the world, if they obeyed the Old Covenant.
Deut 28:7 “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways… 9 The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. 10 Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you…13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.
We see this happen in Solomon’s day, where they possessed all the land God promised them, and then some. Foreign rulers beyond Israel came and brought tribute to Solomon because of his mighty wisdom and the richness of Israel (think Queen of Sheba).
But what happend? Israel broke the Old Covenant, so God poured out the covenant curses upon Israel, which included being destroyed and taken captive by their enemies.
However, the prophets began to speak of a time when Israel would be restored because of their obedience. Moses himself prophesied the same thing in Deut 30:1
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, 2 and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4 If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. 5 Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Note v7 “Also the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. 8 And you will again obey the voice of the Lord and do all His commandments which I command you today.”
In chapter 49, Isaiah is speaking of this time and he explains that it will happen because of the obedience of the Redeemer of Israel. They will be blessed. Their fortunes will be restored. Their children will return from captivity. Not only will Israel’s enemies be destroyed, but Israel’s enemies will actually come as servants of Israel, caring for its children and bowing down at their feet. Thus the roles are reversed.
22 Thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, And set up My standard for the peoples; They shall bring your sons in their arms, And your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders; 23 Kings shall be your foster fathers, And their queens your nursing mothers; They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, And lick up the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord, For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me.”
24 Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, Or the captives of the righteous be delivered?
25 But thus says the Lord:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, And the prey of the terrible be delivered; For I will contend with him who contends with you, And I will save your children.”
Thus the highest rulers of God’s enemies will lose their dominion and will become servants of Israel and will return Israel to the land from which they took them.
This verse says absolutely nothing about the institution of civil government. It speaks of the blessings for obedience that Israel would receive in the latter days – which we are to interpret typologically as referring to our eschatological inheritance earned by the only obedient Israelite: Jesus the Christ.
Psalm 72 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! […] May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! 9 May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! 10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
I am thankful for their interest in the topic and for the precision they bring to the discussion. I previously responded to #655 and #693, but I decided to ask Dr. Sam Renihan and Dr. Richard Barcellos to respond to #736 (I previously responded in a written post here). Our discussion is available on YouTube and as an mp3 file – both in the full (2 hour) and abridged (1 hour) versions. Some supplemental material and links to resources are at the end of this post.
Thomas Goodwin on Old Covenant condition as outward obedience, contra the condition of the Covenant of Works as perfect, perpetual, entire obedience (contrary to the OPC Report on Republication’s claim that the subservient covenant view saw the condition of the Old Covenant as the same as that of the Covenant of Works)
The Sacrifices, Sacraments, and Ceremonies of the Ancients had their carnal use, over and besides the spiritual signification… So Circumcision, primarily, did separate between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the Nations; it did seal unto them the earthly promise: secondarily, it did signify out sanctification. In like manner the Passover, primarily, the passing over of the destroying Angel; secondarily, Christ: so also the sacrifices, and the cleansings, they represented, primarily, a certain carnal holiness: secondarily, they figured out Christ, and the benefits of the New Covenant.
Cameron, Three-fold Covenant of God, 399-400.
There Goodwin asserts that the Mosaic covenant “was Fœdus Subserviens to the Gospel, (as Learned Cameron calls it)” and “was truly the promulgation of the covenant of nature made with Adam.”
Goodwin, Works, V:330.
Following Cameron’s two-tiered typology, Goodwin called the Mosaic covenant an “outward covenant with the Jews” whose ordinances “besides their spiritual use in typifying things Heavenly to Spiritual Believers then, they had an outward carnal use to the whole Nation.” The forgiveness provided by the sacrificial system was “a Forgiveness of reprieval, not to be destroyed for their sin…and so had a Sanctification and a Justification which were not really such, that is, not of the heart and conscience.”
Goodwin, Works, V:331-332. Emphasis original.
Quest. But how are those sacrifices said to make an Atonement for the people, or to Expiate them? for so the Hebrew word is there most properly rendered, importing a freeing and delivering one from the Guilt and punishment of sin. Now how are those sacrifices said to have done this?
A. For answer to this, we must take notice that in those sins committed under the Law there was a twofold guilt; A Ceremonial and a Moral guilt; or an External and an Eternal guilt. An External or Temporal guilt, a guilt before men, binding the offenders over unto temporal punishment. An Eternal or Spiritual guilt before God, binding them over unto Eternal condemnation. Now as for the former of these, that External or Ceremonial guilt, that was expiated and taken away by performing that which was legally required in the way of a Ceremonial satisfaction. Hereby the people offending was acquitted before men, in foro Externo, and freed from Temporal guilt and punishment, by virtue of that Sacrifice, or rather God’s Ordinance and Institution concerning it. But for the latter, that Eternal and Moral guilt, that was expiated and taken away by those Sacrifices only Typically and Sacramentally: viz. as they represented and shadowed out the true Expiatory Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And thus are those Sacrifices said to have Expiated the people. It is a Sacramental phrase and manner of speech, wherein that which is the proper effect of the thing signified, is attributed to the sign. Even as the Sacramental water in Baptism is said to wash away sins, Act. 22.16. Thus did the blood of these Sacrifices expiate the sins of the people, by representing the Expiation of Christ, that Satisfaction whereby his people are freed from eternal guilt.
John Brinsley, MESITHS, Or, The One and Onely Mediatour Betwixt God and Men, the Man Christ Jesus (London: Thomas Maxey, 1651), 101-102.
As for those Sacrifices, they extended only to a Ceremonial and Temporal Expiation; and that only of some sins. But the Sacrifice of Christ extends to a real, Eternal Expiation; and that of all sins. So Paul delivers it in his Sermon at Antioch, Act. 13.39. By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses. By the Law of Moses, by those Legal Sacrifices therein prescribed, none could be justified before God for any sins. So much we may learn from this our Apostle, Heb. 10.1. The law can never by those sacrifices, which they offered year by year, make the comers thereunto perfect. That is, as touching the Conscience, as the same pen expounds it, chap. 9.9. They could not in and by themselves, as separated from their spiritual significations, sanctify or purify the Conscience; they being Corporal, and that Spiritual. Neither could they give an absolution in foro conscientiae, they could not give any assurance to the Conscience that sin was pardoned, and reconciliation obtained with God. In reference hereunto the Apostle tells us ver. 4. of that 10th chapter, that It is not possible that the blood of Bulls and of Goats should take away sin: Take away the Eternal guilt of it. And as for the External and Temporal, it extended (as I said) only to some kinds of sin.
Brinsley, MESITHS, 102-103.
All the Levitical Services and Ordinances were in themselves carnal, and had carnal ends assigned unto them, and had only an obscure representation of things spiritual and eternal.
Owen, A Continuation of the Exposition, 375.
There were some lines and shadows, to represent the body, but the body itself was not there. There was something above them and beyond them, which they reached not unto.
Owen, A Continuation of the Exposition, 204.
We do indeed acknowledge the subserviency of the law to Christ, and the covenant of grace…But it does not therefore follow, that the law is a covenant of gospel-grace…The law is not the gospel, nor the gospel the law. And therefore though the one of them is plainly subservient to the other, yet they ought not to be mixed, blended, or confounded the one with the other, as if they were but one and the same covenant, and no difference to be made between them; only in respect of the different degrees of the discovery of gospel grace, as has been suggested… A subserviency in any thing to promote the ends of something else, does not make it to be the thing itself; the ends whereof are promoted thereby.
Philip Cary, A Solemn Call Unto all that would be owned as Christ’s Faithful Witnesses, speedily, and seriously, to attend unto the Primitive Purity of the Gospel Doctrine and Worship: Or, a Discourse concerning Baptism (London: John Harris, 1690), 167.
Tony and Jesse at the Reformed Brotherhood podcast graciously invited me on to discus 1689 Federalism as part of their series on covenant theology. They gave me an open mic to address some common misconceptions such as whether or not we think we have regeneration goggles and if we deny Christ in the Old Testament.
I appreciate Reformed Forum’s precision in their episodes, including this one. I also appreciate Wynne’s attitude and that he has clearly read at least one book from Renihan, and has carefully considered Owen, not assuming Owen agrees with him and the WCF. Here are some thoughts I have (as usual, please forgive the length; it’s necessary).
Regeneration is New
Initially, I was thankful Wynne recognized that the comparison between the Old and New Covenants in Jer. 31/Heb. 8 is not exclusively about a difference in ceremonies. Rather, what is new in the New Covenant is regeneration, reconciliation, and the satisfaction of sin.
[W]hat exactly is new?…The Lord lists a number of promises… Number two, regeneration. Whereas the Old Covenant law was written on tablets of stone, God promises that he’s going to write his law on the hearts of his people. Calvin says this. He says the New Covenant penetrates into the heart and reforms all the inward faculties so that obedience is rendered to the righteousness of God.
I interpreted that to mean regeneration was a new promise in the New Covenant, something not promised in the Old Covenant. This was further re-enforced when Wynne said
[W]e have to recognize that…many of these blessings were present for the believing people in the Old Testament. And this, I think, is the point at which things get a little more complicated because we can’t act as though all of these New Covenant blessings were wholly absent from the people of God prior to the coming of Christ.
Thus I understood Wynne to be asking how regeneration, a blessing unique to the New Covenant, was received by Old Testament saints. I therefore prepared a reply explaining why the Old and the New Covenant would therefore be different in substance (since regeneration is not an accident/non-essential part of the covenant of grace). However, I asked Wynne to review my reply and he said I had misunderstood him. He does not believe that regeneration is unique to the New Covenant. Regeneration was also a promised blessing of the Old Covenant.
Wynne clarified that what is new about the New Covenant is that redemption has now been accomplished by Christ. Thus regeneration, an ordo salutis blessing of both the Old and the New Covenants, has now been secured in the historia salutis work of Christ. Thus Wynne concluded in the podcast:
We’ve already said that through sacramental forms of the Old Testament, these New Covenant blessings were revealed and communicated to the faith of the Old Testament Jew. So what’s going on here [in Jeremiah 31]? I remember catching Dr. Gaffin after a worship service very quickly asking him about this text, and he’s just like over his shoulder. He goes, “It’s a lot to say here, but I think Jeremiah is articulating ahistoriatransition inordoterms.” And I walked away and was like, that is so helpful. What God is describing here is a redemptive historical transition promising the arrival of the one who would secure all of these blessings. The unprecedented securing in time and space through the blood of Christ of all of these blessings. But he’s describing it in terms of the blessings themselves. Blessings that were applied prior to the coming of Christ, blessings that are applied after the coming of Christ but blessings that are secured by the once for all coming of Christ.
Gaffin made the same comment on episode 223. I understand and affirm the distinction between historia salutis and ordo salutis, but “articulating a historia transition in ordo terms” doesn’t make sense to me. Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews were perfectly capable of articulating a historia transition in historia terms. They could have said that the blessings common to the Old and New Covenant would finally be secured by the Messiah. Instead they said that the New was not like the Old specifically on the ordo level.
Note that above Wynne compared the law written on the heart with the law written on stone and said that was the comparison Jeremiah was making. That is not the same thing as claiming that Jeremiah is comparing regeneration received prior to being legally secured in the death of Christ with regeneration received after being legally secured in the death of Christ. Those are two different interpretations of the meaning of the verse. In my opinion, one is derived from reading the text (he said he was getting his list from Phil Ryken’s commentary), the other is an attempt to reconcile the text with one’s view of the covenants – a reconciliation that may at first sound profound, but upon further inspection is found greatly wanting.
In my opinion, “[A]rticulating a historia transition in ordo terms” is not so much an explanation of the passage as a dismissal of it. Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews are no doubt referring to a historia transition (Heb 8:1, 6, 13, etc) but it is a historia transition that brings with it new ordo benefits. The Old Covenant was faulty (v7) in that it did not provide the things necessary for eternal salvation. In order to avoid the same situation Israel found itself in (under the wrath of a broken covenant), the New Covenant will provide regeneration as well as reconciliation via the eternal forgiveness of sins. These things the Old Covenant did not provide. That is a straightforward reading of the passage and if one’s systematic theology leads one to the conclusion that the Old Covenant did provide those things, then I believe one has made a mistake in their deductive syllogisms somewhere and need to go back to the drawing board (I appreciate how difficult the process of reconciling exegesis of individual passages with exegesis of the rest of Scripture can be).
In several episodes Bucey has used Vos’ typology triangle to try to answer the question of how OT saints could be saved prior to Christ’s incarnation. This can get extremely confusing. Vos’ main point is to explain why the original Greek in the Epistle to the Hebrews calls the earthly tabernacle an anti-type (9:24). I try to explain the meaning of the triangle in this video. The basic point is that the language of type and anti-type is relative. Something can be either a type or an anti-type depending on context and what it is being compared to. In Vos’ triangle, “A” is the heavenly realities that exist in light of the Covenant of Redemption, including a heavenly sanctuary. Thus in Moses’ day, prior to Christ’s incarnation, God could show Moses this heavenly reality as a pattern for the earthly tabernacle. In this sense, “A” is the archetype (pattern) from which the earthly sanctuary “B” is created (anti-type). Considered from a different perspective, the blood of the Old Covenant lamb was a type (pattern, preliminary sketch) of Christ’s future sacrifice (anti-type). Because the Covenant of Redemption contains the plan of salvation, the plan for Christ to take on human form and offer himself as a sacrifice, it can be the conceptual background (pattern, sketch) for the earthly sanctuary in Jerusalem. However, this is only an anticipation of the Covenant of Redemption’s actual fulfillment in Christ’s death and his offering himself in the heavenly sanctuary.
Now, in answering the question of how Old Testament saints could receive the benefits of the New Covenant, Bucey has repeatedly (in this and other episodes) appealed to this triangle. I thought Bucey was trying to make some kind of argument regarding time: Christ doesn’t die until later (“C”), so OT saints can’t receive his benefits through “C”. Instead they receive his benefits through “A” where Christ has somehow already died. I previously objected because that doesn’t solve anything regarding time and somehow magically makes Christ already slain in heaven before becoming incarnate. However, that does not appear to be Bucey’s primary point. In this episode Bucey said
We have great similarity and join hands with Reformed Baptist on that subject – that what saves is the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only name given under heaven by which men may be saved no matter when you live, whether before he was incarnate, lived, died and was raised again or after. And it’s not any more difficult for the Lord and by the Spirit to save us whether we live before him or after him, because we have to be united to somebody who isn’t physically present on Earth at the time. To God, what’s the difference if it’s before he accomplishes his work or after? So we’re on the same page. But then how?
So it might not be an argument about “A” vs “C.” Instead it is an argument about how one is connected to “C” (the resurrected Christ, the fulfilled Covenant of Redemption, the benefits of redemption – although, confusingly, in Christ the Center episode 186 Tipton says that “the redemptive reality in B and C is A” suggesting that the benefits of Christ come from A, not C). Interestingly, for Bucey, this presents a challenge both pre and post-incarnation. (I would love to have him elaborate because I don’t see why a lack of physical presence would create any kind of problem post-incarnation – but I suspect he feels the sacraments somehow solve this problem. More on this below.)
Bucey’s solution, following Kline, is that the Old Covenant order, established after the pattern of the Covenant of Redemption is realized eschatology wrapped in an earthly form. It is not simply an analogy or a picture that anticipates the new heavens and the new earth, it is the consummation brought back in time and established in Canaan. That is the significance of the triangle to Bucey. OT saints can receive the benefits of the New Covenant, they can be united to Christ, because the Old Covenant is (at its “core”) Christ. It is the fulfilled Covenant of Redemption “intruded” back in time (and covered in earthly types). Thus they can receive eternal forgiveness by faith through the blood of bulls and goats because Christ’s blood is the “core” of the blood of bulls and goats.
I disagree. I do not believe the Old Covenant sanctuary was realized eschatology. I believe it was only typological, only earthly, only anticipatory to and analogous of Christ’s atonement in the heavenly sanctuary. I think Vos’ triangle helpfully explains Heb 9:24, but I don’t think Heb 9:24 entails the idea that the Old Covenant shadow was actually realized eschatology. They may find the two ideas helpfully go hand-in-hand, but I don’t believe it is necessarily entailed. They would have to establish that from some other text.
In trying to answer the question of how OT saints are saved, they go straight to sacramentology. But is that how we answer how NT saints are saved? Do we go to the Lord’s Supper or baptism to explain how someone is saved? No, we go to the Word and explain that in the elect the Lord makes the general call effectual. This is referred to by Calvin as the “inherent efficacy of the Word” (2.10.7). Yet these brothers said nothing about this regarding OT saints and how they are saved. Can someone today be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Could someone in the OT be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Explain how and we have some common ground to start from on this issue.
The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word
Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
2LBCF 10.1 (nearly identical to WCF)
The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance;in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8)
2LBCF 20.1 (chapter 20 was added and is not in the WCF)
Genesis 3:15, the promise of a Messiah who will come to reverse the curse, is foundational to salvation in the Old Testament. It is the object of the saints’ faith. WCF/2LBCF 8.6 is frequently cited in debate over 1689 Federalism, but look what it says about the promise:
Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in… those promises… wherein he was revealed… to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head… being the same yesterday, and today and for ever.
Once again, explain how the promise of a future Messiah (propositional revelation) is sufficient to communicate (impart, convey, confer) the benefits of Christ to OT saints and we can begin to find common ground. Once we have this foundation we can then move on to talk about how typology relates.
Bare Resemblance Typology
The brothers on the podcast repeatedly disparaged what they called “bare resemblance” or “doppelgänger” typology, belittling the idea of NC grace being communicated to OT saints by means of typology as word pictures informing the “noetic prowess” of OT believers. But if we start with the proper foundation of effectual calling by the Word (see above), this should not be minimized and disparaged as somehow inadequate. It is not in any way deficient. The noetic effect of the propositional revelation of the gospel informing an individual such that he may, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the effectual call, understand and believe it is the primary means of salvation. Typological word pictures were simply a supplemental way of revealing the gospel. This does not make them deficient any more than it makes the Word deficient. Please carefully consider Vos’ comments in The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews regarding the noetic effect of types.
The Old Testament law is dispensed with because of its weakness and unprofitableness. Its weakness is not merely a matter of degree, for in reality it accomplished nothing, since it made nothing perfect and did not lead to the goal. This is further implied in the quotation from Jer. 31:31, quoted in Heb. 8:8-12. The fathers did not continue in the covenant made with them. But in the new Berith the law would be put in their minds and written in their hearts. And the further promise is added: “Their sins I will remember no more.” In both these respects, therefore, the Old Testament law is inefficacious. In verse 7 the author goes on to say that God found fault with the first covenant, for otherwise there would have been no place found for a second…
But how could a true religion exist under such a system at all? Several observations are in order. First, we may turn to the types of the Old Testament as something which should have led the people to something better. The author does not make much of this, however. The types were primarily for the people, but objectively they were for the mind of God. Nowhere in the Epistle has the author set himself really to solve the problem as stated above. Nor is it really solved in Paul’s epistles. Still there was a possibility of the significance of the sacrificial system entering into the subjective mind of the Old Testament believers, by the latter raising themselves to a higher state through the types. We see an indication of this possibility first at 10:3. In the Old Testament sacrifices there was a remembrance made of sin year by year. This was necessary, since it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. This yearly practice was not intended merely for an objective purpose; it was a remembrance in the minds of the people. Because of this remembrance the Psalmist, in Psalm 40, was led to speak concerning sacrifices which would satisfy the will of God. It should be noted that it was the Psalmist who rose to this consciousness – an inspired writer, not an ordinary individual believer under the Old Testament. Still, he did write it, with the result that higher consciousness later became the common property of Old Testament believers. It was with the aid of revelation, therefore, that this higher consciousness was brought about.
Likewise Psalm 110 is quoted. Here we have the prophecy of a future Priest, after the order of Melchizedek. Thus there was the consciousness of a higher order of priesthood than the Levitical being possible, and there was the prophecy that at a future time such higher priesthood would become actual.
Psalm 95 is also quoted, which speaks of the rest of Canaan. This idea of rest is eschatological, looking forward to the true rest which is to come in the future. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews here again recognized, in one of the Old Testament Psalms, a certain higher consciousness on the part of the people of the Old Testament…
The Old Testament, however, had more than these mere symbols and ceremonies. It also contained direct promises, many of which were spiritual in content. And these promises were given repeatedly, form age to age. Therefore it was not necessary for the Old Testament believers to live exclusively on the basis of insight into the meaning of the types. Of these promises the author of Hebrews speaks much.
Disconnecting the New Covenant from Christ
Bucey suggested that to disagree with him on the nature of the Old Covenant puts one on the trajectory of theological liberalism denying the incarnation. Bucey argues that our position should lead to the following hypothetical position:
Well, the Old Covenant was just one way that some abstract Grace of Christ was applied, and the New Covenant is just the newer way by which this abstract grace or merit or being of Christ is applied… [T]hey both just kind of take some sort of abstract grace or benefit of Christ and just apply it in different ways… If the old Covenant just illustrated Christ, but it’s still Christ, they might want to flatten and say so also, the New Covenant merely illustrates Christ. And you do find similar issues where people will not want to say that the Lord’s Supper or baptism are a means of grace.
I may be mistaken, but I believe this relates back to Bucey’s previous comment that “we have to be united to somebody who isn’t physically present on Earth at the time.” It seems like Bucey is saying that we are united to Christ (in heaven) through the sacraments (on Earth) and that apart from the sacraments, Christ’s grace is just “abstract” and “disconnected.”
When I deny that Christ’s benefits are conveyed to OT believers “by virtue of these very forms [OT sacrifices] – not merely something that they trigger or something that they point to in a formal way” (Wynne) I am not saying that OT saints receive some abstract grace or merit. We believe that OT saints were united to Christ (who was to be incarnate) and that they received the benefits of Christ’s atonement by virtue of that union with Christ, not by virtue of the blood of bulls and goats. In that sense, it is not abstract grace. It is grace that comes through union with Christ. I simply deny that the blood of bulls and goats is that union (if Bucey wants to put it in those terms). The New Covenant itself is our marriage union with Christ and the OT saints receive the benefits of Christ, the benefits of Christ were communicated (imparted, conveyed, conferred) to them by virtue of that New Covenant union, which they possessed. Being a legal union, it is invisible, but it is not “abstract” or “disconnected” from the covenant.
Bucey suggests that our view would entail the disconnecting of Christ from the New Covenant. Presbyterians tend to view and speak of the New Covenant primarily in terms of “administration” (i.e. the “external Covenant of Grace”; see Bucey’s comment above about Lord’s Supper and baptism being the New Covenant) whereas we tend to view and speak of it primarily in terms of union with Christ (i.e. the “internal Covenant of Grace”). I believe this is no small part of often talking past each other (especially with Kline’s formulation of the CoR vs the CoG). So I hear him say our view entails that we must disconnect Christ from the New Covenant and I really scratch my head. We believe the New Covenant is union with Christ, so how does that entail disconnecting Christ from the New Covenant? But I think what Bucey means is that disconnecting Christ sacramentally from the blood of bulls and goats entails disconnecting Christ sacramentally from baptism and the Lord’s Supper – because he thinks of the New Covenant primarily in terms of administration. If we think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from OT sacramental presence of Christ in the blood of bulls and goats, then we must also think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from NT sacramental presence of Christ. To which I would say – it is the reformed teaching that sacraments are not necessary to salvation and receiving the benefits of Christ, and that the Word is the primary means, so that’s not really a point of disagreement. However, I think Bucey might be correct that disagreement on OT typology as sacrament entails disagreement over NT sacramentology, but I will leave it at that for now.
Bucey presented a great condundrum that he could not find a solution to: “What about the Jew who just says ‘Well now that I’m believing in that, I’m going to stop offering sacrifices altogether.’ What is the problem with the Jew that just decides to quit participating?” The answer is very simply that God commanded him to participate, so not participating would be sinning against God. Additionally, on our view the sacrifices served a purpose within the Old Covenant (typological atonement in a typological holy land) distinct from their purpose as a type pointing to Christ and that purpose continued as long as the Old Covenant continued. I fail to see how this is a grand conundrum.
Typological Covenant of Works
Wynne asks If Israel was under a covenant of works, how could they have survived one second, let alone entered the land?
First, because it was undergirded by the Covenant of Circumcision (God’s promise to give them the land), which was the basis of God’s longsuffering towards them when they broke the covenant (Exod 32:10, 13, 14; Num 14:20; Deut 9:5-8, 13-14, 19, 25, 27-28; 28:26; Jer 7:33; Ps 106:8, 23, 44-45). Note that they were only scattered (Israel) or exiled (Judah) after God fulfilled that promise. See my JIRBS article or this podcast series and Renihan’s The Mystery of Christ… p. 112-113 for an elaboration.
Third, this typological covenant of works included a sacrificial system that atoned for (at least some) of Israel’s violations of the covenant.
Our brothers pointed to Jeremiah 7 to argue this was an incorrect understanding of the Old Covenant because Jeremiah says the problem with Judah was specifically that they rested in the sacrifices to cover their iniquity, giving them license to sin.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.
20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”
21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward…
30 “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.
God chastised Judah for not rightly prioritizing obedience to the moral law above obedience to the ceremonial law (1 Sam 15:22). Note that the violations listed are disobedience to the letter of the law. But they did continue to offer sacrifices. Why weren’t those sacrifices enough to turn away God’s wrath for their disobedience? Our brothers would argue because they lacked saving faith in Christ. I am not convinced that is the case. There are (at least) two different ways of viewing this (from a subservient covenant view). (1) The sacrifices were not instituted to atone for presumptuous, high-handed sin, but only to atone for unintentional sin. This seems to be very much the case if you read the instructions concerning the sin offering and the guilt offering (Lev 4; Num 15:22-31). Thus Owen says (forgive the Hebrew words not copying correctly)
[I]t had respect unto all such sins as were not committed so eJkousi>wv, “willingly, wilfully, presumptuously,” as that there was no sacrifice appointed for them, the covenant being disannulled by them, Hebrews 10:26. And there is no sort of sins, no sin whatever, that is between this hg;g;v], this sin of “ignorance,” or error, and sin committed hm;r; dy;B], “with an high hand,” or presumptuously. See expressly, Numbers 15:27-31. Hence this taF;j, this “sin-offering,” was the great sacrifice of the solemn day of expiation, Leviticus 16, whereby atonement was made for all “the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins,” verse 16. And upon the head of the live goat, which was a part of the sin-offering on that day, there was confessed and laid “all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins,” verse 21; that is, all iniquities not disannulling the covenant, which had e]ndikon misqopodosi>an, a revenging recompense allotted unto them, Hebrews 2:2. And accordingly are those words to be interpreted where the cause of this sacrifice is expressed: Leviticus 4:2, “If a soul sin hg;g;v]bi,” — “by error, ignorance, imprudently,” — “against any of the commandments of the LORD, as it ought not to do, and shall do against any of them.” And in instance is given in him who killed his neighbor without prepense malice, Deuteronomy 19:4. Any sin is there intended whereinto men fall by error, ignorance, imprudence, incogitancy, temptation, violence of affections, and the like. For such was this sacrifice instituted. And the end which it typically represented is expressed, 1 John 2:1,2, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins,” — namely, in the room of and as represented by the sin-offering of old, whereby atonement and propitiation were typically made for sin. Only, there was this difference, that whereas the law of Moses was appointed to be the rule of the political government of the people, wherein many sins, such as adultery and murder, were to be punished with death, and the sinner cut off, there were in such cases no sacrifices appointed nor admitted; but in the sacrifice of Christ there is no exception made unto any sin in those that repent, believe, and forsake their sins, — not unto those in particular which were excepted in the law of Moses, Acts 13:39. So that as the sin-offering was provided for all sins that disannulled not the covenant made at Horeb, which allowed no life or interest unto murderers, adulterers, blasphemers, and the like, in the typical land; so the sacrifice of Christ is extended unto all sinners who transgress not the terms and tenor of the new covenant, for whom no place is allowed, either in the church here or in heaven hereafter.
In this view Judah fell under God’s wrath because they committed presumptuous sin that could not be atoned for. Note importantly that Owen views the Day of Atonement as being the same in kind as the sin and guilt offering, in this regard. Gill, however, does not.
and confess him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins; which takes in their sins, greater or lesser, sins of ignorance and presumption, known or not known x, even all sorts of and all of them: the form of confession used in after times was this y; O Lord, thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, have transgressed sinned berate thee, O Lord, expiate now the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, in which thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, transgressed, and sinned before thee, as it is written in the law of Moses thy servant (#Le 16:30;) and it is added, and the priests and people that stood in the court, when they heard the name Jehovah go out of the mouth of the high priest, they bowed, and worshipped, and fell upon their faces, and said, blessed be God, let the glory of his kingdom be for ever and ever:
I certainly have more studying to do, but I am inclined to agree with Gill that the Day of Atonement offering was different from the regular sin and guilt offerings in that it did atone for presumptuous sins (there is no qualification in Lev 16).
(2) So then what was wrong with Judah? Why did the Day of Atonement not spare them from God’s wrath? Note verse 30 above: “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it.” They setup idols inside the temple.
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. 2 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 3 For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. 4 And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. 6 And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 7 And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. 8 And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.”9 But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.
10 And the Lord said by his servants the prophets, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.”
2 Kings 21:1-15
Note Ezekiel 5:11 “Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity.”
Compare with the instructions in Leviticus 16 for the sin offering of the Day of Atonement.
16 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Placeand the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.
Do you read anything in there about idols being setup in the sanctuary? The text is clear that the iniquities of the people could only be placed on the scapegoat once the Holy Place and sanctuary and altar was atoned for (cleansed from the people’s sin). They could not have been cleansed with idols in them. Thus Judah could not have achieved forgiveness on the Day of Atonement through any sacrifices. I don’t think this proves that saving faith in Christ was the condition of the Old Covenant.
Note quickly the alternative. Our OPC brothers argue that obedience to the commandments was tethered to tenure in the land, but that it is Spirit-wrought, faith-fueled obedience, the same in nature as what is required in the New Covenant. The problem here is that it makes Lev 18:5 a condition of the Covenant of Grace (note the reference to Lev 18:5 in the OPC version of WCF 19.6). For an elaboration, see
In all honesty, I am growing wearing of this particular discussion. I hope that this post does not further contribute to misunderstanding and talking past one another, but rather contributes to better understanding of where the precise point(s) of disagreement lay. I have much more I would like to study and comment on regarding sacramentology, but I’m afraid that I just don’t have time to do so. Please make sure to listen to lectures #2 and #3 here from Sam Renihan, as he elaborates more fully on the error of the Presbyterian argument from typology.
Only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. OT saints were saved the same way we are today: by New Covenant union with Christ. This concept is not baptist eisegesis. Here are a variety of quotes affirming this truth (I’ll add to it as I come across more).
Christ can work out of that finished work in the future because it has been decreed and ordained. So the Holy Spirit can be active according to ordo salutis even in advance of the historia salutis pouring out.
Camden Bucey, Christ the Center 700 Redemption Accomplished and Applied
Old Testament believers enjoyed the benefits of union with Christ and His imputed righteousness prior to His earthy ministry. The covenantal-legal agreement of the pactum [i.e., the Covenant of Redemption] was sufficient in and of itself due to the Trinity’s utter trustworthiness to carry out its covenant-oaths. In other words, the stipulations of the pactum, an inherently legal arrangement, are the foundation for the application of redemption in covenant of grace.
J.V. Fesko, The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, 347
[W]hatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them… There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.
There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34)… Kuyper seems to confirm this conclusion. He argued that the energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.
[T]he work of Christ is the source of all human salvation from sin: the salvation of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses, of David, and of all of Godâ’s people in every age, past, present, or future. Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ. So though it is a new covenant, it is also the oldest, the temporal expression of the pactum salutis… The New Covenant does have a temporal inauguration… the shedding of Jesus’ blood, a datable historical event, is the substance of the New Covenant, the Covenant that purifies, not only the flesh, but the conscience, the heart. Nevertheless, as we saw earlier, the efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.
[T]he happy persons, who even in that early age [the Old Testament] were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God.
Augustine, A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius, 189 (See more quotes here)
These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new . . . Let us, therefore, choose whether to call the righteous men of old the children of the bondwoman or of the free. Be it far from us to say, of the bondwoman; therefore if of the free, they pertain to the new testament [covenant] in the Holy Spirit, whom, as making alive, the apostle opposes to the killing letter. For on what ground do they not belong to the grace of the new testament [covenant]?
Augustine, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 406-407 (See more quotes here)
Augustine, with great shrewdness remarks, that from the beginning of the world the sons of promise, the divinely regenerated, who, through faith working by love, obeyed the commandments, belonged to the New Testament; entertaining the hope not of carnal, earthly, temporal, but spiritual, heavenly, and eternal blessings, believing especially in a Mediator, by whom they doubted not both that the Spirit was administered to them, enabling them to do good, and pardon imparted as often as they sinned. The thing which he thus intended to assert was, that all the saints mentioned in Scripture, from the beginning of the world, as having been specially selected by God, were equally with us partakers of the blessing of eternal salvation.
Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.11.10
[A]lthough the Old Law contained precepts of charity, nevertheless it did not confer the Holy Ghost… the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ… Nevertheless there were some in the state of the Old Testament who, having charity and the grace of the Holy Ghost, looked chiefly to spiritual and eternal promises: and in this respect they belonged to the New Law… As to those under the Old Testament who through faith were acceptable to God, in this respect they belonged to the New Testament: for they were not justified except through faith in Christ, Who is the Author of the New Testament… No man ever had the grace of the Holy Ghost except through faith in Christ either explicit or implicit: and by faith in Christ man belongs to the New Testament. Consequently whoever had the law of grace instilled into them belonged to the New Testament… at all times there have been some persons belonging to the New Testament, as stated above.”
There were . . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law… [E]ven though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom “God’s charity has been poured into our hearts.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Aquinas (1964)
The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself.
Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ (75)
All believers, who lived under the Old Testament, were saved by the covenant of grace, which Christ was to establish.
Keach, “The Display of Glorious Grace” in The Covenant Theology of Benjamin Keach (Conway: Free Grace Press, 2017), 110.
These things being observed, we may consider that the Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant… Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended… If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant… This covenant 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… [T]herefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition… The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.
Owen (Exposition, Hebrews 8:6, 9)
[D]uring the observation of the whole law of Moses, whilst it was in force by the appointment of God himself, he still directed those who sought for acceptance with him unto a new covenant of grace, whose benefits by faith they were then made partakers of, and whose nature was afterwards more fully to be declared. See Jeremiah 31:31-34, with the inferences of our apostle thereon, Hebrews 8:13.
The Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Exercitation 8, Paragraph 22
Steffaniak aims to demonstrate that many Reformed Baptists, including those who hold to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, are not Reformed.
Abstract: This paper argues that there is a pathway for Baptists to confess the spirit of the Reformed faith and the heart of the Reformed covenantal understanding while maintaining their position on credobaptism. To defend this claim, this paper defines the spirit of the Reformed faith, which is the litmus test for the legitimacy of historical and contemporary “Reformed” Baptist belief. In doing so, it analyzes the most common Baptist failures in relation to the Reformed faith. Despite their significant failures, it is argued that there is a twofold pathway for Baptists to affirm Reformed theology and credobaptism simultaneously while remaining theologically coherent.
He develops three essential convictions of Reformed theology:
•(R1): Reformed theology confesses CT. It confesses the covenant of redemption and the historical covenants subsumed under the covenant of grace and works.
••(R1*): Reformed CT confesses one substance and two administrations of the covenant of grace.
••(R1**): Reformed CT confesses the Law of God as tripartite and the moral law as perpetually binding.
•(R2): Reformed theology confesses the two sacraments as the means of God’s objective grace.
•(R3): Reformed theology confesses a visible and invisible doctrine of the church and a regulated religious worship.
Therefore, to be Reformed, one must hold to all three points at minimum—these summarize the distinctively Reformed characteristics of the unified system. One can be Reformed if and only if he holds to these, along with the first order doctrines.
He is at pains to defend the idea that
There is a safe haven for Baptists by conviction who see Westminster as largely accurate and nearly all other Baptistic revisionist attempts as crude forms of dispensationalism in disguise. Therefore, affirming (R1), (R2), and (R3) does not require conversion to paedobaptism. There is a Westminster Baptist alternative.
The essay is particularly targeted at 1689 Federalism (“[I] will refer primarily to 1689 Federalists” 288). He says
The vast majority of contemporary Baptists are not Reformed if the three Reformed identity markers are accurate… There is growing popularity of the “1689 Federalism” reading of section 7 of the 1689 confession, which i[s] very likely historically correct. However, it is a wrong reading theologically and certainly not Reformed.
I recommend reading his essay in full before reading this response.
In my opinion, the essay suffers from an inadequate familiarity with the complexity of reformed covenant theology (there is no reference of Renihan’s From Shadow to Substance). Steffaniak’s understanding of R1 is insufficient, leading to self-contradiction. He also does not adequately understand 1689 Federalism (whether due to his own fault or the result of 1689 Federalists not adequately explaining the position). Likewise, his dismissal of 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction is much too casual.
Definition of Covenant Theology
Reformed theology… holds to the classical one substance and two administrations CT, rather than any revisionist version. The one substance and two administrations construction is the beating heart of Reformed CT.
The analysis on this point is inconsistent. The method of analysis appears to be “Whatever a paedobaptist says about covenant theology is consistent with ’the classical one substance and two administrations CT’ and is therefore within the bounds of ‘Reformed.’” However, that view, summarized in the WCF, excludes various paedobaptist covenant theologies, both modern and historic. It requires one to view the Old/Mosaic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. Anyone who believes the Mosaic was “of works” rather than the covenant of grace does not hold to “the classical one substance and two administrations CT.”
[Jeffrey Johnson] says, “the fatal flaw of the theology behind infant baptism is this notion that the Mosaic Covenant is a manifestation of the covenant of grace.”35 But (R1*) need not deny the legal nature of the Mosaic Covenant.36 Moses is not Abraham. For example, Michael Horton argues that, “the new covenant is not a renewal of the old covenant made at Sinai, but an entirely different covenant with an entirely different basis.”37 The Baptist critique against Moses is a non-starter because the Reformed can agree and still affirm (R1*).
Note that all Steffaniak does is quote a paedobaptist to affirm his assertion that R1* allows for the view that the Mosaic was not the covenant of grace but was a different covenant with an entirely different basis. But that’s just begging the question. When Horton says that the Sinai covenant is entirely different from the New with an entirely different basis, he is saying that Sinai/Old and the New differ in substance. In other words he is rejecting the “classical one substance and two administrations CT.” Note Calvin
Now, as to the new covenant, it is not so called, because it is contrary to the first [old] covenant; for God is never inconsistent with himself, nor is he unlike himself, he then who once made a covenant with his chosen people, had not changed his purpose, as though he had forgotten his faithfulness. It then follows, that the first [old] covenant was inviolable; besides, he had already made his covenant with Abraham, and the Law was a confirmation of that covenant. As then the Law depended on that covenant which God made with his servant Abraham, it follows that God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant… God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses. This subject might be more fully handled; but it is enough briefly to shew, that the covenant which God made at first is perpetual.
Commentary on Jeremiah 31:33
That is the “classical one substance and two administrations CT,” summarized in WCF 7.5-6. And it is contrary to Horton’s statement. Steffaniak says
William J. Van Asselt concurs with the necessity of one substance and two administrations by making the substantial claim that “all federal theologians agreed on the twofold administration of the covenant of grace.”14 The word “all” needs emphasis. The Reformed universally refuse deviance from the confessional position of one substance and two administrations. Therefore, to deny this essential meaning of CT is to depart from the course of Reformed theology.
That’s simply not the case, unless one wants to exclude men like Owen and Horton (which Steffaniak does not). The 2016 OPC Report on Republication demonstrates very clearly that Horton’s view is contrary to the WCF, and therefore contrary to Steffaniak’s definition of reformed covenant theology. Horton is merely articulating what was historically known as the subservient covenant view, which was self-consciously put forward as an alternative to WCF’s view. Renihan’s dissertation From Shadow to Substance unpacks the historical theology very well on this point. I did not see it referenced in the paper (Steffaniak clarified in a podcast interview that his paper was submitted prior to Renihan’s book being published). It’s essential reading on the topic. If the subservient covenant tradition (including men like Owen) is within the bounds of reformed covenant theology, then one must demonstrate why 1689 Federalism’s subservient covenant view is not.
While the details may vary, the core unity of the covenants cannot be surrendered. They are the same in substance, origin, and content, only differing in form.
Note that Horton’s view is directly contrary to this.
[T]he Reformed argue for a difference in clarity and form but not in objective benefit.18 The content of salvation is the same, the means of salvation is the same, and the benefits of salvation are the same. For example, none in the Old Testament lack the internal substance or gifting of the Holy Spirit. The covenantal structure of one covenant under two administrations is necessary for Reformed identity. Reformed CT requires the oneness of God’s covenants.
1689 Federalism affirms the content of salvation is the same, the means of salvation is the same, and the benefits of salvation are the same during both Old and New Testaments. 1689 Federalism affirms the internal substance or gifting of the Holy Spirit. However, Steffaniak has confused this with the affirmation that all post-fall covenants are the covenant of grace. This does not necessarily follow.
P1 If members of the Old Covenant were saved in the same way that members of the New Covenant are now, then the Old and the New must be the same covenant.
P2 Members of the Old Covenant were saved in the same way that members of the New Covenant are now.
C Therefore the Old and the New are the same covenant.
P1 is false. As Owen has noted
Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, —’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant. As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall propose sundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace
Abraham vs Moses
Baptists who desire to be Reformed frequently equate the Mosaic Covenant with the Abrahamic Covenant. Here, Baptists deny (R1*) by denying two administrations. They build their argument against (R1*) by thinking Abraham is actually Moses.
First, R1* itself equates the Mosaic and Abrahamic Covenants. R1* itself says that Abraham is Moses. Both Abrahamic and Mosaic are the same as the New. See Calvin’s statement above. The “Abraham is not Moses” retort comes from paedobaptists who hold to the subservient covenant view, not Westminster’s view (note well Steffaniak’s references to Horton and R. Scott Clark).
Second, simply equating the Abrahamic and the Mosaic is not essential to 1689 Federalism. There is a small diversity in how exactly to understand the Abrahamic. Personally, I believe the Abrahamic and Mosaic are technically distinct, though very intimately related (see my article on Galatians in the recent issue of JIRBS for an elaboration. I also deny there were two Abrahamic covenants).
On this point Steffaniak quotes Beeke & Jones’ criticism of baptists but he does not acknowledge Renihan’s response in JIRBS, nor any of the relevant material in Renihan’s dissertation which more than adequately addresses their comments.
[M]any Baptists commonly locate regeneration/heart circumcision in the New Testament era alone.
It is unclear if Steffaniak is referring to 1689 Federalism in this comment. If so, I believe he has misunderstood whatever he has read, as I am not aware of anyone who holds to 1689 Federalism who denies regeneration/heart circumcision during the Old Testament. Such a view is contrary to 1689 Federalism. I have not read Alan Conner, whom Steffaniak quotes, but he is not necessarily a proponent of the view, having written before the term and ideas became more widely known.
However, many of these Baptists do not deny regeneration in principle to saints of old. Most Baptists who argue against (R1) by using these remarks do backtrack and agree that some experienced these blessings.45 But this remains confusing if Jeremiah 31 is a future prophecy. If it truly is referencing a change of heart alone, then Old Testament saints should not be regenerate at all. And that poses a major problem for any saint of old to experience salvation.
Steffaniak has significantly misunderstood one of the principle positions of 1689 Federalism. Yes, Jer. 31 does teach that regeneration is unique to the New Covenant. However, OT saints received this benefit of the New Covenant in advance of its formal establishment in the death of Christ/Pentecost. This is no more confusing than saying OT saints were atoned by Christ’s blood prior to Christ dying. When pressed, reformed paedobaptists affirm this same point. Commenting on Heb. 8:11, Calvin said
[W]hatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them… There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.
That’s all we’re saying and it is a very old view held by Augustine, Aquinas (even quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in #1964), and many others prior to the reformation (See Joshua Moon’s dissertation “Jeremiah’s New Covenant: An Augustinian Reading”). See:
If 1689 Federalism intends to rename the covenant of grace as the New Covenant and have it functionally equivalent, there is no problem.66 However, they are less clear than that. Many who follow 1689 Federalism intend to remove the covenant of grace from the Old Testament despite giving it retroactive power.
Then there is no problem. Our position is that the Covenant of Grace = the New Covenant. See
Furthermore, regarding the timing of Jer. 31 (Steffaniak says the New Covenant will consist of the elect alone only in the eschaton), please see Owen’s comments on Hebrews 8:11.
This text hath been looked on as attended with great difficulty and much obscurity; which expositors generally rather conceal than remove… Howbeit some learned men have been so moved with this objection, as to affirm that the accomplishment of this promise of the covenant belongs unto heaven, and the state of glory; for therein alone, they say, we shall have no more need of teaching in any kind. But as this exposition is directly contrary unto the design of the apostle, as respecting the teaching of the new covenant and the testator thereof; when he intends only that of the old, and exalts the new above it; so there is no such difficulty in the words as to force us to carry the interpretation of them into another world
Visible/Invisible Church Distinction
Steffaniak’s analysis on this point has a similar weakness as his analysis regarding the definition of covenant theology. He assumes one particular understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction is the only reformed view. Most paedobaptists view the visible/invisible church distinction as related to an external and internal covenant of grace such that the unregenerate are objectively members of the church in the eyes of God by means of an external covenant. However, numerous reformed paedobaptists reject that view. Instead, they recognize that the visible/invisible distinction is simply a matter of perspective: our fallible perspective and God’s infallible perspective. There is only one church consisting of one membership, but that membership is either seen through our perspective or God’s. This view has been held by a Brakel, John Murray, Charles Hodge, Jean Claude, JI Packer, James Currie, etc.
So Reformed Baptists recognize that there may be unregenerate members of our local churches. All that means is that we don’t have God’s infallible perspective and we mistakenly consider them to be Christians based on their profession of faith (the means God has given us to act upon in this world).
In sum, Steffaniak’s essay falls short in that it fails to properly understand reformed covenant theology as well as 1689 Federalism. Hopefully he will have opportunity to more thoroughly study the subject and interact with those who hold to the position (Jordan – I’d love to discuss with you in the comments below!).
People will sometimes argue that the Abrahamic Covenant must be the Covenant of Grace because Scripture refers to it as “everlasting.”
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.
Of course, Dispensationalists also appeal to the same passage to argue that Abraham’s carnal offspring have claim to the land of Canaan forever into eternity. However, the word is also used to described various aspects of the Old Covenant that the New Testament teaches have ended.
You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.
“For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty. And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs; and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him.
Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.
When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”
You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.”
He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”
Scripture teaches that this priesthood and its functions has in fact ceased, despite the language of “everlasting,” “forever,” and “perpetual.”
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well… For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God… In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Hebrews 7:11-12, 18-19; 8:13
Jews have appealed to the above passages to argue that Old Covenant ceremonies continue to be obligatory today. Bullinger replied
But however the Jews do even at this day abide in their wilful stubbornness, the Lord did from heaven declare openly enough, that he is no longer delighted with the ceremonial rites, because he destroyed all the instruments belonging to that ancient kind of worship; and made the very shop of that old religion, I meant the temple and city of Hierusalem, level with the ground…
It is a very slender, or rather no defence at all for the Jews to allege the words in the law, which are many times rehearsed, where the ceremonies are described: “Ye shall keep it for an everlasting ordinance.” For in this sense everlasting is taken for long lasting and unchangeable, so far forth as it hath respect unto the will or authority of mankind. For the Lord did with threatening of grievous punishments forbid that mankind’s unadvisedness should change or abrogate the holy ceremonies. And yet, since he did ordain those ceremonies until the time of amendment, he doth neither sin, nor yet incur the crime of unconstancy, when he doth change or take away the ceremonies according to the determinate purpose which he intended from the beginning.
Commenting on Hebrews 7:24 “but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever,” John Owen said
And this “for ever” answers unto the “for ever” under the law, each of them being commensurate unto the dispensation of that covenant which they do respect; for absolute eternity belongs not unto these things. The “for ever” of the old testament was the duration of the dispensation of the old covenant. And this “for ever” respects the new covenant, which is to continue unto the consummation of all things, no change therein being any way intimated or promised, or consistent with the wisdom and faithfulness of God; all which were otherwise under the law.
The point is that “everlasting,” “forever,” “perpetual” must be understood in context. The word alone cannot decide the matter. The Covenant of Circumcision cannot be said to be the Covenant of Grace (continuing in force today) because it is called everlasting any more than the Phinehastic Covenant can be. Nehemiah Coxe said
Now it is evident that they have for many ages been disinherited of it [the land of Canaan – recall Gen 17:8]. But the solution to this doubt will be easy to him who consults the use of these terms in other texts, and the necessary restriction of their sense when applied to the state or interests of Abraham’s seed in the land of Canaan. For the priesthood of Levi is called an everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:13) and the gates of the temple, everlasting doors (Psalm 24:5). This is the same sense that Canaan is said to be an everlasting inheritance. No more is intended than the continuance of these for a long time, that is, throughout the Old Testament economy until the days of the Messiah, commonly spoken of by the Jews under the notion of the world to come. In this a new state of things was to be expected when their old covenant right and privilege was to expire, its proper end and design being fully accomplished.
Its description as “everlasting” was also applied to other temporary institutions. The word translated “everlasting” in Genesis 17:8, literally means, “until the distant future.” Often it does signify forever and ever (Deut. 33:27; Ps. 90:2), but not always. Context must determine its duration. Scripture uses this very word to describe the duration of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:34) and of the Aaronic priesthood (Exod. 29:28, 40:15). Scripture indicates explicitly that these other old covenant institutions terminate with the coming of Messiah. His coming is their vanishing point, the end of the age. Similarly, in Genesis 17:8, עולם signifies “until the distant future, throughout the entire era of Hebrew Israel’s theocracy.” That era lasted a very long time, some fifteen-hundred years, until the promised Messiah came to institute the new covenant.
Greg Nichols. Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants. Pelham: Solid Ground Books, 2011. pp. 191-192.
The Covenant of Circumcision was not the Covenant of Grace. It consisted of historia salutis promises, not ordo salutis promises. And because it consisted of historia salutis promises, it is now ended, having been fulfilled.
Daniel Vincent and Sean Cheetham at the Particular Baptist Podcast invited me on to respond to an episode of Reformed Forum from a few months ago. In that episode, titled Typology and Covenant Membership, Jeremy Boothby argued that the author of Hebrews’ particular understanding of typology necessarily entails that the Old Covenant was (an administration of) the Covenant of Grace. He said he could not understand how baptists could reject WCF 7.5-6 but affirm 8.6 and asked for those who hold to 1689 Federalism to explain. So that was our primary goal in this episode. It has become a recurring objection so I’m glad I had the opportunity to address it. The episode went really long (which should not surprise readers of this blog) but Daniel and Sean graciously let me ramble on to make my point. I hope you find it useful. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!