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Two Kingdoms Debate (Tuininga v Boot) Analysis

June 26, 2016 3 comments

Matthew Tuininga and Joe Boot recently had a debate on Two Kingdoms and Cultural Obedience, sponsored by the Ezra Institute. Give it a listen before reading the analysis below.

I think Tuininga had many good things to say, particularly with regards to how we approach the issue structurally. Understanding the two kingdoms in eschatological terms as this age (common kingdom) and the age to come (kingdom of Christ) is very helpful. He did a good job of showing how that should influence our attitudes and involvement with those around us (Christ-like humility with an expectation of suffering). However, the Achilles heel of both Tuininga and VanDrunen is their understanding of the relationship between general revelation and special revelation. Boot recognizes this problem and did a decent job of pointing it out.

Structure

The difference between the two perspectives is largely a difference in understanding covenant theology. One side correctly understands that Adam was placed in a covenant of works wherein his perfect obedience to the law would have earned him the reward of an immutable (thus eternal) life (WCF 4.2, 7.1, 7.2, 19.1; 2LBC 4.2, 6.1, 7.1 – see here). This covenant included obedience to his task of exercising dominion in the garden and out into the whole world. Thus we could say that Adam was laboring in this age for the reward of the age to come (eternal sabbath rest). Adam fell and broke the covenant of works. But God did not immediately commence the final judgment. He delayed it for the sake of the glorification of Christ in the redemption of his bride. So Adam, and all those in Adam, were cursed and lost any hope of earning the reward of the age to come, but they continued to exist in this age. Thus this age was modified by the fall to remove any possibility of reward for labor in this age. At this point, labor was merely to survive. The Noahic Covenant was a formal arrangement to stabilize this modified present age. Its purpose was the common preservation of the world (this age) until the last elect is redeemed and Christ returns (the age to come). The age to come exists in the form of the already/not-yet. As the gospel is proclaimed and hearts are regenerated, the age to come breaks into this age already. The kingdom the saints inherit is not this age/world, but rather the new heavens the new earth (age to come) that Adam was laboring to enter before the fall. Thus we are pilgrims here, suffering in this age, while we await our full redemption in the age to come. This is the correct structure that Tuininga and Van Drunen are working from (expressed in my own words).

Boot, however, rejects this structure. He denies that Adam was working to earn anything. Adam had everything. All he could do was forfeit the life he had. Thus there is no two-age distinction. There is no eternal reward. All Adam was doing was living a life of faithful obedience to the gospel (yes, he said that). Adam, before the fall, was in a covenant of grace with God and this same covenant continued after the fall, with the same mandate to develop creation in faithful obedience to God (for more on monocovenantalism, see here). This same covenant was renewed with Noah. The earth was given to Noah because the whole of creation is for God’s people. Boot holds the standard paedobaptist view that says the Noahic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. It was a covenant made with the church (Noah and his offspring), not with all of mankind. Thus the fallen world belongs to the church and it is the church’s duty to exercise dominion over it. Non-believers, as non-believers, have no dominion mandate and no claim to this world (there is no mankind “in general”). Christ redeems us and places us back in the garden to continue Adam’s work. We are to continue this mandate until Christ returns, at which point he’ll finish things off by finally removing non-believers from the world we’ve been working to perfect. Non-believers are “accidental” to the world. We should, in essence, proceed as if they are not here. Our dominion over the earth, including our use of the sword, should not accommodate their existence. Not only is the Noahic Covenant the Covenant of Grace, but so is the Mosaic Covenant. That is where Boot gets the idea that we will be cursed in this life for disobedience to our covenant obligations. It’s why he so strongly disagrees with Tuininga’s emphasis on suffering. Suffering is a covenant curse, per Deuteronomy 28. And the idea that we are pilgrims is completely upside down because the whole world belongs to us now and exile/pilgrimage is a Mosaic covenant curse.

So the difference between the two is clearly a difference in covenant structure. Tuininga and Van Drunen depart from standard paedobaptist covenant theology by recognizing that the Noahic and Mosaic Covenants are not the Covenant of Grace. This gives them the freedom to correctly discern how Christians are to live in this present age.

Boot’s discussion on the Noahic Covenant 1:09:00:

A[According to VanDrunen] we have no warrant to apply special revelation in particular to transform the culture by the gospel. David Van Drunen writes ‘We would do well, I believe to discard familiar mantras about transformation and especially redemption. Nowhere does Scripture call us to such a grandiose task. They are human dreams rather than God-give obligations.’ p. 171. Well, since the common kingdom already shares the believers’ norms in common, it’s obviously pointless to redeem something that isn’t sick or doesn’t require any healing or renewal. Why redeem something that’s already perfectly fitted to the task of being a neutral area between believer and non-believer? It has to be neutral, despite the objections I’ve heard to that, or autonomous, or it couldn’t be common, if the issue of the heart is central.

As a result, the project that we’re actually set with two kingdoms theology is massive. It means the programatic challenge of how to divide reality and the covenant with Noah is given the burden of justifying this theme theologically. Now, the first time covenant is mentioned in Scripture is Genesis 6:18. After the flood it’s mentioned again in Genesis 9:11. And they’re connected. In Gen 6:8 though, we read ‘Noah found favor,’ and word there is “hen”/grace, in the eyes of the Lord.’ We’re told, actually, that he was righteous and blameless and he walked with God in Genesis 6:9. These terms all presuppose a covenant relationship already. God said this is my covenant. So the covenant is introduced as something that’s already there, it’s already a fixed structure. If this is only with Noah a covenant of common grace (and that is a term the bible doesn’t use) then the first mention of the covenant of grace [note: a term the bible doesn’t use] would be with Abraham, and I don’t think any reformed people would think there was no grace before the time of Abraham. This can’t be the case, obviously. because God renews a covenant with righteous Noah that’s already been in existence. So Genesis 6 reveals not just a covenant with nature, I would argue, but a covenant with a place in the salvation history of the world.

This is a standard argument frequently used by many paedobaptists: Because a covenant head is justified/saved/redeemed, therefore the covenant made with them is the covenant of grace. Noah was saved by grace, therefore the Noahic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Abraham was justified by grace, therefore the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. But this is fallacious reasoning. If they are heads of the covenant made with them, then the covenant made with them was not the Covenant of Grace, which Christ is the head of. Note Thomas Boston:

Covenants typical of the covenant of grace were made with persons representing their seed. The covenant of royalty, a type of this covenant, was made with David, as representative of his seed; therefore the covenant of grace typified by it was made with Christ, as the representative of his seed. Hence in our first text the party covenanted with and sworn to is called David, which is one of the names of Christ typified by David, Hos. iii. ult. for which cause the mercies of the covenant are called ‘ the sure mercies of David,’ Isa. Iv. 3. And this David is God’s servant having a seed comprehended with him in the covenant, Psal. Ixxxix. 4. To the same purpose it may be observed, that Phinehas’ covenant of priesthood was a type of the covenant of grace ; and in it Phinehas stood as representative of his seed, typifying Jesus Christ representing his spiritual seed in the covenant of grace. Numb. xxv. 12, 13. This is evident from Psal. ex. 4. where the everlasting priesthood promised to Phinehas has had its full accomplishment in Jesus Christ. Hereto may be added, that the covenant made with Noah and his sons was made with them as the heads of the new world, and representatives of their seed. Gen. ix. 9, 11. And that this covenant was a type of the covenant of grace, and Noah therein a type of Christ, is clear from its being established on a sacrifice. Gen viii. 20, 21. from the nature of that covenant, viz. that there should not be another deluge, chap. ix. 11. ; typical of the wrath of God against the elect, Isa. liv. 9, 10. confirmed by the rainbow about the throne, Rev. iv. 3. Wherefore, since in the covenant of royalty, by which the covenant of grace is typified in our text, and in other covenants typical thereof, the parties with whom they were made stood as heads, public persons and representatives of their seed, it is evident, that the covenant of grace typified by these was made with Christ as the head and representative of his spiritnal seed : for whatever is attributed to any person or thing as a type, hath its accomplishment really and chiefly in the person or thing typified.
-Of the Covenant of Grace (p. 328)

Thus the simple fact that the Noahic Covenant had “a place in the salvation history of the world” does not therefore mean it was not a covenant of common preservation for all men. It does not mean it was the Covenant of Grace. The fact that there was grace/favor towards Noah, again, does not therefore mean the Noahic Covenant is/was the Covenant of Grace. (Van Drunen argues that grammatically, Gen 6:18 does not necessarily refer to a renewal of any previous covenant. See Divine Covenants and Moral Order, p. 108).

Think about what happens in those chapters in Genesis. There’s an offering of clean cattle and foul by Noah. What are offerings for? The Lord accepts this sacrifice. Then there’s a blessing on Noah’s sons which repeats the blessing paradise. Then there’s stipulations concerning food, which, by the way includes eating meat with blood in it – what do we do with that? Manslaughter and murder, etc. Then there’s a proclamation of sanctions against transgressions of those stipulations. Then the blessing is repeated again. Then God promises he won’t flood the earth again. And then the rainbow is given as a covenant sign. What has Canada done with the covenant sign of the rainbow today? So we have blessing and cursing. We have offerings and sacrifices as seals of the covenant. God speaks to Noah as his vassal, his servant, and God both initiates and is the guarantor of this covenant. Now, I would not deny that the fruits of this covenant are enjoyed by the non-believer. Jesus says, doesn’t he, that the sun rises on the just and the unjust, the righteous and the unrighteous. But that doesn’t mean, that doesn’t remove the fact that it’s a covenant of grace. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. It cannot be a so-called ‘common grace covenant’ even though creation is involved. Grace is never common, that is general, it’s always covenantal, it’s always particular.

That’s simply begging the question. If the Noahic covenant is made with fallen mankind in general (Gen 9:9-10), then there is no dichotomy between covenantal and general.

Let me just quote Dr. Vandervaul “It is not so that redemption rests on creation. Nature does not form the first floor and grace the second. In God’s gracious dealings with his people, all creation is involved. The world sacrifice Noah made foreshadowed the work of Jesus Christ. His unique and perfect sacrifice brings the restoration of all things, also the salvation of the eagerly longing creation. We may not think of categories like general and special, as if the covenant with Noah were a general covenant and that with Abraham a special one. It is all or nothing. The whole of creation is for God’s people and hence its use was given to Noah and his seed, but not to them as a general people, but as participants in the covenant. Those who disassociate themselves from the covenant wave the right to recreation.”

Again, it’s a false dichotomy to say it’s either general or covenantal. He also does not explain how someone can disassociate themselves from the Noahic Covenant. God says he makes the covenant with Noah and every descendant of Noah (that means all of us) and with every living creature not to flood the earth again. How do the creatures disassociate themselves from the covenant? How does man? How can a man exempt himself from God’s promise not to kill him in a worldwide flood? And where is this “right to recreation” found in the Noahic covenant? Where is the loss of this right mentioned? This is very muddy thinking because it is all question begging.

So Noah leaves his country, like Abraham, he boards the ark. goes through an Exodus. The ark is obviously typological of salvation. Peter tells us, actually, its a type of baptism, which is the sign of the covenant. This is not some general abstract covenant.

This is another common error: mixing type and antitype together in a blender. Being a type does not make something the thing it typifies. Instead, it logically entails it is not the thing typified! No one denies that there is typology involved in Noah’s “salvation” in the ark. Does that therefore mean the covenant is not made with all men for their common preservation and it is instead the covenant of grace with Christ as the head? No.

And on leaving the ark, he’s recommissioned with the cultural mandate. It’s reminiscent of Genesis 1:28. So the root of the theological error of two kingdoms theology, I think, is the idea that creation and man can be generalized as abstractions so God allegedly creates man in general. But I don’t think this is the case. Genesis 1-3 is part of the gospel and right in Genesis 1-3 you have the first seed promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15. It is why Christ is the second Adam. It’s why he’s the truly obedient son. You have this historical continuity of creation and redemption. Creation is the historical prologue of the gospel. Adam isn’t a man in general in a common kingdom. Noah is not a man in general in a common kingdom. They are God’s vice-regents. They are vassals. Adam, Abel, Enoch – they are God’s covenant men. Covenant is the foundation of history before and after the flood. The Lord was in relationship with man in his task and calling, and I want to suggest to you this evening that there was no time ever in man’s history where he was left with simply natural law or his reason or general principles by which to interpret his life and task. God spoke to him. God revealed himself to him. God spoke with particular men from the beginning. They have the possibility of obeying God as his covenant partner, as his image bearer, as his dominion servant, or not.

Of course we know that Adam in the garden was a symbol of God’s power and judgment with the tree. It’s not that Adam was there to earn his salvation. He was actually made upright. There was nothing lacking in him. But he might forfeit it by disobedience. So we can, I suppose, talk of a Paradise Covenant between Adam and his Creator. God is the Lord. Adam is his creature. Any covenant between a greater and a lesser is already a covenant of grace. I put it to you there is no such thing ever as a covenant of works in Scripture whereby man is justifying himself – anywhere! He lived by God’s grace and favor. The good news of the evangelion is that God is Lord and King. That’s what it means. Now, Adam even believed that. He had to believe that and he walked in the favor of that. So God calls all men from Adam, through Noah, to the present to serve and obey him. He’s the same God. The covenant mandate was to develop and keep God’s creation in obedience to him and I don’t see any evidence in Scripture that that’s changed. Jesus is the second Adam and who’s he mistaken for in the garden at the resurrection? The gardener. He is the gardener. He’s the new gardener. He’s the true gardener. And he calls us as prophets, priests, and kings – we’re not monks in a cloister in a dualistic, bifurcated universe of nature/grace dualism as in Romanism. We’re a royal priesthood. We’re not monastic pilgrims. The emphasis always on pilgrimage and suffering I hear in the 2K theology overlooks that we’re also soldiers, we’re ambassadors, we prophets, we’re priests, we’re a royal priesthood, we’re a holy nation.

This is Boot’s greatest error. He denies the covenant of works. He thus denies the law/gospel distinction. His whole perspective is therefore skewed. We are in the same situation as Adam. There is “no evidence in Scripture” that our work is any different than Adam’s. Of course he’s going to reject two kingdom theology if he starts from that unbiblical foundation. Of course he will deny that our labor here on earth, along with the non-believer’s labor here on earth, is only a means of preservation because he says we’re in the same situation as Adam. Of course he will deny that we are pilgrims if we are in the same situation as Adam – sent to rule over this world. But he is mistaken. We are absolutely not in the same situation as Adam. Christians are not in the same covenant. The mandate has changed post-fall. That’s why God established the Noahic covenant, a modified version of the Adamic Covenant, modified in light of the fall.

Tuininga rightly pushed back against Boot’s faulty Adamic & Mosaic outlook on life – tying obedience to temporal blessing and curse.

I would push back a little bit on what sounds like a golden age mentality. Were the days of Christendom really that the church was so obedient? It seems like it’s just rampant with errors and horrors. I think often faithfulness to the gospel is more likely to come to expression in suffering. And I think that’s exactly what the book of Revelation is telling us. You want to conquer? You suffer. That’s the message of the book of Revelation, and that’s the book we’ve been given for the future of the church…

Even the way you’re talking, it’s like suffering somehow means God’s purposes aren’t advancing enough. Somehow that means his kingdom isn’t progressing. Whereas I would, no, what he has taught us is that being Christlike, conforming to the image of Christ, means going out and loving our neighbors with a servant heart, seeking to see them conformed to the kingdom and its righteousness and fully expecting – as it meant for Jesus  – and for us that will mean suffering. And if we’re not ready for that, it will lead to anger and bitterness and I think you see that with many Christians. Are Christians most upset because we feel like we’re losing the West? Cause we’re losing power? Is that what’s motivating us? Or is it to see Christ witnessed in every area of life so that it’s truly the gospel coming to bear, it’s truly the gospel driving our cultural engagement.

For more on the issue of suffering, see Abraham Booth’s excellent An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ where he masterfully contrasts the Mosaic Kingdom with the Kingdom of Christ.

Now, as the immunities, grants, and honors, bestowed by the King Messiah, are ail of a spiritual nature; his faithful subjects have no reason to wonder, or to be discouraged, at any persecutions, afflictions, or poverty which may befall them. Were his empire of this world, then indeed it might be expected, from the goodness of his heart and the power of his arm, that those who are submissive to his authority, zealous for his honor, and conformed to his image, would commonly find themselves easy and prosperous in their temporal circumstances. Yes, were his dominion of a secular kind, it might be supposed that an habitually conscientious regard to his laws, would secure from the oppression of ungodly men, and from the distresses of temporal want. — Thus it was with Israel under their Theocracy. When the rulers and the people in general were punctual in observing Jehovah’s appointments, the stipulations of the Sinai Covenant secured them from being oppressed bv their enemies, and from any remarkable affliction by the immediate hand of God. Performing the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health, and long life, riches, honors, and victory over their enemies, were promised by Jehovah to their external obedience.[ 64] The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.[ 65]

In this respect, however, as well as in other things, there is a vast difference between the Jewish, and the Christian economy…
It must indeed be acknowledged, that as vicious tempers and immoral practices have a natural tendency to impair health, distress the mind, and waste the property; to the exercise of holy affections, and the practice of true godliness, have the most friendly aspect on a Christian’s own temporal happiness, (except so far as persecution intervenes) and on the welfare of society. But then it is evident that this arises from the nature of things, and from the superintendency of common Providence; rather than from the dominion of Christ, as a spiritual monarch. For, so considered, spiritual blessings are all that they have to expect from his royal hand.

By the prophetic declarations of our Lord himself, and by the history of this kingdom, it plainly appears, that among all the subjects of his government, none have been more exposed to persecution, affliction, and poverty, than those who were most eminent for obedience to his laws, and most useful in his empire. The most uniform subjection to his authority, and the warmest zeal for his honor, that ever appeared upon earth; were no security from bitter persecution, from pinching poverty, or from complicated affliction. Our divine Lord, considered as a spiritual sovereign, is concerned for the spiritual interests of those that are under his government. His personal perfections and royal prerogatives, his power and wisdom, his love and care, are therefore to be regarded as engaged, both by office and by promise, — not to make his dependents easy and prosperous in their temporal concerns; but– to strengthen them for their spiritual warfare; to preserve them from finally falling by their invisible enemies; to make all afflictions work together for their good; to render them, in the final issue, more than conquerors over every opposer; and to crown them with, everlasting life.

General & Special Revelation

Though Tuininga got the structural issues correct, he continues to repeat the faulty view of general revelation that has become associated with two kingdom theology.

What also comes from this in Calvin is that we need to take very seriously the role of general revelation in our political engagement. And of course general revelation includes the concept of natural law. But it simply means that it’s not just enough to find a proof text for everything that we do. We need to also use reason. We need to use science. We need to use experience to figure out the best way to apply God’s moral principles in the actual contexts and amid the complexities in which we live.

Question: Is using “reason” general revelation? Is using “science” general revelation? Is using our “experience” general revelation? No, they are not. Tuininga, Hart, Van Drunen, and others make the mistake of equating general revelation with everything in life outside of Scripture. They think auto mechanics is a part of general revelation. It is not. See John Byl’s General Revelation and Evangelicalism.

Yes, we need to use reason. But is using reason somehow distinct from special revelation? Does not the Westminster Confession teach that God’s Word includes not only the explicit text of Scripture, but every logical consequence deduced (by reason) from Scripture? Thus the proper use of Scripture is never “proof-texting” but applying reason to Scripture to draw out the logical consequences implicit in Scripture (which involves comparing Scripture with Scripture). That’s not turning to general revelation.

Tuininga is likely referring to using “reason” as starting from our own thoughts and observations (rather than Scripture) and making logical deductions from those. But that is not general revelation. That’s just us making logical deductions from our own sinful, faulty starting points.

Second, respect God’s general revelation in your non-believing neighbors. I’ve already talked about how political and social judgments inevitably require dependence on general revelation – whether in the form of reason, or scientific knowledge, or experience, what-not. Anyone who’s involved with anything in the world knows this.

Again, he is confusing “anything in the world” with general revelation. There are many uses of our rational minds that do not constitute revelation. We apply our minds to the world for numerous practical purposes. It’s part of exercising dominion over the earth and it does not entail revelation.

What Calvin points out is that in any particular matter of general revelation, non-believers often have better knowledge than believers. Not always, but often they do. And, in fact, we all err. We all make mistakes. And sin corrupts us, our weakness corrupts us, such that we can’t interpret general revelation perfectly. So we need to be humble. And what I would suggest is that if our main goal is Christ-like witness, not our own version of triumph or political lordship, then our main goal should be to actually be Christ-like in the way we’re witnessing and interacting with our neighbors. That means when we’re acting with our neighbors on things, matters of general revelation, where people might disagree, where others might have more knowledge than us, we need to love them, show Christ’s love for them, by engaging them in ways that reflect humility, reasonableness, and respect. Not lording it over them like the Gentiles do, but serving. Those are all virtues of Christ to which we are called even in the realm of politics. We cannot expect non-believers to have embraced the gospel as the premise for supporting our practical and political implications.

I strongly affirm Tuininga’s emphasis here on humility. He is also correct that we can’t expect non-believers to share our views. But does that mean we should therefore abandon Scripture and limit ourselves to whatever the non-believer can agree to? No, not at all. I fully understand the practical difficulties involved in trying to arrive at a practical conclusion with non-believers on matters of ethics, but that difficulty doesn’t change the truth. Tuininga said that “we all err. We all make mistakes. And sin corrupts us, our weakness corrupts us, such that we can’t interpret general revelation perfectly.” If that is the case, then what is our guide? How can we know when someone is interpreting general revelation correctly and when they are not. If we can’t trust ourselves because of sin, should we trust the non-believer? How will we know when their sin is compromising and suppressing their knowledge of general revelation (as Romans 1 says they do)?

Speaking of fallen man’s knowledge of general revelation, Calvin warns

in the perverted and degenerate nature of man there are still some sparks which show that he is a rational animal, and differs from the brutes, inasmuch as he is endued with intelligence, and yet, that this light is so smothered by clouds of darkness that it cannot shine forth to any good effect… it is true that this love of truth fails before it reaches the goal, forthwith falling away into vanity. As the human mind is unable, from dullness, to pursue the right path of investigation, and, after various wanderings, stumbling every now and then like one groping in darkness, at length gets completely bewildered, so its whole procedure proves how unfit it is to search the truth and find it. (2.2.12)

Since man is by nature a social animal, he is disposed, from natural instinct, to cherish and preserve society; and accordingly we see that the minds of all men have impressions of civil order and honesty. Hence it is that every individual understands how human societies must be regulated by laws, and also is able to comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence the universal agreement in regard to such subjects, both among nations and individuals, the seeds of them being implanted in the breasts of all without a teacher or lawgiver. The truth of this fact is not affected by the wars and dissensions which immediately arise, while some, such as thieves and robbers, would invert the rules of justice, loosen the bonds of law, and give free scope to their lust; and while others (a vice of most frequent occurrence) deem that to be unjust which is elsewhere regarded as just, and, on the contrary, hold that to be praiseworthy which is elsewhere forbidden. For such persons do not hate the laws from not knowing that they are good and sacred, but, inflamed with headlong passion, quarrel with what is clearly reasonable, and licentiously hate what their mind and understanding approve. Quarrels of this latter kind do not destroy the primary idea of justice. For while men dispute with each other as to particular enactments, their ideas of equity agree in substance. This, no doubt, proves the weakness of the human mind, which, even when it seems on the right path, halts and hesitates. Still, however, it is true, that some principle of civil order is impressed on all. (2.2.13)

the intellect is very seldom mistaken in the general definition or essence of the matter; but that deception begins as it advances farther, namely, when it descends to particulars. That homicide, putting the case in the abstract, is an evil, no man will deny; and yet one who is conspiring the death of his enemy deliberates on it as if the thing was good. The adulterer will condemn adultery in the abstract, and yet flatter himself while privately committing it. The ignorance lies here: that man, when he comes to the particular, forgets the rule which he had laid down in the general case… Moreover, when you hear of a universal judgment in man distinguishing between good and evil, you must not suppose that this judgment is, in every respect, sound and entire. For if the hearts of men are imbued with a sense of justice and injustice, in order that they may have no pretext to allege ignorance, it is by no means necessary for this purpose that they should discern the truth in particular cases. (2.2.23-24)

Calvin is clear (and correct) that natural, fallen man cannot be relied upon to accurately understand general revelation, even in matters of civil justice. They can agree in general that justice is good, but when they get to particulars, they err because of their sinful tendencies. And civil law is quite interested in particulars.

Take libertarians for example. They’re quite good at recognizing that murder is wrong (for all men) and that murderers should be punished. But ask them about abortion and you’ll get some pretty bizarre answers. Walter Block’s “eviction” theory of treating an infant in the womb as an intruder is a wonderful example of Calvin’s observation that “when he comes to the particular, [he] forgets the rule which he had laid down in the general case.” Block argues that a woman may “evict” an unborn child from her body as an exercise in property rights and that she is not responsible for whether the child survives outside of her body or not. Should we humbly submit to Block’s better knowledge of general revelation on this point, recognizing that we may be in error? No, we go to Scripture and see that he is wrong. We may seek to gain insights from these men, but we always, always judge whether they are right or wrong by comparing what they say with Scripture!

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly. (Calvin, 1.6.1)

Tuininga agrees when he says that

The church needs to proclaim very clearly the dignity of all human life in the image of God, right, and prohibition against murder. And not just the obligation that we don’t take human life but that we care for human life – the positive side of the command ‘Do not murder’ as articulated in the Heidelberg catechism. So the church needs proclaim that and it needs to proclaim that without compromise as being a clear implication of gospel, for all people including the state. It’s the state’s job to punish injustice and it’s the state’s job insofar as it is able, to prevent these things. And then I think the organic church then goes out and we are obligated as citizens to seek advance in the way of justice insofar as we are able, just as we are with any moral issue. Now, does that mean that we should go into the public realm and say this is the only perfect position I would hold and I would not support legislation moving in that direction in one way or another. You’re an MP and if there was a law that came to the Parliament now that said ‘Should abortion be prohibited in every case except in the instance of rape of the mother?’ Well you might say ‘I don’t even think it should be legitimate in the case of rape, but that is clearly a compromise moving in the right direction so I might support that, because I recognize that due to the hardness of the human heart sometimes we might not be able to persuade people to prohibit it in all those circumstances.’ The church should never preach that abortion should be illegal except in rape of the mother because the church should say abortion’s always horrible. But what the means in politics, in secular engagement, is going to be a little more complicated based on what is possible, what is attainable and what possibilities individuals have.

Tuininga recognizes that Scripture is to be the final authority in all matters of ethics and that it rightfully speaks to political issues. His confusion is that he wrongly equates the application of principles, which requires discernment and wisdom, with general revelation in distinction from special revelation. Deciding whether to support a law like the one he describes is not somehow to look to general revelation instead of or apart from Scripture. It’s simply a question of how to best apply Scripture!

Boot offers some helpful criticism on this point.

One of the problems, though, with the articulation of natural law as they’re often presented is it’s very difficult to find people that actually agree on the content of natural law. What is it? Of course there was a Stoic Greek articulation of natural law. There’s a sort of Roman Catholic version that’s Christianized. There’s the sort of Protestant version, which, I think, with the reformers with the law of nations was essentially biblical law. I don’t see that Scripture and General Revelation say different things. And so, I think what troubles me a little bit… is how we understand the role of God’s revealed Word, his revealed law, as we engage the culture. I think we want to boil it down to common grace natural law principles, and my question is this: what does natural law mean in a post-Darwinian world? (@2:00:00)

Boot is correct that Scripture and General Revelation do not say different things. Scott Swain, in summarizing the historic reformed view of natural theology, notes “Revealed theology teaches with greater clarity the truths of natural theology.” Boot is also correct that the reformers did identify natural law with biblical law. It is the 10 commandments written on the heart of man at creation. Westminster Confession 19.1 says “The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man. (Romans 2:14, 15; Deuteronomy 10:4).” Richard Muller, in his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Terms notes “The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica…according to substance, and distinguish them…according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure [due to sin], whereas the lex Mosacia is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.” In an essay on how Calvin’s view of natural law differed from Aquinas’, R. Scott Clark notes “unlike Aquinas, he defined natural law very precisely by identifying it with the decalogue or moral law… Far from being a conduit of the Classical or Thomist view of the lex naturalis Calvin made a very sophisticated revision of the concept of natural law by removing it from the Stoic and Thomistic corpus of ‘self-evident’ truths and identifying it with the content of the Law revealed in the Graden and at Sinai and in the Sermon on the Mount.”

It is in this vein that Boot rightly warns of Aquinas’ influence on Van Drunen. “He actually graduated from Layola in Chicago. I think he became very taken with Aquinas and the catholic nature/grace doctrine and natural law theory and I think he’s been trying to marry that with a more covenantal view of Christianity.”  Van Drunen actually admits this is true in Divine Covenants and Moral Order.

Thomas understood the natural law more in terms of a moral order than a series of discrete rules. Natural law, for Thomas, is encapsulated in one rule – pursue good and shun evil – but this is so general that it is of little concrete usefulness. More specific rules (such as those of the Decalogue) can also be understood through practical reason, but even these do not capture the natural law comprehensively, for natural law pertains to all things to which human beings are inclined by nature. Though again I develop these matters differently, the idea of natural law in terms of moral order rather than discrete rules is also important to the theology of natural law for which I argue in subsequent chapters. (25)

Van Drunen rejects the reformation’s identification of natural law with the decalogue and instead returns to Aquinas. Where he modifies Aquinas is that he applies the concept to the covenantal structure discussed above. Natural law theory, generally speaking, is the practice of observing human nature in order to determine what principles of justice are common among all men down through history. Whatever is found to be in common, that is natural law. Van Drunen follows the same approach. However, instead of observing all of recorded human history, he chooses to observe Scripture’s account of human history and attempts to derive the content of natural law from these observations. When he does this, Van Drunen reaches the conclusion that the content of natural law actually changes under the Noahic Covenant. What God reveals to all men changed after the fall.

My basic argument in this book is that God promulgates the natural law in covenant relationships with human beings, who are rulers of the created world under him. He did so originally in a covenant of creation, with Adam as divine image-bearer and representative of the human race, in which natural law made known both humanity’s basic moral obligations and humanity’s eschatological destiny of new creation upon performance of the obligations. After the fall into sin, God continues to promulgate natural law, though in refracted form through the covenant with Noah, by which he preserves the first creation while postponing its final judgment… (14)

This natural law is organically continuous with the natural law of the original creation, but refracted in modified form through the Noahic covenant. Accordingly, the substance of natural law in the fallen world reflects this covenant’s preservative purposes. Genesis 9:1-7 explicitly highlights only a few natural obligations of fallen image-bearers, and they concern the most basic requirements for the continuation of human society: procreation, eating (plants and animals, but not meat with its blood in it), and enforcement of retributive justice. I have referred to this as the minimalist natural law ethic, about which God has special concern to have observed in his ongoing government of the world. But even Genesis 9:1-7, especially when read in context, suggests that the natural law also continues to be a broader moral order, which points beyond the minimalist ethic to a richer way of life that promotes a modest human flourishing in the fallen world, and which also reminds human beings of their ultimate accountability before God and his judgment. One important way in which natural law is modified after the fall is that it requires the administration of retributive justice to be tempered with forbearance (though not forgiveness), in order to reflect the revelation of God’s own justice and forbearance in the Noahic covenant.

The rest of Scripture subsequent to Genesis 9 offers many occasions to test and enrich these initial conclusions about natural law as sustained under the Noahic covenant, and thus as it concerns the human race as a whole – human beings as fallen human beings. In general, many biblical texts show that human persons, even apart from special prophetic revelation, have a knowledge of their basic moral obligations and that God has particular concern about violations of the minimalist ethic explicit in Genesis 9:1-7. The story of Abraham and Abimelech in Gerar (Genesis 20) illustrates the positive effects of natural law in broader human society, for here people who were strangers to God’s special covenant with Abraham display an impressive interest in justice and the integrity of marriage, and even the fear of God. Negatively, texts describing the temporal judgments God brings upon particular human communities, in anticipation of the final judgment, illustrate sinful humanity’s rebellion against the natural law. God never judges these nations for violations of the Torah, God’s special law for Israel, or for their idolatry or other matters of religious devotion, but for egregious violations of intrahuman justice, committed with a hubristic spirit. This is consistent with the expectations created by the Noahic covenant. (482-3)

So Van Drunen looks in Scripture, not for prescriptive texts, but for descriptive texts (narrative) that show us what fallen men under the Noahic Covenant know innately about natural law. It is his belief that through common grace under the Noahic Covenant, God reveals a revised/refracted natural law to fallen man that they understand with sufficient clarity to rightly order civil society. Thus Christians can and should look to their unbelieving neighbors, to learn how to order society. (A somewhat side note for the libertarians reading this: Van Drunen’s motivation for looking beyond the prescriptive commands of the Noahic Covenant is that he apparently thinks it is too “minimalist.” That is because the only use of the sword/civli government allowed by the text is retributive justice for violent crimes – that is, the non-aggression principle.) He also argues that in regards to the “important epistemological question” of how exactly human beings “know these natural moral obligations” that “insight from human custom may be at least part of the answer to the question of how one knows natural law.” (127)

However, in line with Calvin above, the Canons of Dort specifically note that fallen man’s knowledge of the natural law written on their heart is insufficient to insure they will apply it properly for civil use.

There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him—so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

Canons of Dort III.4

Boot picks up on this and asks

In the last century – cultural hegemony – where was it in Hitler’s Germany? Stalin’s Russia? Mao’s China? Polpot’s Cambodia? Moussilini’s Italy? The Ayatollah’s Iran? Where is it today in Canada? You see, the Noahic Covenant is not primarily invoked [by Van Drunen] to show why physical laws and seasons abide, but why we share subjectively the same norms. Why I’m supposed to share subjectively the same norms with my neighbor in the common kingdom. But God’s covenant with Noah says nothing about whether my neighbor will understand and abide by that, only that God stands by his justice. You can’t make a prescriptive text into a descriptive one.

In short, and in conclusion, the 2K view of culture becomes, I think, an exercise in question begging. We don’t need Christian transformation of culture because there’s widespread agreement about norms and cultural questions in our present culture. Claiming this agreement is because of the Noahic covenant is absurd. What is, in fact, notable is the agreement we have enjoyed in recent centuries in the West on some of these things is that it has been the exception to the rule. The western world, Christendom, has been the exception to the rule. The reason for cultural hegemony to the degree we observe it today in the leafy suburbs of Escondido, perhaps, is found in the very place Van Drunen doesn’t want us to look: Christian evangelization of the West and our application of the gospel to every aspect of culture.

This is in regards to statements by Van Drunen such as

[S]ince the flood God issues natural law through the covenant with Noah. (124)

Through it God communicates a natural knowledge of his law to all human beings… (128)

He argues that the content of natural law (which the reformed define as the moral law written on the heart of man) actually changes in the Noahic Covenant. He makes this strange argument because he appears to be following Van Til’s misunderstanding of the meaning of WCF 7.1. Van Til argued that man can only know God through covenant. Knowledge of God apart from covenant is impossible. In this vein, Van Drunen notes “Human beings can only image the God they know, and the God they know is the one who reveals himself in concrete covenantal relationships.” (122) Thus, since the Noahic Covenant modifies the Creation Covenant, the natural law covenantally revealed by each must be different. This is terribly confused and results from his view (derived from Van Til and Kline) “I continue to reject the bifurcation of the ‘natural’ and the ‘covenantal,'” (95-96). A bifurcation of the ‘natural’ and the ‘covenantal’ is the entire point of WCF 7.1. This appears to be at the heart of Van Drunen’s great confusion over epistemological issues. The Noahic Covenant does not change general revelation in any way. The Noahic Covenant is special revelation. It does not change what is written on man’s heart, nor does it promise any perspicuous preservation of what is written on man’s heart.

Boot is correct that Scripture never says the Noahic Covenant insures that fallen men will retain the ability to correctly discern matters of general revelation concerning civil government. He thus presses Tuininga on the persecuted church.

How does God go about changing the common kingdom so that it doesn’t endlessly attack the redemptive, seeing as the grace and special revelation of the redemptive isn’t allowed to transform it? So are we not in an endless dialectic, where we can never even approach a resolution because we have two realms that never seem to touch?

The solution is not to deny the existence of a common kingdom (Boot’s proposal), but rather (contra Van Drunen) to appeal to the text of Scripture to demonstrate the just use of the sword and the purpose of civil law in the common kingdom. We thus apply special revelation to all of society, without mistakenly arguing that all of society is the church or all of society and the world belongs to believers (which is contrary to Scripture). The wheat and the tares are permitted to grow together under the covenant of common preservation and the use of the sword is restricted to retributive justice in response to violent crimes of aggression.

Thus, in order to make sense of the two kingdoms debate, try to separate the question of covenantal structure from the question of revelation. Most who get the question of revelation correct get the question of structure wrong. Most who get the question of structure right get the question of revelation wrong. When you get both of those right, you become a reformed libertarian 🙂

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Leithart’s Monocovenantalism

March 30, 2016 3 comments

False teacher Peter Leithart offers a helpful summary of why proponents of the Federal Vision believe in monocovenantalism (the belief that the pre-fall Adamic Covenant was essentially the same as the post-fall Covenant of Grace).

Grace and law from God’s side, and a demand for faith and obedience from man, characterize every covenant in Scripture.  No covenant is exclusively legal or exclusively gracious.  No one is ever called to a dis-obedient faith or a faithless obedience.

Read the rest to understand this influential error. See also Doug Wilson’s CREC “Examination” Questions 5, 8, 39-46. Compare with John Murray’s rejection of a works principle anywhere in Scripture.

Guy Waters on Leviticus 18:5

July 25, 2015 9 comments

I recently had the pleasure of joining Pascal Denault to interview Guy Waters for the Confessing Baptist Podcast. We discussed his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith titled “Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works” which can also be found online here.

Waters’ goal is to demonstrate that in this crucial text, Paul is contrasting the Adamic Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Waters concludes “Defining ‘law’ at Romans 10:5 as the decrees and commandments of the moral law operating within the covenant of works explains otherwise knotty questions in the passage… It is when one sees that Paul is engaging the moral law’s precepts as they function within the covenant of works that he can understand that Paul affirms the whole Scripture to bear univocal witness to Jesus Christ and his “righteousness” for sinners.” His burden is to demonstrate the grievous error of those who deny the existence of a Covenant of Works: “Some within the Reformed churches are gravitating toward monocovenantalism (often not without grave consequences for their doctrine of justification). To those interested in engaging that position biblically, the bicovenantalism of Romans 10:4-8 surely ought to play a central role in that engagement. At stake is nothing less than the ‘word of faith which we preach’ (10:8).”

Paul’s concern for the law, as Romans 10:5 indicates, is the commandments and precepts of the moral law.What does this mean for a definition of the word telos? While it is a thoroughly Pauline teaching that Christ is the goal of the law, or the one to whom the law points (whether considered as a covenantal administration or as commandments and precepts), that is not what Paul is claiming here. He is claiming that Christ is the “termination” of the law to the believer. Paul, however, is not affirming that the believer is thereby altogether free from the commandments and precepts of the law. Paul is no antinomian. The law as precept continues to bind believers. He is, however, claiming that the believer is free from the law’s commandments as they bring life to the one who perfectly performs them and condemnation to the one who fails to meet this standard. He is, in other words, freed from the law as it functions within the covenant of works.

But arriving at this biblical conclusion faces a serious challenge: Paul quotes from the Mosaic Covenant to establish both principles (faith and works). This raises three problems:

1) How can Paul apply the Mosaic Covenant to Gentiles?

2) Is the Mosaic Covenant therefore the Covenant of Works?

3) How can Paul legitimately appeal to the same covenant for both principles (faith and works)?

Waters answers the first question by demonstrating that there is overlap between the Mosaic law and the moral law that binds Gentiles as well.

While Paul concerns himself with the commandments found within the Mosaic law, he does not concern himself with commandments that are found only within the Mosaic law. This is evident from a few considerations. First, Paul’s argument in 10:4-13 is universal in scope. Paul affirms at 10:4 that Christ is the “end of the law to everyone who believes.” The righteousness of justification is not restricted to Jews only… Second, if the solution is universal, it stands to reason that what has occasioned that solution (the “problem”) is universal as well… The problem that Paul identifies, then, is one to which Moses gives expression, but is not one that Paul limits or restricts to the Jews, the recipients of the Torah…Paul, however, has affirmed that it is to the “law” that the problem of Jews and Gentiles has reference… Romans 1:18-3:20… Romans 2:12-15… What can be said of this “law” which is thus available to all men and women? This “law” can certainly be distinguished from the Mosaic law in its totality, since Gentiles are expressly said not to have the Mosaic law. Nevertheless, because Paul uses the term “law” to describe this standard available to the Gentiles, neither may one separate it from the Mosaic law…

How could Paul have derived a testimony regarding the moral law, revealed to Jews and Gentiles, from Leviticus 18:5? The answer is found in the overlap that exists between the moral law and the Mosaic law. Because of this overlap Paul can quote the Mosaic writings, deducing therefrom a principle that applies universally to Jews and Gentiles alike.

In answering the first question, Waters answers the second (“since Gentiles are expressly said not to have the Mosaic law”). In Romans 10:5, Paul is specifically making a point about the law as the universal Adamic Covenant of Works even though he is using an element of the Jewish Mosaic Covenant. He is not identifying the Mosaic Covenant with the Adamic Covenant of Works – they are two different covenants. But this raises a new question:

4) What is the relationship between the Adamic Covenant of Works and the Mosaic Covenant such that Paul can appeal to one to make a point about the other?

Answering this question requires Waters to answer question 3) first. Waters’ answer, as someone who holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith, is that Paul can appeal to the Mosaic Covenant to establish the principle of faith because the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Old Testament saints were saved through the Mosaic administration of the Covenant of Grace, which is the same in substance as the New Covenant (salvation by grace alone through faith alone). They differ only in their outward appearance.

John Murray observes that “[The problem that arises from this use of Lev. 18:5 is that the latter text does not appear in a context that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith.] Lev. 18:5 is in a context in which the claims of God upon his redeemed and covenant people are being asserted and urged upon Israel… [It] refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.” If the Scripture teaches that the Mosaic administration is an administration of the covenant of grace, as the Westminster divines affirm (7.5), then how could Paul have interpreted Lev 18:5 as he has? How could he have taken a passage which, in context, appears to refer to the sanctificational works of a redeemed person within the covenant community, and apply this text to individuals seeking the righteousness of justification on the basis of their performance?… Has Paul misquoted Leviticus 18:5 at Romans 10:5?

Waters’ solution to this difficult question is that the moral law itself contains the works principle, and since both the Covenant of Works and the (Mosaic) Covenant of Grace contain the moral law, Paul can quote it from Moses to establish his point about Adam. In other words, in his quotation of Leviticus 18:5, Paul is “abstracting” the moral law from it’s context in the Covenant of Grace and thereby showing what the moral law by itself says.

Paul considers the moral demands of the law, in distinction from the gracious covenant in which they were formally promulgated, to set forth the standard of righteousness required by the covenant of works.* This is not to say that Paul believed that God placed Israel under a covenant of works at Mount Sinai. Nor is it to say that the apostle regarded the Mosaic covenant itself to have degenerated, by virtue of Israel’s unbelief and rebellion, into a covenant of works. Nor is it to say that Paul understood that God gave the Decalogue specifically or the Mosaic legal code generally as a covenant of works separate from a gracious Mosaic covenantal administration.

That Paul is here engaging the Mosaic Law as it articulates the standard of righteousness set forth by the covenant of works is a venerable interpretation. It is also one enshrined by the proof-texts of the Westminster Standards. The Assembly cited Rom 10:5 as proof for the following confessional declarations: “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity…” (WCF 7.2); “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it” (WCF 19.1). Tellingly, the Assembly does not cite Rom 10:5 as proof for the covenant of works simpliciter. Rom 10:5 is proof, rather, for the moral law which lies at the heart of the covenant of works. The identification in view, then, is not between the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works as covenantal administrations. The identification is twofold. First, the moral law set forth in the covenant of works is substantially identical with the moral law set forth in the Mosaic Covenant. Second, the connection between “obedience” and “life” expressed by the moral law in the covenant of works is an abiding one. The moral law set forth in the Mosaic Covenant continues to express that connection.

If this historical proposal is tenable, then it goes a long distance towards resolving a number of exegetical and theological difficulties that have attended recent study of the apostle Paul. The question before us, then, is this – is this proposal exegetically tenable? In other words, is this what the apostle Paul is arguing at Rom 10:5?

*This position set forth in this chapter is essentially that argued by Anthony Burgess: “The law (as to this purpose) may be considered more largely, as that whole doctrine delivered on Mount Sinai, with the preface and promises adjoined, and all things that may be reduced to it; or more strictly, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousnesse, holding forth life upon no termes, but perfect obedience. Now take it in the former sense, it was a Covenant of grace; take it in the latter sense, as abstracted from Moses and his administration of it, and so it was not of grace, but workes”

So, is this proposal exegetically tenable? No, I do not believe it is. It contradicts a foundational aspect of the system of theology presented in the Westminster Confession. The Confession teaches a distinction between the moral law and the moral law as a covenant of works. 7.1 teaches that man has a natural obligation to obey God’s commands (the law). However, he cannot expect anything in return for that obedience. He is merely doing what is expected as a servant/slave (read the proof texts). This is expected of all image bearers (WCF 19.5). But God condescended to offer man a reward for that same obedience. This condescended reward, which was added to the moral law, was expressed by way of covenant. Adam was changed from a servant/slave to a wage earner (Rom 4:4) who could now earn a reward by his obedience. That reward was “life” – that is, eternal life without the possibility of sinning; an eternal sabbath rest. That is the covenant of works. That is the “works principle”: earning a reward by one’s works. WCF 19.1 says “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works…” (For more on this, see here and here.)

But because the works principle is something added to the moral law by covenant, the same moral law can be applied in a different way in a different covenant (the covenant of grace). Thus the Westminster Confession teaches that “This law, after [Adam’s] fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai…” (19.2). Though the Covenant of Works was broken, the moral law itself continued to lay forth the requirement for all image bearers (19.5). It “continued to be a perfect rule (guide) of righteousness” and that is how it was delivered on Mount Sinai – not as a covenant of works, but as a perfect rule of righteousness. As a result, “Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly…” (19.6) which is not “contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do[es] sweetly comply with it” (19.7).

To summarize, the law says “Do this.” The covenant of works (works principle) says “Do this, and live!

As we just saw, the Westminster Confession views the Mosaic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace and says the moral law functioned in the Mosaic Covenant as a perfect rule of righteousness, and not as a covenant of works. Waters’ argument is that Paul is quoting the moral law in the Mosaic Covenant and then abstracting it from it’s Mosaic context and applying it to the Adamic Covenant of Works to make a point about justification. But is Leviticus 18:5 simply the moral law (command)? No, it’s not.

You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 18:5 ESV)

From a simple grammatical standpoint, the first part of the verse is a command while the second part is a proposition commenting on that command.

Do this: You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules

and liveif a person does them, he shall live by them

From a theological standpoint, Lev. 18:5 is a statement of the law given as a covenant of works. It is not simply the moral law itself. Furthermore, Paul is only quoting the latter half of the verse – the works principle – not a command. Thus, according to Westminster’s system of theology concerning the law (which is shared by the LBCF and I believe is biblical), Paul must not be abstracting the moral law from its covenantal context but must be specifically appealing to its covenantal context. And because Leviticus 18:5 is not simply a command that can be applied in a covenant of works or a covenant of grace (“You shall not steal”), but is a statement of the works principle (“If you do not steal you will live” cf. Gal 3:12), the only conclusion we can come to is that the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works. And thus Westminster’s system of theology is self-contradictory.

And thus Paul is not misquoting Leviticus 18:5. He is correctly contrasting a covenant of works (righteousness based on the law) with the covenant of grace (righteousness based on faith). Which brings us to our final unanswered question 2) Is the Mosaic Covenant therefore the Covenant of Works? No, it is not. It is a covenant of works but it is not the Covenant of Works. The two covenants differ in their contracting parties and in their reward. The Adamic Covenant of Works was made with Adam as the federal head of all mankind. The Mosaic covenant of works was made with Abraham’s physical offspring. The Adamic Covenant of Works offered eternal life upon the doing of the law (perfectly). The Mosaic covenant of works offered temporal life and blessing in the land of Canaan upon the doing of the law (outwardly). For more on this distinction, see here and here.

Finally, if Paul correctly appeals to Moses to establish the works principle, how can he also appeal to Moses to establish the faith principle? Well, quite simply, in the words of Scottish Presbyterian John Erskine (1765) “We must not imagine that everything in Moses’ writings relates to the Sinai covenant.” Paul’s appeal to the faith principle comes from Deuteronomy 30:12-14. Another chapter in The Law is Not of Faith by Bryan Estelle titled “Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development” argues precisely what we have said thus far:

In a word, the life promised upon condition of performing the statues and judgments in its immediate context in Leviticus here [referring to Lev. 18:5] is “the covenantal blessing of abundant (and long) life in the land of Israel.” (Sprinkle)… There is a real connection that exists between the obedience/disobedience of Israel and tenure in the land… the biblical evidence is incontrovertible…

The Bible asserts and scholars have recognized that pollution and defilement of the land could build up and reach intolerable states, triggering the sanctions and leading to banishment. Not only exile is in view, but also ultimate extirpation symbolized in the destruction of the Herodian temple in AD 70 and the potential rejection of the chosen people.

Estelle then contrasts this with the solution to such a dire situation:

Leviticus 18:5’s influence on Ezekiel is of paramount importance. The purpose of these echoic allusions in Ezekiel is to show that what Israel has failed to do, God will do… Leviticus 18 allusions are seen throughout the entire book of Ezekiel and not merely restricted (as often) to chapter 20 of Ezekiel where three citations of Lev 18:5 have frequently been noted…

[In Ezekiel there is a] reversal of fortunes based on divine initiative… In short, there is a “composition connection between the unfulfilled ‘statutes and ordinances’ in chapters 18 and 20 with their fulfillment in 36.27 and 37.24; likewise, there is a connection with the ‘life’ unattained by Israel in chapters 18, 20, and 33 and Israel’s ‘life’ in 37.1-14″ (Sprinkle) Whereas Israel’s failure to fulfill the stipulations is highlighted repeatedly in Ezekiel 1-24, there is a dramatic reversal of this failure through divine initiative and fulfillment in Ezekiel 36-37… In short, divine causation replaces the conditions incumbent upon the people. What they are unable to perform in and of themselves, Yahweh will accomplish through his own divinely appointed agency.

Like Waters, Estelle recognizes that there is overlap between the Jewish Mosaic law and the universal moral law, and thus while Leviticus 18:5 in its immediate context refers to life in the land of Canaan, it alludes to the eternal life offered in the Adamic Covenant of Works, and thus the problem all mankind faces. Bringing all of this together, Estelle writes about Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (the section Paul quotes):

[T]his amazing passage anticipates ahead of time the plight of which the Israelite nation will find itself, destitute and unable to fulfill the stipulations of the covenant on its own. It also describes the new measure of obedience – accomplished by divine initiative – in which they will satisfy the conditions hanging over them. Finally, when Paul creatively brings these two significant passages (i.e., Lev 18:5 and Deut. 30) into closer proximity to one another (Rom 10:1-12), the mystery of the divine plan for fulfillment emerges from the shadows and into the light…

In Deut 10:16, the people are commanded to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts and not stiffen their necks any longer. Verse 6 of Deut 30, however, is no mere allusion to that passage! On the contrary, new covenant language and imagery permeate this Deuteronomy passage because it is clear that divine initiative will supersede human impotence… Verse 8 declares that when God himself circumcises hearts, “you [fronted in the Hebrew] will repent and you will obey the voice of the LORD and you will do all his commandments.” This will happen with the coming of the Spirit in the gospel age…

Just as Leviticus 18:5 is taken up in later biblical allusions and echoes, so also is this Deuteronomy passage. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the language of the new covenant that was cloaked in the circumcision of heart metaphor is unveiled in this classic passage. I argued above that Deuteronomy 30:1-14 is a predictive prophecy of the new covenant, and, therefore, all that was implicit there becomes explicit in Jeremiah 31. In verse 31, Jeremiah says this will happen “in the coming days” and in verse 33 he says “after these days”; both refer to the new covenant, messianic days.

This new covenant, however, is going to be unlike the old covenant with respect to breaking. The old covenant was a breakable covenant, it was made obsolete… The reader is obliged to say that a works principle in the old covenant was operative in some sense because the text clearly states that it was a fracturable covenant, “not like the one they broke.” Here indeed was a covenant that was susceptible to fracture and breakable! They broke it at Sinai (Ex. 32), and they did it time and again until that old covenant had served its purposes. For the one who holds a high view of God directing history, there must be something going on here…

…the point is that the whole old covenant order will be annihilatedit will be wiped out, and it will go down in judgment as a modus operandi.  The new covenant is not like that: it is not subject to breaking because it is built upon God’s initiative to complete it and Christ’s satisfaction in his penalty-paying substitution and his probation keeping. His merit is the surety of the new covenant promises, and therefore it cannot fail. The old Sinaitic covenant by way of contrast is built upon a very fallible hope, and therefore is destined to fail since Israel individually and corporately could not fulfill its stipulations.

Thus Paul can quote Deuteronomy 30:12-14 to establish the faith principle of the Covenant of Grace in opposition to the works principle in the Mosaic and Adamic covenants of works because Deuteronomy 30 is a prophecy of the New Covenant, and the New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace, by which all saints from all time, OT and NT, have been saved.

“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
I greatly appreciate Waters’ work in this essay and his other writings. He rightly understands the necessity of properly understanding the Covenant of Works if we are to properly understand the gospel, and he defends that as best he can. But he is crippled by a self-contradictory covenant theology. A more consistent covenant theology, 1689 Federalism, provides a more robust and biblical defense of “the word of faith which we preach.”