Results tagged “Republication” from Reformation21 Blog

Some thoughts on the Mosaic Covenant

I have read with profit Mark Jones's recent posts on the covenant of works (see here and here), having benefited from his other writings on this topic as well. Such theological clarity and historical awareness are much to be appreciated when it comes to the relationship between the covenant of works, made with Adam in the Garden, and the Mosaic Covenant, made with Israel at Sinai. Indeed, in my opinion, properly locating the Mosaic Covenant within God's unfolding covenantal economy presents the most difficult and complex challenge in covenant theology. As Anthony Burgess once observed, it is a place where many "learned men" have found themselves "like Abraham's Ram, hung in a bush of briars and brambles by the head." Given the intrinsic complexity of the issues, simplistic explanations are to be eschewed. 

Though simplistic explanations of this topic are not desirable, there is a need, especially among those responsible for ministering the Word of God to the people of God on a weekly basis, to summarize complex issues in a simple, though not simplistic, way. With this in mind, I want to briefly sketch three points for thinking about the place of the Mosaic Covenant within God's unfolding plan for his people. I suggest that, taken together, these three points provide an orientation to this complex topic that is biblically, theologically, and pastorally satisfying. 

(1)The Mosaic Covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace. I realize that folks on both sides of contemporary "republication" debates would affirm this point, so some qualification is in order. In saying that the Mosaic Covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace, I am affirming that the Mosaic administration, in form and structure, fits the pattern exhibited in other administrations of the covenant of grace (e.g., Abrahamic, Davidic, New covenants) and that, in form and structure,  it does not follow the pattern exhibited in the covenant of works. 

The covenant between Yahweh and Israel at Sinai is a covenant between redeemer and redeemed. God's gracious act of deliverance provides the redemptive foundation of the commands he issues to Israel and of the allegiance he requires from Israel (Exod 19.4; 20.2). Indeed, because the events of the exodus mark the fulfillment of God's promise, made under self-maledictory oath in Genesis 15.7-21, we should understand Israel's "pledge of allegiance" to Yahweh in Exodus 19.8 and 24.3, not as evidence that the Mosaic Covenant is a different type of covenant from the Abrahamic Covenant, but rather as evidence that the Mosaic Covenant is the realization of the Abrahamic Covenant. The one who promised to be God to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17.7, 8) at last has brought "his people" into being (see Exod 1.7; 6.7): and as he has pledged to be their God, so they now pledge to be his people. The Sinai arrangement is not a different type of covenant from that of Abraham. It is the fulfillment and goal of the Abrahamic Covenant: the covenant relationship initiated through unilateral promise to the patriarchs is now realized in bilateral commitment between redeemer and his redeemed people. 

(2) The Mosaic Covenant is a temporal administration of the covenant of grace in relation to Christ. While the Mosaic Covenant is the initial fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, Israel's "I do" in relation to Yahweh her husband, it is not the final fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant was a temporary administration of the covenant of grace, destined to be made obsolete (Heb 8.13). The Law was one of God's good gifts, but it was a gift destined for replacement by God's greater gift in and through Jesus Christ (John 1.16-17), the gift of the New Covenant. As the initial fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant thus bears a temporary, shadowy relationship to the New Covenant, which is the final, everlasting fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (Col 2.17). 

(3) The Mosaic Covenant is a weak administration of the covenant of grace in relation to the flesh. The reason that the Mosaic Covenant was only a temporary administration of the covenant of grace is related to its status as a weak administration of the covenant of grace. Where does its "fault" lie (Heb 8.7-8)? Not in its structure and form, I contend (see above). The weakness of the Mosaic Covenant lies in one of its parties: the Mosaic Covenant was "weakened by the flesh" (Rom 8.3). Because the Mosaic Covenant was written on tablets of stone and not on hearts of flesh, it was ultimately only capable of exposing and condemning the treachery of God's fallen human covenant partners. It was a ministry of death leading to death (see 2 Cor 3-4). 

This of course is not to ignore Old Testament teaching that the Spirit was operative under the Mosaic Covenant (Isa 63.10-11; Haggai 2.5): contrary to Dispensationalist schematizations, the contrast between the Spirit's work under the Old and New Covenants is relative, not absolute. Nevertheless, the Old Testament also teaches us that, relative to God's work in the New Covenant, God's people were largely deprived of the grace required to receive and respond to the (gracious) Mosaic Covenant in a manner that was pleasing to God (Deut 29.4; cf. 30.1-10) and therefore that they were doomed to fall under that covenant's curse from the beginning (Deut 31.27 with 21.18-23).

And indeed we must confess that God's law--in all of its covenantal forms--is destined to function this way in relation to fallen human beings: only in Christ, where the law's death-dealing sentence is realized, can the law have its proper function of instructing the redeemed, who are raised in and with Christ through the Spirit to fulfill God's law (Gal 2.19; Rom 8.4ff).

As noted above, it is only taken together that these three points may function as an effective summary of biblical teaching about the Mosaic Covenant. Denying any one of them, however, leads to serious problems.

Denying the first point, in my judgment, damages biblical preaching. If we do not see the Mosaic Covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace, then we will be tempted to read the Old Testament as one long story of Israel's failure to be the one they were never commissioned to be: the Second Adam (Rom 5.12-21). And, thus, we will fail to appreciate how Israel functions as an (to be sure, often negative) example of what it means to live in union with Christ within the covenant of grace (see 1 Cor 10.1-5; Heb 3.7-4.11), depriving ourselves of a significant dimension of Old Testament teaching (2 Tim 3.16-17).   

Denying the second point amounts to Judaizing. Though few Christians would commit this mistake today, many of Paul's chief opponents in the apostolic era were those who welcomed the inclusion of Gentiles within the people of God as a sign that the latter days had dawned but who failed to appreciate the terms of Gentile inclusion because they believed that the Mosaic Covenant provided the ultimate rather than the penultimate administration for realizing the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul's argument in Galatians 3-4 is largely concerned with refuting this error. 

Denying the third point leads to legalism. Affirming the first point without affirming the third point can lead to serious theological and pastoral problems, and those of us not convinced by "republication" arguments need to acknowledge this fact. If all we do is affirm how good God's law is, how it functions as a means of gratitude for God's redeemed people, and so forth, and if we fail to acknowledge and expound the anthropological predicament of Adam's children before God's good law, then we are setting people up either for failure or self-deception in relation to the law. We must be clear: "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8.8). 

Moreover, we must be clear that God's solution to this predicament is not a graciously structured covenant. God's solution to this problem is the incarnation, death, and exaltation of his Son, and the outpouring of the Spirit of the risen Christ: "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8.3-4). The covenant of grace--in any and every one of its administrations--is only a covenant of grace because of the mediator of the covenant of grace.

Postscript: I realize that this topic is a source of heated controversy in Reformed and Presbyterian churches today, and I count as brothers and ministers in good standing folks on both sides of the debate. Given the complexity of this issue, as well as the diversity exhibited historically across the Reformed tradition on this topic, I do hope it is an issue that can be debated with clarity and charity by those who have learned from God's law in Christ to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isa 2.2-4). 

I Know Nothing

The Baptists love their water; 
The Covenanters love their Psalter;
But mess with the Klineans, 
You'll soon be on the altar!

The good folk at Ref21 - that is, the top men - were so chuffed with my entrance into this intra-Reformed debate, that they'd like to see more publications on republication. Something about showing how dozens of well-known Reformed theologians believed Adam and Christ both had faith, and whereas one depended on the Holy Spirit, the other did not. One could always read, A Puritan Theology, pp. 226-232, 341-344 in the meantime, while I decide whether to bow out and save my administrative assistant a lot of time and trouble.

I do, however, continue to welcome emails of praise to go along with the inevitable (unsolicited) emails that tell me "I know nothing". I give you, Basil and Manuel:

Pastor Mark Jones believes if you give up republication then justification will falter...
PS, the altar of love:

Republication Debates

A regrettable piece was published on the Aquila report concerning the Reformed doctrine of republication. I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry. In it the author claims that the views of Meredith G. Kline represent "historic, mainstream Reformed federalism, espoused from the time of the Reformation to the present," as opposed to the heterodoxy of many others, including Richard Gaffin. 

The author even manages to excoriate almost every Reformed Seminary, but lauds Westminster West "as the sole seminary promoting the biblical view (as we understand the issues)" on republication and justification. 

But is Kline's covenant theology the historic, mainstream Reformed federalism that emerged from the time of the Reformation? That's an important historical and theological question.

What is the doctrine of "republication"? 

Very simply, some people speak about the "covenant of works" (see WCF 7.2) being "republished" at Sinai - hence, the doctrine of republication. But after that, many of us are all groping around in the dark as to what some modern proponents mean by "republication." 

One of the problems concerns the way we define the covenant of works, including all of its basic elements. Even among Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century, there were disagreements on the precise nature of the covenant of works. 

What was the "life" promised? Temporal life in the Garden or eternal life in Heaven? The Westminster documents leave this question undecided. 

Was the covenant of works gracious? 

In my view, the presence of divine grace before the Fall was a basic assumption of almost all Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century. It was not a meritorious covenant, as in proper merit (i.e. condign merit). 

According to Johannes Maccovius, for something to be meritorious, four things are necessary: 1. It must be something that is not owed. 2. It should proceed from the powers of those who deserve it. 3. It must be of use to him of whom someone thinks that he deserves something. 4. The reward must not be greater than the merit. Thus, Adam clearly could not merit (eternal) life, and neither could Israel merit typological blessings (e.g., land). 

Did Adam live by faith in the Garden? Yes, just as Christ lived by faith in the wilderness. The just, including the just one (Jesus) during his life on earth, live by faith. 

Was Adam's faith natural or supernatural? Again, Reformed theologians wrestled with this question.

Was Adam's fundamental problem a failure to depend on the Holy Spirit for his obedience, as John Owen argued? 

Was the Holy Spirit or the Son the Mediator in the covenant of works? Or was there no Mediator? 

These and other questions need to be addressed before we can begin to tackle in what sense the covenant of works was "republished" at Sinai. 

Some people seem to begin with their own understanding of the covenant of works and then work from that principle to the doctrine of republication, forgetting that their view of the covenant of works (e.g., strict merit) doesn't quite have the strong Reformed pedigree they assume it has.

Once this is done, we should move on to the next question: 

How do we distinguish between formal republication and material republication? 

The moral law is not strictly co-extensive (i.e., equal to) with the covenant of works. The covenant of works was a particular, historical covenant, which involved trees, sacraments, etc. The moral law remains binding upon all humans, but that does not make the moral law the covenant of works. Formal republication almost makes the error of equating the moral law with the original covenant of works, whereas material republication simply asserts that the moral law is given afresh at Sinai on tables of stone. 

Thus, material republication of the moral law should not raise any eyebrows. And critics of republication are not (as far as I am aware) taking issue with "material republication." It has a strong historical precedent. I have certainly never denied that in my own published writings on the topic.

Formal republication is quite another thing, however. But if someone is prepared to affirm "formal" or "material" republication, they also need to explain in what sense the New Covenant may also be or not be a "formal" or "material" republication of the covenant of works. After all, the law is written on our hearts, which is (in some sense!) a return to Eden. And, as the WCF (19.6) makes clear, believers may expect "blessings" upon "performing"/keeping the moral law, as long as it is "sincere" obedience. 

Moreover, if the covenant of life (WLC Q. & A 20) demands of Adam, "personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience," may the covenant at Sinai be called a covenant of works in any meaningful sense? Remember, the Israelites were utterly unable to offer "perfect" obedience. At best, it was sincere obedience, which is the type of obedience that belongs to the covenant of grace.

As noted, it is one thing to say the moral law, given to Adam, was republished at Sinai - hardly a controversial point, to my mind - but quite another thing to say that the Mosaic covenant is a meritorious covenant based on works with regard to temporal blessings. The OPC study committee on this issue needs to settle the issue of the role of merit in the old covenant more than whether Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century spoke of "republication." 

Can sinners merit anything before God? In my view, the only person who can merit anything before God is Christ because of the infinite value of his person and work. 

However, for the sake of argument, let's say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant. But what if you hold to the uncontroversial view that Adam, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, lived by faith in the Garden of Eden as he perfectly obeyed God's law (for a time)? How is Sinai similar to that covenantal context and how is it different? 

Retaining temporal promises in Canaan based on imperfect, meritorious obedience is not republication. The conditions and promises are fundamentally different. What Kline does is something altogether different than what even John Owen and others did. Readers should note that Klinean covenant theology is not really classical Reformed "republicationism." Talk of historical precedent is not all that relevant, as surprising as that may sound. 

The sooner we recognize that Kline's view is, historically considered, a little idiosyncratic, the sooner we can move on to discussing in more detail Kline's use of Mendenhall regarding Ancient Near Eastern Suzerain treaties. That's where published scholars of ANE history, such as Noel Weeks, have done such a good job of exposing the deficiencies of trying to understand biblical covenants as reflective of Suzerain treaties. 

Without the historical precedent, as well as the ANE treaties to buttress their case, those holding to Kline's view are left with the exegetical argument. And that may be their best bet. I'm quite willing to make the distinction between the historical and the exegetical argument.

Nonetheless, they will always have to deal with the problem of redefining merit in order to justify their view.

In sum, I am not concerned so much whether the doctrine of republication has historical precedent. Rather, I want to know what people actually mean when they talk about republication. I can heartily affirm certain forms of republication, but I cannot affirm that there is a works-principle at the typological level (that is devoid of assisting grace) and thus functions as the meritorious grounds for Israel's continuance in the land. The existential crisis this would have created for those who lived by grace through faith in Christ needs to be reckoned with. Imagine being a pastor in that context!

Indeed, if many of our finest Reformed theologians are to be believed, God provided assisting grace to Adam in the Garden (just as God provided assisting grace to Jesus during his ministry). And, to me, that doesn't sound like the type of covenant that some people think was "republished" at Sinai. 

If you are interested in this debate you can check out the following book, Merit and Moses. Also the Law is Not of Faith provides another viewpoint for people to consider alongside the aforementioned book.

Pastor Mark Jones hopes he'll never bore and confuse his congregation by speaking about ANE treaties.