The Mosaic Covenant, same in substance as the New?


Westminister Confession of Faith

Chapter VII

Of God’s Covenant with Man

4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.

6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

I started to discover some troubling trends in the Reformed Faith concerning views of Law and Gospel that made me start to dig deeper into why men were saying the Law and Gospel totally opposed each other.  These men were saying that the Law only condemns and that the Gospel no where commands anything.  These kind of comments were leading other men to become and teach Antinomianism (antinomian basically teaches that the Law of God (even the moral Law) is irrelevant to life) and deny certain aspects of the Gospel.  My search led me to the place where many of these men were divorcing Grace and Law.  I found the source for this teaching to be worked out from doctrines formulated during the time of the Reformation.  It had its root in a hermeneutic that was trying to relate how the Mosaic Covenant and New Covenant related to each other.  This led me to other places and to different questions.  Ultimately it led me to the Westminister Confession of Faith since one of the main propagators of this teaching was an Orthodox Presbyterian Minister named Meredith G. Kline.   I started to question even if his teaching even lined up with the confessional standard he claimed to adhere to.   You can read that discussion at this link.

At that link I was trying to get some feedback concerning an article which was published in the Westminster Theological Journal. VL. 66.2 Fall which you can download in pdf form.

PDF download.

I use to hold to a theological position somewhat similar to the Orthodox Presbyterian Professor named Meredith Kline and somewhat that of John Owen concerning the Mosaic Covenant.

5). This covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration if it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.
John Owen
Commentary on Hebrews Chapter 8
pp. 85.86 Goold

I have recently been helped in understanding this situation a bit more clearly by Pastor Patrick Ramsey’s Journal article and I have found that I disagree with Meredith Kline and others that hold to similar postions of a works paradigm that is found being taught in the Mosaic Covenant. While Owen’s view and Kline’s differ a bit I believe they have some similarities when it comes to the idea of Republication of the Covenant of Works.  I believe Kline and his modern day disciples hold to something called a “co-ordinate” covenant view (which sees two covenants working side by side, law and grace in antithesis) concerning the Mosaic Covenant.  This view  was rejected by the Majority of Divines who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith. These modern day reformers do not believe the Mosaic Covenant is purely an administration of the Covenant of Grace although it is partially administered through it.  These men believe the  Mosaic Covenant is an administration of the Covenant of Grace as it relates only to justification.  You can learn about this by reading the article that was published in the Westminster Journal ( and by reading chapters 16-18 in ‘A Puritan Theology Doctrine for Life’  by Mark Jones and Joel Beeke.

Trying to understand this works paradigm is not easy.  I think Patrick Ramsey does a good job in revealing the misconceptions that surround the issues from the most noted passages Romans 10:5 and Leviticus 18:5.  In fact when we look at Paul’s references Pastor Ramsey notes how we might perceive that St. Paul is pitting Moses against Moses and the Old Testament against the Old Testament by his New Testament writings. Especially if we just lift passages out of texts without considering other passages Paul also referenced. Paul isn’t pitting the OT against the OT or Moses against Moses when we look at the fuller context for understanding.

I believe I will let Pastor Ramsey’s words explain at this point.

Paul’s Use of Lev. 18:5 in Rom. 10:5
Pastor Patrick Ramsey

The following is (I trust) a simple but not simplistic explanation of Paul’s use of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5.

In 9:30-10:5 Paul explained the reason the Jews did not attain righteousness even though they pursued it. They mistakenly pursued it by works (9:32). Hence, they stumbled over the stumbling stone (9:33). They sought to establish their own righteousness (10:3). Ignorant of the right way to righteousness, although they should have known better, they zealously pursued life on the basis of their own obedience to the law.

In Rom. 10:5 Paul describes this wrong way of pursuing life (righteousness) from the OT, namely Leviticus 18:5 (see also Neh. 9:29; Eze. 20:11, 13, 21): “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Now the fact that Paul appeals to Moses to describe the wrong way, or if you will, the Pharisaical way of pursuing righteousness, is somewhat perplexing. As a result, this verse, along with its counterpart in Gal. 3, is quite controversial among commentators and theologians.

Here is the difficulty from three different perspectives. First, in 9:32, Paul had said that the law itself did not teach that righteousness was based on works or obedience to the law. The Jews pursued the law as if it led to righteousness. The Jews, as the NT says elsewhere, misread the OT. And yet Paul seems to be saying in vs. 5 that the OT did in fact teach and exhort the people to pursue life/righteousness by keeping the law. How then can Paul (or the rest of the NT) condemn the Pharisees for seeking righteousness by works if that is what Moses told them to do?

Second, in vs. 8 Paul will quote Deut. 30 and later on he will cite Isaiah and Joel in direct contrast to Lev. 18:5 to describe the right way to find life and righteousness. So then it would seem that Paul pits Moses against Moses and the OT against the OT.

Third, the context of Lev. 18:5 doesn’t seem to support the way Paul uses it in Rom. 10:5. Moses exhorts Israel to keep God’s commandments in the context of redemption and covenant. Verses 1-3 highlight the point that Israel already belongs to God as his redeemed people. These verses are very similar to the prologue to the Ten Commandments, which teaches that salvation precedes obedience. God didn’t give Israel the law so that they might be saved. He saves them so that they might keep the law. In short, the context of Lev. 18:5 speaks against the idea that it teaches legalism or a work-based righteousness. Yet, that is how Paul is using this verse!

Now some have sought to solve this difficulty by saying that there is no actual contrast between verses 5 and 6. The “but” of vs. 6 should be translated “and.” The problem with this, however, is that it doesn’t fit the context of Paul’s argument. The apostle, beginning in 9:30 is contrasting two ways of seeking righteousness—works and faith—and this contrast clearly continues in vs. 5. This is confirmed by the fact that Paul speaks of works righteousness or righteousness based on law elsewhere (Gal. 3; Phil. 3:9) in a negative way.

So then how are we to understand what Paul is saying in vs. 5 (and in Gal. 3)? Well, Paul is citing Lev. 18:5 according to how it was understood by the Jews of his day; and no doubt how he understood it before his conversion. The Jews of Paul’s day saw obedience to the law (which included laws pertaining to the atonement of sins) as the source of life and as the basis of salvation. Keeping the law was the stairway to heaven. The way to have your sins forgiven and to be accepted by God was to observe the law. Lev. 18:5 provided biblical support for this Pharisaical position. And it is not hard to see why they would appeal to this verse since it says that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.

In Rom. 10:6ff Paul refutes this works-based righteousness position including the Jewish appeal to Lev. 18:5. Now he doesn’t do it in the way you or I might think of doing it. We might tend to respond to the Pharisee and say: “Look, you have completely misunderstood what Moses is saying in Lev. 18:5. The specific and general context of that verse indicates that your interpretation is incorrect…” Instead, Paul uses a technique that was quite common in his day. He counters their interpretation of Lev. 18:5 by citing another passage: Deut. 30:12-14. In other words, Paul is saying that Deut. 30 demonstrates that the Jewish understanding of Lev. 18:5 is incorrect. We of course sometimes use this type of argument today. For example, some people today appeal to James 2 to prove that we need to obey the law in order to be justified. One way to disprove that interpretation would be to cite Paul in Romans or Galatians. So Paul is not pitting Moses against Moses in vv. 5-6 or saying that Moses taught salvation by works. Rather the apostle is using one Mosaic passage to prove that the legalistic interpretation of another Mosaic passage is wrong.

A statement was also made how the Mosaic should be viewed as an administration of death. I actually believe the above helps us answer this problem but I also saw this. We as fallen people tend to want to turn the Covenant of Grace into a Covenant of Works. Many people even do this concerning the New Covenant today when they add works to the equation of justification by faith.

In light of the passage mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3, which calls the Old an administration of Death, one must also read the prior passages to understand what context St. Paul is referring to the Mosaic Covenant in.

(2Co 2:14) Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
(2Co 2:15) For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
(2Co 2:16) To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
(2Co 2:17) For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

Christ and the Gospel were Preached in Moses and the Old Testament. In fact Jesus said as much as did the author of Hebrews.

(Luk 24:27) And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

(Joh 5:46) For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
(Joh 5:47) But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

(Heb 4:2)
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
(Heb 4:3)
For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

The Mosaic was an administration of death the same way the New Covenant is to those who seek to turn the New Covenant into a Covenant of Works. We are so inclined to stumble because we will not believe Moses or Christ. We naturally tend to corrupt the Word of God and the Covenant of Grace by wanting to add our works into our justification before God. In doing so we are refusing the Cornerstone and Saviour.  We become like those that Paul is speaking about, “to one they [Paul and the Apostles] are a savour of death unto death.” And how is to be considered that Paul and the Church is a savour unto death?  They are because they do what Paul says he doesn’t do in the proceeding verse, “For we are not as those who corrupt the Word of God.”  Those who corrupt the word are rejecting the Chief Cornerstone and depending upon their works or acts that contribute to their justification. The book of Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews have warnings and correctives for those who corrupt the word. But when they reject the truth they fall deeper into death. Even St. Paul acknowledged that the Law didn’t kill him. He was already dead and discovered it.

Rom 7:13    Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

On another note I would mention that some say that the Mosaic was a Covenant that administered the Covenant of Grace as well as the Covenant of Works. Some differentiate that works was required in order for the Israelite’s to stay in and be blessed in the Land. They stayed in the Land based upon their works. Some say that this is different from the New Covenant. I am not seeing this difference. There are conditions set for us to remain in the Church even. For one thing Jesus himself said in Revelation 2 that he would remove a local Church’s candlestick if they didn’t repent. In 1 Corinthians 5 a man who was found to be exceedingly sinful was to be delivered to Satan and excommunicated from the Church. In Galatians 6:7 we are told that we reap what we sow.

I actually see what happened to the Church in the Old Covenant to be very gracious and just a form of discipline. It was grace that chastisement happened. It was grace that brought Israel back into the Land. They were the Church that was redeemed from bondage. God called them His people. They grew from dwelling in the wilderness to possessing the land. If it was by works then they would have never been brought back as they were. It looks quite the same to me as the man in 1 Corinthians 5. A casting out was performed. Excommunication was evident. Restoration by God’s grace was confirmed. The substance of both the Old pedagogical Covenant and the New are essentially the same. Salvation, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, and sanctification for the Church is the same between both the old and new. It is all by God’s Covenant of Grace. The substance seems to be the same to me.

Well, this is some of the stuff I am seeing now days. I do believe that works are important and a big part of our salvation. But I speak of salvation as a whole. Not in the respect of purely justification. There are no works considered in our justification. I do believe that our Union in Christ brings a twofold Grace of justification and sanctification. You can not separate them from our salvation. They are not dichotomized but are distinct in the process of salvation. It is all by Grace as St. Paul said. It is all by Grace as St. Paul said. This tension seems hard to process but it is summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10 and Philippians 2:12,13.

(Eph 2:8-10) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

(Php 2:12,13)Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Now a word from our Covenant Theologian John Ball…..

Under this Covenant, the natural seed of Abraham bore the face of the Church and state, and God had promised abundance of temporals, and of spiritual a scantling; But all under the outward administration of the Covenant, were not in like manner partakers of the blessings promised in Covenant.  For some had their part in temporal blessings only, and the outward ordinances; others were partakers of the spiritual blessings promised.  But whatever good thing any of them enjoyed either temporal or spiritual, it was conferred upon them freely according to the Covenant of Grace, and not for the dignity of their works.  It is true, the promise is conditional, if they obey, they shall reap the good things of the Land: but obedience was not a causal condition, why they should inherit the Land…So that herein there appears no intexture of the Covenant of works with the Covenant of Grace, nor any moderation of the Law to the strength and power of nature for the obtaining of outward blessings.  But rather that God out of his abundant goodness is pleased freely to confer outward blessings promised in the Covenant upon some that did not cleave to him unfainedly, that he might make good his promise unto the spiritual seed, which by word and oath he had confirmed unto the Fathers.

(John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace [1645], 142).

I also hope you take some time to look at my blog on Galatians, the WCF and Chapter 19, and my posts on the Mosaic and the Covenant of Works in reference to republication.

Speaking of historical quotes, we see here the beautiful essential unity in substance between Old/New Covenant and law/gospel:

“These things no doubt sufficiently shew that 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.
Let us now see why he promises to the people a new covenant. It being new, no doubt refers to what they call the form; and the form, or manner, regards not words only, but first Christ, then the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the whole external way of teaching. But the substance remains the same. By substance I understand the doctrine; for God in the Gospel brings forward nothing but what the Law contains. We hence see that God has so spoken from the beginning, that he has not changed, no not a syllable, with regard to the substance of the doctrine. For he has included in the Law the rule of a perfect life, and has also shewn what is the way of salvation, and by types and figures led the people to Christ, so that the remission of sin is there clearly made manifest, and whatever is necessary to be known.” ~ John Calvin on Jeremiah 31:31

Galatians 3 and 4

The other blogs are listed in the one above for reference.

Be Encouraged,