Trying to clarify my thoughts in light of G. Vos’ thoughts concerning the Mosaic Covenant


Just some thoughts I am untangling in relationship to a blog Nick Batzig wrote on the Feeding on Christ blog.

Geerhardus Vos on the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Grace

Here is the Vos quote that puzzles me a bit because of how I have come to understand the passages referenced in the quote.

“it also contains expressions that had reference specifically to Israel, and thus are not totally applicable to us (e.g., “that it may be well with you in the land that the Lord your God gives you”). But also, beyond the Decalogue, there is reference to the law as a demand of the covenant of works (e.g., Lev 18:5; Deut 27:26; 2 Cor 3:7, 9). It is for this reason that in the last cited passage, Paul calls the ministry of Moses a ministry of condemnation. This simply shows how the demand of the law comes more to the fore in this dispensation of the covenant of grace.” GV

For one thing Paul references the application of “be well with you in the land” and specifically brings this passage into the New Testament.

Eph 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
Eph 6:2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)
Eph 6:3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (in the land)

Concerning the Faith and Leviticus 18:5 passage, I believe Patrick Ramsey speaks well to that issue as I have referenced it many times before..

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.

Patrick Ramsey

Concerning the 2 Corinthians 3 passage I wrote this.

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 in what context St. Paul is referring to the Mosaic Covenant.

(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 the corrupters of the word of God do what St. 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.  That is one of the purposes of the Law.  That purpose is to reveal sin and death.  .As Paul noted earlier in the letter to the Romans death came upon all men by sin and Adam.

Rom 7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
Rom 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

Note James Durham here on the Mosaic Covenant and how God intended the reception to be in light of how it was turned into something God didn’t intend.

“3. [We would] distinguish between God’s intention in giving and the believers in Israel, their making use of this law; and the carnal multitude among that people, their way of receiving it, and corrupt abusing it contrary to the Lord’s mind. In the first sense, it was a covenant of grace. In the second it turned to be a covenant of works to them. And therefore it is that the Lord rejects (as we may see, Isa. 1:13; 66:2-3; Jer. 7:22) their sacrifices and services as not commanded, because rested on by them, to the prejudice of grace, and contrary to the strain and scope of this law complexly considered.”
James Durham Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments p. 55

Most of this has been taken from this blog I wrote in Sept of 2012.

As far as the Deuteronomy 27:26 passage I leave you with these examples. The man in 1 Cor 5 who was delivered to Satan and the removal of the Candlestick in Revelation 2.  There are various New Testament passages also that contain strong warnings such as in 1 Cor. 10, 11; Hebrews 2-4, 6, 10, 12; 2 Peter 2; Jude; and Revelation 2-3.

Vos can’t be right about everything. I do appreciate a lot what I have seen of Vos as others have written about him.  I loved Rich Barcellos’ book ‘The Family Tree of Reformed Biblical Theology‘ so much I read it two times in a row. I admit that I haven’t read much of Vos.  I will be getting his Biblical Theology book as it is now being published in hardcover by Banner of Truth.  Nick Batzig asked me if I had the Logos edition of Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics.  I can’t afford much of anything from Logos.  I am still using E-Sword.  It is more fitting to my wallet.  Nick told me through a message I need to read the fuller context.  He admonished me to read Vos on the Mosaic Covenant in his section on the Covenant of Grace.  

One thing that I wonder is why these guys who want to teach the new paradigm of Republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, why they don’t want to reference or deal with the Divines who spoke clearly on this subject and contended that the Mosaic Covenant was purely an Administration of the Covenant of Grace as is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith and as is proven by a lot of the following site’s references. ( I believe Vos holds to the view of the majority of the old Divines but this section’s nuances seem a bit confusing to me.  It won’t be the last time something written is confusing to me.  I probably just don’t understand the nuances myself.  But I am trying.

Just my humble opinion.

I actually found this blog by Michael Lynch (PhD student with Richard Muller) to be encouraging in light of what is going on in today’s atmosphere

Vos, Republication, and the Mosaic Covenant.  by Michael Lynch

Here are three paragraphs from it.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, of which I am a member, just approved to form a study committee to investigate the role of the Mosaic covenant in the economy of the covenants.  The particular view at question is the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant.  It should be noted that the Westminster confession of faith itself teaches (cf. WCFXIX, 1 and 2) material republication–i.e., that God republished the law, which God gave Adam under the covenant of life or works, in the Mosaic economy.   However, the question at hand is not whether the law was republished in the Mosaic economy (or under the new covenant!), but whether the Mosaic covenant, as a covenant, was established or given as a covenant of works (even if, under the broader context of the covenant of grace).  In light of this discussion, I want to revisit Geerhardus Vos and his discussion of the Mosaic economy as expressed in his Biblical Theology….

…This typology is crucial to understanding the role of the law in the Mosaic administration. Vos argues that from “the function of the theocracy” in its typological significance, “we may learn what was the function of the law.”[9] At the outset of his section on “the function of the law” inBiblical Theology, Vos states that it is of “utmost importance” to distinguish between the law’s original function and the subsequent interpretations of the function of the law in later periods.[10] So, one must not impute the “pharisaical philosophy” found for instance in Paul’s opponents. This interpretation of the law asserted “that the law was intended, on the principle of merit, to enable Israel to earn the blessedness of the world to come.”[11] Vos recognizes that Paul, and even the Pentateuch itself, sometimes appear to be teaching such a “pharisaical philosophy.”[12] However, in fact they do not, for “the law was given after the redemption of Israel from Egypt had been accomplished, and the people had already entered upon the enjoyment of many of the blessings of the berith.”[13]

In summary, Vos’s understanding of the Mosaic covenant is in line with confessional Reformed theology when he argues that the Mosaic administration and the law in particular, is grounded in the covenant of grace. The Mosaic economy is not a republication of the covenant of works where Israel merited the blessings or merited the continuation of the blessings. Rather, Israel typifying the NT church and the promised land typifying the New Heavens-New Earth, demanded an “appropriateness of expression” that Israel should “trust and obey” and meet the condition of the covenant of grace. As soon as the nation as whole apostatized, Israel was sent into exile. Although the Mosaic covenant (and thus the covenant of grace) was broken by Israel, God did not break his ratified promise to be a God to his people. Because the Mosaic covenant, like all OT covenants, was grounded upon God’s immutable ratification, God could not forget his covenant. For Vos, this is why the Mosaic covenant, though broken by Israel, is not the end of redemptive history. The old covenant, the Mosaic administration, awaited the full-flowering of God’s dealing with his people, which finds its telos in the new covenant.