Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Defining the Law (Part 2)

“Sacrifice of Jeroboam” by Claes Moeyaert, circa 1641

In the previous essay, I began analyzing how the Law is discussed in the books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews and what the implications are for our understanding of the biblical covenants. I noted the existence of the Covenant of Works and moral law, in addition to the Mosaic Law that was given to the people of Israel at Sinai. The challenge is to differentiate between these types of law in the writings of Paul and the author of Hebrews. Therefore, we must continue with our consideration of that all-important question.

What is meant by “the Law”?

The New Testament epistles often place “the Law” and “faith” in opposition to one another. While both are holy, there is only one that is capable of justifying sinners. But why is it so important to know if “the Law” means the Mosaic Law? In short, because we are attempting to determine whether the Old (Mosaic) Covenant and the New Covenant have the same substance. Do they both offer the righteousness of Christ by grace through faith? Are they both saving covenants in that respect? Obviously, if “the Law” means the Law of Moses, and if that in turn means the Mosaic Covenant, it starts to answer the question of whether or not the Old and New Covenants have the same substance. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Defining the Law (Part 1)

“Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt van Rijn, circa 1659

Welcome back! So far in my efforts to answer the question, “Did the Old and New Covenants have the same substance?” I have considered how the Bible describes the New Covenant, how the memberships compared, what is meant by “types and shadows”, if the systems of mediation differed, and whether the Old Covenant was completely broken prior to the coming of Christ. Today, I must address another issue that tends to come up in the writings of Paul and the Book of Hebrews.

What is meant by “the Law”?

You do not have to read very far in the New Testament epistles before you see contrasts made between “the Law” and faith. Particularly when taken out of context, these quotes present a harsh dichotomy.

  • “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight…” (Romans 3:20a)
  • “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28)
  • “…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
  • “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse…” (Galatians 3:10a)
  • “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” (Hebrews 10:1)

Everyone agrees that there is some kind of contrast being made here, but how that contrast is interpreted depends very much on how the words themselves are interpreted, and one word above all others: law. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Broken Covenant

“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt van Rijn, circa 1630

Old Covenant, New Covenant. Red covenant, blue covenant. We’re halfway through this comparison of the Old and New Covenants, the stated purpose of which is to answer the following question: “Do these covenants have the same substance?” If you need to review what that means, do take a look at the previous articles, particularly the first one. I will now move on to consider the next question within a question.

Was the Old Covenant Completely Broken?

A covenant is essentially a contractual agreement. It has at least two parties. It includes benefits, but it also includes responsibilities. The covenants between God and man can be compared in many ways to the treaties that existed in the Ancient Near East between suzerains and vassals. (Read a summary of this concept here.) Alternatively, they have something in common with the feudal relationships of medieval Europe. If you are not familiar with either of those, have no fear! The basic idea is that there is someone greater (in this case God) who condescends to enter a contractual relationship with someone lesser (in this case a human or humans). The greater person, who is comparable to the lord in a feudal relationship, agrees to provide certain benefits—protection, land, legal rights, etc.—while the lesser person, who is comparable to a serf, agrees to obey and serve the greater one. Continue reading