Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: What about Abraham? (Part 1)

“The Sacrifice of Isaac” by Caravaggio, circa 1603

Hello again, friends! I seldom drone on for this long about one particular subject, but it seems you have drawn the short straw. Thank you for returning once again and tolerating my continued chatter.

Up to this point, in seeking to determine if the Old and New Covenants have the same substance, I have largely focused on the differences between the covenants made at Sinai and Calvary. This is for two reasons: 1) Most of the contrasts made in the New Testament that mention the “Old Covenant” or “first covenant” clearly refer to things that were part of the Mosaic Law. 2) Many of the confessionally Reformed persons with whom I converse reject the view that the Mosaic Covenant had any kind of different nature from the New Covenant in terms of being works-based or grace-based.

To be perfectly honest, defining the Mosaic Covenant and contrasting it with the New Covenant is a fairly straightforward business. Sure, there are people who raise objections, but I believe the Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews have presented us with ample evidence to suggest that the Mosaic Covenant is inferior to the New Covenant in every way. It offered temporal blessings in exchange for human works, as opposed to eternal blessings in exchange for Christ’s works.

There is, however, a more subtle argument out there that pins its hopes on the Abrahamic Covenant. In making a sharp distinction between the Old Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant, this view partially concedes the works-based nature of the Old Covenant while maintaining that there were similar grace-based natures in the Abrahamic and New Covenants. This argument has some merit to it, as we have already seen the importance of Abraham in salvation history. The Apostle Paul tells us that those who are united to Christ by faith are truly Abraham’s descendants, while also stating that the promise of a Savior was given as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, there is no question of a link between Abraham and those Gentiles who have faith. The disagreement comes in regard to the precise nature of that link and the covenant made with Abraham. Therefore, we must ask the following question. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: What about Moses?

“Moses Striking the Rock” by Pieter de Grebber, circa 1630 (Note that Aaron is dressed like a Catholic bishop.)

Many thanks to all who have hung in there and read everything up to this point. May the Lord bless you for your kindness. I have covered enough ground that I feel almost ready to answer the question, “Do the Old Covenant and the New Covenant have the same substance?” However, it would not do for me to rush things. (Here I permit you to laugh.) I want to deal with some final points that might be raised to suggest that either the Mosaic or the Abrahamic Covenants were saving covenants. I shall continue without delay.

Was the Mosaic Covenant a Saving Covenant?

In my previous articles, I argued that the Mosaic Covenant was one and the same with the Mosaic Law, it did not have Christ as a mediator, the sacrifices were not sufficient to atone for sins, the priests could not really bring people into God’s presence, and practically everything about it was typological. In short, it was a covenant based on human working. It was not part of the Covenant of Grace. Everyone who was justified by faith prior to the coming of Christ actually received that imputed righteousness through the New Covenant.

Two objections have commonly been raised in response to this argument: 1) Although God’s people under the Mosaic Covenant had different and typological sacraments, they nevertheless received Christ through these sacraments. 2) It would not have been possible for the Old Testament saints to have been saved under a covenant that had not yet been inaugurated. Therefore, they must have been saved through the Old Covenant. Continue reading

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