Was the Mosaic Covenant only concerned about temporal blessings? Was living long and peaceful lives in a land filled with milk and honey the ultimate reward for obeying the Law of Moses? Or was eternal life the ultimate promise of the Mosaic Covenant.
New Covenant Theology (NCT) views the Law of Moses as a code of morality that only demanded external obedience. Some NCT proponents have even sought to explain away the tenth commandment (thou shalt not covet) as a command not to steal. Regardless, for NCT, the Mosaic Covenant was merely an external covenant that promised external blessings to an external people. In some ways, NCT looks at the Mosaic Covenant and the nation of Israel in the same way Dispensationalists look at the New Covenant and the church—parenthetical to God’s overall redemptive plan.
I, on the other hand, believe that the Mosaic Covenant was more than just a parenthetical and typological covenant that was given to foreshadow New Covenant realities. In addition to that, I believe that the Mosaic Covenant was designed for Christ Jesus to fulfill in order to establish eternal life for all who believe. In other words, for national Israel, the Mosaic Covenant was typological and provided only temporal and physical blessings, but for Christ (the true Israel of God), who fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant, it brought eternal and spiritual blessings (i.e., eternal life). In other words, the Mosaic Covenant of works was necessary because the New Covenant of grace was born out of its fulfillment.
With this in mind, there are at least nine reasons why I believe that the Mosaic Covenant promised eternal life.
To say that the Mosaic Covenant only promised physical and temporal blessings is to say that the Abrahamic Covenant only promised physical and temporal blessings. This is because the promises of the Mosaic Covenant are one and the same as the promises given to Abraham. “I will be your God, and you shall be my people” was the ultimate goal of both the Abrahamic and the Mosaic Covenant. And yes, these spiritual promises were conditional under both the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenant, but to say that the Mosaic Covenant did not promises spiritual and eternal promises is to say that the Abrahamic Covenant did not flow out of the Abrahamic Covenant.
According to Moses, the reward for obedience was not merely a prosperous temporal life but eternal life: “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them” (Lev. 18:5). This is due to the fact that the curses of the Old Covenant not only threatened Israel with expulsion from the promised land but also ultimately, threatened the physical seed of Abraham with being “cut off” from God. For it is written, “the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven” (Deut. 29:20). For the land of promise was to be more than a geographical plot of land for the children of Israel to inhabit, but more importantly it was to be the place where God’s presence would dwell with man. Therefore, to be cut off and expelled from the land implied the greater danger of being cut off and exiled from God.
The Apostle Paul understood that Moses was speaking of eternal life when he compared and contrasted the Mosaic Covenant with the New Covenant: “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says…For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:5, 10). In other words, Paul is not making a distinction between the “life” that was promised in the Mosaic Covenant from the “life” that is promised in the New Covenant. Rather, Paul is contrasting how “life” was to be obtained in the Mosaic Covenant from how “life” is obtained in the New Covenant, which is a distinction between the works of the law and faith in Christ Jesus. For as Paul says in another place: “But law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them’” (Gal. 3:12).
Moreover, when a certain person came up to Christ asking “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” The Lord responded by saying, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16-18).For even the Lord Jesus affirmed that it was not merely a long physical life but eternal life that the Law of Moses promised to those who loved God with all their hearts and loved their neighbor as themselves (Luke 10:25-29). Which conversely affirms that eternal death awaits all those who fail to love God in the slightest with all their hearts, minds, strength and souls. Calvin was right when he claimed, “It is quite certain that the primary promises, which contained that covenant ratified with the Israelites by God under the Old Testament, were spiritual and referred to eternal life.”
Moreover, because the Mosaic Covenant was a republication of the moral law of God, it by necessity promised eternal life for all who perfectly obeyed God. Unless the Law of Moses was something less than the perfect moral law of God, then it held out eternal life for those who kept it and eternal death for those who did not. Thus, Samuel Petto (1624-1711) concluded:
sense that external obedience cannot offer spiritual life. But, if the Law of Moses is spiritual (the perfect
moral law of God), then eternal life and death must be its ultimate blessing and curse.
6. Removes Christ from the Adamic Covenant of Works
And it is important to note that the covenant of works that God established in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants is same as the covenant of works that was established with Adam, for it consisted of the same moral law with the same blessings and curses. Eschatological life and death were at the heart of both. As Edward Fisher writes, “the law delivered on Mount Sinai, and formerly engraven on man’s heart, was one and the same; so that at Mount Sinai the Lord delivered no new thing.”Therefore, these two covenants of works are one and the same, but were issued with two different federal heads. This safely removes Christ from the membership of the broken Adamic Covenant of works, while placing Him in the revised covenant of works that was established in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants.
Consequently, the federal head of the Adamic Covenant of works is Adam who brought death upon all humanity, while the federal head of the Abrahamic/Mosaic Covenant of works is Christ Jesus who thankfully brings life to all who are united to Him by faith. Thus, we are condemned in Adam who broke the first covenant of works but justified in Christ who fulfilled the second covenant of works. But again, the same moral law that was broken by the first Adam was the moral law that was satisfied by the second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).
This also means that the Adamic Covenant of works is still currently holding Adam’s natural seed captive to the curses of the law (i.e., death), while the Abrahamic/Mosaic Covenant of works has been satisfied for all of Abraham’s spiritual seed who are heirs to the blessings of the law (i.e., life). In short, the first covenant of works (made with the first Adam) remains broken, while the second covenant of works (made with the second Adam) is fulfilled. Consequently, a person is either in union with the first Adam or in union with the second Adam. And depending upon which union that is, depends if that person is under law or under grace.
And just because it was impossible for the physical seed of Abraham to fulfill such a strict and demanding covenant did not mean that its promises and curses were nullified.For their responsibility to obey was not contingent upon their ability to obey. This may seem unfair, but the moral law by its very nature cannot be anything but fair. And this is why the Mosaic Covenant was an administration unto death rather than unto life, for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Nevertheless, for this reason, the Mosaic Covenant was not hypothetical. The covenant of works condemns all those who are not found righteous in the sight of God’s moral law. Hell is proof that the terms of the covenant of works are unchangeable. The Cross of Calvary is proof that the covenant was not hypothetical.
For the blessings of the law to be established, then the physical seed of Abraham (i.e., Christ) had to fulfill the demands and the curses of the law. For God to be both just and merciful there is simply no way around this. Thus, for sinners, the law was given to awaken them to their own sinfulness and administer death, but for the righteous (i.e., Christ) it was given to establish life.
Christ fulfilled is the moral law of God in His life and death. And if the Law of Moses is the moral law of God, then Christ fulfilled it. When the Bible speaks of Christ obeying the law, it is speaking primarily of the Law of Moses and not to the law of creation (which, nevertheless, I believe, that they are the same).
Although the Mosaic Covenant was merely typological in the Old Testament dispensation, the promises spoke of eternal realities. For instance, take this quote by G. K. Beale:
When the Scripture speaks of the Mosaic Covenant as being physical and the New Covenant as being spiritual, this does not mean that the Old Covenant was unconcerned about spiritual realities (e.g., circumcised heart, eternal life) or that the New Covenant is unconcerned about physical realities (e.g., a new earth, a resurrected body, etc…). Rather, the difference between the Old and New Covenants is that they approach the physical and spiritual concerns of the Abrahamic Covenant from two different directions or starting points.
For instance, the Old Covenant was ineffectual because it sought to reform the inner man by external means. For instance, the Mosaic Covenant started by issuing outward circumcision but afterwards it demanded inward circumcision. Moreover, once the Old Covenant law was etched in stone, it required inward obedience from the heart. Moreover, though the physical children of Abraham were given a physical land and established in a physical kingdom, they would not fulfill their ultimate purpose until they filled the land of promise (i.e., the earth) with the presence, knowledge, and glory of God as the spiritual and holy people of God. Yet, because the Old Covenant started from the outside, it remained ineffectual in establishing for its unregenerate membership the spiritual promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. For no matter how hard one tries, outward legislation (regardless of the purity of the laws) can never change sinful and depraved hearts.
On the other hand, the New Covenant is effectual in securing the physical promises of the Abrahamic Covenant because it starts not with the physical but with the spiritual realities first. For example, a circumcised heart precedes water baptism, and spiritual regeneration goes before outward obedience of the law. Moreover, before the saints inherit the world at the end of the age, they must be born again into a spiritual kingdom in the present age. The New Covenant will bring about universal peace, prosperity, and a new heavens and a new earth where only righteousness dwells, but only because it starts by calling out a spiritual people unto a heavenly kingdom in the midst of this fallen world first.
Therefore, in this sense, the promises of the Old and New Covenant are the same, but they have two different means in which they seek to accomplish their end objectives. As it were, the Old Covenant, by the works of the law, sought to enter the house of God through the back door, which always remains locked for the sinner. By grace, on the other hand, the New Covenant has opened the front door of the house of God for the believer through the finished work of Christ Jesus. For Christ went through the back door by obedience of the law so that he could open the front door for all who enter by faith.
For this reason, the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant. In that, unlike the Old Covenant, the grace of the New Covenant has the power to save sinners and usher believers into the presence of God because it begins by effectually changing their hearts.
Nevertheless, though God redeems the soul before He redeems the body, God revealed the law of the Old Covenant before He revealed the grace of the New Covenant. In other words, though the spiritual kingdom of this age comes before the creation of the new heavens and the new earth in the age to come, the spiritual kingdom of this age was foreshadowed by the physical kingdom of Israel in the previous age.
In the order of salvation, the spiritual comes before the physical, but in the order of revelation, the physical is revealed before the spiritual.
The Spiritual Kingdom, then the New Earth
Thus, in regards to the order of divine revelation, the ineffectual and physical realities of the Old Covenant, which were revealed first, were only shadows and types of the effectual and spiritual realities of the New Covenant, which were revealed afterwards. “For…the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Heb. 10:1).
But this only stands to reason. Because the Old Covenant could not fulfill the spiritual promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, even the physical promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were never fully fulfilled either. The physical seed, land, kingdom, and temple may have come first and looked like the real thing, but because of their inability to produce the inward and spiritual promises, they were merely pictures or empty and typological shadows of the spiritual and physical realities, which were to be established afterwards by the New Covenant. To put it more plainly, though the Mosaic Covenant promised eternal life it could not provide eternal life for the sinner, therefore the Mosaic Covenant at best was a temporal and typological covenant that pointed to the spiritual and eternal realities that would afterwards be established in the New Covenant.
For this reason, the Old Covenant was not only ineffectual in establishing the promises of Abraham, it was a temporal covenant that was not designed to last forever. The ineffectual shadows of the Old Covenant where to continue until the effectual and eternal realities of the New Covenant were establishment in Christ Jesus and then they were to pass away.
9 thoughts on “Eternal Life and the Mosaic Covenant”
Thank you for taking the time to write this out brother. I love clearly defined arguments. I may not agree with you on this point, but I'm glad I'm not stuck trying to figure this out on my own 🙂
I know we have already discussed some of this on my blog https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/clarification-on-the-mosaic-covenant-and-eternal-life/ but I wanted to make sure I address all your points. Hopefully this doesn't create too much confusion trying to maintain two comment threads.
Regarding how NCT views the Mosaic as governing external obedience of the nation of Israel, see here: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/pink-and-nct/
In short, I think they are right regarding national obedience, but wrong regarding the spiritual nature of the law towards individual members of the nation.
This is the same argument used by paedobaptists to justify paedobaptism.
R. Scott Clark notes:
If we consider the nature of the new covenant, as promised through Jeremiah, we can see, however that it is not absolutely “new” at all. Long before Jeremiah, long before Moses, God had promised to Abraham to be a “God to him and to your children” (Gen 17:7).
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
Scripture repeats the same promise under the Mosaic covenant: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” (Isa 6:7). That promise recurs in Jeremiah before the promise of the new covenant (:23; 11:4; 30:22). This is perhaps the most fundamental promise of the covenant.
…Thus, whatever is new about the new covenant, new cannot mean “never happened before” or “never before promised” or “a relationship with God” or “a spiritual state” that has never existed before in redemptive history. Yahweh was a God to Abraham and to his children for most of 500 years before Moses.
On the New Covenant
What R. Scott Clark fails to acknowledge is the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, including the promise to be a God to Abraham and his offspring. There was a typical level of fulfillment (nation of Israel) as well as the true level of fulfillment (church). T. David Gordon, another paedobaptist, sees this clearly:
Murray (and his followers) implicitly believe that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer (which, by my light, is not a relation but an office). I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it. His pledge to be Israel’s God, via the terms of the Sinai administration, committed him to curse Israel for disobedience just as much as to bless her for obedience. In being Israel’s God, he sustained the relation of covenant suzerain to her; he did not bless or curse any other nation for its covenant fidelity or infidelity. In this sense, he was not the God of other nations as he was the God of Israel. (p 120 “By Faith Alone”)
Jonathan Edwards likewise understood that to be “God's people” has two meanings:
such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people.
This all lines up very nicely with the dichotomy you have explained exists in the Abrahamic Covenant.
Leviticus 18:5 does not say eternal life, merely life. It could mean eternal life, but it may also simply mean long life in the land of Canaan (my view).
Interpreting Deuteronomy is not always straight forward. For example, Deuteronomy 30 promises a restoration of Isarel. Does that mean the restoration was part of the Mosaic Covenant? v6 says “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart” – does that mean the Mosaic Covenant provided and delivered the new heart promised in the New Covenant (Jer 31; Ezek 36)? I would say no.
Likewise, I would say that Deut 29:20 does not necessarily mean the curses of the Mosaic Covenant were eternal. Just note how little reference there is to something eternal in the midst of massive, abundant references to physical life in the land. What the verse says is that turning away from the Lord will:
1) bring every curse written in this book
2) the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven
This implies they are two different things. Also, looking at parallel passages, I'm not certain this blotting necessarily has reference to eternal damnation.
All that to say, these passages are not clear enough to decide the issue
It's important to understand how the NT authors understood typology in their interpretation of the OT. They often eschatologized passages, which can be confusing at first. Nehemiah Coxe points to how John 19:36 references Ex 12:46. John says
For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”
but if you go back and read Exodus 12:46, it doesn't say that:
It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.
John interpreted Exodus 12:46 typologically, but he never said that's what he was doing. He simply said that Ex 12:46 was a direct prophecy of “his” bones. So we have to recognize that when Paul quotes Moses, he is also applying the same typological interpretation. He takes it for granted and does not spell out the steps involved in his hermeneutic.
Bryan Estelle, in his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith explains this as it applies to Lev 18:5. The original context referred to life in the land of Canaan, but Paul understands the typological significance and applies it to eternal life.
the temporal life promised in the Mosaic covenant portended and typified the greater “eternal life,” which seems the clear position argued by the apostle Paul… What was prototypical [life in Canaan] has been eclipsed by what is antitypical [eternal life].
I don’t think this passages proves that the Mosaic Covenant offered eternal life, only that the commandments written in the Mosaic Covenant were the same as those given to Adam in the covenant of creation.
The moral law of God does not by necessity promise eternal life. By necessity it requires eternal punishment for disobedience, but not eternal life for obedience. That reward was added above and beyond the law in the covenant made with Adam. This is the teaching of LBCF 7.1, referencing Luke 17:10.
Therefore the moral law can be used in a covenantal context that does not offer eternal life as a reward.
Viewing the Covenant of Redemption as Christ's Covenant of Works also removes Christ from the Adamic Covenant of Works.
I do not believe Christ was the federal head of the Mosaic Covenant. In explaining the numerous differences between the Old and New Covenants, Owen explains that
they differ in their mediators. The mediator of the first covenant was Moses… But the mediator of the new covenant is the Son of God himself… He who is the Son, and the Lord over his own house, graciously undertook in his own person to be the mediator of this covenant; and in this it is unspeakably preferred before the old covenant
Perhaps the greatest problem I see with this view is that God cannot justly enter into a new covenant with people who are already under the sanctions of a previously ratified covenant, under the same terms. This does not have reference to ability/inability. The only way God could offer Israelites eternal life in a newly ratified covenant would be to annul the covenant of works they were already under in Adam. Gal 3:15 says this would be unjust/illegal.
See comments on point 3 above
Yes, these promises pointed forward to the new heavens and the new earth, but that is because the prophets were prophesying of the New Covenant (just as Moses did in Deut 30), the antitypical fulfillment of which the Mosaic Covenant was a type. Ezekial also prophesies that God will raise dead bones to give them life and replace a heart of stone with a heart of flesh, but we don't attribute this to the Mosaic Covenant. We recognize that these are New Covenant blessings (Jer 31/Heb 8) that were not part of the Old Covenant.
I appreciate what you have articulated here, and can agree with most of it. But I think most of what you say would still apply if the Mosaic Covenant were confined to the “first level fulfillment” (to use Kline's terms).
If any readers are interested, you can find further interaction with Jeff here: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/clarification-on-the-mosaic-covenant-and-eternal-life
Thanks again for this great opportunity to sharpen each other brother. Have a blessed Lord's Day tomorrow.
Thanks Brandon. For those who are interested in diving deeper into this subject, check out Brandon's blog–very helpful. I appreciate you, Brandon, for diving deeper yourself and offering challenging questions. Thanks brother. Also Brandon is the creator of the helpful 1689 Federalism site. Please go check it out (1689federalism.com).
Meditating on Matthew 3:13-17 today, I wonder if John's baptism of Jesus might be a close conceptual analogy with Jesus' relationship to the Mosaic Law. Jesus was baptized just as the rest of Israel was baptized. But the baptism a meant different thing for Jesus, in contrast to the Israelites in general. They needed repentance, and baptism was a sign of their repentance. Jesus does not need repentance, but is baptized to “fulfill all righteousness,” as He embodied the story of the people of God in His own person, including perfect, vicarious repentance.
For interested readers, there is a fairly lengthy discussion between Jeff Johnson and Brandon Adams at Brandon's blog here: http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/clarification-on-the-mosaic-covenant-and-eternal-life/
If you take time to read through Brandon's post and the ensuing conversation between Jeff and Brandon in the comments following the post, I think it will be worth your while and help you to see more clearly where they differ and where they agree.