Cover Image: The Law is not of Faith

The Law is not of Faith:
Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (ed. B. Estelle, J. Fesko, D. VanDrunen)

P&R Publishing, 2009

Blurb Review by Richard Sherratt

Review by Richard Sherratt

The Law is not of Faith is a collection of essays investigating the role of works and grace in the Mosaic covenant. The contributors essentially argue: 1) the covenant that God made with Israel at Mt Sinai was a republication of the covenant of works that God made with Adam in the Garden; and 2) the Mosaic covenant has a distinct typological and pedagogical function.

The introductory essay by Bryan Estelle, J.V. Fesko and David VanDrunen is a very helpful orientation to the discussion of republication and its relevance to the contemporary church. Their biblical-theological approach under the headings of "Adam's Probation in the Garden-Temple", "Israel's Probation in the Garden-like Land" and "The Successful Probation of God's Only Son" is extremely helpful. They point out that Adam's probation in the garden-temple and subsequent exile was repeated in Israel's probation in the Promised Land and their eventual exile. These then set the contrast to be made with Jesus who obeyed the law and obtained entrance into the new creation-Jesus thus did what Adam failed to do.

This ‘republication thesis' is defended throughout the book's three sections. Part one looks at the historical basis of the doctrine of republication. Part two then sets out a biblical defence of republication and part three defends the thesis on theological grounds. I shall work through each essay very briefly highlighting the key argument the author makes.

The historical essays

J. V. Fesko in his essay "Calvin and Witsius on the Mosaic Covenant" focuses upon the views of two great names in Reformed theology taking an historical-theological snapshot of their views on the Mosaic Covenant demonstrating the influence of Calvin on Witsius both in terms of continuity and divergence though stressing their substantial agreement that "the Mosaic Covenant is unique in that it is legal in nature, demonstrating vis-à-vis the ordo salutis, man's inability to fulfil the demands of the law, which drives a man to Christ, and in terms of the historia salutis, painting a typological portrait of Christ's person and work" (2009: 43).

In "Princeton and the Law: Enlightened and Reformed" D.G. Hart explains the views of Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge as pertaining to the republication thesis and argues that Princeton Seminary taught that the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai was a republication of the covenant of works though not as a means of salvation but rather as the means to obtain national security and prosperity.

Brenton Ferry looks at the various ways in which Reformed theologians have understood the Mosaic covenant in his essay entitled, "Works in the Mosaic Covenant: A Reformed Taxonomy". Included in his taxonomy are John Ball, Louis Berkhof, Samuel Bolton, Thomas Boston, John Calvin, Tobias Crisp, R. L. Dabney, David Dickson, Charles Hodge, John Owen, Francis Turretin, Geerhardus Vos and Herman Witsius. 

The Biblical Studies essays

The first three of these essays focuses on the Old Testament whilst the second three focus upon New Testament texts and look at how Paul interprets key Old Testament passages and the law in general.

In "Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development: Entitlement to Heaven Foreclosed and Proffered" Bryan Estelle focuses on how these two texts are interpreted canonically and how Paul uses them in Romans and Galatians. Estelle argues that God held out the promise of life and temporal blessing to the Israelites in order to teach them that eschatological life is unobtainable through the law because they were unable to keep the law and was thereby under its curse. This then implied the need for a faithful Israel to keep the law perfectly and Paul explains how this true Israel is Jesus.

Richard Belcher in "The King, the Law, and Righteousness in the Psalms: A Foundation for Understanding the Work of Christ" argues that psalms celebrating kingship and Torah provide the foundation for understanding the work of Jesus as the King who fulfils the law for his people (p. 168) and therefore finding here the ground for understanding the active obedience of Jesus as the true Davidic king.

In "Hosea 6:7 and Covenant-Breaking like/at Adam" Byron Curtis defends the republication view by focusing on Hosea. He argues that in Hosea the covenant God made with Adam is likened to that which God made with Israel and so the Sinai covenant is of the same as covenant with Adam.  

Guy Waters in his essay "Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works" principally supports the republication thesis on the basis of Romans 10:5. He notes that Jesus has abolished the law for the believer but is careful to point out that the law's abolition is with a specific reference. So following the ESV he translates Romans 10:4 as "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes". He also tackles the valid question of how can it be said that Gentiles are no longer under law if we were never under the law? Waters argues persuasively that the "law" of Romans 10:5 should be seen to refer to the moral law operating within the Law of Moses and he provides a helpful analysis of Romans 5:12-21.

In "Abraham and Sinai Contrasted in Galatians 3:6-14" T. David Gordon interacts with Dr J. Murray and demonstrates that Paul saw two principles of inheritance - law and faith. He points out that in Galatians Paul argues that the new covenant is similar to the Abrahamic covenant and dissimilar to the Sinai covenant and Gordon delineates five key differences between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. He concludes by saying that "Paul attempted to make sense of the new covenant by pointing out its similarities to the Abrahamic administration and its dissimilarities to the Sinai administration" (2009: 258).

S. M. Baugh in "Galatians 5:1-6 and Personal Obligation: Reflections on Paul and the Law" advances the view that the Mosaic law embodied a works principle which imposed an obligation to perfect personal obedience to its stipulations (260) and argues that this is taught by Paul in the first six verses of Galatians 5. He makes the point that to be free from the law is to be free from God's demand of perfect personal obedience to the stipulations of the covenant of creation and the Mosaic covenant. Because Jesus kept the law on behalf of his people they are freed from its demands and curse. This then lays the foundation for a clear understanding of the work of Christ - his active and passive righteousness.

The theological essays

In his essay "Natural Law and the Works Principle under Adam and Moses," David VanDrunen explores the relationship between natural law and the principle of works. He argues that the works principle is in operation within both God's covenant with Adam as well as his covenant with Moses. He defines ‘natural law' as "the content of God's moral law...made known to every human being through natural revelation" and he defines the term ‘works principle' as meaning "the law's demand for perfect, personal obedience, with sanctions of blessing and curse to follow obedience and disobedience respectively to this demand" (284). VanDrunen reflects on the redemptive-historical purpose of republishing the covenant of works in the Sinai covenant suggesting that one main reason was to demonstrate in Israel the problem of the whole human race - that because perfect, personal obedience is impossible so all humanity lies under the law's curse. This then raises the question of how one can obtain eschatological life and the need for one who keeps the law and suffers its curse is recognised, i.e. the law reveals to us our need for Christ.

In the final essay of the book, "Obedience is Better than Sacrifice", Michael Horton focuses upon the active obedience of Jesus as the Last Adam and the True Israel and explores how the phrase "obedience rather than sacrifice" is used in the New Testament, with a specific focus on Hebrews 10. Horton argues that Jesus fulfilled the original creation mandate by his faithful obedience and recapitulated the history of Adam and Israel; however, where they failed he was faithful and so led creation to the Promised Land, that is, to the Sabbath rest both Adam and Israel missed (320). Horton's conclusion is worth quoting at length:

The highlights of this book for me were the Introduction, Bryan Estelle's essay on Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 and Michael Horton's essay on the active obedience of Jesus. This collection presents a solid biblical-theological case for understanding the Mosaic Covenant and provides a coherent way to understand the importance of the obedience of Jesus for our Christian life. These essays are thoughtful and thought-provoking and I warmly commend them to you.

Richard Sherratt

Ministry Trainee at ChristChurch, Greenbank

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