Friday, October 24, 2014

Venema, Turretin and Republication

[continued from previous post]

When New Testament writers (especially the apostle Paul) contrast the "law" of Moses and the covenant of grace in Christ, the contrast is not between the Mosaic covenant as such and the covenant of grace. The contrast is between the law abstracted from its setting within the Mosaic administration and considered only in terms of what it demands and promises, and the covenant of grace. However, when the law, narrowly considered, is regarded as having been promulgated by God through Moses to teach Israel to find salvation through works of obedience, then the law has been turned to a design contrary to God's intention. Within the purposes of the God of the covenant, the Mosaic law was designed to serve the preaching of Christ and to point Israel to the only Mediator whose obedience could procure salvation. In a statement that both anticipates and opposes the appeal of the authors of The Law is Not of Faith to a passage like Galatians 3:12, Turretin observes that Paul speaks of the law "not as taken broadly and denoting the Mosaic economy, but strictly as taken for the moral law abstractly and apart from the promises of grace (as the legalists regarded it who sought life from it)."39 In Galatians 3:12, accordingly, the apostle Paul is not equating the "law" with the Mosaic administration as such, and then sharply opposing the Mosaic administration with the covenant of grace. Rather, the apostle is contrasting what the law, wrested from its covenant setting, demands, and arguing against his legalistic opponents who pursued a righteousness that consisted in obedience to the law.

39 Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.267-8

[Cornelius Venema, "The Mosaic Covenant: A 'Republication' of the Covenant of Work?" MAJT 21 (2010): 67-8]


XXXI. Meanwhile it pleased God to administer the covenant of grace in his period [Mosaic -DHC] under a rigid legal economy—both on account of the condition of the people still in infancy and on account of the putting off of the advent of Christ and the satisfaction to be rendered by him. A twofold relation (schesis) ought always to obtain: the one legal, more sever, through which by a new promulgation of the law and of the covenant of works, with an intolerable yoke of ceremonies, he wished to set forth what men owed and what was to be expected by them on account of duty unperformed. In this respect, the law is called the letter that kills (2 Cor 3:6) and the handwriting which was contrary to us (Col. 2:14), because by it men professed themselves guilty and children of death, the declaration being written by their own blood in circumcision and by the blood of victims. The other relation was evangelical, sweeter, inasmuch as "the law was a schoolmaster unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24) and contained "the shadow of things to come" (Heb. 10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ. Hence, as much of trouble and vexation as that economy brought in its former relation (schesin), so much of consolation and joy it conferred in the latter upon pious men attending to is and seeking under that bark and veil the spiritual and evangelical truth (which the Holy Spirit taught them by a clearer revelation). ...

XXXII. According to that twofold relation, the administration can be viewed either as to the external economy of legal teaching or as to the internal truth of the gospel promise lying under it. ...

(Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.227)

In his attempt to refute the notion of republication (of which Venema is rather confused), Venema attempted to show historically, biblically and theologically that the contributors to TLNOF are all wrong, and that republication is a novel thing created by Meredith G. Kline. Now, Kline is many things, but just because Kline is in error on the Framework Hypothesis does not mean that he is wrong on everything he promotes.

Here, I would like to focus on one of Venema's arguments, specifically his historical case concerning the views of Francis Turretin. According to Venema, Turretin's position is that the "legal manner" of reading the Mosaic Covenant is a Jewish and legalist distortion of the actual teaching of Scripture. Paul is therefore arguing against those who distort the law to promote works-righteousness in the book of Galatians, and therefore Paul (and Turretin) is not promoting any "works principle" in the Mosaic Covenant.

I find it rather illuminating that Venema's citation of Turretin comes from the portion whereby Turretin poses the question "whether the Sinaitic legal covenant, made by Moses with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, was a certain third covenant distinct in species from the covenant of nature and the covenant of grace." Earlier in Turretin's Institutes however, Turretin dealt with "the twofold economy of the covenant of grace" and "the difference between the old and the new covenants." Surely, those earlier sections should inform our understanding of Turretin's views concerning the relation between the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works? Shouldn't we read Turretin in context all the way from the earlier sections? If one reads the earlier sections, one would surely come to a different conclusion from Venema.

As the citation from the earlier section of Turretin should show, Turretin believes that the Mosaic Covenant is a "rigid legal economy" and that it posses an "external economy of legal teaching." Believers have to go beyond the "bark and veil" to find the Gospel of the Covenant of Grace hidden within it. This is surely a strong affirmation of formal republication. Thus in the earlier sections, it seems that Turretin strongly affirms formal republication of the Covenant of Works, so what are we make of Venema's claims concerning Turretin?

Now, it surely is true that Turretin is indeed arguing against the distortion of the law. But the question is: What does Turretin think IS the distortion of the Law? When one reads from the earlier section, it can be clearly seen that for Turretin, to read the Law correctly is to read it in its twofold relation — its external legal economy and the internal evangelical truth. In other words, for Turretin the "distortion" is a distortion from the Christian point of view from the perspective of the full canon, not the Jewish point of view of merely having the Mosaic economy. Turretin deals with the issue from the perspective of the full light of revelation, not with regards to the historia salutis, and we most certainly should agree with him that focusing on the Mosaic economy alone is a distortion (from the Christian point of view) of the Law.

If however we proceed from the viewpoint of the historia salutis, then it becomes impossible to use the language of "distortion." Rather, the word to be used is "dimly." Old Testament believers therefore see the works principle in the Mosaic economy, while the hidden Covenant of Grace which is its substance is seen dimly. It is not a "distortion" for anyone during that time in redemptive-history to see only the works principle, but rather blindness to the hidden Covenant of Grace underlying the Mosaic Covenant.

Reading Turretin in context therefore shows us Venema's misrepresentation of Turretin's position. Turretin holds strongly to the formal republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, while affirming that its substance is indeed the Covenant of Grace. The distortion of the law is therefore a distortion from our point of view, but mere blindness on the part of the people of the Old Testament.


Brandon said...

It is not a "distortion" for anyone during that time in redemptive-history to see only the works principle, but rather blindness to the hidden Covenant of Grace underlying the Mosaic Covenant.

But these unregenerate Israelites who were blinded to the covenant of grace did not therefore properly or fully understand the mosaic covenant. In that sense they distorted it as if it stood on it's own.

I don't see anything in Turretin's quote to overturn what Venema said.

Brandon said...

Btw, for my own benefit, could you summarize what you believe the position is of those who deny republication?

PuritanReformed said...


yes, I agree that they "distort" it in the sense that they are reading it contrary to its (deeper) full meaning. Yet at the same time, they perfectly understood its surface meaning well.

My main point is that Venema seems to assert that Turretin is saying that the "works principle" is not even a right reading of the text AT ANY LEVEL but rather a distortion of the Mosaic economy. Whereas Turretin acknowledges that the "works principle" is a right SURFACE reading of the text (i.e. as to its external economy), but it is a distortion to stay at the external economy alone without seeing its fullness in the internal principle of the Gospel sweetness.

It seems to me that those who deny [formal] republication seems to believe that formal republication implies a mixture of works or the Covenant of Works in some manner into the SUBSTANCE of the Mosaic Covenant. Whereas this I deny to be the correct representation of what I believe formal republication means.

Brandon said...

Just to clarify where you are coming from, do you believe that Israelites retained the land of Canaan through faith or through works?

PuritanReformed said...


Through God's mercy. It has the form or appearance of works though