Friday, February 26, 2016

Evangelical Obedience in the Mosaic Covenant?

Clearly, the Mosaic covenant called for evangelical obedience founded on gospel conversion (Deut. 30:10). How then is its conditional form consistent with this evangelical nature? ... By walking in gospel obedience they would retain their present inheritance and receive the Messianic inheritance at his coming. This teaches the necessity of gospel obedience unto complete salvation. ...

Thus the Mosaic covenant was not a proclamation of works righteousness, but of gospel sanctification.(Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God's Covenants, 234)

The Mosaic Covenant is clearly conditional. How one deals with the conditionality in the Mosaic Covenant does affect to some extent one's soteriology. Greg Nichols has decided that the conditionality in the Mosaic Covenant refers to the necessity of evangelical obedience for sanctification. However, is that even a plausible interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant?

We note that in the Mosaic economy, blessings come with obedience and curses with disobedience. What is important to notice here is that the sanctions for disobedience in the Mosaic economy include death (Deut. 30:18), and obedience grants life (Deut. 30:20). Leviticus 18:5 states that the way to life is obedience of God's commands, and this verse is cited in the New Testament in Galatians 3:11 as the means of salvation "under the Law," which is contrasted with the way of salvation that is by faith, for "the law is not of faith" (Gal. 3:12). In other words, the Scriptures seem to proclaim that the life promised under the Mosaic Covenant is (1) not of faith, (2) actually merited by obedience unto salvation. We also note that God does not punish with eternal death the misdeeds of His children, but merely chastise them for our good (Heb. 12:3-11). To render death for disobedience is certainly not compatible with the way God treats His wayward children.

What this proves is that the obedience in the Mosaic economy cannot be evangelical obedience, but legal obedience. Yes, we understand the graciousness of the giving of the Mosaic Covenant, but that is different from stating whether the stipulations and conditions IN the Mosaic Covenant are in fact evangelical or not. To predicate life upon obedience and death upon disobedience can never be about evangelical obedience. If, as Nichols put it, this conditionality teaches "the necessity of gospel obedience unto complete salvation," and thus "gospel sanctification," then does this mean that one can lose one's salvation ("death" under the Mosaic system) if one disobeys God? Are Christians in by faith, but stay in by covenantal faithfulness? I would sincerely hope not!

The denial of any type of works principle in the Mosaic Covenant, as Nichols does, results in confusion concerning the Mosaic Covenant, and even introduces confusion into one's soteriology. Our salvation is not conditioned upon our sanctification, for salvation is all by faith in Christ alone. Sanctification is necessary, but it is not a condition for salvation, but rather a condition from salvation. We are saved, therefore we obey; we are not sanctified in order that we might have "complete salvation," whatever that means.

Nichols, by denying the works principle in the Mosaic Covenant and placing the continuity/ discontinuity line of the Mosaic from the New Covenant on the wrong axis, leads his readers to confusion regarding salvation by faith alone. It is hoped that his expressed soteriology is better than his implicit one from his errant covenant theology.


David Rothstein said...

For the sake of clarification, are you advocating a "third covenant" or "subservient covenant" view of the Mosaic covenant? I ask because your essay can easily be construed as (and appears to be) a denial of the standard bi-covenantal view of redemptive-history (covenant of works/covenant of grace) in favor of the minority view among Reformed theologians that the Mosaic covenant differs substantially (not merely accidentally) from the covenant of grace. Thanks.

PuritanReformed said...


no, I am not advocating for a "third covenant" view. My view is that of Turretin's, in that the Mosaic Covenant is substantially part of the Covenant of Grace but its accidents are that of the Covenant of Works.

Greg Nichols treats the works principle as being of the essence of the graciousness of the Mosaic Covenant, whereas we treat the works principle as an accident of the Mosaic Covenant.

David Rothstein said...

Sorry to take so long before posting a response to this. I am glad to hear your view is that of Turretin (mine is also). I just wanted to make a quick comment about your response:

//My view is that of Turretin's, in that the Mosaic Covenant is substantially part of the Covenant of Grace but its accidents are that of the Covenant of Works.//

I realize you were probably responding quickly and thus not being as careful as you might, but this is nonsensical, since accidents always inhere in substances. Thus, the accidents of the covenant of grace are necessarily those of the covenant of *grace*. So, for example, John Smith (say) can change position from standing to sitting and those are accidental changes, but they are both accidents of John Smith (and not someone else).

To capture Turretin's conception you have to speak in terms of an accidental formal similarity, as in the case of a marble statue, which possesses the material and the substantial form of marble, but the accidental form of George Washington (say).

David Rothstein said...

//In other words, the Scriptures seem to proclaim that the life promised under the Mosaic Covenant is (1) not of faith, (2) actually merited by obedience unto salvation.//

No, this is not Turretin's view. Rather, he viewed the substance of the Mosaic covenant to be identical to that of the covenant of grace. Thus for him, the stipulation of perfect obedience as the condition of life was *accidental*.

Daniel C said...

Hi David,

That accidents always adhere in substances is traditional Aristotelian metaphysics, but it is not in the appropriation of Aristotelian metaphysics of the Scholastics. And since we are speaking about complex subjects (i.e. covenants), I do not see why we cannot appropriate Aristotelian categories without embracing the whole of his metaphysics.

I have posted on Turretin's view here (

Daniel C said...


>No, this is not Turretin's view.

Yes, I don't think I said that was Turretin's view. I said that "the Scriptures *seem* to proclaim ...," not that they actually teach that. I am saying that the scriptural data SEEM to speak about works meriting salvation under the Mosaic economy, and we have to decide what is the best way to understand that, not that the Israelites literally merit salvation by works under the Mosaic economy.