The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology – Part 6: NCT Defined (VI)

The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology

 Part 6: NCT Defined (VI) – Law of God

  

“Its major themes may be summarily described with reference to… (4) The law of God; the two greatest commandments of God—love of God and neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40)—are innate law known instinctively by man (Rom. 2:14-15) created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Upon these two greatest commandments all the Law and the Prophets depend as administered under biblical covenants which culminate in the NC law of Christ (I Cor. 9:20-21; Gal. 6:2; Heb. 8:6, 13: James 2:8; I John 5:3). Innate law is righteous and unchanging; covenantal law is written, righteous and changeable (Heb. 7:12) worked out in history in accordance with God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 1:11; 3:11; II Tim. 1:9).” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Defined [http://www.ptsco.org/NCT%20Brochoure%20Text%202013.pdf])

 

Explanation:

Biblical law is arguably one of the most controversial categories of theological doctrine. Throughout the history of the Church, sincere, Bible-believing Christians have been far too eager to label one another as either legalists (i.e. those who overemphasize biblical law) or antimonians (i.e. those who underemphasize biblical law). Much doctrinal division has resulted from an inaccurate understanding of biblical law, and New Covenant Theology passionately asserts that it has a more accurate understanding of the subject – an understanding which may help demolish some of the doctrinal partitions which divide sincere, Bible-believing Christians.

New Covenant Theology teaches that biblical law can be divided into two general categories: the absolute law of God and the covenantal law of God. Each category has its own distinct characteristics. First, the absolute law of God consists of the two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). It is righteous, unchanging, and transcovenantal (i.e. it reaches across the biblical covenants). As the absolute law of God, these two commandments also constitute innate law, in that they are instinctively known by man (Rom. 2:14-15), who was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). In other words, the two greatest commandments were written by God upon the heart of man  at creation.[1]  Second, the covenantal law of God is a temporary outworking of the absolute law of God. Hence, it is righteous, temporary, changeable (Heb. 7:12), and “worked out in history in accordance with God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 1:11; 3:11; II Tim. 1:9).” Simply put, the commands and stipulations of the biblical covenants are distinct covenantal outworkings of the two greatest commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. Gary Long is particularly helpful here: “[I]n its covenantal sense, God’s law is only binding upon a covenant community so long as that specified covenant is in force. The law of Moses as covenant law was binding upon the physical seed of Abraham under the Old Covenant dispensation. The law of Christ [I Cor. 9:20-21; Gal. 6:2; Heb. 8:6, 13: James 2:8; I John 5:3] is binding upon the spiritual seed of Abraham under the New Covenant dispensation.”[2]

The Scriptural pericope of 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 is particularly helpful to see the distinction between the absolute law of God and the covenantal law of God. The Apostle Paul declares: “And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law.” The “law of God” to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 9:21 is the absolute law of God, while “the Law” (i.e. the Law of Moses) and “the law of Christ” refer to two distinct systems of covenantal law. The Law of Moses was the covenantal law of God under the Mosaic Covenant, and the “law of Christ” is the covenantal law of God under the New Covenant. This is why Paul is able to say that although he is no longer under the Mosaic Law (since the Old Covenant by that time was obsolete), he is not without the law of God (i.e. the absolute law of God), as he is now under the “law of Christ” – the New Covenant outworking of the absolute law of God.

 

[1]Although fallen mankind suppresses the absolute, innate law of God to varying degrees, it is nevertheless written upon their hearts. Evidence for this assertion can be seen with the societal norms and laws which harmonize (at particular points) with God’s law.

[2]Gary D. Long, Biblical Law and Ethics: Absolute and Covenantal: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Matthew 5:17-20 (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2008), 86-87.

3 Comments

  1. Manfred

    Some covenant theologians claim Adam, before the Fall, had a complete, extensive knowledge of the moral law, which they claim is summarily expressed in the Decalogue. This is not compatible with the biblical record, which tells us Adam (and Eve) had no knowledge of “good and evil” until they sinned. They knew the goodness of God, but nothing of evil.

    What is the biblical defense or good reason for claiming the “absolute law” as defined here was that which was written on Adam’s heart before the Fall?

    1. zmaxcey (Post author)

      New Covenant Theology certainly takes issue with the view that Adam was equipped with “a complete, extensive knowledge of the moral law.” I would certainly agree that Adam and Eve, being created without sin, had “no knowledge of ‘good and evil’ until they sinned.” As defined in this blog series, the ‘absolute law of God’ (also called the ‘innate law of God) is simply the two greatest commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. Since Adam was not only created in the image of God but also without sin, he instinctively knew ‘to love God’ and ‘to love his neighbor’ (in this case, Eve). This is jointly implied by Romans 13:8 (cf. Gal. 5:14 – i.e. love fulfills the law), Matthew 22:37-40 (i.e. the Mosaic Law – the covenantal law of the Old Covenant is an outworking of the two greatest commandments), and Romans 2:14-15 (where the Gentiles that do not have the law at times instinctively do things in keeping with the requirements of the law). Adam failed to demonstrate his love for God in that he did not obey God’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. Adam was not created as tabula rasa; he instinctively knew to love God and love his wife (i.e. his neighbor). However, he utterly failed to do so.

  2. jmknight

    Great question and answer, the key is “instinctively” knew. The term “absolute law” is used to express what he instinctively knew and I would agree it was not the Decalogue but rather to love God and neighbor.

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