The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology
Part 9: NCT Described (III)
“NCT challenges the theological presuppositions of the one overarching covenant of grace teaching of CT, including its understanding of the “moral law” of God and the nature of the Church.” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Described [http://www.ptsco.org/NCT%20Brochoure%20Text%202013.pdf])
This blog post will focus upon Covenant Theology’s understanding of the law of God, an understanding which wholly depends on the theologically-constructed covenant of grace. Recall that Covenant Theology teaches that the covenant of grace overarches and subsequently unites all the biblical covenants of the Old Testament. Since all the biblical covenants are outworkings of this one covenant (according to Covenant Theology), certain covenantal characteristics are understood to be common to multiple, if not all, biblical covenants. Put differently, these particular aspects are transcovenantal.
Proponents of Covenant Theology generally teach that the Ten Commandments (i.e. the Decalogue) are transcovenantal. In other words, the Ten Commandments are covenantally authoritative for God’s people regardless of the time period in which they lived and regardless by which covenant they related to Yahweh. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) teaches that the Ten Commandments, the precepts delivered to Israel at Mount Sinai on tablets of stone, were delivered to Adam prior to the Fall (WCF, XIX).
Adherents of Covenant Theology typically divide the Law of Moses into three categories: the ceremonial law (i.e. the sacrificial system, offerings, etc.), the civil law (i.e. the gubernatorial aspects of national Israel, etc.), and the moral law (i.e. the Decalogue or Ten Commandments). Covenant Theology generally teaches that the ceremonial law and the civil law were effectively fulfilled (and hence abrogated) with the coming of Christ in the first century A.D. However, this same theological system stresses that the Ten Commandments constitute the transcovenantal ‘moral law’, and thus they are still binding upon the New Covenant believer. In other words, Covenant Theologians excise the Decalogue from the Mosaic Law and pull it over into the arena of New Covenant ethics.
New Covenant Theology significantly disagrees with such an understanding of the law of God. First, biblical revelation clearly presents the Law of Moses as a singleunit. Although the tripartite distinction is helpful (as far as categories of law are concerned), Scripture never divides the Law of Moses in such a fashion. For the Old Testament Israelite, the entire Law of Moses was moral from the Levitical sacrifices, to the Ten Commandments, to the dietary commands, to the commands regarding the proper wear of their beards, to the prohibition from wearing garments made of two different textiles (Lev. 19:19b), to the prohibition against sowing two types of seed in a single field (Lev. 19:19a). As a result, the Old Testament believer was obligated to follow all of it perfectly. James 2:10 proclaims: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Moreover, the Apostle Paul declares: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’” Consider also Galatians 5:3 and Matthew 5:17-18. In summary, Scripture clearly understands the Law of Moses as a single unit. Old Testament Israel, the covenantal recipient of the Mosaic Law, was obligated to keep it in its entirety. Simply put. the entire Law of Moses was moral for the Israelite.
Second, God’s written Word clearly identifies the Ten Commandments as the summary statement of the Law of Moses. Consider Exodus 24:12: “And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.’” At first glance, Exodus 24:12 appears to declare that God is going to apportion Moses three things atop Mount Sinai: 1) tables of stone, 2) a law, and 3) commandments. The key phrase which proves that these are all refer to the Ten Commandments is “which I (i.e. Yahweh) have written.” Consider this verse in light of Exodus 31:18 and Deuteronomy 9:10:
Exodus 31:18- “And He [i.e. Yahweh] gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”
Deuteronomy 9:10- “And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.”
In other words, the Ten Commandments were “written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). In light of this truth, it is clear that the “tables of stone, and a law, and commandments” in Exodus 24:12 all refer summarily to the exact same thing – the Decalogue.
Third, Scripture equates the Law of Moses (including the Ten Commandments) with the Old Covenant. Exodus 34:28 describes the Ten Commandments as “the words of the covenant” (cf. Deut. 9:9). Deuteronomy 4:13 is especially instructive: “And He declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.” Moreover, Leviticus 26:15 equates the commands of the Mosaic Covenant with the covenant itself: “And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant.” Clearly, the Old Testament Scriptures equate Law of Moses (including the Ten Commandments) with the Old Covenant.
The tripartite division of the Law of Moses was first propagated by Thomas Aquinas in the 12th century and was later advocated by John Calvin in the 16th century.
Put differently, Covenant Theology teaches that the Ten Commandments are transcovenantal in that they apply to everyone who has ever lived, from Adam in the Garden of Eden, to the Old Testament Israelite, to the New Covenant believer – no matter under which covenant an individual may have lived.