God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.
Besides this law, commonly called moral…1
That a Righteousness, an universal and immutable ethic and ethos of God exists, I have no doubt. However, to suggest that such a complete, universal and immutable moral law has been delivered to humanity in the Scriptures is neither Scriptural nor rational. Scriptures repudiates Mosaic Law as that universal, eternal and immutable moral law. “Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”2 But heaven and earth shall pass. ”Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”3 Therefore, the Mosaic Code cannot be that universal, eternal and immutable moral law; since its jurisdiction explicitly ends.
Neither is the Christian rendition of ethics, that universal, eternal and immutable moral law. There exist several injunctions and expositions by Christ and Paul concerning marriage. However, Christ notes that “At the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven”.4 Because the Estate of Marriage ends at some future point in time, laws governing marriage and sexuality become obsolete and irrelevant. Although laws concerning such could theoretically remain on the books, a different environment in the next age nullifies their effective force and utility.
A complaint might arise that sophistries are being played out here. But of course, a common understanding of “universal, eternal and immutable moral law” is one whose shelf life is the End of History. In other words, it must be acknowledged that these renderings of the ‘Moral Law of God’ do not represent the universal, eternal and immutable ethic and ethos of God; the Righteousness of God. The Righteousness of God transcends anything literally written upon the earth; whether upon tablets of stone or papyrus manuscripts. Any Divine law code upon the earth will be a partial implementation and application of the transcendent Righteousness of God, which takes into account the physiological and psychological nature of humanity, including social dynamics, the physical environment in which humanity dwells and the purposes (telos)of that law code; amongst other considerations.
The nature of objective reality and everyday existence requires a corresponding body of laws to govern within such realities. The Mosaic regulations concerning menstruation would be inappropriate to apply against the male ‘subspecies’ of the human race. Social regulations concerning children must differ from those of spouses. Technological advances (i.e. genetics revolution à designer babies) pose moral quagmires, which existing ethical codes are strained to fashion a judgment, consistent within their existing paradigm.
A good universal, eternal and immutable moral code would have principles, equipped to deal with all such exigencies, along with the necessity of a faithful and competent interpreter to relate such principles to those particulars. Nevertheless, as noted, even Scriptures deny itself the status of constituting universal, eternal and immutable law. All covenantal codes are expressions of the transcendent, imposed upon particular objective realities with particular ends in mind.
If the purpose (telos) of the law changes, so must the law code, in order to reorient towards and optimize those purposes. If the same industrial robot switches the part that it is producing, the set of computer instructions required to produce that different part must change. A completely different code routine is selected if the part is radically different. It would be absurd to legislate and implement a body of law meant to fashion and optimize a capitalist society for use in a socialist society. It certainly is possible to construct a law code sufficiently generic to allow for the fostering of either a capitalist or socialist society. However, if the community and/or the powers-that-be that rule that community are deliberately aiming toward encouraging one economic framework with hostility toward the other, the body of laws will reflect that.
Similarly, as the purposes of the Mosaic Covenant and the New Testament Covenant differ, so must the orientation and set of commandments change and alter. This understanding is confirmed by Scriptures, particularly in the Book of Hebrews, noting the need for different blood to seal the covenant, a different priesthood to mediate it, different regulations of worship and different participants that are party to the covenant.5
A primary purpose of the Mosaic Code was to fashion an earthly society, conquered by force, implemented by coercion, emphasizing necessary justice for the common good, bounded in a geographical location, largely for one particular human tribe. The primary purpose of the New Testament Covenant is to recruit foreign aliens for immigration into a “kingdom [which] is not of this world”6, conquered by persuasion, implemented by consent, emphasizing mercy and grace (founded upon and not repudiating justice), for a virtual nation dispersed throughout the earth and including every human tribe. How is it plausible that even the contents of the written component of New Testament law could remain the same as the Mosaic code?
However, Reformed Covenantal Theology, as reflected in The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), which founds the basis of other Protestant confessions (i.e. Baptist Confession of Faith – 1689), expresses that a ‘moral’ “law of God”, ”a perfect rule of righteousness” was delivered unto Adam and Eve, “as a covenant of works”, “written in their hearts” and in the hearts of every soul of man. Furthermore, it is proposed that Christ and the Gospel does not in “any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation” of the Christian to this Mosaic code.7 That is, Christ did not initiate a new covenant, with a new and altered set of commandments to reflect the different purposes (telos) of God. Rather, the Reformed tradition suggests that Christ merely expounded upon existing Mosaic provisions in regard to the ‘moral’ division of the Law. New Testament principles are merely interpretative extensions of the supposedly universal and perfect moral law of God, best represented by the Ten Commandments (Decalogue).
Catholicism has a parallel rendition of this paradigm; whereby through human reason, “the natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man”. “The natural law is immutable, permanent [and universal] throughout history”. “Its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue.” “The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues.”8
Because of the assumption that this universal natural law or ‘moral’ law of God is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, it gives rational justification and psychological sustenance for the imposition of such moral laws upon society by civil authorities. It encourages a Theonomic impulse in many that purport to Christian sentiments; even if they do not fully subscribe to the theonomy of Christian Reconstructionism. It gives impetus to the transformation of Christ into cultural warrior and to political Christianity. It lays the ideological basis of the religious form of social conservatism. These dynamics provoke the heart basis behind critics of this theology.
Though not denying similar grave concerns, I observe other detrimental consequences of a psychological, social, pastoral, evangelistic and theological/philosophical nature. Because of the assumption that this universal ‘moral’ law of God exists in the heart of every man, Christians and social conservatives perceive their ethical and social adversaries as willfully violating their own consciences. This lends toward self-righteous indignation; often reflected in the mean-spiritedness by which many Christians interact with their interlocutors and adversaries. But what if this natural belief, given Christian imprimatur, isn’t true?
If Christians assume innate knowledge of the contents of right and wrong in the heart of every man, efforts to rationally and morally demonstrate the rightness and superiority of Christian ethics will suffer neglect. This occurs. Although New Testament Scriptures warn against investing too heavily into morality, Christian ethics does provide an avenue of witness for the truth of the Gospel. Furthermore, how can a person be convinced of sin, as defined by the Christian God and His Christ, if the person doesn’t recognize the validity of Christian ethics? How sane is it to impose Christian ethics in the sociopolitical realm, if those ethics are alien and incomprehensible to one’s adversaries?
Focus on the Mosaic revelation of law and justice, or seeing the New Testament precepts through the prism of the Old Covenant ethos, at best, conflates and confuses. Dispensationalism encourages Grace and Love at the neglect of Justice and Principle, for reasons as yet rationally incoherent to me, but definitely evident.9 (Those attracted to Dispensationalism forgive as if it were justice, lending to faulty perceptions that the mercy and grace is a legal and moral obligation of God.) Whereas, Reformed Covenantal theology is prone to produce a coercive Gospel, legalist streaks, intellectual sourpusses and lack of graciousness.
Although most precepts between the Mosaic (Old) covenant and Christian (New) covenant are identical, the context and ethos under which they operate differs. The former harangues and threatens into submission, the latter persuades and woos. The former demands justice and fairness. The latter, recognizes injustice and unfairness, but defers the demand for justice unto God, in the name of gracious forgiveness and reconciliation. This differentiation in the ethos becomes obscured if one perceives the New Covenant as extension of the former; ‘one covenant with two administrations’.
The problem, my perfectionist soul has with Old Covenantal Theology is that, from first to last, it is rationally, hermeneutically, morally and judicially indefensible. It supports its contentions, short of Scriptural standard of proof. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses10, unless one enlists hermeneutical pretzelism and sophistry. It habitually violates the Scriptural warning “Do not go beyond what is written.“11 It reads into Genesis narrative a covenant that the Genesis narrative itself negates; much as Jerome and Augustine read into the Genesis narrative an absence of sex or frenzy of sex respectively. It attempts to suggest that those of Christ’s admonitions in the Sermon of the Mount which are in complete contradistinction to Mosaic precepts are mere expositions.12 It would require a marking up of the 613 Mitzvot laws of the Mosaic Code, striking out ‘ceremonial’ and ‘civil’ provisions as well as the punitive subcomponents of ‘moral’ provisions, while pasting in New Testament amendments; an exercise only CIA censors could appreciate and love. Some advocates would unjustifiably and capriciously lift the Ten Commandments (minus One) out from the whole of the ‘moral’ component of the Old Covenant.
It leads to all manner of rational conundrums and absurdities, potentially giving a theological Jon Stewart, years’ worth of comedic material. It justifies scornful accusations of irrationality, inconsistency and disingenuity on the part of unbelievers. There exists scant empirical evidence that the moral law of God permeates the souls of men; in the biographies of individuals, histories of societies or the particulars of legal codes of those nations; who have had scant acquaintance with Judeo-Christian ethics. Those, who suggest a universal Tao, require a glossing over of the underlying intents and details of the behaviours and laws.
Covenantal theology violates both Scriptural and human principles of Justice; principles that even God and His Christ explicitly acknowledge. Contracts, covenants and constitutions, without an amending formula, by definition are broken if one violates a provision or alters a provision unilaterally in order not to officially violate it. Christ, in His condemnation of the Pharisees concerning Corban13, confirms this understanding. In the required markup of the Mosaic Code in moral, civil and ceremonial aspects, with the further excising of punitive aspects of the moral components, the endeavour produces inconsistent and inscrutable results. Foundational attributes of justice include scrutability and consistency. (“But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.”14 “For, there is no respect of persons with God”15.) And how scrupulous God is with regard to the keeping of His law!16 “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”17
The underlying presuppositions underlying Reformed Covenantal and Catholic theology is unduly influenced by Hellenist philosophy; by a Platonic/Aristolean conception of perfection in their philosophical One and his promulgations require stasis. The Jewish Scriptures represent a God who remains the same18, who “is the same yesterday and today and forever”19, yet is dynamic. He can feel intensely, yet His Sovereign Will and Righteousness is not jeopardized by His passions. His ethic and ethos remains consistent; but its implementation must correspond with the particulars of the objective reality into which it is applied.
The paradigm, represented by Covenantal theology, misunderstands the problem with mankind. In representing the Genesis narrative as Covenant of Works, it frames the central problem as being one of disobedience. Biblical analysis, uncorrupted by the Reason and Traditions of men, suggests that the central problem is that man doesn’t believe and trust God. It is ultimately through unbelief that led man to sin and total and utter depravity. In symmetry, it is through faith that he is restored; “faith from first to last”.20
- The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, Chapter 19 – “Of the Law of God”, Article 1, 2, 3a
- Matthew 5:18 (AKJV)
- Revelation 21:1
- Matthew 22:30
- Hebrews 7-10
- John 18:36
- The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, Chapter/Article 4.2, 19.2, 19.1, 4.2, 19.5
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Three (Life in Christ), Section One (Man’s Vocation Life in the Spirit), Chapter Three, (God’s Salvation: Law and Grace), Article 1, VATICAN (English Version), Items 1954, 1979, 1955, 1968
- The relationship between Dispensationalism and neglect of justice may not be causative or correlative. It might be coincidental. Nevertheless, I find, for instance, a neglect of the principles of justice, upon which the Grace of God unto salvation must be founded. I don’t yet understand the why.
- 2 Corinthians 13:1
- 1 Corinthians 4:6
- Matthew 5:33-34, Matthew 5:38-39
- Mark 7:9-13
- Romans 5:13
- Romans 2:11
- 2 Samuel 6:6-7
- Matthew 5:18
- Psalm 102:27, Hebrews 1:12
- Hebrews 13:8
- Romans 1:17