I have argued in my article Covenant Theology and elsewhere that there are five clearly distinguishable divine covenants with men, but in formulating a theology of covenant I have tended to skate somewhat superficially over the question of their continuity and discontinuity.
Earlier generations of theologians solved the problem by merging them, forcing them into the mould or straight-jacket into what was tantamount to an undifferentiated or monolithic covenant of grace. Thus they talked of one covenant in two dispensations and/or emphasized the organic unity of the covenants. This, I would argue, failed to observe clear distinctions and to deal adequately with the biblical material at our disposal. All else apart, it transformed the Mosaic covenant of law from a gift of grace (cf. Rom. 3:1f.; 9:4) into a covenant of grace. Little wonder that some forty years ago I could not understand how John Murray, for example, arrived at the idea that there was a single, monolithic “covenant of grace”, an undifferentiated unity bridging two dispensations differently administered.
Later I learnt more about federal theology. This scheme involved the assertion that God first made a covenant of works with Adam (WCF, 7:2; 19:1) which on proving a failure was then counteracted by a covenant of grace with Christ (WCF, 7:3). The latter, it is claimed, was differently administered under the law (WCF, 7:5). Whatever merits this view may have, it also involves a false presentation of the biblical material. It appears to derive to a large extent from the idea of an intra-trinitarian covenant of redemption or pactum salutis which may be valid in itself but tends to distort our understanding of covenant theology as it is presented in the Bible. In other words, it confuses God’s eternal purpose and grace with its historical revelation in Christ (cf. 2 Tim.1:9f.; Tit. 1:2f.) and thus tends to merge manifestly differentiated covenants into a single whole with a cavalier disregard of history, salvation history in particular. Its reduction of the latter to a flat uniformity has devastating consequences for our understanding of the salvation of mankind; and its own logic inevitably transforms the law of Moses into a covenant of grace in clear violation of the teaching of Scripture. It is of the essence of the message of the apostles that the Jews were under law and not under grace (cf. Gal. 3:19ff., etc.). In other words, if federal theology achieves continuity, it does so at the expense of the discontinuity to which Scripture refers. So the question unavoidably arises: How can the continuity and the discontinuity of covenant theology be reconciled?
First, it must be firmly laid down that there is no biblical reference to a covenant with Adam, and the attempt to read one into Romans 5:12ff. must be pronounced abortive. The so-called parallel between Adam and Christ is a figment of the (Augustinian) imagination. First, it fails to recognize that the arrangement with Adam was a unilateral divine imposition (Gen. 2:16) in direct contrast with the covenant with Christ which was activated by faith. For the parallel to hold, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness which is by faith requires that the imputation of Adam’s sin is also by faith. Since the latter is universally denied, all attempts to posit a parallel between the two lead unavoidably to failure. (See further my An Exact Parallel?) In Romans 5:12-21 Paul points up an analogy which involves the contrast between the unspecified debit to the race stemming from the sin of Adam and the credit to believers accruing from the righteousness of Christ. Since the vital words ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’ are missing at this point, it is safe to say that covenant theology is not in Paul’s mind. Unless we give undue weight to Hosea 6:7 the interpretation of which is disputed, nowhere in Scripture is there the remotest suggestion that we are born in covenant with, as opposed to the image of (Gen. 5:1-3), Adam any more than we are born in covenant with Christ. (See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?) Our relationship with Adam is basically physical (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:45-49); our relationship with Christ is not on the immediate horizon though it is made clear that we belong to God by creation. And since we are his image, we are clearly meant to attain to his likeness. As revelation progresses, it becomes apparent that we achieve the fullness of the divine image through faith in Christ our covenant head and representative (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) who is himself the image of God (Heb. 1:3).
So, on the assumption that a unilateral covenant (agreement) is a contradiction in terms and having denied that there is any mention of a covenant with Adam in the Bible, we can claim that the divine agreements with man are five: those with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and with Christ. On the surface these are distinctly separate covenants, yet the Bible leads us to believe that in some way they are all related, if not organically. The question is: How?
Paul implicitly refers to all five in Romans 1:18-4:8. To take Romans 4:1-8 and the covenants with Abraham and David first, it is fairly easy to see that they are covenants of promise (cf. Eph. 2:12) which were not properly fulfilled in the OT. Both refer ultimately to Christ and it is in him that they find their complete fulfillment. Christ is as clearly the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) through whom the world is blessed just as he is the Son of David who rules as King (Luke 1:32; Rom. 1:3, etc.).
The covenant with Noah, however, is in a different category. The flood threatened the very existence of creation, and the ensuing covenant is clearly designed to enable Noah and his successors to trust its reliability until the divine plan of salvation is accomplished (cf. Gen. 8:22). The Noahic covenant is clearly dispensational, even transdispensational for without it man cannot exist (cf. Jer. 31:35f.; 33:19-21), least of all have faith in God’s ultimate purpose for mankind. Even the heathen are its beneficiaries (cf. Acts 14:17; 17:25) and are expected to respond to the element of revelation that it involves (Acts 17:27; Rom. 1:19f.; 2:14-16).
Since man in general failed to react as he should have done (cf. Rom. 1:18-32; John 1:10), the covenant with Noah, is shown to require supplementation, but except in the case of Abraham and his posterity, no other covenant is forthcoming – at least in the immediate future. The Abrahamic covenant, however, though limited in scope at first promises great things for the rest of mankind in the far distance (cf. John 8:56). Abraham himself is eventually to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. After a lapse of some 400 years, the children of Abraham are redeemed from the house of bondage and receive the law of Moses which itself is limited to the children of Abraham alone (Dt. 4:32-40; Ps. 147:19f.). It should be noticed, however, that the entire exodus saga is specifically linked with the covenant with Abraham (Ex. 2:24; 3:6). While clearly distinguishing between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants especially in Galatians 3 and 4, Paul nonetheless shows their connection, and in Romans 15:8f. he briefly outlines the link between the Christ, the circumcised Jews, the patriarchs and the Gentiles who lived under the covenant with Noah. Here, only the covenant with David fails to receive a mention. It was of course implied in the reference to Christ who was the Son of David.
What is evident from all this is that though the distinctions between the covenants cannot be blurred without distorting our understanding of Scripture, they do nonetheless serve a common purpose and they are all linked by faith (cf. Heb. 11). It should be noticed that supplementation, even supersession, does not lead to obliteration. When the covenant with Abraham is announced, that with Noah remains. Again, when the covenant with Moses dominates the stage, those with Abraham and Noah are not nullified (Gal. 3:15,17). Paul also points out that faith far from overthrowing the law in fact upholds it (Rom. 3:31). Even when the new or Christian covenant supersedes the old (see espec. 2 Cor. 3 and Hebrews), vital elements of the law are radicalized and fulfilled (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:13). For example, it is frequently pointed out that nine of the ten commandments are specifically mentioned as being relevant to believers in Christ. So while it may be true that we are no longer under law but under the law of Christ, it is not without reason that Jesus himself said that he came to fulfil the law and not to destroy it (Mt. 5:17f.).
The New Covenant in the Old
Looking at the issue from a different perspective, it might well be pointed out that covenant continuity is established when the new covenant is adumbrated in the old. The best example is of course Jeremiah 31:31-34, but Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26f. and 37:14 also anticipate a better covenant. The mere fact that the two covenants are differentiated at this very point shows that they are also in a real sense discontinuous (cf. Heb. 10:9). The nature of this discontinuity becomes clear in the NT which differentiates between the law written on the heart and the law written on stone, the ministry of death and life, the glory of the old and the greater glory of the new and the obsolescence of the old and the permanence of the new (2 Cor. 3). The latter in particular is brought out in the gospels. For example, Matthew 5:18 contrasts with Matthew 24:35, and John 1:17 (cf. Luke 16:16) implies the difference between the works of the law and the grace of the new covenant. Needless to say, this difference is greatly elaborated in the epistles of Paul where the flesh and the works of the law stand in strong contrast with the leading of the Spirit and grace (note espec. Romans and Galatians, cf. John 6:63). In Galatians 3:23-4:7 Paul implies that the obsolescence of the law (cf. Heb. 8:13) arises from the fact that it relates to the spiritually adolescent. The mature children of God are freed from the shackles of the law through faith in Christ (Gal. 4:5-7; 5:1) and achieve thereby individual and corporate perfection (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:13-15; 4:13).
These continuities and discontinuities are treated somewhat differently but at impressive length in the letter to the Hebrews. There the old covenant priesthood and temple especially are contrasted with the new and true.
Just as God is the author of all the covenants, so is man their recipient. The truth of this is demonstrated supremely in Christ. As a true Son of Adam, indeed the second or last Adam he embodied all the covenants. As one born of woman (Gal. 4:4), that is, a child of nature, he was respectively, a slave and a beneficiary of the covenant with Noah, a faithful son of both Abraham (Gal. 3:16) and David (Rom. 1:3), a servant of the commandment of Moses (Gal. 4:4) and as the regenerate Son of God inaugurated the new covenant. In other words, as the only fully mature (perfect) man who ever lived he was successively a slave, a servant and a son, the Son of God (Gal. 4:1-7). It was he who brought the covenants to their predestined climactic end in the knowledge and presence of God (John 17:3; 21:3; 22:3-5). And it is with him who having brought many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10) that we shall rule at God’s right hand (Rev. 3:21, etc.).
The covenant with Christ then is in a different category from its predecessors. It alone was truly an eternal covenant of grace. Not only did it involve fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham and David, it also fulfilled the law (cf. Mt. 5:17) – something beyond the capacity of those who were under it (cf. Gal. 4:5). In a nutshell it fulfilled the purpose of creation. Otherwise expressed, the beneficiaries of all the earlier covenants, even Gentiles who have previously only enjoyed the benefits of the covenant with Noah (cf. Acts 14:17), achieve knowledge of the triune God through faith in Christ who himself epitomized the fullness of covenant revelation (Gal. 4:4, cf. John 17:3).
It is of vital importance to stress the fact that prior to Christ’s coming and inaugurating his covenant both Jews and Gentiles lacked the grace he brought. Traditional dogmatic theology under the influence of Augustine in particular has largely concluded that the heathen (and even unbaptised children according to Augustine himself) have been damned en masse (cf. WCF, qu. 60, etc.). This has been the natural consequence of a false or inadequate covenant theology, a lack of a historical perspective and a failure to recognize the presence of diminished responsibility which is adequately catered for in the triadic view I propound. One has only to mention names like Noah and David to realize that though they might have been regarded as blameless in their own generation, they fell well below Christian standards. In contrast, it has been almost universally, if erroneously, believed that since man is born a sinner his cure lay in the new birth! The result of this idea has been the imposition of regeneration by baptism on babies who are quite incapable of faith which, being the indispensable precondition of righteousness, leads to the life (Lev. 18:5) signified by baptism. But regeneration is something that even believing Israelites never experienced as even Moses made clear (Dt. 29:4; 30:6, cf. 4:30f.) not to mention Jeremiah (31:31-34, cf. 9:25f.) and Ezekiel (11:19f.; 36: 26; 37:24-28). How could they when all to the very last man and woman broke the law? How then, we must ask again were the different covenants of earlier times linked? Clearly the answer is by faith. Paul makes it plain that even while the law exercised its ministry of death to all who failed to keep it, people could still believe the promises made to Abraham. God’s covenant with him, which promised blessing to the nations, was not nullified (Gal. 3; Hebrews 11). As the apostle insists in Romans 3:31 faith and law are meant to function in tandem, and this is conspicuously the case in the NT where those who love Christ keep his commandments (John 14:15; 15:10, etc.). It goes without saying that even Adam whose only moral quality made specific was his sin was saved if he believed the shadowy promise of Genesis 3:15. But born again, or a member of the new covenant, he certainly was not. (It may be argued along with Augustine, Calvin and others that the new birth is indispensable for salvation. This of course has led to infant baptism. However, the thinking involved is flawed because it is based on an erroneous covenant theology and ordo salutis or order of salvation. Throughout the Bible it is faith that is indispensable. Why? Because it leads to justification which in turn leads to regeneration. The fact that ungodly Abraham was not born again is, so to speak, an accident of history. Had he lived after rather than before Christ as a man of faith he would have been born again when the Holy Spirit was poured out, cf. John 7:39.)
Though the covenants are clearly differentiated and are to that extent discontinuous, they are linked in Scripture by what might be termed a typological hermeneutic. This is perhaps best illustrated by the exodus and the pilgrimage through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Leaving aside the so-called second exodus from Babylon after the exile under the old covenant, the NT likens the spiritual pilgrimage of Christians under the new covenant from its beginnings in calling and conversion to consummation in glory to the journey from bondage in Egypt to rest in the Promised Land. Thus it also likens the Lord’s supper to the Passover, and Christ in the new covenant becomes our paschal Lamb. In other words, Scripture clearly subscribes to the idea of diminished responsibility and historical relativity; a member of the old covenant is by definition under law, and though he can exercise faith in God like Abraham, he cannot rise above the limited revelation that he has been given. Thus the author of Hebrews differentiates between accountability under Moses and under Christ (Heb. 10:28-31).
In order to reduce our study to reasonable proportions it is worth considering what might be termed purple passages in the NT which highlight comparisons and contrasts between the old and new covenants. While it is arguable that we should begin by comparing the ten commandments with the law of Christ or the Sermon on the Mount, it is better to concentrate on doctrinal matters rather than ethics (though note Mt. 5:20).
In 1 Corinthians 15:42-50 Paul portrays the basic discontinuity between the body of the natural man under the old covenant and the regenerate man under the new. It should be carefully noted that nothing is said nor implied about sin in this passage (contrast Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 10:9b).
|Perishable (corruptible)||Raised imperishable|
|Sown in dishonour and weakness||Raised in power|
|Sown a natural or physical body||Raised a spiritual body|
|A living being||A life-giving spirit|
|From the earth (dust)||From heaven|
Since perishable flesh and blood cannot inherit the imperishable kingdom of God, continuity of body is maintained by transformation and succession: first dust (flesh), then spirit; first the image of Adam, then the image of the man of heaven. Paul stresses that before they can enter the kingdom of God (cf. John 3:1-8) both the dead and the living alike must be transformed (15:51-54).
In Romans 5:12-21 Paul draws up an analogy between first Adamic man under law as sinner and new Adamic man as righteous:
|ADAM the type||JESUS the antitype
|All sin and all die||Free gift of grace|
|Sin leads to condemnation||Free gift leads to justification|
|Sin leads to dominion of death||Righteousness leads to dominion in life|
|Law led to increase in sin||Grace abounded|
So whereas old covenant sin like that of Adam exercised dominion in death, new covenant grace in Christ exercises dominion through justification leading to eternal life.
In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul spells out the contrast as follows:
|OLD COVENANT||NEW COVENANT|
|Written with ink||Written with the Spirit|
|On stone||On human hearts|
|Ministry of death||Ministry of the Spirit|
|Ministry of condemnation||Ministry of justification|
|Lost glory||Great glory|
|Transient glory||Permanent glory|
|Veiled glory||Unhindered vision/clear reflection|
|(Shadow of the true)||Ever-increasing glory|
Hagar and Sarah: Galatians 4:21-31
Here Paul posits two covenants in the form of an allegory (v.24). (In reality, Genesis 17:21 denies that there was a covenant with Hagar and Ishmael, but Paul daringly suggests that God’s dealings with Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac reflect or are types of the old and new covenants.)
Fung tabulates the covenants as follows (p.213):
|Hagar – a slave woman||Sarah – a free woman|
|Ishmael – born according to the flesh||Isaac – born through God’s promise|
|The Sinaitic covenant of law||The covenant of promise (based on faith)|
|The present Jerusalem
|The Jerusalem above
(= the church)
|The children of the present Jerusalem
|The children of the Jerusalem above
|Righteousness by Law||Righteousness by Faith|
M.Silva expands Paul’s covenantal contrasts in Galatians 3-5 (Elwell, p. 282).
|Works of the law||Faith, promise|
|Sin and death||justification and life|
|Hagar the slave woman||(Sarah) the free woman|
|Sinai and present Jerusalem||Jerusalem from above|
|Being under law||being led by the Spirit|
|Works of the flesh||fruit of the Spirit|
In comment on Colossians 2:11f. and circumcision Hendriksen conveniently sets out the difference between the physical and a spiritual as follows:
|(1) the work of the Holy Spirit
(“made without hands”)
|(1) the manual operation
|(2) inward, of the heart (see Rom 2:28,29, cf. Phil. 3:2,3)||(2) outward|
|(3) the putting off and casting away of the entire evil nature (“the body of the flesh”), in its sanctifying aspect to be progressively realized||(3) removal of excess foreskin|
|(4) Christian (“the circumcision of Christ” that is, the circumcision which is yours because of your vital union with Christ)||(4) Abrahamic and Mosaic|
The letter to the Hebrews goes into more detail in differentiating the old covenant from the new. I begin with Hebrews 3:1-6:
|Faithful in God’s house||Faithful to the one who appointed him|
|House||The builder of the house|
Christians are holy partners in a heavenly calling (v.1) if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope (v.6).
In commentary on Hebrews 8:2 and the true temple Hughes presents the contrasts and correspondences schematically as follows:
|THE MOSAIC TABERNACLE||THE HEAVENLY REALITY|
|On earth (8:4f.)
An earthly sanctuary (9:1)
|In heaven (8:1)|
|Set up by man (8:2)||Set up by the Lord (8:2)|
|Made with hands||Not made with hands|
|Of this creation (9:11)||That is, not of this creation (9:11)|
|A sanctuary made with hands (9:24)||Not a sanctuary made with hands (9:24)|
|A copy and shadow (8:5)||The true tent (8:2)
The true sanctuary (9:24)
The greater and more perfect tent (9:11)
Heaven itself (9:24)
While the continuity of temple between the old and new covenants is obvious there is fundamental difference in kind. In excellent comment on this difference Beasley-Murray writes (pp.326f.) on Revelation 21:22 as follows:
“No element in John’s vision of the future more strikingly differentiates him from contemporary Jewish writers than his statement “I saw no temple in the city”. ‘For the old Synagogue the future Jerusalem without a temple was an inconceivable,’ commented Billerbeck. ‘The building of the sanctuary was the most self-evident element of the old Jewish hope of the future.’ (Strack-Billerbeck, iii, p.852). In this respect John has faithfully developed a feature of the teaching of Jesus, who in prophetic fashion announced both the ruin of the Jerusalem temple (Mk 13:2) and its replacement by a different order of worship (Mk 14:58). No word of Jesus seems to have infuriated the Jewish religious leaders more than the latter saying, hence the attempt made at his trial to incriminate him through it. The Fourth Evangelist has followed up the Marcan phrase in Mark 14:58, ‘not made with hands,’ relating to the new temple, by observing that the temple is really the body of the risen Lord (John 2:21). He thereby suggests that the risen Christ will be the ‘place’ wherein God meets man in grace and man offers acceptable worship to God. Whether consciously or not, John the prophet is in the direct line of the symbolism when he represents that the temple of the new Jerusalem is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. Everything for which the temple stood is transferred to the life of the city. All is sacred, the Shekinah glory fills the entire city (cf. Ezek. chs. 10-11 and 43:1-7), and God is every where accessible to the priestly race.”
In comment on Hebrews12:22-24 Hughes (p.545) contrasts the two mountains:
|MOUNT SINAI||MOUNT ZION|
|What may be touched||The city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem|
|A blazing fire||Innumerable angels in festal gathering|
|Darkness||The assembly of the first-born|
|Gloom||A judge who is God of all|
|A tempest||The spirits of just men made perfect|
|The sound of a trumpet||Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant|
|A voice…||The sprinkled blood …|
The letter to the Hebrews is significant for its “betters”. These comparisons/contrasts admirably pinpoint both the continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants. They are listed as follows:
- Better things (6:9)
- A better hope (7:19)
- A better covenant (7:22; 8:6)
- A better ministry (8:6)
- Better promises (8:6)
- Better sacrifices (9:23)
- Better and more lasting possession (10:34)
- Better country (11:16)
- A better resurrection (11:35)
- Something better (11:40)
- A better word (12:24).
To the above might be added texts like 9:11,24 and 10:1, cf. 8:2.
One of the most fundamental of all the contrasts (apparently missed by most writers) in the NT is that between what is “made by hand” and what is “not made by hand”. See further my Manufactured or Not So. In essence it points to the intrinsic difference between the uncreated Creator and what he has created. Thus in the OT the word for “not made by hand” (acheiropoietos) does not appear since the material creation is “made by hand” (Ps. 102:25; Isa. 45:12; 48:13, etc.). It follows from this that since man, insofar as he is flesh, stems from the earth, he too is “manufactured”. While this may be inferred from Genesis 2:7 (cf. Ps. 139:13-16), it is explicitly stated in Job 10:8 and Psalms 119:73 and 138:8, for example.
In the NT, however, an explicit distinction is made between what is “made by hand” and what is “not made by hand”. Thus in Hebrews 9:11 and 24 it is made clear that the sanctuary which Jesus entered as our high priest was not an impermanent earthly but a permanent heavenly one (Acts 7:48; 17:24; Heb. 1:11, cf. Lohse TDNT 9, Grand Rapids, 1973, p.436). Again in 2 Corinthians 5:1 Paul distinguishes between an earthly tent created by God and “a house not made with hands” eternal in the heavens (cf. Col. 2:11). The conclusion that must necessarily be drawn from texts like these is that what is “manufactured” even by God himself is defective in the sense that it is temporal like the hand-written law (cf. Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1) and not eternal (cf. Mt. 24:35). This manifestly conforms with what is taught throughout Scripture that the eternal God is not on any account to be confused with his hand-made creation (cf. Ps. 102: 25-27; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6; Mt. 24:35, Rom. 1:23, etc.).
In light of this it can be inferred that those who teach the redemption instead of the replacement of the “hand-made” creation (in 2008 a current fad) including its corollary the flesh are deeply mistaken. The temporal material creation, which has both a beginning (Gen. 1:1) and an end (Heb. 12:27), relates with the old covenant which is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Cor. 3:11; 5:17; Heb. 8:7,13; 1 John 2:8,17; Rev. 21:1, etc.) never to be restored; the spiritual new creation/Jerusalem/city/country or kingdom of God/heaven to which we are called (Phil. 3:14; Heb. 3:1, cf. 6:1) and already exists (Mt. 5:10,20; 6:10,33; 2 Pet. 3:13) relates exclusively with the new or eternal covenant never to be displaced. In this instance God’s dwelling with man is forever in heaven, in his own house (John 14:2, cf. Acts 7:48-50) and definitely not on the corruptible earth which, like the decaying body which derives from it (2 Cor. 4:16; 5:1), is in the throes of becoming obsolete (Heb. 1:10f., cf. 8:13) leading to eventual dissolution (Rev. 21:1-5; 6:12; 16:18; 20:11; Heb. 12:27-29; 2 Pet.3:7,10-12).
So in light even of the (limited) evidence presented above we may conclude that while there is undeniable continuity of concept in the Bible, there is frequently difference in content or kind. Examples of this are temple, sacrifice, circumcision, Jerusalem, prophet, priest, king, worship, body, creation and so forth. So far as the concept of covenant is concerned both OT (Jer. 31:31-34) and NT (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8.) impress on our minds the discontinuity between the old and the new (Heb. 8:7,13; 2 Cor. 3:11; 5:17, etc.). At bottom, the old is temporal and provisional (Mt. 5:18) and relates to this world, the new is eternal (Mt. 24:35) and relates to the world to come. Our problems in understanding the difference usually arise from the presence of the future, or the overlap of the ages which are themselves ultimately discontinuous (cf. Heb. 9:11; Luke 20:34-36; Eph. 1:20f., etc.). (It is frequently asserted that the law though set aside as a means to salvation is still to be upheld as a guide to conduct. True though this is in a way not least because nine of the original ten commandments are referred to in the NT as retaining permanent relevance, Christians frequently forget that the law has been replaced by the law of Christ. The Sermon on the Mount radicalizes the law or enhances its spirituality. So while there is clear continuity between the law of Moses and the law of Christ, there is also discontinuity. The righteousness of the Christian is intended to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. As the author of Hebrews says, the law is not without fault (Heb. 8:7). It was inaugurated and maintained by repeated animal sacrifices, whereas the new was permanently established by the shedding of the blood of Christ once for all. Since the law made nothing perfect and ceased to operate at death (Rom. 7:1f., cf. Mt. 5:18, for Christians at death in Christ), it required replacement with a better hope in our approach to God (Heb. 7:18f.).
So in view of the evidence presented above stress must be placed on the discontinuity between the old and new covenants. I have nowhere come across a statement emphasizing this comparable to that of Ben Witherington who writes: “Hebrews 10:9 is very important and emphatic and reinforces the ideas of Hebrews 7:12-19 and Hebrews 8:7,13…. Here we have a definite theology of discontinuity and replacement – the one replaces the other. Our author could not have said it more emphatically” (p.279).
G.R.Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, London, 1974.
R.Y.K.Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, Grand Rapids, 1988.
Hendriksen, Colossians, London, 1971.
P.E.Hughes, Hebrews, Grand Rapids, 1977.
M.Silva in The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. W.A.Elwell, Grand Rapids, 1996.
Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude, Downers Grove/Nottingham, 2007.