In chapter 9 Myers deals with the New Testament’s teaching about the Mosaic covenant. He acknowledges from the outset that covenant theologians disagree about the relationship began the Mosaic covenant and the New Testament. Myers sides with those who emphasize that Mosaic covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace and who do not see it in any way as a covenant of works in essence.
In navigating this issue Myers begins by distinguishing the Mosaic covenant, which is left behind as a covenant administration, and the Mosaic law which “retains a vital and unchanged role in God’s covenantal dealings with His people” (208).
Myers argues that the New Testament teaches that the Mosaic covenant was part of God’s covenant of grace. First, Jesus and the apostles affirmed that the Mosaic covenant taught the gospel. Second, Moses, Aaron, and the sacrificial system all pointed forward to Christ.
Myers argues that seemingly negative statements about the Mosaic covenant arise not from any “defect” in the covenant but from a “regression” back to the Mosaic covenant after the progression forward to the new covenant (209). Myers argues that the same critique would have been made of someone under the Mosaic covenant who insisted adhering only to the Abrahamic covenant.
Regarding a passage like 2 Corinthians 3, Myers states, “However, if one looks beyond the negative language, one sees Paul declare that the old covenant was ‘glorious’ (v. 7, 11), that it ‘had glory’ (v. 9), and that it was ‘made glorious’ (v. 10). Certainly, Paul is making a distinction between the old covenant and the new covenant, but that distinction is not a distinction between the old covenant as monstrous and the new covenant as good. Rather, the distinction is between the old covenant as glorious and the new covenant as possessing a glory that splinters all bounds” (210).
Turning to the Mosaic law, Myers argues that although the ceremonial and civil laws of the Mosaic covenant have passed away passages like Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 7:12; and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 teach that “the moral law of the Ten Commandments, which was the Mosaic law, remains” (212).
Myers understands negative statements about the law, such “the law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12; cf. Rom 10:5) to refer to the fact that the law was never meant to be a means of justification. He takes the Leviticus 18:5 to refer to the role of the law in the life of the redeemed, and he understands Paul to be teaching that the role of works in sanctification is not applicable to the economy of justification. Thus, there is a “righteousness that is of the law” (Rom 10:5) for the believer who is indwelt by the Spirit. But that is the righteousness of sanctification, not that of justification.
Myers concludes this chapter with a look at the role of the law in the life of the Christian. He lays out three options. 1. “Relegate it to a past and therefore irrelevant period of redemptive history.” Myers argues that those who take this position have unregenerate hearts (John 14:15). 2. Focus on one’s successes in keeping the parts of the law. This is the path of self-righteousness. 3. Focus on personal failure to keep the law and turn to Christ for salvation.
Myers does as good a job as any covenant theologian that I’ve read in arguing for the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace considering the New Testament’s teaching about the Mosaic covenant. He works hard to defend his view exegetically, and he engages several of the problem texts for his view. But in the end, I feel the same as I do about traditional dispensationalist arguments for the postponement of the kingdom or the limitation of the new covenant to national Israel—I can see how they make the exegesis of hard passages conform to the system, but I’m not convinced that their interpretations are the best readings of those texts.
1. The fact that the Mosaic covenant pointed forward to Christ and proclaimed the gospel does not make it a covenant of grace. Hebrews is clear that the sacrificial system pointed forward to a new covenant, and passages like Deuteronomy 30 clearly pointed forward to the new covenant on their proclamation of the gospel. But ja covenant of works, recognizing that no one will meet its conditions, can point forward to a covenant of grace.
2. The New Testament is not only concerned about covenant regression in its negative statements about the Mosaic covenant: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Heb 8:7). This is a statement that recognizes the need for a different kind of covenant. Second Corinthians 3 makes the same point. In his discussion of 2 Corinthians 3 Myers both creates a strawman (no one is saying that the Mosaic covenant is monstrous) and misunderstands Paul’s argument. While it is true that Paul sees the old covenant as glorious and the new covenant as glorious, Paul specifies that the old covenant was an external law that ministered death and condemnation. The new covenant is more glorious because in the new covenant the Spirit gives life and writes the law on the heart. In other words, the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of works and the new covenant is a covenant of grace.
3. While I agree with the practical result of saying that the moral law continues while the ceremonial law and civil law pass away, I don’t think this formulation is the most faithful to the biblical data. It is better to say that the whole Mosaic code was fulfilled by Christ and thus passed away. However, since the Mosaic covenant repeated and applied the universal law written into creation and since this same universal law is written on the heart in the new covenant, there is indeed an overlap in content in the law that Christians observe and in the law that was part of the Mosaic covenant. Furthermore, the concrete applications that God made of this universal law to Israel’s time and place remain valuable as Christians seek to apply God’s law in their own contexts.
4. Myers’s attempt to make Leviticus 18:5 refer to sanctification rather than justification is ingenious—but I don’t think it works. In the first place, Leviticus 18:5 in its original context is a soteriological promise (see Kiuchi, AOTC, 332; DeRouchie, “The Use of Leviticus 18:5,” Them. 45.2 : 247-49). (It is important to remember the Israel was redeemed from Egypt typologically but that Israelites were still in need of redemption unto eternal life; it is also important to note that the Pentateuch both sets out salvation by obedience to the law and tells Israel that no one will actually be saved in this way, cf. Deut. 30). Myers acknowledges that Jewish interpreters understood the life in Leviticus 18:5 to be eternal life, but he dismisses this as a later development (221, n. 39). However, Jesus, in response to the lawyer’s question about how to inherit eternal life cites Leviticus 18:5 (Lk. 10:28). This should be determinative. It is best to see Paul’s argument in Galatians and Romans as observing that in the Torah God laid out two possible ways of attaining eternal life. Either obey the Mosaic law entirely and perfectly or look forward to the new covenant’s gracious provision of salvation. The Mosaic covenant clearly stated that the first path would be impossible for sinners. (However, Christ was born under the law to redeem those under the law (both Jews under the Mosaic law and Gentiles under the universal creational law, Gal. 4:3-5.) Notably, Myers rightly recognizes that in the allegory of Galatians 4 Paul is contrasting a covenant of works with a covenant of grace. Paul identifies the covenant of works as “Mount Sinai,” the Mosaic covenant. It simply will not do to say, as Myers does, that “Mount Sinai” refers to “the legalistic abuse of God’s law by the Jewish leaders of Paul’s day” (224, n. 49). The point of the allegory is to contrast two types of covenants.
Myers labors mightily to harmonize the New Testament’s teaching with the claim that the Mosaic covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace, and I respect his effort. However, that very effort reinforces my conviction that it is best to recognize that the Old Testament covenants differ in nature, with some being promise covenants and the Mosaic covenant being a works covenant. In identifying the Mosaic covenant as a works covenant I do not deny but affirm that God graciously gave it forward his plan of redemption, and I affirm that it pointed the way to salvation in Christ through the new covenant.