by John Harley


The ‘Three Musketeers’ (actually, there were four) famously pledged, ‘One for all, and all for one.’  The four were one and would stand and fall as one. The motto of the US is e pluribus unum, ‘out of the many, one.’ This unity was tested to the point of dissolution by the Civil War. We know how things stand or fall together, therefore. In reading the Bible, there are two forms of unity that are fundamental for comprehending New Covenant Theology (NCT). The first is the unity that belongs to the Old Covenant (OC); the second is the unity that makes up the New Covenant (NC). Each covenant has its own members or ‘elements’ that belong to it. To the OC belongs the Law, Moses, Israel, the earthly kingdom, the Sabbath, and the Ten Commandments, indeed, earth-bound religion. To the NC belongs the heavenly Sabbath, the heavenly Israel, the true Lawgiver, the NC law, the heavenly kingdom, the apostles, and the Holy Spirit. Each covenant and its constituent elements are a unity, which stand and fall together as members of the one. However, the unity of the OC has been supplanted by the unity of the NC. The principle of unity entails that the elements that make up the OC do not belong to the NC; and the members of the NC do not belong to the OC. Due to this division, the Mosaic Law is not, as part of the OC, considered a good thing; the same is true of Moses as the giver of the Law of the OC. Also, the division makes it impossible for Christ to be an Alpha, Beta, Kai member of the OC, as if he were just another Jew positively aiming to establish the Law’s righteousness. If we keep this distinction and division between both covenants watertight we will avoid various misconceptions and be positioned to understand that Christ’s covenant was the only true covenant of saving grace, issuing from heaven itself. To understand these concepts of unity and division, I will begin with examining the concentric nature of the OC.



As to the OC, ‘concentricity’ denotes the centrality of the OC to the Law, the Ten Commandments, Israel, and the Sabbath, and that each of these concepts overlap one another and interpenetrate one another. The result is that they stand and fall together under the union of the OC. Anybody familiar with John G. Reisinger’s Tablets of Stone will recognize some of the argument put forward in this section.[1]

The OC and the Law of Moses went hand-in-glove. We are informed of the tablets of the covenant (Deut.9:9) that were in the Ark of the Covenant (Deut.10:8), and the words of the covenant, namely, the Ten Commandments (Exo.34:28). The practice of the OC was tied up with obeying the Law. Thus, we read of the curses and blessings of the covenant that result from either disobeying or obeying God’s Law given to Moses (Deut.30). The salt of the sacrifices stipulated in Moses’ Law was called the salt of the covenant (Lev.2:13). The bread of the sanctuary, offered each Sabbath, was an everlasting covenant with Israel (Lev.24:8). The Sabbath command of Moses’ Law was the sign of the covenant (Exo.31:13, 17). This demonstrates that any commandment of Moses, whether ceremonial or moral, was in and of itself an expression of the one covenant made with Israel. The Law and the Covenant interpenetrated one another: the book of the covenant contained the Law (Exo.24:7; Deut.29:21; 31:26; 2 Ki.23:2, 3, 21; 2 Chr.34:30-31); and the covenant curses were in the book of the Law (Deut.29:21). Thus, the Law and the covenant were entirely inseparable.

Of particular importance to the Law was the relationship between it and the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath. In some places on the internet we can find some saying that the Ten Commandments are not part of the Law. The truth is the Ten Commandments are the heart of the Law (Exo.24:12; Deut.27:8; see, Mark 7:9-10; 2 Cor.3:3, 15; Mal.4:4; 1 Ki.2:3), so that the Ten are even called the covenant (Exo.34:28; Deut.4:13), for the special nature of the Ten Commandments sets them apart as a summary of the whole Law.[2] The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Exo.31:13, 16-17; Eze.20:12, 20), marking out Israel from the surrounding nations and the strangers in their midst (Exo.20:10; 31:13, 17). Indeed, the Sabbath is called the covenant (Exo.31:16), in the sense that the covenant was especially embodied by the Sabbath. Thus, those who violate the Sabbath must be put to death (Exo.31:14). John Reisinger said that the Sabbath was the equivalent of a wedding ring, and to break the Sabbath was like throwing away one’s wedding ring.[3] And, of course, the Sabbath was at the heart of the Ten, which were the heart of the Law. So, one can make the argument that the Sabbath was truly a core doctrine for the Jews (Exo.31:13-17), separating them from the nations. The concentricity of Law, the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, and OC makes for an explosive picture in regard to the collapse of the OC itself.

I wish to clarify one matter: it is mistakenly thought that the Law and the Old Covenant were one and the same thing. They were not identical. A covenant is akin to a marriage vow. By the OC, Yahweh took Israel to himself as his wife (Eze.16:8). If the Sabbath was the wedding ring, then the Law was the vows that Israel and Yahweh shared. And the Ten Commandments were the most significant part of those vows. That is why the Ten Commandments are considered to be the covenant (Deut.4:13). The sum of the vows was this: Yahweh will defend, provide for, shelter, and love Israel; but Israel must completely obey Yahweh’s Law and worship only him.

Thus, the OC, the Law, the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, and Israel were inseparable, too. The laws of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, were the basis of God’s covenant with Israel and Moses (Exo.34:27; Deut.29:1, 21; 1 Kg.8:9). The Sabbath is called a perpetual covenant for the sons of Israel (Exo.31:16). So, when Israel broke the covenant by worshipping the golden calf, Moses threw the tablets of stone of the Ten Commandments to the ground and broke them (Exo.32). On day one, quite literally, Israel had whored after another god and desecrated the marriage bed. God was ready to cut off Israel, to divorce her (Deut.9:13-14; see Exo.32:12-14). A renewal of the covenant was required, so that Israel could, once again, formally commit itself to its vows. The tablets had to be re-made (Exo.34). God began the renewal by reciting the Sabbath command (Exo.35:1-3). Israel broke their covenant with Yahweh, the breaking of which was symbolized by the smashing of the tablets of stone; the tablets of stone represented the Ten Commandments; therefore, the Ten Commandments represented both the Law and the Covenant of Yahweh with Israel. The Law, the Ten Commandments, the OC, and Israel interpenetrated one another and were inseparable; to strike one was to strike all, therefore.

Alas, the OC was broken again and again by Israel. The result was God divorced Israel (Isa.45:6-10; 50:1; 54:5-6; Jer.3:6-10, 20; 31:32; Hos.2; Eze.16:4-13, 35-40; 23:2-9).

A new covenant/marriage was required (Jer.31:31-34). It was God’s solution to the irreversible brokenness of the OC and of the marriage. What did this new covenant entail? It entailed, essentially, that everything be made new. A new Israel was required because the old Israel that received the OC was of the flesh and had sinned. The new Israel will have the law written on its hearts. A new law is required, therefore, because the old law, which was written on stone, did not bring forth obedience; whereas, the new law in their hearts will bring forth knowledge and obedience. This new law in the heart will beget a new Israel that will have an innate knowledge of the Lord. The new Israel, with its ‘innate’ new law, will not need to be taught, therefore, from the ‘textbook’ of the old Law of Moses. The old Israel sinned because it transgressed the old Law, breaking the OC. The new Israel will be forgiven of its sins. The old Israel was an unfaithful wife; the new Israel will be a faithful wife.[4]

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer.31:31-34).

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.
15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.
And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
16 “It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord,
“That you will call Me Ishi
And will no longer call Me Baali.
17 “For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth,
So that they will be mentioned by their names no more.
18 “In that day I will also make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
The birds of the sky
And the creeping things of the ground.
And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land,
And will make them lie down in safety.
19 “I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
20 And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the Lord.

21 “It will come about in that day that I will respond,” declares the Lord.
“I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth,
22 And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil,
And they will respond to Jezreel.
23 “I will sow her for Myself in the land.
I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hos.2:1-23)

The concentricity of the OC, Law, Ten Commandments, and Israel, pours light on OT Sabbath failures. In the ‘Second Exodus’ document we call Isaiah, Yahweh takes Israel to task for breaking his Sabbath. However, the righteous Jew will keep “from profaning the Sabbath” and hold fast “my covenant” (Isa.56:6). Later, Yahweh urges Israel again to observe the Sabbath (Isa.58:13), and declares that mankind will come to know him and bow before him on the Sabbath (Isa.66:23). Thus, it was not merely a new covenant and new law and a new Israel that was to come, but, as we would expect, a new Sabbath observance, too.

This OT background illuminates Jesus’ clash with the Jews over the Sabbath. Normally, Jesus’ beef with the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath is seen as just another squabble over true righteousness. But, as the above implies, the dispute was far, far more than this. Alan Dundes comments:

It is not possible to overestimate the importance of the Sabbath for Jews and not just for Orthodox Jews….“It is the very heart of the Jewish religion” (Kertzer 1993, 209)….“As Israel has preserved the Sabbath, the Sabbath has preserved Israel” (Trepp 1980, 67); “More than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel” (Kertzer 1993, 209); “More than the Jews kept the Sabbath did the Sabbath keep the Jews” (Rosten 1972, 394).[5]

If creation, revelation, and redemption are central themes in Judaism, writes Roy Branson, “the Sabbath is the epitome.”[6] David H. J. Gay writes that the Sabbath was, “the principal distinguishing mark of the old covenant.”[7] It was the only sacred time recorded in the Ten Commandments.[8] “The strictness and importance of the Sabbath command to stop, to cease work, and to not-do are borne out by the fact that its rigorous observance is enjoined in all of the biblical decalogues that constitute what is essential for covenant: Exodus 20:2-17; 20:23-24; 34:21; and Deuteronomy 5:6-18.”[9] The Sabbath, to the Jews, was ‘the’ doctrine that Israel pinned its identity to. There was no practice more Jewish than to honor the Sabbath. To honor the Sabbath was to worship the Lord, was to love him, was to love one’s neighbor, and much, much more. So when Jesus contravened Sabbath law, the Jews went berserk. That is why so many narratives in the Gospels record Jesus’ deeds done on the Sabbath and the Jewish reaction to them. What was Jesus doing? He was demonstrating the temporary nature of the Sabbath, because it was being replaced, before the Jews’ eyes, by a new sabbath: rest in God through faith in the Messiah, Jesus (Matt.11:28-12:8).[10] To challenge the Sabbath was to challenge Israel’s relationship to Yahweh, the Ten Commandments, the Old Covenant, and the Law!



Confusion often enters into the discussion as to the nature of the OC itself. I have maintained that the OC was a dud because it was broken and useless and it was therefore replaced by a new one. A reaction by some is to say that although the OC was a failure, it was not that the OC was in itself a failure, for it was made by God and witnessed to Christ; but it was a failure because of the sinfulness of Israel. This is backed up, say some, in that the Law in itself was good (Rom.7:12). I will show that these counter-arguments put the cart before the horse.

As to the first response, it ignores the OC was from its inception at fault or blameworthy.[11] Some concede that the OC was “weak” (Heb.7:18; see 8:13).[12] However, Hebrews 8: 7-8 has a deeper critique in mind. It states, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them”. Too often these verses are taken to mean that the covenant did not have a fault, for the fault lay in the people of the covenant. However, this does not capture the full meaning of the text. We are not in the business of discarding Scriptures that do not fit into our schemas; our schemas must change to suit the Scriptures. At the very least we can say that there was a “fault” with the OC. The writer had just said in verse 6 that Jesus was the mediator of a “better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” Paul is contrasting covenants and their promises, and not merely people. The word “faultless” is amemptos. It is used in Luke 1:6; Philippians 2:15; 3:6; and 1 Thessalonians 3:13, where it is usually translated “blameless” or “without blame”. This fits Hebrews 8:7, for the covenant was not without blame. Hebrews 8:8 then goes on to say that the people of the covenant were not blameless, also, where he uses the verbal form memphomai. George H. Guthrie comments, “The word amemptos…means “blameless”….The first covenant came up short, missing the mark”.[13] Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “there would have been no search for a second covenant if the first had been without blame. The very structure of the syntax implies that there was such fault to be found….it is precisely the failure of the people to keep it that reveals the inadequacy of the first covenant.”[14] [italics mine] John Philips comments, “The Old Covenant was not faulty in itself, inasmuch as it did fulfill the purpose for which it was intended: to quicken the conscience and to convict of sin. But it was faulty inasmuch as it simply could not take away sin or give the guilty conscience peace.”[15] Simply put: the first covenant was reprehensible because it did not transform people, and as a result they failed. Thomas R. Schreiner writes, “The same line of reasoning was used relative to the priesthood. If the Levitical priesthood truly brought perfection, there would be no need for a Melchizedekian priesthood (7:11). Or, if sacrifices offered according to the law truly brought forgiveness, there would be no need for Christ’s sacrifice (10:1-8).”[16] The OC was inherently powerless, as were the people, and what resulted was a fatal symbiosis. Due to this, the OC was at fault.

Concerning Romans 7:12, technically, it is the commandment that is said to be good, but we may extend the meaning to say that the Law of Moses was good, too. In itself the Law/commandment does not deceive; it is sin working through the commandment that effected death (Rom.7:11-13). But this does not stop the Law from becoming a weapon of mass destruction, so to speak, in the hands of sin. The Law’s job was to expose sin; it was not to save (Rom.7:7-11). Paul’s assumption was that the Law was powerless- just as the OC was– to combat the flesh. And therein lies the Law’s fault: it cannot transform, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh” (Rom.8:3). Paul’s point is not that the flesh is weak and this caused the Law to be weak. Rather, the Law had no power to ‘handle’ the flesh, to overcome it and bring about ‘the one thing’ of obedience. R. C. Sproul writes, “The Law is impotent. Not only does the Law not save us, but it cannot. It does not have the power.”[17] Hebrews 7:18-19 says, “18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect)”. Here it is said explicitly that a commandment is set aside. Why? Because it was weak and useless! So, even though the Law was good in itself, for it was given by God, its inherent weakness was that it could not transform man; indeed, the opposite effect happened: the flesh took control of the Law and by it magnified sin in the flesh.

Some readers will automatically deny this reading, exclaiming that God cannot make a thing worthy of blame, or that is weak, or that is not good. There are a number of arguments against this opinion. First of all, we must distinguish between the Law in itself and the Law in the economy or plan of redemptive history. Each time the Law/OC is considered to be weak, it is set over against the NC and its superior ministry. Compared to the NC, the OC is a covenant of weakness and blame. This allows for the Law’s natural status as “good” and the OC as given due to God’s grace, but when this Law and Covenant are compared to the NC and Christ’s Law, there is no comparison (as we will see in the comments on 2 Corinthians 3). Second, if the OC was not at fault, why does Hebrews 8:7 say it was? Why does Romans 8:3 state that the Law was weak? If the Law was not in actual fact impotent, but it was only man’s flesh that was weak, why did Paul explicitly state that the Law was impotent? Why, in Romans 8:3, did Paul not write that the Law was good but only the flesh was weak? If the OC was not at fault but the Israelites were weak, why does the writer of Hebrews maintain that the OC was at fault? Why did the writer not comment that the OC was good and the Israelites were at fault? Third, if you wished to say that the OC and the Law were weak, how would you put it? Surely you would state it explicitly. This is what Paul and the writer of Hebrews do. Fourth, why does the NT describe the Law and OC in negative terms? The Law, in partnership with sin and death, holds sinners under bondage (Rom.6:14-15). Why does Paul place the Law in an unholy triumvirate, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor.15:56). Why does Paul say we are “dead to the Law” (Rom.7:4)? Why refer to a “law of sin and death” (Rom.8:2)? Or say that the “letter kills” (2 Cor.3:6)? ‘But the Lord made the “letter”; it is good. So, how can Paul say that the “letter kills”? Is it not man who kills himself?’ Not according to 2 Corinthians 3 (see ahead)! Why is the Law called a “ministry of death” (2 Cor.3:7)? Fifth, to my Calvinistic brothers who might hold an opposing view, I would say that, in point of principle, they need to read about the sovereignty of God. In Romans 9, it is evident that God makes some vessels for dishonor. It was God who brought the curse upon mankind, so that what he has broken no one can straighten (Eccl.7:13; 1:15). Sixth, if the OC was so inherently blameless, why did he discard it? If it had no weakness, or innate deficiency, why did he create a new covenant? Surely if there was no inherent flaw with the OC, all God would have needed to do was change the spiritual constitution of the Israelites and they would have adjusted in obedience to the OC, making it a success. David L. Allen shrewdly observes, “…that God has replaced the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant suggests that the problem with the first covenant was more than just the people did not obey it. The creation of the new covenant shows that God never intended the old covenant to be permanent.”[18] Seventh, the concentricity of the Law, Covenant, Israel, the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, etc., means they were all weak, they were all at fault, in that they could not produce life in the covenant members.

What about the prophetic nature of the Law? Most certainly, the Law was also a prophetic instrument, testifying of Jesus Christ. But the order was specific: the Law did its job, first, of exposing sin, and by this work testified to one and all of man’s hopelessness (see Rom.3:1-20); only then did the Law become a witness of Jesus Christ, for he is the reality, not the shadow, the antitype, not the type (see Rom.3:21ff.). When it is discovered that the OC is broken, a dud, then one can, by faith, look beyond it to that which it was pointing to, namely, Jesus Christ. The OC’s failure is a testimony to the need of something greater. Paul retains the same two steps, “But now [1.] apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, [2.] being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom.3:21). The Law is rendered null and void, so that it, along with the Prophets, might witness to the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.[19]



It is apparent from the above that the NC and the OC completely contrast to one another. And if they contrast to one another, so do their respective, concentric partners. I want to briefly explore the contrast between both covenants and their respective partners in the light of 2 Corinthians 3.

We are told about the reading of the “Old Covenant” (v14). This OC is also related as: “tablets of stone” (v3), “the letter” (v6), “the ministry of death, in letters engraved in stone” (v7), coming with glory (v7), “the ministry of condemnation” (v9), given to “the sons of Israel” (v13), who have a veiled or hardened heart (vv14-15). This is the concentricity that was referred to at the beginning of the article. But one component is missing: Moses. How is it that Moses is rolled in with all these negative, concentric components of the OC? Israel could not see Moses’ face (v7), indicating that Israel had no capacity to behold or bear God’s glory. So, Moses put a veil over his face (v13). And when Moses is read (v15), a veil lies over the hearts of the Israelites. Evidently, it is not only Moses’ Law, but Moses himself, who is tied in with the OC, albeit in a metaphorical sense. Why? For this reason: Moses’ ministry was a failure. His glory heightened their condemnation.[20] So, concentricity here entails that the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses, Israel, and the Ten Commandment all equate to the ministry of death.

This is in sharp contrast to concentricity of the NC. The church are the apostles’ (or apostolic band’s) letter of commendation (v1), written on the hearts of the apostles (v2a). All men know and read this letter (the church) (v2b). What kind of reading is this? It is this: that people see that the church belongs to Christ, that it is his letter (v3a), and that the church is cared for by the apostles (v3b). The care and love that the apostles have for the church has been written on to the hearts of the apostles by the Holy Spirit (v3c). That is how we know that the church is a letter of Christ. For that reason, the apostles are confident toward God (v4), for they know that they are adequate as ministers of the NC (v6a). Again, how do they know? Because they are ministers of the Holy Spirit who gives life (v6b-c). Indeed, the ministry of the apostles is identified with the ministry of the Holy Spirit (v8), which produces superior glory to Moses’ ministry and glory. The implication is that glory and life come through the apostles by the ministry of the Holy Spirit; or, put another way, the Holy Spirit ministers through the apostles, who minister to the church. In all, the ministry is called the ministry of righteousness (v9); the ministry of the apostles; and, the ministry of the Holy Spirit. One ministry interpenetrates the other, identifies with the other. God’s righteousness comes through the apostles and their ministry, which is, in fact, the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The glory of the ministry of righteousness so far surpasses the glory of the ministry of death, that the latter has no glory compared to the former (v11). So, Paul asserts, again, the boldness of the apostles in their preaching and writing (v12). He maintains that only in Christ is the veil removed that covers the hard hearts of the Jews (v14). Thus, the OC produces no results. Yet, its “end” (telos) (v13) is, it is implied, Christ (see Rom.10:4). In other words, the OC is a dead-end in itself, a dud, but as such it points us away from itself to Christ, in whom is righteousness. Thus, when someone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed, for it is removed only in Christ (vv15-16). The complete unity of the Spirit and the Lord (Christ) is stressed, “Now the Lord is the Spirit” (v17). Christ’s death and resurrection are applied only by the Spirit. The Spirit puts into action Christ’s righteousness. The Spirit is therefore the extension of Christ. To see the Spirit is to see the Lord. To see the Spirit’s glory is to see the Lord’s glory.[21] The mark of the Spirit/Lord is that he brings liberty and not condemnation (v17). Paul then concludes about the status of his apostolic band (v18)- unlike Moses, the apostolic band conducts itself with boldness and without a veil. Everyone and anyone can see the glory of the Lord/Spirit shining through the apostolic band. Indeed, in the process of bearing this glory, in enacting the ministry of righteousness, the apostolic band are transformed from glory to glory, to become more and more like the Lord, the Spirit (v18).

Now, as previously, Moses the man, the believer, was not such a failure as described above. Nor was his glory anything other than divine. But we are not dealing with these things as disparate entities issuing from divine grace; Moses, his ministry, and his glory are part and parcel of the OC, concentric partners. For that reason, Paul makes no attempt to soften the blow and paint Moses and his glory in glowing terms. Moses served a twofold purpose, according to the context of 2 Corinthians 3: he showed that the OC and its Law wielded the sword of death and condemnation; but in doing so, he pointed away from his glory and ministry to a greater glory and ministry. His limited, fatal, covenant and ministry stood as witness to the need of a lasting and effective new covenant that has true righteousness in God, bolder ministers, a livelier ministry and greater glory.

I could go on to comment upon 2 Corinthians 4:1-12, but it is the same model. It should be readily apparent to the reader that if there is an unholy concatenation belonging to the OC, there is its antithesis belonging to the NC. The interpenetration and concentricity of the NC is even more pronounced than its counterpart in the OC. Christ is the Spirit; the Spirit works through the apostles; righteousness ministers through the apostles, by the Spirit; the church is on the hearts of the apostles; the apostles’ glory is the Spirit’s glory, is the Lord’s glory. Paul could not be any more plain: Christ and his ministry is a NC ministry and as such it is set in sharp contrast to Moses and his ministry in the OC. Christ’s ministry is therefore most definitely not an OC ministry. It is exclusively a NC ministry, for we cannot intermingle NC components with OC components.



In talking and writing about the contrast between both covenants, I have referred to the Law as Moses’ Law. This distinction is not accepted by certain Christians, for they assert that the Law was given to Moses by God. So, it was not Moses’ Law, but God’s. Moreover, the Law is positive, for Moses witnessed to Christ.

This argument is but another version of the one encountered earlier in the article. There are two aspects to the Law: it condemns, and it witnesses of Christ. But the latter follows the former. It is true that Moses was given the Law by God (John 9:29; Acts 7:44; Heb.8:5) and the Law testifies to Jesus Christ (as do the Prophets) (Luke 24:27, 44; Acts 26:22; 28:23). Jesus refers to the Scribes and Pharisees sitting in the seat of Moses (Matt.23:2; see John 9:28). Moses accuses the Jews, for if they had believed him, they would have believed in Jesus, for Moses wrote about Jesus (John 5:45-46; see John 7:19).

However, it is equally true that the NT is not shy in attributing the Law to Moses and putting a gulf between him and God and Christ. Why is this? Because in regard to redemptive history, he represented that which was preparatory and temporary. In John 1:17 it is said, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (see John 6:32); Christ and Moses are contrasted. Indeed throughout the NT, Moses and his Law are distinguished from God, his Christ, and the Gospel. There are numerous verses referring to the laws that Moses commanded or permitted (Matt.8:4; 19:7, 8; Mark 1:44; 10:3; Luke 5:14; Heb.10:28), or laws that he said or wrote (Matt.22:24; Mark 7:10; 12:19; Luke 20:28; Acts 3:22; Rom.10:5, 19; Heb.10:28; see Heb.7:14). And it is implied that the Pentateuch is, “the book of Moses” (Mark 12:26; see Luke 20:37; 24:27, 44; John 1:45). Moreover, the Law itself is specifically attributed to Moses: Luke 2:22 refers to days of “purification according to the Law of Moses”. Luke 24:44 tells us about the Law of Moses, which is the Pentateuch, and it includes the torah. John 7:19 states, “ “Did not Moses give you the Law…?” ”. John 7:22 says Moses gave circumcision to the Jews. Jesus comments, in John 7:23, “ “If a man receive circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken” ”. The Jews even accused the disciples of blasphemous words against God and against Moses (Acts 6:11). Moses handed down the Jewish customs (Acts 6:14), which were laws (Acts 15:1). Pharisees taught the Gentiles “ “to observe the Law of Moses” ” (Acts 15:5). Moses is read in every synagogue (Acts 15:21). Paul is accused of encouraging the Jews to forsake Moses and his customs (Acts 20:21). Paul says, “ “it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ ” ” (1 Cor.9:9). We will let Paul boldly conclude for us, “and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). It should now be obvious to the believer that the Law was indeed Moses’ Law, and is deliberately called this to distinguish him from Christ, his covenant, and his Gospel. #5 of Blake White’s “Primer” says, “We are no longer under the Law of Moses, but under the Law of Christ”.[22] Greg Gibson refers to “8 contrasts to the Law of Moses”.[23] Gary Long writes, “The law of Christ is better than the law of Moses….believers…are not under the Old Covenant law of Moses”.[24]

Jesus himself puts the same gulf between him and the Law. He counters the Law of Moses by resorting to his own, independent, superior authority. “ “You have heard that the ancients were told….You have heard that it was said….It was said….Again, you have heard that the ancients were told….You have heard that it was said….You have heard that it was said” ” (Matt.5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). In contrast, Jesus states, “ “But I say unto you….but I say unto you….but I say unto you….But I say unto you….But I say unto you” ” (Matt.5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). Jesus is not accessing the Law of Moses; rather, he is taking us beyond it to its fulfillment, to that which it pointed toward: his Messianic authority, teaching, and ministry.[25] Jesus said, “ “Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true” ” (John 8:17). This is referring to, at least, the Law of Moses (Deut.17:6; 19:15). In John 10:34, Jesus comments, “ “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” ” This is not a reference to Moses’ Law but to Psalm 82:6; but it shows Jesus’ independent, superior authority that was separate from OT Scripture. Even Pilate told the Jews to judge Jesus according to their own Law (John 8:31).

As if to put the final nail in the coffin, Paul’s teaching describes the Law as a foe of God’s way. Harold H. Hoehner informs us that “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph.2:15) is a reference to the whole Law of Moses. These commandments consisted of decrees, which essentially are divine pronouncements.[26] The commandments that comprised the whole of the Mosaic Law were, in essence, pronouncements. They have been annulled.[27] Some scholars do their best to avoid this conclusion, even though it is the clear implication of the Greek text.[28] The Law represented the OC and its division between Jew and Gentile, but now this Law has been removed, indicating the ending of the OC.[29]

Some object that Romans 3:31 and Matthew 5:17 teach that the Law has not been abrogated.

Has not Paul already stated for us the exact manner in which the Law continues for the Christian? He says in Romans 3:21-22,But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all thosewho believe; for there is no distinction”. The Law has been abolished as a means of righteousness. This is the OC model that Paul says, in Ephesians 2:15, is redundant and cancelled.[30] However, the same Law witnesses, along with the Prophets, to Jesus Christ. In that sense, the Law is apprehended by faith. Faith and the Messianic Law are not antithetical but are compatible. It is this Messianic Law (the Law of Moses fulfilled in Christ) that is the Law of Christ spoken of in Galatians 6:2. Likewise, Matthew 5:17 refers to the Law as Messianically fulfilled and not as it is the engine of the OC.[31]

Colossians 2:14 states, “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us”. These decrees (dogmasin) are the Mosaic Law, the same decrees of Ephesians 2:15. This certificate was hostile to us, condemning us (Gal.3:16).[32] Some think that Paul is not referring to the Mosaic Law but to transgressions of moral law that humanity racked up over time. The Colossians were mainly Gentile converts and were probably influenced by Colossian heresies. I consider the situation in Colossae to be similar to that in Galatians. In Galatians 4:3 we read that the Jews were held in bondage to the elemental things of this world (hupo ta stoichea tou kosmou). This is paralleled with being “under the Law” (Gal.4:5). Indeed, they are not just parallel, but the Law’s commandments are part of these stoicheia.[33] So, Paul went on to proclaim that the Messianic Jews, and the Messianic Gentiles, had been set free from weak and destitute principles (stoicheia), such as observing days, months, seasons, and years (Gal.4:9-10). In Galatians, the Law of Moses is reduced in its essence to an earthly, this-world, body of commandments, which have the same binding power and influence as the general principles of life that enslave the world. I believe the same logic is behind Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:14. The context equalizes the Law and the general principles of the world. We read that the Colossians must make sure that the traditions of men (paradosin ton anthropon), according to the elementary principles of the world (ta stoichea tou kosmou), do not enslave them (Col.2:8). In Colossians 2:20-22, the same point is made, and Paul warns the Colossians not to submit to the decrees (dogmatizesthe) such as, “ “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men”. It is apparent that Paul is reducing the Jewish Law to the same level as the religious categories belonging to worldly philosophies and religions. Thus, in Colossians 2:16, Paul cautions the Colossians not to let anyone judge them as to food, drink, a feast, a New Moon observance, or a Sabbath. As in Galatians, Paul is teaching the Colossians that to adhere to the Law is the equivalent of obedience to the man-made categories springing from earthly wisdom and philosophy.



The contrast between Jesus/the NC and the OC/Law is drawn out when we compare the two main covenants of Scripture according to the teaching of Hebrews.[34] It implies the distinction that that the Law was a dead end that pointed away from itself to a greater goal. Hebrews 7:28 states, “[1.] For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, [2.] but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.” Hebrews 9:8-9, “The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that [2] the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed [1] while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience”. Hebrews 10: 1-2 says, “[1] For the Law, since it has only a shadow of [2] the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?”

The NC is the opposite of the OC. Jesus is the guarantee of the NC, a better covenant (Heb.7:22). And he has a more excellent ministry than Moses and the high priest (Heb.8:3-6), and “is also mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Heb.8:6). This is what makes the difference between the OC and the NC. The OC had promises that were tied to human obedience; the NC has promises that guarantee obedience because the Law of God was put into the hearts of the recipients of the covenant (Heb.8:7-12). Thus, the OC was inherently weak and at fault, and exposed the same condition in its recipients (Heb.8:7). Now the NC is here, the OC is obsolete and fading (Heb.8:13). The OC had various commandments, artifacts, and customs (Heb.9:1-4). But all these could do was attend to the ‘outward’ man, externalities; they could not remove sin or produce spiritual fruit (Heb.9:5-14). Through the blood of the NC Jesus was able to administer cleansing from sin (Heb.9:15-22). The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as entering into the real or true sanctuary in heaven; the earthly sanctuary and its artifacts and customs were copies of the heavenly reality (Heb.9:23-24). By that one offering for sin, Christ has “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb.10:15), for they have the NC law written on their hearts (Heb.10:16) and have been forgiven of their sins (Heb.10:17). A greater covenant requires a greater punishment for the one who disobeys it (Heb.10:29). Thus, Jesus is the Mediator of a NC, for his blood speaks better things than that of Abel’s (Heb.12:24). Abel’s blood called out for justice; Christ’s blood cleanses from sin and reconciles to God. This same covenant is called the “eternal covenant” because it will not be erased or broken, and will be forever efficacious due to the blood of the Shepherd and Lord of the flock, Jesus (Heb.13:20).

The “better” (kreitton) theme deserves a closer look. The NC is a better covenant than the OC (Heb.7:22; 8:6), based on better promises (Heb.8:6). We read, therefore, that “the Law made nothing perfect”- and that was its fault- but we have a “better hope” (Heb.7:19) and a “better possession and a lasting one” (Heb.10:34). All of this is due to the superior nature of the Son and his ministry. He is the mediator who makes the NC better as its guarantee (Heb.7:22; 8:6). His death provides better sacrifices (Heb.9:23), and is the blood which speaks better things than the blood of Abel (Heb.12:24). As the risen Son at the right hand of the Father, he has a better name than the angels (Heb.1:4). For these reasons, the writer expects the Hebrews to act better, in a NC, heavenly manner, and not in an earthly, immature way (Heb.6:9). The reader will notice how in all of this, it is not merely the Christians who are better, it is the very new covenant itself! The OC was temporary, could not save, could not cleanse from sins, could not create obedience, could not guarantee eternal life, had an earthly mediator (Moses), with earthly servants (high priest and priests), and its promises were dependent upon Israel’s perfect obedience. So, yes, the OC was weak, or it failed, or it was reprehensible. The NC has none of these faults, and due to the mediatorship of Jesus establishes that which is better, superior, heavenly, and everlasting.



If the OC failed and was weak in itself, so too were its partners- the Law, the Sabbath, the Ten Commandments, Israel, and- yes, I will say it- even Moses himself. This unholy alliance sits in sharp contrast to the holy alliance of the NC, Christ, the Gospel, the law of Christ, the apostles, and the Holy Spirit.

And never the twain shall meet! The one covenant and its partners does not leak or bleed into the other. The heavenly Sabbath is not in continuation of the earthly Sabbath. The heavenly Christ-Son is not in continuation of the earthly anointed ones who were sons. The heavenly temple is not in continuation of the earthly temple. The heavenly Israel is not in continuation of the earthly Israel. The earthly, old, covenant is not continued in the heavenly, new, covenant. The heavenly priesthood is not a continuation of the earthly priesthood. The heavenly Mediator is not in continuation of the earthly mediator (Moses).

However, it is apparent that the NC, as the true, heavenly covenant, was pictured in the OC and the OT. And in this way there was crossover from the OC to the NC. There is no earthly tabernacle without the pre-existence of the heavenly tabernacle (Heb.8:2; 9:11). The earthly tabernacle was a copy, shadow, and pattern of the heavenly tabernacle (Heb.8:5). The earthly Sabbath was a copy and shadow of the heavenly tabernacle. Israel was a shadow of the heavenly Israel. And we can repeat theme after theme using the same formula. The NC is the raison d’être of the OC. The only reason we have crossover from the OC to the NC is because of the prior existence of the heavenly in the plan of God.

What, then, do we do we the person of Christ, who came “under the Law”? Does this not entail that he was in the OC? I cannot do full exegetical justice to this subject in this article, so I will save a deeper explanation for another day. I can say this, however, that the reason why Christ came under the Law was not to obey its commandments, but it was to come under its dominion, so as to bear its curse by his death on the cross (Gal.3:10-13, 22-25; 4:3-4; Rom.6:14-15). His role was unique in redemptive history, and anything that is unique has a special, once-and-done, nature. He came to bring the old regime of the OC to an end; to do that he had to bear its curse and then be raised from the dead. In this way God could be the just and justifier of the ungodly (Rom.3:21-26; Heb.2:17; 9:15). Someone had to start the crossover: this was the job of the incarnate Word. His whole ministry on earth was the NC ethic and ministry revealed in advance, within an OC setting. All of his life, from the moment of his birth, was preparatory for his death; all tributaries of his earthly obedience to the Father (not Moses) flowed into the ocean of his crucifixion. He wrestled with the weight of the OC curse and the power of sin throughout his ministry, culminating in his death, through the power of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of the NC), so that he might initiate the NC in his death. He went into the system (of the OC) to eat it up from within, to bring it to an end, so that he might crossover into heaven, bringing the OC to its true fulfillment in his death and resurrection.


[1] John G. Reisinger, Tablets of Stone and the History of Redemption (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2004).

[2] Terrence D. O’Hare, The Sabbath Complete: And the Ascendency of First-Day Worship (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 43.

[3] Reisinger, Tablets of Stone, 75.

[4] Yordan Kalev Zhekov, Defining the New Testament Logia on Divorce and Remarriage in a Pluralistic Context (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2009), 63-64.

[5] Alan Dundes, The Shabbat Elevator and Other Sabbath Subterfuges: An Unorthodox Essay on Circumventing Custom and Jewish Character (New York, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002), 75.

[6] Roy Branson, “The Sabbath in Modern Jewish Theology,” in The Sabbath in Scripture and History, ed. Kenneth A. Strand (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2012), 272. See Lawrence Epstein, Conversion to Judaism: A Guidebook (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1994), 159.

[7] David H. J. Gay, The Essential Sabbath (Brachus, 2015), 32.

[8] Ronald L. Eisenberg, Dictionary of jewish Terms: A Guide to the Language of Judaism (Rockville MD: Schreiber Publishing, 2008), 351.

[9] Paul F. Ford, Mary Ellen Hynes,  J. Michael Thompson, A Sourcebook About Sunday (Chicago, Ill: Liturgy Training Publications, 2005), 160.

[10] Interestingly, for “Messianic Jews Shabbat is of paramount importance.” [Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Messianic Judaism: A Critical Anthology (New York: Continuum, 2000), 89.]

[11] Ole Jakob Filtvedt, The Identity of God’s People and the Paradox of Hebrews (Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2015), 91-92.

[12] Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 211; John MacArthur, Hebrews. Christ- Perfect Sacrifice, Perfect Priest, MacArthur Bible Studies (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2007), Kindle; Bob George, Jesus Changes Everything: It’s Time to Embrace God’s Unconditional Love (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2013), 67-68.

[13] George H. Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), Kindle.

[14] Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 205.

[15] John Phillips, Exploring Hebrews. An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), 92.

[16] Thomas R. Schreiner, Commentary on Hebrews, Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation, gen. eds. T. Desmond Alexander, et. al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 248. Similarly, see Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,2012 ), 365-366.

[17] R. C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2009), 251.

[18] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary, vol.35 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 445.

[19] I am not suggesting that by “Law”, in Romans 3:21, is denoted the same concept each time. In the first instance, “Law” refers to the Mosaic Law that binds the Jews and cannot produce righteousness. In the second usage of nomos in Romans 3:21, Paul is referring to all OT Scripture outside of the Prophets. The Law, that is, Scripture, which includes the Torah, witness to the righteousness of God to come in Christ Jesus’ propitiatory death. The same Law (Scripture) came along (with the Prophets) and declared as fact that mankind was under sin, and that the Jews were in bondage to sin, for they were bound to Moses’ Law (Rom.3:19-20). Hebrews is a gigantic illustration of Romans 3:21.

[20] Thomas R. Schreiner, 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, Benjamin L. Merkle, ser. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2010), 67-68; Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 158.

[21] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Resurrection and Redemption. A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987), 92-97.

[22] Blake White, “A Short Primer on New Covenant Theology Essentials,” Cross to Crown Ministries, accessed 10/17/18,

[23] Greg Gibson, “8 Contrasts to the Law of Moses,” Explaining the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Old Creation (Gen.1-2) to New Creation (Rev.21-22), April 1, 2009,

[24] Gary Long, “New Covenant Theology Distinctives,” UK Apologetics, accessed 10/17/18, For the same view see, “NCT on the Law of Moses,” Providence Theological Institute of New Covenant Theology, accessed 10/17/18,; Peter Ditzel, “Part 1- New Covenant Theology- The New Covenant and the Decalogue,” 2014,,

[25] Douglas J. Moo, Five View on the Law and Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 347-353.

[26] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 376.

[27] See David H. J. Gay, New-Covenant Articles, Volume 2 (Brachus, 2014), 181.

[28] Ton nomon ton entolon en dogmasin katargesis. Many scholars go outside of the text to discover the meaning of katargeo (“to cancel”, “to destroy”), but exegesis starts with the context.

[29] Greg Gibson, All Old Testament Laws Cancelled. 24 Reasons Why All Old Testament Laws are Cancelled and All New Testament Laws are for Our Obedience (JesusSaidFollowMe Publishing, 2009), 8-127.

[30] Ralph P. Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012); Frank S. Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 397; Warren Wiersbe, The Warren Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007), 596; Brice L. Martin, Christ and the Law in Paul (New York: E. J. Brill, 1989), 3. See Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 90; Charles Hodge, A commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1866), 132.

[31] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 642-643.

[32] Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 97; John MacArthur, Colossians & Philemon, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1992), 112; Jean Daille, Exposition of Colossians (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers Inc., 2000), 349;

[33] Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament, Volume 1 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 70; Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 257. Contra James C. Walters, “Paul, Adoption, and Inheritance,” in Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, ed. J. Paul Sampley (New York: Trinity Press International, 2003), 64.

[34] See Gay, New-Covenant Articles, Volume 2, 175-183.