by Shane Kastler
A common trait of Covenant Theology is to divide the Mosaic Law into three parts: civil, ceremonial, and moral. They say the “moral law” (aka: the Ten Commandments) is still binding upon New Covenant believers. While the other two aspects of the law have been fulfilled in Christ.
“New Covenant Theology” on the other hand, refuses to divide the Law in three-fold, or any other fashion; since the Bible itself never divides the Law in this way. Rather, the Law is treated as a unit. It is either completely fulfilled, or completely enforced. Chopping it up simply will not work. It might surprise some to know that the Apostle Paul refused to divide the Law in this way. Paul was insistent (contra Covenant Theology) that the Law must be kept together. To the Galatians he wrote, “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.” (Galatians 5:2-3 NASB)
The primary issue Paul is addressing is the false belief that circumcision was required for salvation. But Paul’s final statement addresses another topic that was pertinent to his first century readers and to us as well. Can we divide the Law? Can we simply take one commandment in the Law (in this case circumcision) and declare it binding while we declare the rest of the Law fulfilled? Paul’s adamant answer is, “No!” Paul is emphatic that if circumcision is enforced as a requirement then the entire Law must be required and enforced as well. But why would Paul say this? Why can’t the Galatians enforce one commandment and declare the others fulfilled? Paul’s answer is that the Law is indivisible. It is ALL fulfilled in Christ and is thus illegitimate to cling to one commandment as binding; OR it is ALL binding including what Covenant Theology would call the civil and ceremonial aspects. Simply put, Paul is teaching that you must be completely under the ENTIRE LAW; or you must be COMPLETELY FREE from the ENTIRE LAW. There is simply no middle ground on this issue; at least according to Paul. Though perhaps you disagree with him.
Of course, today the issue is not circumcision. A much more prominent issue is the Ten Commandments (Decalogue), that Covenant Theology has sliced off from the rest of the Law and declared to be eternally binding on everyone. Yet this is just as illegitimate as the circumcision issue was for Paul. In fact it might even be ten times as illegitimate because it seeks to take ten commandments and bind them on the believer instead of only one. So what is wrong with binding the Ten Commandments on believers anyway? Why would Paul oppose the division of the Law when the commandments seem so righteous and good?
Isn’t it good to forbid idolatry and theft and murder and adultery? Indeed, it is; and such commandments are affirmed in the New Covenant scriptures. But Jesus, as the living Word of God; as the King of Kings and Lord of Lawgivers has the right to abolish, enshrine, or alter the Law in any way he pleases. And this he does. Injunctions against murder are elevated to injunctions against hatred. Injunctions against adultery are elevated to injunctions against lust. So, in ironic fashion, many Covenant Theologians who cling to the Decalogue out of zeal for holiness, prove that they have a zeal without knowledge for they are pointing Christians to a LESSER degree of holiness than the Lord Himself puts forth.
I am of the belief that most Covenant Theologians are of good intent. They fear that New Covenant Theology butchers the Bible by giving primacy to Jesus and the New Testament. Of course Jesus Himself gave primacy to Himself and the New Testament. In fact, He rebuked the Jews for elevating Moses ahead of Him: “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.” (John 5:45) It’s not that Moses was a “bad guy” mind you. But rather, his role as Old Covenant Lawgiver was not a role of savior. It was a role of accuser. The Law didn’t redeem, it condemned. It displayed sin and led to futility with the result that it should have driven a Jew to cry out for the Lord’s mercy. Instead, it made many of them prideful and arrogant. They kept the Law (at least in their own minds) and were thus justified by their legalism (or so they thought). Jesus came and taught otherwise. The Law could not save. Not one single aspect of the Law could. Not circumcision, nor the Decalogue. Only faith in Him could.
The argument from Covenant Theology is that they are not claiming salvation is earned from keeping the Ten Commandments, but rather the Commandments are our perfect rule of conduct. But, yet again, this is not what the New Testament teaches. Paul wrote: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-21) Christians are not without law, but they are certainly not under the Mosaic Code. Not the 613 commandments of the Law, nor the specific ten of the Decalogue. We have a higher standard because we live under a “better” covenant which has based on “better” promises (Hebrews 8:6). We look to Christ as our Lord, Savior, King, and Lawgiver. And we look to Moses as a servant of Christ’s. We also look to Moses as the purveyor of a temporary code to a typological people (Israel) for a temporary amount of time (until the coming of Christ – Galatians 3:25).
Paul won’t let us divide the Law. Neither will Jesus, nor the Scriptures as a whole. Not in the Old Testament scriptures will you see the Law divided. Not in the New Testament scriptures will you see the Law divided. Paul taught the Galatians that if you are bound to ONE, then you are bound to ALL OF THEM. But Paul taught that we are bound to NONE of them. Christ has fulfilled what no man ever could. Christ has redeemed us from the “curse” of the Law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Jews must look to Him for salvation. Gentiles must look to Him for salvation. Not circumcision. Not the Decalogue. But Christ and Christ alone. “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7)