Sinaitic Covenant, and Owen's "mediating position"

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Ordinary Guy (TM)
This question is about the nature of the New Covenant as opposed to the Old Covenant:

Is it better to speak of 2 different administrations of the one covenant of grace, or of two different covenants?

These two testaments or covenants are compared with one another and are opposed to one another in passages such as II Corinthians 3:6-9; Galatians 4:24-26; Hebrews 7:22; 9:15-20.

I have been reading John Owen’s exposition on Hebrews 8:6-13 and he seems to say that these are two covenants and not two administrations of the one covenant of Grace. What do you think of Owen’s on Hebrews? Does Owens radically differ from other covenant theologians of his time? Sinclair Fergusan in John Owen on the Christian Life, calls Owens’ position a “mediating position” (page 28).

How does this impact our view of the Covenant of Works versus the Covenant of Grace?

Does that mean that there was no grace in the law?

Or that the Mosaic administration was not an administration of the Covenant of Grace, but a republication and a return to the Covenant of Works?

Was the Mosaic Administration a covenant of works or part of the covenant of grace, it seems to have traits of both and some of the reformed seem to address this administration differently (i.e., there doesn’t seem to be monolithic uniformity on how to speak about Sinai).

Sinclair Fergusan (page 30 in his same book on John Owen) says:

“Sinai should not be thought of as a covenant of works; but Sinai does involve a renewal of the principles which partly constituted the covenant of works. On the other hand, the Sinai covenant cannot be thought of as the covenant of grace. His [Owen’s] conclusion then is that the Sinaitic covenant revised the commands, sanctions and promises of the covenant of works, and that when the apostle Paul disputes about works or law-righteousness it is the renovation of the Edenic covenant in the Sinaitic covenant he has in mind. Sinai therefore is a ‘particular, temporary covenant…and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace.”

So, was Sinai part of the Covenant of Works or the Covenant of Grace?

Or a separate national covenant not fitting into either of the two?

This would make John Owen to be opposed to (if he were alive) the book often used in seminaries as a basic text in covenant theology, O Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants, right? Christ of the Covenants lists the Mosaic Covenant as one of the many administrations of the covenant of grace (if I remember correctly).

Was it as if God republished the Covenant of Works such that the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace runs side by side under Moses? A reminder added due to transgressions to keep God’s people as a schoolmaster until Christ?

Finally, the nature of the New Covenant is that it is unbreakable. If God has a covenant people, therefore, then they cannot be lost or else this would break the covenant, right? But, if the children of believers are part of God’s covenant people even now, this means that either the covenant can be broken, or else 100% of these children are saved? Is my reasoning sound, and where are my errors?

P.s. I am writing as a Reformed Baptist and ask these questions because some Calvy Baptists, influenced by Tom Wells, Fred Zaspel and Ernest Reisenger, are advocating “New Covenant Theology” which is anti-sabbatarian and also states that in Matthew 5 (“But I say unto you…”) that Jesus is actually teaching differently or abrogating Moses rather than merely correcting Pharisaic distortions of Moses. The last time I checked, Jesus and Moses would have agreed about the moral law of God.


Staff member
The Mosaic was not an administration of the Covenant of Works. It could not have been. It was a once for all. All men died in Adam in that Covenant. I do believe there were elements that refer and point to the CofW. There was an element of do this and live. If you went to far you were dealt a death sentence in the physical life and there were elements that pronounced a death spiritually as far as worship in the congregation goes.

Concerning the last statement, a person can be excommunicated from the Church discipline wise and still be a member of the Covenant of Grace. But repentance is a sure fire testimony to this. We can see this possibly in 1 Corinthians where sexual sin with a fathers wife is confronted and his restoration in 2 Corinthians is mentioned. Do this and live is a pronouncement. The discussion of republication of the Covenant of Works has come up in a few threads in the past years. I do believe there is some kind of mixture in the Mosaic Covenant between the pronounciations of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Their full fruition is only truly in their relative Covenants in my estimation.

It is totally wrong to speak of two covenants of Grace. The Covenant of Grace is one covenant being administered through various covenants. ie. The Abrahamic and those leading to the New Covenant in His blood by promise. I do believe the Westminster has it correct here.

Of God's Covenant with Man.
I. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

III. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.

VI. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

I believe the Mosaic is a stand alone Covenant with Isreal that had implications and evidences of both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. It is a special Covenant that has things leading to the Promises of the Covenant of Grace and magnifies the realities of the Covenant of Works. It also magnifies the Covenant of Grace in that God continually set forth a gracious and patient command to repent and listen to His prophets. It also set forth the truth that if you do not fulfill the whole law you die. Romans 7 and Galatians are great places to discover this.

I also understand that St. Paul showed forth the separateness of these two Covenants you mention which is something that most Paedo Baptist / Presbyterians don't adhere to. They believe the Mosaic is purely an administration of the Covenant of Grace which I have always had a problem understanding in light of this following passage.

(Gal 4:21) Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

(Gal 4:22) For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

(Gal 4:23) But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

(Gal 4:24) Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

(Gal 4:25) For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

(Gal 4:26) But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

And I believe that John Owen would agree with me on this in light of his understanding of Hebrews chapter 8.

I have to stop right now and examine some of my son's homework for History class. Will write more later if I need to Pergy. Or just email me.

Here are a few quotes on this subject Pergy.

I believe this also has implication in understanding the Abrahamic Covenant.

I also see a significance in relationship with the promises given to Abraham in light of the book of Galations. They all relate to each other since the same covenant of Grace promised in Genesis 3:15. There is only once Covenant of Grace.
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Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
It seems to me that the principle of typology simply has to get its full respect when addressing this question. From a macro-historical standpoint, there simply can be no question (ala Covenant-Theology) that Israel through Moses was under the Covenant of Grace. How can we think otherwise? I think not.

Paul's points, Gal.4 or 2Cor.4, must also stand. There was something "extra" involved with the Siniatic dispensation. There was something connected to that administration that hearkened back to the original works-arrangement. There was "glory" in the Israelite covenant that was typological, and also blinding--it was meant to be so. And those who did not penetrate "the veil" could not see what was there.

There is much more that could be said on this subject. Abraham's covenant was still "in effect" says Paul, even after the Law was instituted. That covenant was embedded in the fabric of the Siniatic. The sacrificial system was all about pointing to a better atonement. Moral-dicta have had continual expression throughout all history. Christ's "New" covenant is but Abraham's covenant come to fulfillment--the Seed's arrival and success introduces a succession administration, but not by tearing away from the past that brought it forth.


Staff member
Christ's "New" covenant is but Abraham's covenant come to fulfillment--the Seed's arrival and success introduces a succession administration, but not by tearing away from the past that brought it forth.

I would say that Abraham's covenant concerning the Promised seed came to fulfilment. There were other Promises (that pertained to civil and Ishmael) in the Abrahamic that were not pertaining to the Everlasting Covenant. That is a problem I see with some Covenant Theologians. They want to make the Abrahamic a pure Covenant of Grace also.


Puritan Board Doctor
There is a legal cast to the New Covenant as well as the Old Covenant, in the form of church sanctions and chastisement. Does this mean that we are under a CoW? God's grace - particularly to those who will believe - is behind the legal cast.

The same was true under the Old Covenant, except that typology augmented the legal cast, because the Israelites were a Church under age i.e. the Bible was not complete, Christ had not come, the Spirit was not poured out by Christ, etc.

The Old Covenant was all of grace to sinful Israelites. For the Q of a true - not hypothetical - republication of the CoW to be relevant, Moses would have had to be dealing with a nation of sinless Adams ready to undergo a probation under the "Sinaitic Covenant" as it is wont to be called by Republicationists.

Hypothetically-speaking, if the sinful Israelites had managed to avoid the typological curses that befell them, it would have been because God's grace - common grace, but more importantly saving grace - had been richly working in the hearts of these sinful men, women and children, engendering true faith in large numbers of them in Yahweh as their Righteousness and the same faith would have led to sanctification. They wouldn't be able to say "it's us what did it" (as per a CoW) but would rightly ascribe all the glory to God.

If someone were to do a comparison of the CoW with Adam and the Mosaic Covenant, the differences are so great that the phrase Republication of the CoW as applied to the Mosaic Covenant is just confusing at best.

E.g. there is ample provison for sin in the Mosaic Covenant, particularly exemplified by the sacrificial system. Where is provision for sin in the CoW with Adam? This is just one example. Do a simple comparison.

The reality is that in Galatians and elsewhere the Apostle is dealing with those in his day that had turned the Old Covenant phase of the CoG into a CoW, and the fact that they were clinging to the old forms was part of the evidence of this.

Even today many Christians - or "Christians" if you like - who have been baptised and are in the administration of the New Covenant have turned the New CoG into a CoW; Liberals, RCs, EOs and others.

But this does not mean that the New Covenant is a Republicaion of the Covenant of Works.
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