The purpose of the Sinaitic Covenant?

Not open for further replies.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Sinaitic Covenant, is it re-administration of Adamic, in the sense that it identifies the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Adamic covenant of works, not in order that Israel might achieve salvation thereby (which is impossible for fallen man), but for the pedogogical purpose of leading Israel to Christ, as Paul argues in Gal. 3:19-25? or should we see it as an administration of the Cov. grace for the purpose of progressive sanctification?.

I'm with John Owen on this one:-

In John Owen's magisterial seven volume commentary on Hebrews we see a significant new development in covenant theology - the application of the works-principle in the Mosaic economy to the typological, temporal level of Israel's retention of the land.

Commenting on Hebrews 8:6, which speaks of "a better covenant enacted on better promises," Owen explains in what sense the New Covenant is better than the Old. In so doing, he affirms that "the covenant on Sinai" contained "a revival and representation of the covenant of works, with its sanction and curse" (An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, vol. 6, p. 80). The purpose of this was "to shut up unbelievers, and such as would not seek for righteousness, life, and salvation by the promise, under the power of the covenant of works, and curse attending it" (p. 81).

However, the Mosaic Covenant "did not constitute a new way or means of righteousness, life, and salvation," since these soteric blessings could only be attained by Christ alone, and by faith in him (p. 82). Although the Mosaic Covenant was a "renovation" (p. 91) of the "the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works," and thus became, as Paul teaches, "a ministry of condemnation" (pp. 85, 92), yet no one was saved or condemned by virtue of it. "Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works" (pp. 85-86).

To what, then, did the republished covenant of works apply? "As unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal" (p. 85). "Having granted unto this people those great privileges of the land of Canaan ... he moreover prescribed unto them laws, rules, and terms of obedience, whereon they should hold and enjoy the land" (p. 83). In other words, the covenant of works aspect of the Mosaic Covenant only operated on the temporal level of Israel's retention of the land, not on the antitypical level of eternal salvation or damnation.

and Kline......

The Sinaitic administration ... Paul interpreted as in itself a dispensation of the kingdom inheritance quite opposite in principle to inheritance by guaranteed promise: "For if the inheritance is by law, it is no longer by promise" and "the law is not of faith; but, he that doeth them shall live in them" ... The unquestionable fact emerges in Galatians 3 that Paul saw in the Old Testament alongside the covenant of promise another covenant which was so far from being an administration of promise as to raise the urgent question whether it did not abrogate the promise (Kline, By Oath Consigned, pp. 22-24).

Or would you disagree and agree with John Murray

The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous construction of the Mosaic covenant (Murray, Collected Writings, vol. 2, p. 50).

I haven't heard much discussion on this topic so I'm looking forward to reading the replies.


Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
I think it was a republication of both :)

The moral law is the same in both covenants and defines the righteous standard of our conduct before God in either covenant. But in the covenant of works, Adam had to do this on his own to recieve the reward. In the covenant of grace, we are given all the fulfilled requirements and blessings through the work of Christ, and we are being conformed to His image through sanctification. So, I don't think that Sinai is either/or.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for the reply. Also does anyone think that this covenant could have existed in it's unpublished form prior to Sinai. i.e. Noah knowing the difference between clean and unclean animals Gen 7:2-4 Did the Sons of God Gen 6:1-4 have any priestly duties i.e. Cain and Abel and their sacrifices Gen 4:5. Did they minster around and in Eden just as the sons of Aaron did in the temple?

[Edited on 6-27-2004 by VanVos]


Puritan Board Sophomore
I don't understand why people just assume that the Mosaic Covenant was a "republication" of the CoW. Why would you think that? Because God actually laid out some laws for his people to keep? But we have laws to keep in the New Covenant as well. Is the New Covenant a republication of the CoW too?

My own position is that the Mosaic Covenant was gracious.


Puritan Board Sophomore

The Mosaic Covenant was a guide it showed revived some of the Death ordeal aspects of the CoW. There is true unity between the OC and NC but as a supernatural administration God's moral law was upheld through miraculous judgements, and phenomenal law-suits against covenant breakers. These lawsuits exist in the NC as well but the miraculous nature of them seems to have been diminished with the cessation of the Apostolic age. The Sinatic Covenant is wholly of the Covenant of Grace, but it also harkens to the CoW in that there is a fuller expression of God's moral law revealed to man and preserved. Covenanters are told "do this and live". This legal expression accompanied with the shadowy nature of the gospel in the Old Covenant results in the connection made I think between the CoW and the OC.

I think that Owen's description is very well rendered and I'd be interested as to how you interact with his ideas. I lean towards this view myself. I've read some of Murray's discussion of this topic, and I think that his postion is erroneous. There is a legal aspect to the OC, and there is a penal sanction and curse expressed therein. NC curses exist certainly, but most of those judgments seem stored up for the Day of the Lord where as before it was exacted through a civil system.

I've got much to learn about this. It's a very interesting topic.

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Vanvos - A+ on the questions here.
That is what this forum is about.

Thanks for the reply. Also does anyone think that this covenant could have existed in it's unpublished form prior to Sinai. i.e. Noah knowing the difference between clean and unclean animals Gen 7:2-4 Did the Sons of God Gen 6:1-4 have any priestly duties i.e. Cain and Abel and their sacrifices Gen 4:5. Did they minster around and in Eden just as the sons of Aaron did in the temple?

I think we need to be intelligent enough to know that God told things to Abraham, Noah, and the others to a greater extent than we have recorded in the Bible. How many times did God visit with Abraham passed what we know of in the Genesis account?

Moses is said to have talked with God as a friend. How many times?

Cain and Abel surely had a pretty well rounded idea of sacrifice, and at an appointed time (the end of days).

I definitely believe there was more to the story than we have recorded, but we do have recorded what WE need for understanding God's will for us.

With that said, the underlying foundation of the covenant in terms of law had NO CHOICE but to be in existence because God is in existence. It may be more helpful to define "Law".

Q93: What is the moral law?
A93: The moral law is the [b:74ad87cc7a]declaration of the will of God [/b:74ad87cc7a] to mankind, directing and binding everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body,[1] and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man:[2] promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.[3]

1. Deut. 5:1-3, 31, 33; Luke 10:26-27; Gal. 3:10; I Thess. 5:23
2. Luke 1:75; Acts 14:16
3. Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10, 12

The law, then, would be a reflection of the charter and being of God. It is His will, (i.e. it is Him). The commandments simply give us a manner in which to follow Him and to be like Him.

The Law, then, whenever God has existed, must exist in some form.

In the garden this was "Do this and live."
With Moses and Sinai it was "Do this and live."
Even for us, it is the same.


Puritan Board Sophomore
I agree, I believe that the Law has always existed in some form because it is a reflection of God's unchanging moral character. I think that from Genesis 3:15 we have the promise that the seed (the Messiah) would fulfill the Law, therefore I conclude that the Law as of Cov works still stood after the fall and was recognised by God's covenant community. I think even the Sons of God of Genesis 6 had an expectation that the Messiah would come from their line, hence the Seth geneology in Genesis 5. More I could add but I think I would end up in sheer speculation.


[Edited on 6-27-2004 by VanVos]

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
I would agree - the CoW is still around, and anyone who dies is judged by that law - "Do this and live." Sinai simply expanded what that meant, and then Christ, in Matthew 5-7 further explained it. That does not mean, though, that we are not bound to it - rather - SINCE Christ fulfilled it, we are bound to it because it is the means by which our sanctification is wrought though the Spirit. We are not justified by it (first use of the law - to ordain to life) but rather are sanctified by it.


Puritan Board Freshman
We must be very careful in comparing the C of W with the Old (Sinaitic) Covenant. I think, if you read Owen more carefully, that he is very wary of doing so. The C of W was given to Adam as covenant Head to obey and live thereby. If Adam, in his sinless state, living in Paradise, could not keep that covenant, what chance did the Israelites have, born in sin, living in a wilderness? The very existence of the various sacrifices and sin offerings shows that God did not expect it to be kept.

The true purpose of the law is given several times in the NT. Firstly to increase the consciousness of sin (Rom 5:20; Gal 3:19), and secondly to drive men to Christ by that very consciousness (Gal 3:24).

The Old Covenant was never meant to be permanent. In 2Cor 3:11 it is described as 'passing away' and in Heb 8:13, it is said to be 'obsolete', 'growing old' and 'ready to vanish away'. It was a 'ministry of death' and 'of condemnation' (2Cor 3:7,9). I thank God that I am not under it.

'The terrors of law and of God,
With me can have nothing to do.
My Saviour's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.'
[i:51feaa5b84]Augustus Toplady[/i:51feaa5b84]



[Edited on 6-28-2004 by grace2U]
Not open for further replies.