A Response to Mike Adams's

"In Defense of the New Covenant"

by Greg Welty


Table of Contents[1]


How Scripture Fits Together
The New Testament Provides New Information About the Old Example #1: The Priesthood of Jesus
Example #2: Joshua and the Promised Land
Example #3: The Promise to Abraham
The Issue Is Always Context
Jeremiah 31 and the Law Written on the Heart
The Decalogue’s Relationship to the Old Covenant
The Old Covenant is a Ministry of Death
The First Commandment with a Promise
What Jesus Purchased on the Cross: The Forgiveness of Sin and a New Heart
Is the Law Written on the Heart Literal Content?
A New Priest Brings a New Law
There Was Something Wrong with the Old Covenant
There Was Something Wrong with the People of the Old Covenant
Law and Its Intended Audience
What is New Covenant Theology?



The following is a critical evaluation of Mike Adams’ In Defense of the New Covenant. The first volley in this debate was Richard Barcellos’ book In Defense of the Decalogue.[2] Mike Adams’ response constitutes the second volley, and now that the basic positions have been articulated and exposed, I’ve chosen to step in. I apologise in advance if some find my response too obsessively focused upon Mike Adams, and upon every individual twist and turn of his response paper to Barcellos’ book, no matter how insignificant the detail. I can only say that at the time I wrote, I thought a comprehensive reply was needed.

Lots of traditionally Reformed Christians dislike NCT because it is non-Sabbatarian. In fact, one might be tempted to define the practical significance of NCT as just another non-Sabbatarian argument, albeit longer and more convoluted than most. But if this debate were merely about the Sabbath, then perhaps Barcellos should have named his book In Defense of 10% of the Decalogue, since the other 90% is claimed by both sides. But the fact of the matter is that the debate ranges over far more than this: the unity of redemptive history, the graciousness of the Mosaic Covenant, the role of law in the life of the believer, the methodology of systematic theology by means of good and necessary inference (to name just a few topics). And so I regard this present response as a serious critical review of the entire range of NCT distinctives.

While Barcellos’ book can be purchased (but not downloaded) from the Internet, those interested can see an excerpt of his exegesis of 1Ti 1:8-11 online, as well as several other essays (the substance of which were eventually incorporated into Barcellos' book). I stress at the outset that by defending Barcellos’ book I am committing myself, not to Barcellos’ exegesis on every point, but only to the failure of Adams’ arguments to significantly challenge that exegesis. I also affirm the many good points which Adams makes along the way, although I challenge the relevance of those points in undermining Barcellos’ argument. I’ve engaged Adams’ arguments in such detail because I believe that it is through such direct and relevant argumentation against detractors that the exegetical basis and strength of classical covenant theology (CCT) can be most effectively articulated.

Anyone seeking a general orientation to CCT can consult the relevant sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (and the standard commentaries upon these confessions), as well as the relevant sections of Calvin’s Institutes and the systematic theologies of Hodge, Berkhof, and Reymond. Anyone seeking a quick overview of CCT distinctives, and a defence from typical NCT counterarguments, can jump to the Appendix. And now, the critique.[3]


How Scripture Fits Together

Adams gives us an "analogy of redemptive history to that of a football game." Adams concedes that this analogy "is imperfect and can only be taken so far. Its point is to illustrate how redemptive history fits together." I would only add that it’s a very misleading analogy. Adams wants various aspects of the game to correspond to various historical covenants: pre-game show = Genesis 1-12, programme = Abrahamic covenant, playing field = Noahic covenant, first half = Old Covenant, second half = New Covenant. Unfortunately, what is distinctive to NCT – discontinuity of moral law – is completely obscured by this analogy, since it is obvious that in football all the players play by the same rules throughout both halves of the game!

There are other difficulties with the analogy. Adams says that the pre-game show – that is, Genesis 1-12 – "is not the game, but it is vital in order for the game to begin." But the analogy is supposed to be an "analogy of redemptive history." So the impression is given that Genesis 1-12 is not part of the ‘game’ of redemptive history. But did redemptive history begin with Moses? Was no one redeemed by God’s grace in the history recorded in Genesis 1-12? By relegating this vital portion of Scripture to a ‘pre-game show’, Adams seems to chop up redemptive history more than any ardent, classical dispensationalist. How ironic, when the whole point of the analogy was supposed to be "to illustrate how redemptive history fits together." By way of contrast, the classical covenant theologian holds that the covenant of grace, operative throughout and therefore unifying redemptive history, began in the early chapters of Genesis (cf. 2LBCF VII.3; WCF VII.3). Notice that, in Heb 11, people of Genesis 1-12 such as Abel, Enoch, and Noah "all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (v. 13). They were all members of that ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ (12:1) that testified to the Hebrew Christians the precise kind of faith they were to exercise under the New Covenant. Such men are not part of a ‘pre-game’ show before the history of redemption; for the writer of Hebrews they were the show, or at least a vital part of it. The Old Covenant is not, as Adams claims, "the start of the game."

None of this is really significant. After all, football analogies like Adams’ are only illustrations of arguments that must proceed on other grounds, not a substitute for argument itself. But it is important to note that even at the outset, the key illustrations that Adams chooses are bound to be the source of significant confusion. It presupposes a unity (to moral law) which Adams denies, while imposing a discontinuity (to redemptive history) which the Scriptures deny.

Adams’ first real charge against Barcellos’ treatment of NCT is in the last sentence of this section: "Without an understanding of how the New Testament interprets the Old, I can (and usually will!) come away from an Old Testament passage with a completely different interpretation than was intended by a New Testament writer. To varying degrees, this is what has happened to Barcellos’ approach to Jeremiah 31." But why exactly is this a problem? Adams seems to assume that if the NT interprets a passage, then that interpretation exhausts what was intended by the passage, and therefore exhausts the normative force of the passage for Christian belief. I.e., the significance of an OT passage for a NT believer is restricted to what a NT writer says about it. But that assumption can easily be shown to be false. Paul interprets the Genesis narrative of Sarah and Hagar to be representative of the two covenants (Gal 4:24). But it does not follow from this that the intended OT meaning of this passage – a literal, historical narrative of flesh-and-blood individuals – does not continue to be normative for NT believers. Certainly both interpretations are normative for the NT believer. Similarly, when Christ took the ‘sign of Jonah’ to be a sign of his own death and resurrection (Mt 12:39-41, 16:4), he was surely not denying the literal historicity of the prophet Jonah.


The New Testament Provides New Information About the Old

This oversight affects the argumentation of the next section. Here Adams tells us that it is "impossible to come away from the Old Testament with a proper interpretation of a passage written to Old Covenant Israel in its immediate context (such as Jeremiah 31), but meant for the church ultimately." Again, this is false. I come away from reading the Sarah and Hagar or Jonah narratives in the OT, and I believe these are literal historical narratives. I not only believe that this is the "proper interpretation of a passage written to Old Covenant Israel in its immediate context," but that it is also "meant for the church ultimately." I say this, even though the NT interprets these narratives symbolically. The literal historicity of these narratives does not cease to be a ‘proper’ interpretation simply because NT writers recognise, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, deeper levels of meaning in these texts! What Adams tells us is ‘impossible’ to do, is what everyday Christians (including Adams) do all the time.

Adams quotes Vern Poythress to the effect that, "If I am right in thinking that the New Testament completes the story that God began in the Old Testament, it is quite proper for me to look back now in the light of the full story and see what more I can learn from the first half." This all is true, but notice that there is a difference between saying that the NT tells us ‘what more I can learn from the first half,’ and saying that the NT replaces what I can learn from the first half. It is the difference between mere addition and actual replacement, between mere expansion and actual substitution.

Via Adams, Carl Hoch tells us that "Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching contain genuinely new material… beyond what had been revealed in the Old Testament." Again, this all is true, and no classic covenant theologian would dispute it. What he would regard as disputable is the notion that this genuinely new material actually replaces, and does not merely expand, what we can learn from the old material.

Adams wants to illustrate for us "the absolute necessity of the New Testament in arriving at Biblically sound conclusions." But again, this is to overstate the case. No doubt the NT is necessary to arrive at many, and usually the most important, ‘biblically sound conclusions.’ But it is not required for all. I can soundly arrive at the conclusion that Jonah was a literal historical prophet, quite apart from the NT, and I do not need to give up that interpretation merely because the NT takes Jonah to be a symbol or type of Christ.

Example #1: The Priesthood of Jesus

To illustrate his point, Adams has chosen some unilluminating examples. Adams tells us that, with regard to Ps 110:4, "the Old Covenant reader would no doubt equate David with Melchizedek in some way." The reason why this statement is wrong is that Jesus was fond of expounding Ps 110:1 to the effect that the ‘Lord’ whom the ‘LORD’ here addresses with his divine commands and promises must be someone other than the David who wrote the Psalm (Mt 22:41-46). What is so striking in Jesus’ exposition is that he does not add any information about Ps 110 that the OT readers didn’t already have. Rather, he simply cites the text itself, and notes that David in the Spirit called this person ‘Lord’. Now, why would ‘the Old Covenant reader… equate David with Melchizedek in some way,’ when Ps 110:1 is David’s statement about two individuals – the ‘LORD’ and the ‘Lord’ – who are clearly distinct from David? After all, David does not say in v. 1, "The LORD said to me." Thus, when the LORD in v. 4 swears that the individual whom he is addressing is ‘a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,’ the last thing an OT reader would deduce is that the individual is David himself.

Adams states that, "In its historical context, this Psalm mentions nothing about the Jewish Messiah." But the whole context of Jesus’ disputes with the Pharisees over this Psalm was the common understanding between them that it was a Messianic psalm. After all, it teaches, quite apart from any new revelation from Jesus, that David’s ‘Lord’ was an individual addressed by the ‘LORD’, destined by the LORD to sit at the LORD’s right hand in victory over his enemies (v. 1), one who is a priest forever (v. 5), and one who ‘shall judge among the nations’ (v. 6). It is precisely because this text is obviously a Messianic text that Jesus brought it up in debates with the Pharisees in order to confront them with the real nature of the Messiah. On Adams’ view, Jesus’ ‘Messianic interpretation’ of Ps 110 would have been something completely new to the Pharisees. But surely the reason why "no one was able to answer Him a word" (Mt 22:46) was that even the Pharisees took Ps 110 as Messianic in reference, and as authoritative to settle the debate. (I.e., the Pharisees didn’t harp back, "Hey, Jesus, where is that in the Psalm?") To be sure, Jesus was most likely bringing out for them implications of Ps 110 that the Pharisees hadn’t properly grasped, but that can be easily done without bringing new revelation to bear upon the passage. (Don’t Christians do this all the time when they explain Scripture to each other?)

Everything Jesus says about Ps 110 can be justified from the text of Ps 110 itself, and Jesus’ ability to do this is the very presupposition of the dialogue with the Pharisees. Adams errs when he claims that, "It is the New Testament that provides us with an entirely new meaning to Psalm 110 in this age of fulfillment." Entirely the opposite: Jesus was expounding the meaning of the text itself, indeed relying upon the very distinctions among persons made by the text itself. Adams says that without the NT, "we too would equate the kingship of David with that of the priest Melchizedek in some way. After all, that is the context of Psalm 110. Without the New Testament, we would be correct in that conclusion." This is all wrong, for it imputes an obviously false interpretation to Ps 110. Adams would have us somehow believe that the Jews thought David was the Messiah, when it is obvious that the Pharisees themselves saw the Messiah, at the very least, as the son of David, and therefore not David himself (Mt 22:41-42)!

Given all this, it is perplexing that Adams goes on to refer to Ps 110 and Jesus’ interpretation of it as an "apparent contradiction in Scripture." The contradiction is Adams’ own, resulting from the fact that Adams has given Ps 110 a Davidic reference that is not there. Ironically, Adams believes this ‘apparent contradiction’ can be ‘easily reconciled by understanding that the New Testament spiritualizes much of its interpretation of Old Testament passages referring to the age of fulfillment. They had both a literal (the immediate context) and a spiritual (future) interpretation." But if that is the case (and I believe it to be so), if literal and spiritual interpretations are reconcilable, then there is no need for a spiritual interpretation to replace a literal one, and thus my main point concerning Sarah and Hagar, Jonah, etc., is confirmed.

By now it should be clear that when Adams appeals to his treatment of Ps 110 to show that "This failure to see the larger context of the New Testament is one of Barcellos’ errors in the way he handles Jeremiah 31," he has chosen a fairly misleading example. The failure is his: inventing a ‘larger context of the New Testament’ at this point when the OT context of Ps 110 is sufficient for Jesus to make the points he does in dialogue with the Pharisees. Adams accuses Barcellos of "expounding an Old Testament interpretation and going no further." That remains to be seen. But so far it is clear that Adams hasn’t expounded this OT text very well. I would challenge Adams to provide for us anything in Jesus’ treatment of Ps 110 which couldn’t be inferred from Ps 110 itself. That is the whole point of Jesus’ appeal to Ps 110 in dialogue with the Pharisees; it was common ground between them, and sufficient to settle the issue.

Adams attempts to drive his point home by citing Heb 7:11, where the inspired writer argues that since there was a need for another (that is, Melchizedekian) priest to come, it follows that perfection couldn’t have been attained through the Levitical priesthood. This seems like a good biblical argument by the author of Hebrews, and I note that it appeals to exclusively OT premises: the fact that God revealed that there was a need for a new order of priest (Ps 110:4) proves that the old order (the Levitical) was not sufficient to fulfil God’s purposes (i.e. it was not perfect). Adams claims

"that there is no way we could arrive at the conclusion given in the book of Hebrews [i.e. 7:11] without the book of Hebrews. That is, if the New Testament writer had not specifically told us what he did concerning the Levitical priesthood and that of Melchizedek, we could never know it."

But surely this is wrong. At this point the writer to the Hebrews is making a perfectly sensible inference from OT facts. He is telling these Hebrew Christians that the OT itself (namely, Ps 110:4) is enough to prove the imperfection and insufficiency of the Levitical priesthood. Far from retreating back to the Old Covenant in a time of NT persecution, these Hebrew Christians should pay heed to the implications of its message and hold fast to the perfection of glorious New Covenant realities! This argument is not, as Adams claims, "entirely new revelation." It is an inference from the OT that even those tempted to revert to the Old Covenant should be able to see. Why should the author of Hebrews bother to make an appeal to the OT to make his point, if that point is ‘entirely new revelation’? Why didn’t he instead just pronounce that "the Levitical priesthood is imperfect and must be replaced," and be done with it? No, the fact of the matter is that the author of Hebrews is arguing this specific point on OT grounds. Heb 7:11 is not a ‘thus sayeth the Lord,’ but rather a ‘can’t you see the obvious implications of Ps 110:4 for the Levitical priesthood? It was bound to give way to a new order of priesthood!’

Example #2: Joshua and the Promised Land

Here Adams makes a sensible point, but then puts it to bad use. Adams’ point is that the rest from their enemies which God gave to the Israelites under Joshua (Jos 21:43-45) was merely physical rest, and yet a rest which symbolised the spiritual rest received by every believer in Christ (Heb 4:8-9). This rest Joshua did not give, nor was he able to give. So far so good. But then Adams tells us that this "is completely new information," and "that apart from the New Testament providing it for us, we would never know" this information. But it is puzzling why Adams thinks this point is relevant against Barcellos. After all, the fact that OT physical rest symbolised spiritual rest does not in any way undermine the reality of OT physical rest! It supplements our understanding of OT physical rest, but does not replace it. Since Barcellos (and any classical covenant theologian) would entirely agree with this, what is the point? Adams’ point can only have any bite against Barcellos’ treatment of the OT if it follows that any NT interpretation of the OT replaces what can be learned from the OT. But this Adams has not shown. Adams’ point would only have relevance to the NCT debate, if we grant the assumption that a NT interpretation of an OT text exhausts the meaning of that text, and wholly defines the normative force of that OT text for the NT believer today. But, as I have argued again and again, this assumption is false. The Hebrews 4 commentary upon Joshua 21 in no way undermines what could be gleaned from Joshua 21 alone: namely, that the Israelites experienced physical rest in fulfilment of God’s promises to them. In the same way, a NT commentary upon OT moral law in no way undermines what could be gleaned from the OT alone: that God’s moral law is the rule for the life of a believer. Rather than focusing on specific exegesis from specific texts, Adams has led us down a rabbit trail of sweeping inferences from dubious premises. The irony is that such errors are usually thought by NCT advocates to be the characteristic province of the classical covenant theologian.

Example #3: The Promise to Abraham

Adams here wants "to provide enough information to support my [i.e. his] statement of the total dependency of the Old Testament upon the New." But what is ‘total dependency’ supposed to mean? Adams never tells us. Does it mean that no interpretation of the OT is valid except that which is explicitly given to us by the NT? That would surely be enough to clinch the case against Barcellos, but nothing Adams says gives the slightest support to such a radical view. Let’s be honest. Essentially, both Adams and Barcellos (and myself) approach the OT the same way: we all believe that the NT interprets the OT. The problem is that Adams infers from this sound hermeneutic something else, something that does not follow from it at all: that the OT ceases to have meaning except where and how the NT interprets it. The absurdity of this is evident: all NT spiritual interpretations of OT passages would replace any literal interpretation of those OT passages! On this view, for example, Heb 4 would be telling us that the Israelites never experienced any physical rest at all, which surely can’t be right. But if, on the contrary, NT spiritual interpretations of OT passages do not replace literal interpretation of those passages, then Barcellos is free to appeal to the implications of such OT passages, even if the NT adds to their meaning by giving them a spiritual interpretation. Adams doesn’t seem aware of this fundamental non sequitur on his part. It just does not follow from the fact that the NT interprets the OT, or that the NT gives us information not found in the OT, that what we can learn from the OT alone is no longer normative for the NT believer. Let me be clear. It may indeed be the case that many things we can learn from the OT alone are no longer normative for the NT believer, because such things have been repealed by the authority of the NT. But that question (the question of repeal) will be settled by specific exegesis of specific texts, not by dubious inferences from broad principles.

Adams tells us that "Even true believers in the Old Testament could never understand what you and I understand about the Abrahamic Covenant." Surely this is an overstatement. Much of what we understand about the Abrahamic Covenant, even as Christians, is available from the Old Testament alone. Paul’s argument in Galatians 3, concerning the gospel in the Abrahamic Covenant, is an argument from the OT. Paul tells the Galatians that God (whose words are recorded for us in ‘Scripture’) ‘preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed"’ (3:8). Literally, the gospel was ‘pre-preached’ to Abraham in the Abrahamic promise. In light of this, what could Adams’ point be? That Abraham ‘could never understand’ that this promise was a gospel promise? How does that follow? Is the point that Abraham ‘could never understand’ that when he believed God, ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’ (3:6)? Again, how does that follow? Adams is taking a radical view here, namely, that Pauline arguments from the OT could never be accepted by OT believers on the basis of the OT. But the Bereans, who judged Paul’s teachings in terms of the OT, seemed to have a different view, and they are commended for it by the inspired chronicler of those events (Ac 17:10-11).

Adams cites for us Ge 17:15-16, to the effect that God promised Abraham that Sarah "will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her." Adams points out that this is not "all there is to this promise." He even says that, "If we abandon the New Testament and simply look at the Old, then yes, that seems to be all there is." But, says Adams, "the teaching passages of the New Testament give us new information that we desperately need." In proof, Adams cites Ro 9:6-7a: "It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are descendants are they all Abraham’s children."

But Adams has inexplicably left something out of his citation! Ro 9:7b! The question is whether "not all of the physical descendants of Abraham are called his children." Adams says that we can only get the answer from the NT. He then cites Ro 9:6-7a. But what happened to Ro 9:7b? Surprisingly, Adams fails to include in his NT citation the very material which would undermine his point. For Ro 9:7b is a Pauline citation from the Old Testament that is meant to answer the very question which Adams claims can only be answered from the New Testament! Namely, according to Paul, we know from the OT that not all of the physical descendants of Abraham are considered Abraham’s children, because God himself said to Abraham, "In Isaac your seed shall be called" (Ro 9:7b, citing Genesis 21:12). That is, even the OT taught that there was a valid sense in which the real seed of Abraham is only counted in Isaac, despite the fact that Abraham’s physical descendants formed a broader group than just those descending from Isaac. Abraham’s children and the physical descendants of Abraham are overlapping but non-coextensive groups of people. They cannot be simply identified with each other. Paul argues this from the OT. Adams deletes Paul’s OT prooftext, and then claims that what Paul argues can only be known from the NT. This is puzzling at best, misleading at worst.

Adams seems unaware of the fact that throughout Romans 9-11, Paul rests his case primarily upon the witness of the OT. Again and again Paul cites OT texts to support the precise points he makes. On Adams’ strange view of Pauline argument, Paul finds no warrant for his views in the OT at all! Rather, it must all be constructed out of thin (albeit inspired) air! This is a gross distortion of Paul’s actual procedure, which is to carefully argue point after point from OT Scripture. Now, some may disagree whether Paul’s proofs from the OT are really successful proofs. But there is no question that this is his procedure, especially throughout this portion of his epistle.

Again, the question (according to Adams) is whether "The promise to Abraham has a spiritual significance that goes beyond his physical descendants." Adams tells us the answer can only be found in the NT, and in proof of this he cites Ro 9:8, "In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring." But apparently Adams has missed the significance of Paul’s ‘In other words…’ For Ro 9:8 is an inference from an OT text, from Ge 21:12 which was cited in the previous verse! Adams may or may not believe that Paul’s inference is valid; it’s hard to tell, given his treatment of the passage. But there is no question that Paul believes that his inference his valid, and that he believes his chosen questions about Abraham’s descendants can be answered for anyone by simply consulting the OT.

Here is how Adams treats Ga 3:16: "To the Galatian believers, he clarifies his point even further by saying: ‘The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.’ (Galatians 3:16)." Adams says, "Again, this is new information. If Paul had not told us this, where would we be? We would still be in Genesis thinking of physical descendants only, because that is the historical context of the promises to Abraham in the book of Genesis." But surely the footnote in Adams’ own NIV Bible would have told him, that Paul’s point in Ga 3:16 about the ultimate reference of the Abrahamic promise is supposed to be an inference from Ge 12:7, 13:15, 24:7, etc. Paul is so concerned to make his point from the inspired OT that he relies upon the grammatical number of the relevant OT noun. If Paul so radically abandons the revelation of the OT in order to make his radically new NT points, then why is he at pains to quote that OT in support of those precise NT points, again and again? Adams even goes so far as to cite Ga 3:29 in proof of his general point, apparently overlooking the fact that Ga 3:29 is Paul’s grand conclusion after concatenating and expounding no less than seven OT texts which he deems crucially relevant to his case. Apparently, Adams would have us believe that Paul foists Ga 3:29 upon the Galatian believers as an arbitrary theological invention made up out of thin air, and that all of his OT citations in support of this conclusion were an idle and misleading exercise.

Adams concludes this section: "As a believing Gentile, I am an heir of that promise to Abraham. I cannot get that information from the Old Testament." And thus we see the apostle Paul turned on his head. For Paul’s whole point in Ro 9-11 and Ga 3 is to argue to his readers (many of whom were Gentiles) on the basis of the OT. Why does Paul repeatedly cite the central Abrahamic promise, "in you shall all nations be blessed," if not to prove from the OT that Gentiles were always meant to be heirs of a promise to Abraham? Who are the ‘all nations’ if not Gentiles? Who received this promise about ‘all nations’ if not Abraham? And are not both of these facts clearly revealed in the OT?

I regard Adams’ failure to see how Jesus’ and Paul’s arguments are distinctively rooted in and warranted by the OT, to be symptomatic of NCT’s general failure to see the organic unity between OT and NT. One gets the impression from Adams’ treatment that the NT writers didn’t care whether the OT warranted their arguments and interpretations; that these men were simply spinning theses out of whole cloth; that their Jewish Christian hearers would have regarded it all as a big puzzle; that Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples on the road to Emmaus – ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" (Lk 24:25-26) – was entirely without foundation; that, in short, the 1st-century Jews schooled in the OT really had an excuse for rejecting the apostolic gospel as an utter innovation. Whether this stance is a contributor to, or a consequence of, their refusal to see the Old Covenant as an administration of that covenant of grace which unifies all of redemptive history, I cannot tell.


The Issue Is Always Context

Adams concludes by saying, "To ignore the role of the New Testament in interpreting the Old is irresponsible. More important than all else when studying Scripture is understanding context and allowing the New Testament to interpret the Old." The classic covenant theologian will heartily agree with this admonition. But he will part company with Adams when Adams uses this principle, as he does above, to argue that an interpretation of the OT from the OT alone cannot continue to be a normative interpretation for the church today if the NT happens to comment upon that OT text. Nor will he join Adams in his activity, documented above, of transforming NT arguments from OT texts into NT arguments from thin air.


Jeremiah 31 and the Law Written on the Heart

Here Adams says things which are very confusing. He concedes that "most New Covenant theologians would agree [with Barcellos] that the law written on the heart in the historical context of Jeremiah 31 is the Decalogue." However, he is quick to point out that "most New Covenant theologians would not identify the New Testament definition of ‘the law written on the heart’ as the Decalogue." I find this puzzling. Where does the NT give a definition of ‘the law written on the heart’? It doesn’t.[4] But it does say that Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in the life of the NT believer (Heb 8:7-13, 10:15-18), a prophecy Adams already concedes is a reference to the Decalogue!

The fact of the matter is that Jeremiah is giving a prophecy, a prediction of future events. And the future event prophesied by Jeremiah is that God would write his law upon his people’s hearts. But according to Adams, although ‘the historical context of Jeremiah 31 is the Decalogue,’ nevertheless ‘the New Testament definition’ of this law (this law?! this same law? the law already conceded by Adams to be the Decalogue?) is something other than the Decalogue! I leave it to the reader to reread this section in Adams, and judge for themselves whether his claims even make sense.

Adams’ basic contention in this section is that Barcellos has misrepresented NCT. For (the claim goes), while Barcellos understands "Jeremiah’s phrase ‘the law written on the heart’ solely from Jeremiah 31, he assumes that NCT needs to do the same." But as a matter of fact, says Adams, "New Covenant Theology takes into consideration the New Covenant interpretation of Hebrews chapters 7-10 in any discussion of Jeremiah 31 and the new heart." And so "Barcellos’ statement betrays the fact that he does not fully understand the system he set out to critique."

What are we to make of this charge? It is interesting to note that in his ensuing discussion of Jer 31, Adams does not quote a single NCT writer. So for all we know, Barcellos is ‘guilty’ of misrepresenting a NCT position that was nowhere written down prior to Adams’ critique. Where does "New Covenant Theology take into consideration the New Covenant interpretation of Hebrews chapters 7-10 in any discussion of Jeremiah 31 and the new heart"? Is this argument in widely-available NCT materials which Barcellos failed to consult?

But let this pass. How does Adams’ understanding of Heb 7-10 challenge Barcellos’ understanding of Jer 31? Interestingly enough, the reader is never told! Throughout this entire section, Adams never references Heb 7-10 in any substantive way. The reader has to take it on faith that Barcellos’ understanding of Jer 31 is undermined by a NT text which Adams doesn’t bother to interpret and apply for us. (Adams talks about Heb 7-10 in later sections of his paper, but never in direct reference to exegeting Jer 31.) This is remarkable. After making heavy weather over Barcellos’ alleged failure to incorporate Heb 7-10 into his understanding of Jer 31, Adams simply drops the subject! By way of contrast, Barcellos actually anticipates this criticism in his original work, which anticipation refutes Adams’ claim that Barcellos hasn’t bothered to consider Heb 7-10. Barcellos notes that "This text [Hebrews 8:10] in no way negates the exposition of Jeremiah 31:33 as referring to the Decalogue" (p. 18 fn. 5). Now, if Adams disagrees, then he should produce an argument that Heb 7-10 undermines Barcellos’ view of Jer 31. He shouldn’t simply make the charge, and then move on. Adams says that "apart from [this] brief reference in one other footnote, Barcellos never proceeds to any serious New Testament explanation of Jeremiah 31." But neither does Adams! If, as Barcellos claims, the Hebrews text doesn’t undermine his interpretation of Jer 31, then it is up to Adams to show that it does.

Perhaps an analogy will help to illustrate the deficiency in Adams’ polemic at this point. Let’s say I’m defending the historicity of the OT narrative. Included in this defence is a claim that the Sarah and Hagar narrative really happened, as literal history. Along comes a ‘New History Theologian’ who denounces me for failing to interpret Genesis 21 in light of crucial NT texts, such as Ga 4. What should my response be? Well, I can simply say, "Ga 4 has lots of interesting things to say about Ge 21, including things I couldn’t get from Ge 21 taken by itself. But the fact remains that the new information provided by Ga 4 doesn’t undermine the specific point I am making about Ge 21, namely, that it is literal history." And that is that. Similarly, until we are shown otherwise, it doesn’t follow from the fact that Heb 7-10 comments in places upon Jer 31, that what Heb 7-10 says somehow undermines what Jer 31 claims in its OT context. Adams needs to argue for this conclusion, not assume it based on the mere fact that Heb 7-10 has a few things to say about Jer 31!

Adams makes a fairly strong claim about Barcellos: that he has neglected the witness of the NT in helping to interpret Jer 31. But that is precisely what Barcellos is at pains to deny, and in practice he does deny! Consider again the footnote 5 on p. 18, of which Adams has only quoted a snippet. Barcellos actually says:

"I realize that the prophecy looks forward in redemptive history which might cause some to conclude that we must wait for subsequent revelation to define the law of the New Covenant for us. I agree with this, in part… It will be argued below that the understanding of the law being referred to by Jeremiah as the Ten Commandments is not only supported by the Old Testament, but by the New as well. In other words, what the Old Testament promises, the New Testament fulfills."

Thus, Barcellos has done three things here:

  1. He has clearly alerted the reader to the fact that the New Testament helps to define the law of the New Covenant for us.
  2. He equally alerts us to the fact that, on his view, consultation of NT revelation only confirms what he has already argued concerning Jer 31.
  3. Finally, he then argues the point from 2Co 3, Eph 6, 1Ti 1, etc., in later sections of his book.

Now, Adams may disagree with Barcellos’ exegesis of these key NT texts. But for Adams to charge Barcellos with ignoring the witness of the NT in his final interpretation of Jer 31 is straight out false. Rather than ignoring the NT witness as to the identity of New Covenant law, Barcellos devotes entire chapters of his book to it! What can Adams be thinking? He seems to have confused his rejection of Barcellos’ NT exegesis with the non-existence of Barcellos’ NT exegesis. Sorry to say, Barcellos’ NT exegesis is there. Barcellos believes his NT exegesis is relevant to his final interpretation of Jer 31, and he said as much in the very footnote which Adams selectively quotes.

Adams closes this section by noting "two poor conclusions in his [Barcellos’] understanding of the phrase ‘the law written on the heart.’" Barcellos’ first mistake is that "he asserts that the law of the New Covenant era is the Decalogue." Well, not exactly. He has argued for this conclusion, not merely asserted it, and it is a conclusion that Adams himself has already said he agrees with: "most New Covenant theologians would agree that the law written on the heart in the historical context of Jeremiah 31 is the Decalogue." According to Adams, we are somehow supposed to believe that the law which Jeremiah prophesied would be written on the hearts of New Covenant members is the Decalogue, and yet (at the same time) it is a ‘poor conclusion’ to assert that ‘the law of the New Covenant era is the Decalogue.’ I’ll leave it to the reader to decide where the poor conclusion resides; I can’t make any sense of these two claims taken together.

Barcellos’ second mistake is to assert "that ‘the law written on the heart’ (the Decalogue) is literal content." Since Adams says he will address this later, the reader will have to wait for the argument. But Adams asserts that Barcellos "takes these two conclusions into the remainder of his book in order to illustrate his point that the entire Decalogue, as a unit, has moved out of the Old Covenant and into the New and is therefore binding law on the believer in the New Covenant era." Well, again, not exactly. Barcellos will show, through NT exegesis, that this basic view of Jer 31 is confirmed by the NT, rather than challenged by the NT. Adams is free to disagree with this exegesis, but he is not free to portray Barcellos as someone who enforces his exegesis of Jer 31 at the expense of the NT.


The Decalogue’s Relationship to the Old Covenant

Adams claims here that Barcellos has misinterpreted Fred Zaspel. Zaspel, apparently, has made two statements: "The ten words to Israel are the covenant" and "the terms [of the covenant] are summarized in the Ten Commandments. The Decalogue is the statement of the covenant." Barcellos’ mistake is supposed to be that he stresses the first statement to the exclusion of the second, and thus misattributes to NCT the view that the Decalogue equals the Old Covenant in its entirety.

Well. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether to blame Barcellos for hasty interpretations of Zaspel, or to blame Zaspel for confusingly stating his position in the statements above cited. But never mind. Adams’ larger point is that "Barcellos misrepresents NCT at this point by implying that the stated position of NCT is that the Ten Commandments equal the content of the entire Old Covenant." This is news to me. Since Adams goes on to charge Barcellos with doing "damage to the research that [John] Reisinger has done" in his book Tablets of Stone, lets look at what this seminal, eminently authoritative spokesman for NCT has to say on the subject. If the reader consults <http://www.soundofgrace.com/tablets/stone_3.html>, he will find that the main claim of ch. 3 of Reisinger’s foundational NCT book is that ‘old covenant’ and ‘tablets of stone’ are the exact same thing. For instance, Reisinger says,

"Remember that the Bible treats the ‘Ten Commandments,’ the ‘Tablets of the Covenant,’ the ‘Old Covenant’ and the ‘words of the covenant’ as equivalent and interchangeable terms."

In fact, Reisinger repeats this claim throughout the chapter. Now, Mike Adams is a regular contributor to a website devoted to NCT, and yet he is apparently unaware of the central claim made by perhaps the most well-known proponent of NCT. According to Reisinger’s published material, the Old Covenant is just the Ten Commandments; they are interchangeable and equivalent.[5]

For another witness to the NCT identification of the Decalogue with the Old Covenant, consider Geoff Volker’s claim in his definition of NCT (available at<http://www.ids.org/ids/wnct.html>, and favourably referenced in Adams paper, fn. 39). Here Volker says, "The Ten Commandments are the essence or terms of the Old Covenant." Once again, the Decalogue is identified as the terms of the Old Covenant (rather than being merely representative of them, or only forming part of the terms). This is the very NCT claim which Barcellos rebuts, for the ceremonial and civil laws (laws not contained in the Decalogue) were also considered by God to be the terms of the Old Covenant, since violating these laws is explicitly said to be a violation of the Old Covenant itself. Thus, far from being irrelevant to NCT, Barcellos’ arguments are relevant to rebutting claims found in the very NCT documents which Adams cites as a summary of his own views! Adams may disagree with this rebuttal, but he cannot deny that it is a distinctively NCT claim which is being rebutted.[6]

In this section, Adams attempts a reductio ad absurdum of what he takes to be Barcellos’ hermeneutic. Adams claims that Barcellos believes two things: [1] he "agrees with NCT that the Decalogue represents the entire Old Covenant," and [2] he agrees "that the cup represents the entire New Covenant." Then Adams tells us that if Barcellos is free to "bring the representative of one covenant into the other and expect it to function properly," then "what is stopping me from doing the reverse by imposing the cup, the representative of the New Covenant back onto the Old? It is the same hermeneutic in reverse!" There are so many things wrong with this argument, it is hard to know where to begin.

First, the most obvious thing to say is that Barcellos has never said he believes [1]. Adams has invented this claim up and told his readers that Barcellos believes it, but one searches Barcellos’ book in vain for the claim in question. Thus, Adams’ reductio is unsound because it appeals to premises his opponent does not advocate.

Second, let’s say – for the sake of argument – that the Decalogue is the ‘representative’ of the Old Covenant. What follows? In particular, how does it follow that biblical reasoning which establishes the application of the Decalogue to the New Covenant believer ipso facto establishes a reverse manoeuvre, that any New Covenant obligation applies to the Old Covenant believer? Perhaps an analogy will help. The seventh commandment, ‘do not commit adultery,’ is one of the terms of the Old Covenant; it’s in the Decalogue itself, on the tablets of stone deposited in the Ark. However, it is clear (even to NCT advocates) that this commandment is brought into the New Covenant and functions properly as moral law in the life of the believer (even as it did under the Old Covenant). Now, does the mere fact that a term of the Old Covenant can be brought over into the New, sufficient warrant to do the reverse for any term of the New Covenant (let’s say, bring baptism and the Lord’s Supper into the Old Covenant)? Of course not.[7] And to think such has never been Barcellos’ argument. Rather, Barcellos believes he has positive biblical warrant for believing that the Decalogue continues on in the New Covenant; that is what his exegesis of Jer 31, 2Co 3, Eph 6, 1Ti 1 is all about. Since Scripture does not warrant the reverse move, Barcellos (and any other classic covenant theologian) will not make it. In the end, Adams’ argument would amount to a reductio of Barcellos which could be performed on NCT as well: "since marital faithfulness is required for the NT believer as well as the OT believer, then we can because of that very fact make the Lord’s Supper required for the OT believer as well as the NT believer." No one believes this. So why attribute such commitments to Barcellos?

Thus, Adams’ attempted reductio of Barcellos’ position fails on two counts. First, it appeals to premises which Barcellos never advocated, and second it caricatures Barcellos’ reasoning by which OT law carries over into the NT. Conclusions are only ‘reversible’ if the arguments which ground those conclusions are reversible, and Adams has yet to show this is true of Barcellos’ arguments from Jer 31, 2Co 3, Eph 6, 1Ti 1, etc.

Adams continues: "Based on his assumption that NCT views the Decalogue as equal to the Old Covenant, Barcellos proceeds to expound four passages of Scripture to illustrate his point that the Decalogue only represents the Old Covenant." We now see this description of the polemical situation is doubly dubious. Barcellos hasn’t assumed "that NCT views the Decalogue as equal to the Old Covenant"; rather, it can be straightforwardly inferred from the writings of people like Reisinger and Volker. And Barcellos isn’t illustrating "his point that the Decalogue only represents the Old Covenant," since he never makes that point in the course of his entire book.[8] In sum, Adams sees assumptions in Barcellos where Barcellos makes arguments, and Adams attributes explicit points to Barcellos where Barcellos is actually silent. I don’t believe that these blunders are really helpful as the basis of a cogent response to Barcellos’ book.

What about the specific passages which Barcellos cites? Well, Adams makes clear his disapproval of Barcellos’ appeal to Jer 34:13-14 and Eze 44:6-8. Why? Apparently because of "his underlying hermeneutic and the damage it does to a Biblical understanding of the New Covenant." To be more specific, Barcellos commits the theological sin of identifying the laws in Jer 34:13-14 as civil laws (concerning Hebrew slavery) and identifying the laws in Eze 44:6-8 as ceremonial laws (concerning the bringing of uncircumcised foreigners into the sanctuary). Adams doesn’t like this, because he doesn’t like the traditionally Reformed distinction between moral, ceremonial, and civil laws. But here Adams has missed the point, for the moral/ceremonial/civil distinction is irrelevant to the particular argument which Barcellos is making. Barcellos’ conclusion is that the Old Covenant cannot be strictly identified with the Decalogue. And all that is required for Barcellos’ argument to work is the simple and obvious fact that the laws referred to in Jer 34:13-14 and Eze 44:6-8 – however categorised – are not laws which are found in the Decalogue. Since these laws are not part of the Decalogue, and yet these laws obviously function as terms of the Old Covenant (so that their violation just is violation of the Old Covenant), then Barcellos’ conclusion is sound: ‘the terms’ of the Old Covenant are not to be identified with the Decalogue. The violations of the Old Covenant noted in Jer 34:13-14 and Eze 44:6-8 are not violations of the Decalogue; thus the terms of the Old Covenant are not to be reduced to the terms of the Decalogue. To make this point, Barcellos does not have to in addition endorse some rigid moral/ceremonial/civil distinction among OT laws. He simply has to point out the obvious: however we want to categorise them, the laws referred to in Jer 34:13-14 and Eze 44:6-8 are not found in the Decalogue! Even an NCT advocate should be able to agree with this. Thus, Adams’ criticisms of the moral/ceremonial/civil distinction are completely irrelevant to undermining Barcellos’ argument, since Barcellos does not need that distinction in order to make his argument.[9] The claim that Barcellos must use "the Covenant Theology distinction of civil, ceremonial, and moral to reinforce his position" is simply false. He doesn’t need the distinction to make his point, at all.

By the way, I regard Adams’ criticisms here of the threefold distinction among the law to be very confused. When he says that "By definition, all law is moral, simply because God gave it," he reveals that he just doesn’t understand the Reformed position, and what the Reformed confessional tradition is claiming by its use of the three words ‘moral, ceremonial, and civil.’ In addition, it is strange that Adams accuses Barcellos of ‘inventing’ a distinction between moral law and other law under the Old Covenant, when Adams himself accepts this very distinction! For Adams had earlier agreed with Barcellos "that the law written on the heart in the historical context of Jeremiah 31 is the Decalogue." Adams agrees that the reference of Jer 31, at least in its OT context, is the Decalogue. He has said as much. Thus, he already agrees that there is a valid distinction among OT laws. Similarly, Adams concedes (indeed, it is a cornerstone of NCT argument) that the phrases ‘Ten Commandments’ and ‘tablets of stone’ are used over and over in the OT. Here is a clear OT witness to a distinction between the Decalogue and all other OT laws. So how can Adams argue that such a distinction is an invention of the Westminster Divines, when the very use of ‘Ten Commandments’ in distinction from other law is found throughout the OT?

Adams is quite right to point out that the phrase ‘the whole law’ is also found in Scripture (Ga 5:3; Jas 2:10-11), with likely reference to the entirety of the Mosaic law, and not merely to those laws which the classic covenant theologian calls ‘moral’. But what follows from this? Scripture also uses the phrases ‘Ten Commandments’ and ‘tablets of stone’ over and over, and this is a reference to only a part of the Mosaic law. Thus if Adams’ conclusion in fn. 16 – "that Scripture views the Law as a unit, and that as a unit it is indivisible and rises or falls together" – is supposed to mean that Scripture views the Law only as an indivisible unit, then this is falsified by the very texts about the ‘tablets of stone’ that NCT advocates usually cite in their favour! The Scriptures regularly make a distinction between the Decalogue and the rest of God’s law. How can Adams miss this? As for Adams’ appeal to Ga 3:16-25, to the effect "that Paul views the entire Old Covenant Law as a unit that rises and falls together," the classic covenant theologian will gladly agree. Thus Barcellos: "The New Testament clearly abrogates the whole Old Covenant, including the Decalogue, as it functioned within the Old Covenant, and yet borrows from its documents as the basis for New Covenant ethics" (p. 68). It is hard then to see what is Adams’ point. The fact of the matter is that Scripture refers to OT law in various ways, for various purposes. Scripture has phrases, such as ‘Ten Commandments’ and ‘tablets of stone,’ which refer to only part of the law, namely, the Decalogue. And Scripture has other phrases, such as ‘the whole law,’ which refer to the entirety of OT law. To his credit, Barcellos does not seize upon these latter descriptions as exhaustive of Scriptural descriptions of OT law. But for some reason, Adams does.

What of Barcellos’ appeal to Heb 9:1? His point is simple: the phrase ‘the first covenant’ in this verse refers to the ‘ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary.’ Since the latter are clearly ceremonial laws not found in the Decalogue, it follows that ‘the first covenant’ (i.e., the Old Covenant) cannot be strictly identified with the Decalogue. Rather than address the argument directly, Adams chastises Barcellos for thinking Heb 9:1 has reference to ‘the whole of the Mosaic legislation,’ whereas Barcellos takes other passages (i.e. Jer 34:13-14 and Eze 44:6-8) to have reference to civil or ceremonial laws. I cannot see the inconsistency here. Would Adams have been happier if Barcellos had restricted the reference of Heb 9:1 to the ceremonial law? OK, but Barcellos’ argument would still stand, since the point is that Jer 34:13-14, Eze 44:6-8, and Heb 9:1 all take the terms of the Old Covenant to include something other than the Decalogue.

What then of Barcellos’ use of Heb 9:18 to make this same point, for the fourth time? Adams obscures the simple claim of the text, that the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. Adams wants to focus on the fact that blood was used, whereas Barcellos is focusing on the fact of inauguration. But obviously both are the case, which is why Barcellos’ point stands. The Old Covenant was inaugurated with blood (in Ex 24), and this covenant included the Book of the Covenant, a document distinct from the Decalogue. Thus, the Old Covenant cannot be reduced to the Decalogue. Adams isn’t happy with this. He tells us that there are references to the covenant before Ex 24. But this tells us nothing about the content of the covenant which would be inaugurated in Ex 24, only that obedience to that covenant was required (Ex 19:5) and promised (Ex 19:7-8). Adams’ position seems to make little sense. He wants the Old Covenant "in place and functional" prior to Ex 24, and therefore inaugurated prior to any shedding of blood, even though this is precisely what Heb 9:18 denies! Adams wants the Old Covenant to be "ratified by the people in chapter 19 of Exodus," even though Heb 9:18 says that the Old Covenant was not inaugurated/established/ratified without blood. Indeed, it is the very fact that the mere pledge of the people to obey the covenant in Ex 19 was not sufficient in and of itself to ratify the covenant, that the events of Exodus 24 had to take place. Adams’ exegesis turns these obvious facts on their head. He wants a covenant ‘in place and functional’ but not inaugurated, established, or ratified![10]

Adams is also unhappy with Barcellos’ comments upon Ex 34:27-28. Barcellos’ point is that although a surface reading of Ex 34:27-28 gives the impression that the Old Covenant is to be identified with the Decalogue, careful examination of other Scriptures pertinent to defining the Old Covenant (Jer 34:13-14, Eze 44:6-8, Heb 9:1, and Heb 9:18) reveals that such an identification is simplistic: "Scripture itself does not warrant such an equation," once we let Scripture interpret Scripture. Again, Adams isn’t happy, for he goes on to say that we must in addition "inseparably connect the Decalogue to the Old Covenant: they are the words of that covenant." It’s hard to know what Adams intends here; we can interpret his words as trivially true, or as begging the question. If all he means by ‘inseparably connected’ is that we cannot define the Old Covenant apart from the Decalogue, so that wherever the Old Covenant is authoritative, so is the Decalogue, then this is quite true, and trivially so: who would doubt it? The Decalogue was essential to the Old Covenant. But if he means by ‘inseparably connected’ that the Decalogue cannot function as authoritative in any context apart from the Old Covenant, then he’s begged the question, since Barcellos has given Scriptural argument against the latter conclusion, and that is the argument which must be met. In any event, saying that the Decalogue is inseparably connected to the Old Covenant, and saying that the Old Covenant is to be reduced to the Decalogue, are two different things. Barcellos is only arguing against the latter; he can accept the former, at least in the trivially true sense just noted.

Adams is at pains to show that the NCT view doesn’t just come down to one text (Ex 34:27-28), for other texts seem to say similar things (Dt 9:7-11, 15; Dt 4:13; Heb 9:1-4). One problem: Adams’ point from these texts is that the Decalogue is ‘inseparably connected’ to the Old Covenant, but that is not the NCT claim which Barcellos is critiquing. Rather, Barcellos is critiquing the NCT claim that the Old Covenant is to be reduced to the Decalogue. Adams says, "Barcellos’ assertion that NCT cites ‘one text’ in its claim that the Decalogue as a unit is inseparable from the Old Covenant is false." Unfortunately, it is Adams who has been led astray here, for somehow he manages to misidentify the claim which Barcellos is critiquing. In sum, when Barcellos argues against the reduction of the Old Covenant to the Decalogue, Adams curiously complains about another issue altogether: that the Decalogue is inseparable from the Old Covenant. These kinds of confusions are not helpful in evaluating Barcellos’ work.


The Old Covenant is a Ministry of Death

Barcellos expounds 2Co 3:3 to the effect that "what Christ writes on the heart is the law of God as promised in Jeremiah 31:33." Thus, "the movement in Paul’s thought is not from one law to no law or a totally new law, but the same law from stone to heart." Adams thinks this conclusion is insufficient, for

"by concentrating on verse 3, Barcellos has missed Paul’s point of the character of the Old Covenant Law. He did not move beyond Paul’s introduction."

Let’s see if Barcellos has really missed the point.

Adams cites 2Co 3:6-11 and observes that

"from Paul’s comments in the remainder of the chapter we can deduce that he viewed the Mosaic Law and the Decalogue which represented it as a deadly written code."

This no doubt is true. But why is it relevant, and how does it undermine Barcellos’ conclusion? Again, Adams observes from this passage that

"Paul is asserting that the ministry of the Decalogue, which represents the entire Mosaic Law of the Old Covenant, is in some sense antithetical to the work of the Holy Spirit in imparting saving righteousness."

Again, this no doubt is true. But again, why is it relevant, and how does it undermine Barcellos’ conclusion?

Adams then says something very strange. He rightly says that

"Paul is contrasting for us the Old Covenant on one hand; the Law that could not save, with the New Covenant on the other hand; the work of the Spirit that does save."

But then he concludes from this that,

"in Paul’s argument, the law written with ink and engraved on tablets of stone is in opposition to the law written on the heart, which is the work of the Holy Spirit" (emphasis mine).

I see no reason for such a statement. To be sure, ‘the law written on the heart’ is ‘the work of the Holy Spirit.’ After all, Paul has said that "you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God" (2Co 3:3). But why say that the law written with ink is "is in opposition to" the law written on the heart? Where in this entire passage does Paul even hint at a change in content of what is written on the heart? To be sure there is a change of medium (that on which the law is written), from tablets of stone to hearts of flesh. And there is a change of agency (that by which the law is written), from ink/engraving to the Holy Spirit himself. But where does Paul hint at a change in what is written? Adams seems to invent this up out of thin air, and asserts that the law which is now written is "in opposition to" the law that was written earlier. Why would he want to do this, especially since he has already conceded that it is Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant – wherein God promises he will write his law upon our hearts – which is the context of 2Co 3? Up to now, Adams has been agreeing with Barcellos that the interpretation of that prophecy in its historical context is a reference to the Decalogue. He has also been promising us that the New Testament somehow makes clear that the content of that law as it is actually written on hearts in the New Covenant era is something other than the Decalogue. But when Adams actually comes to the first key NT text which applies Jeremiah’s prophecy, he invents his promised change of content out of thin air! Adams would no doubt disagree. He thinks that a contrast between the Old Covenant as a ministry of condemnation and death, and the New Covenant as a ministry of righteousness and life, entails a change in the content of what is written on the heart. Why does he think this?

Adams says that Barcellos misses the

"point entirely when he says that it is not the ministry of the Decalogue that brought death, but it is what the Decalogue was written on that brought death."

But where did Barcellos ever say such a thing, namely, that it is what the Decalogue was written on (the tablets of stone themselves?) that brought death? The sentence Adams cites from Barcellos here doesn’t come close to making this very bizarre claim. Indeed, apart from the distant possibility that Moses, as he came down the mount, accidentally dropped the stone tablets on some poor Israelite’s head and killed him on impact, I have no idea what Adams could mean by such a statement. What killed the Israelites was what the law was written on?! Barcellos says this?! Where?

Perhaps Adams’ fundamental mistake in this section is to assume that "the ministry of the Spirit" in 2Co 3:8 must be restricted to that activity of writing the law of God upon the heart, on the grounds that mere writing of the law would not effect the vital transformation of Christian lives by which Paul authenticates his ministry. But surely such a restriction of the scope of v. 8 would be incorrect, for the glorious ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant era is a manifold ministry: regenerating, awakening faith and repentance, sealing, comforting, convicting, sanctifying, interceding, assuring, and so on. This ministry is indeed more glorious than anything the law could do on its own. But the fundamental fact remains that 2Co 3 says absolutely nothing about a covenantal change in content of what is written on the medium (stone, hearts) by the agent (ink/engraving, Spirit). If indeed 2Co 3 is about the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, then central to that fulfilment is the writing of God’s own law upon the heart.

Or perhaps Adams’ fundamental mistake in this section is to make a hasty generalisation from what Paul says about the ministry of the law. In other words, having established from 2Co 3 that one purpose of the Decalogue is to condemn men, Adams gratuitously assumes that this condemning ministry is the only function of the Decalogue. Clearly this will not do. One reason Christ came was to die on the cross; we cannot infer from this that this is the only purpose of Christ’s coming, even if that great and fundamental purpose is emphasised in a variety of biblical texts. Similarly, one reason the NT was written was to inform us of the great events of Jesus’ life: his birth, teaching, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. But we cannot infer from this that this is the only purpose of the NT, for the NT was also written to interpret the theological significance of these events for us, and to convey to us specific moral instruction for our lives. Similarly, one purpose of the Decalogue was to condemn men, and that was one aspect of the ministry of the Old Covenant. But surely it was not the only purpose of the Decalogue, or of the Old Covenant. The Decalogue, along with the rest of OT revelation, was also the source of great rejoicing, delight, and guidance to those who meditated upon it; this was not a ministry of condemnation. The Old Covenant included a multitude of gracious provisions that administered the redeeming grace of God to a needy people: the sacrifices, the offerings, the priests, the temple. These communicated forgiveness to the people as they appropriated them by faith. Their intent was not to ‘kill’; this was not a ministry of condemnation.[11]

To be sure, "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2Co 3:6). But does the letter only kill? No, the law has manifold ministries of guidance, insight, delight and reward that are distinct from its ministry of condemnation:

And does the Spirit only give life? No, he also convicts "the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (Jn 16:8). Perhaps in this section of Adams’ paper, NCT reductionism has progressed from reducing the Old Covenant to the Decalogue, to now reducing the various ministries of letter and Spirit to just one each! The Apostle Paul doesn’t deserve to have these hasty, unbiblical generalisations foisted upon his carefully argued conclusions concerning law and spirit.[12]


The First Commandment with a Promise

Adams says that he agrees with Barcellos’ first point concerning Eph 6:2-3, but he seems unaware that this agreement has tremendous implications for his view of the Decalogue. Barcellos says:

"First, the fifth commandment of the Decalogue is introduced as support that obedience to parents is right. Benjamin B. Warfield notes, ‘The acknowledged authority of the fifth commandment as such in the Christian Church is simply taken for granted.’ Paul does not qualify his use of this Old Testament text or explain the basis for using it; he simply assumes its authoritative relevance."

Concerning this point, Adams says, "I agree with his first one [i.e., the point above], so there is no need to discuss it." But does he really agree? Does he believe that Paul simply assumes the authoritative relevance of the Fifth Commandment for Christian believers, so that its authority is simply granted rather than argued? If so, then the game is up. The Fifth Commandment is not authoritative for Christian believers because Paul quotes it here; rather, Paul quotes it here because its authority is assumed to carry on into the New Covenant era!

Thus we see that the great problem with the exegesis of Adams and other NCT writers, to the effect that the entire Mosaic law has been abolished, is that Paul (and others) clearly appeal to the continuing authority of various Mosaic laws as a basis for exhortation to NT believers! We not only see this in Jas 2:8-11 and Ro 13:8-10, but also most strikingly here in Eph 6:1-3. The apostolic exhortations in these passages simply assume the continuing authority of the Mosaic laws which are quoted. The apostolic argument is not "obey these Mosaic laws because I’ve quoted them in a NT letter" but rather "Don’t you see this is how you are to live? Because it was written long ago…" These apostolic arguments make no sense given the NCT thesis that the entire Mosaic law has been abolished as an indivisible unit, only to be partially resurrected on the authority of selective apostolic citation. For the apostolic citations which exist simply take for granted the continuing authority of the moral laws which they cite. Adams should ask himself: why are the Christian children in Ephesus admonished to obey the Fifth Commandment, to honour their parents, on the basis of a bare reference to that commandment, as the first commandment with a promise? Why would the quotation from "now obsolete tablets of stone" be assumed as even relevant for Christians, except for the fact that they are not really obsolete? The apostolic references to the Decalogue wouldn't have ‘connected’ with their readers unless both writer and reader were taking for granted the authority of those references, as reference to the Decalogue.[13]

In sum, the presupposition of these passages is that such commandments are authoritative independently of the writer's quotation of them. They are quoted because they are commonly recognised by author and reader as authoritative; they are not authoritative because the author quotes them. This is Barcellos’ ‘first point,’ and it is puzzling that Adams agrees with it but does not see the implications.

Indeed, in this very section Adams cites Eph 2:11-16 to the effect that the whole Mosaic law has been obliterated by the cross. And yet Adams also believes that Paul assumes the authoritative relevance of the Fifth Commandment for Christian believers! Thus on Adams’ interpretation, Paul simply contradicts what he says in Eph 2 when he comes to Eph 6. "The entire Decalogue gets abolished (ch. 2), but hey you kids should nevertheless be obeying the Fifth Commandment, and take note of the fact that it is the first commandment with a promise." This cannot be a correct interpretation of Paul.

In confirmation of Paul’s recognition of the continuing authority of the Decalogue, let’s take a look at what James says in Jas 2:8-11:

"8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law."

As with Paul in Eph 6, the assumption of James’ whole argument here is that the Decalogue is applicable in the New Covenant era. Why has someone who commits murder ‘become a transgressor of the law’? Because He who said ‘Do not commit adultery’ also said ‘Do not commit murder’! And where is that said? The Decalogue. But if NCT is true, why in the world should we (or James’ original readers) care in the slightest what God said through Moses, if the Mosaic law is a simple unit that has been done away with in its entirety at the cross? And why should we care whether or not we are fulfilling "the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’"? And why should we care, as James obviously does care, whether or not we "are convicted by the law as transgressors"?

No, the whole presupposition of James’ argument is that these OT commands continue to be binding upon and relevant to New Covenant believers. Not because James quotes them in the NT; that's simply not James’ argument: "you are transgressing the law because you are disobeying commands I have quoted." Rather, such commands are relevant precisely because they are ‘according to Scripture,’ and something ‘He said’ (prior to James).[14]

According to NCT, the argument of James 2:8-11 has to be a completely irrelevant and misleading reference to the assumed continuing authority of OT moral law. Ditto for Paul in Ro 13:8-10:

"8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

Now why should New Covenant believers care in the slightest about ‘fulfilling’ these Old Covenant laws, if they have been done away with entirely, as a unit? Why not simply say, ‘Love your neighbour,’ and be done with it?

Contrary to Adams’ criticisms in earlier sections of his paper, it is passages like these that force, exegetically, the traditionally Reformed threefold distinction in the Mosaic law, and preserve Mosaic moral law as continuing to be binding. It’s not an arbitrary ‘Reformed’ presupposition that’s brought to the text. It’s just a careful consideration of the inspired writers’ own assumptions that they bring to their arguments. James and Paul simply assume that the moral law continues to be authoritative, while the ceremonial law is explicitly done away (cf. Hebrews, Galatians, Colossians).[15] And the OT laws which do get imposed are imposed precisely because it is taken for granted (between writer and reader) that these laws will always be obligatory upon God’s people.

I’ve taken a lot of space here documenting the radical implications of Adams’ agreement with Barcellos’ first point. But I think it is vital to see how these implications undermine the whole NCT approach to the continuing authority of the Decalogue. NCT writers regularly misunderstand and misinterpret what is going on when NT writers cite the Decalogue. Warfield had it right: the authority of the Decalogue in the life of the church is simply taken for granted by the NT writers, rather than being suspended upon the independent authority of those writers themselves.

What about Barcellos’ second point?:

"Second, the fifth commandment is introduced as the first commandment with promise. He did not say the first that is morally binding, the first in the Bible, the first in the New Testament, or the first in this epistle. It is clear that he is referring to the fifth commandment as it appears elsewhere in a series of commands in which it is the first in that series with a promise. The only place this occurs in the entire Bible is in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments."

Adams is unhappy about this point because it "is just bad reasoning." Why? Well, here is Barcellos’ argument, according to Adams:

  1. "Remember, Barcellos’ conclusion of Jeremiah 31 is that since Jeremiah was referring to the Mosaic Law in the historical context of that chapter, that Scripture is now obligated to always view ‘the law written on the heart’ as the Decalogue."
  2. Thus, "Barcellos’ presupposition is that the Ten Commandments always function as a unit."
  3. "Therefore, if Paul refers to any one of them individually, he must have in mind all ten as a unit."

But this isn’t Barcellos’ argument at all! Indeed, it is impossible to read Barcellos’ paragraph above, and come up with the argument Adams attributes to him. Notice that, in analysing Barcellos’ point, Adams never addresses what is distinctive to that point, namely, the crucial observation that Paul

"is referring to the fifth commandment as it appears elsewhere in a series of commands in which it is the first in that series with a promise."

He ignores this key observation and its implications, and indeed ignores the biblical commentators which Barcellos cites (John Eadie and Andrew Lincoln), and prefers instead to invent a fictitious ‘presupposition’ and impose it upon Barcellos.

That fictitious presupposition occurs in premise 1, which then drives premises 2-3. Adams claims that Barcellos’ conclusion from Jer 31 is

"that since Jeremiah was referring to the Mosaic Law in the historical context of that chapter, that Scripture is now obligated to always view ‘the law written on the heart’ as the Decalogue."

In the first place, I have a hard time even understanding what this is supposed to mean. Where did Barcellos say Scripture had ‘obligations’ (personal obligations?!), much less obligations to ‘view’ a passage in a certain way? Perhaps what Adams means by this language is that Barcellos is committed to using his interpretation of Jer 31 as an infallible presupposition which must be imposed upon any NT text, come what may. If so, the charge is flatly false. What Barcellos argued is that the reference to the law in Jer 31 is a reference to the Decalogue, and Adams has already agreed that this is its historical context! In addition (as I argued in an earlier section of this response), Barcellos clearly alerts his readers on p. 18 fn. 5 to the fact that the New Testament helps to define the law of the New Covenant for us. But he equally alerts us to the fact that, on his view, exegesis of NT revelation will only confirm what he has already argued concerning Jer 31. This NT revelation is obviously the very texts (2Co 3, Eph 6, 1Ti 1, etc.) Barcellos will treat in later sections of his book, and which are now under discussion.

Thus, Barcellos argues that the reference of Jer 31 is to the Decalogue, and that the exegesis of various NT scriptures will bear this out. In response, Adams tries to make Barcellos say something very different, that his interpretation of Jer 31 means "that Scripture is now obligated to always view ‘the law written on the heart’ as the Decalogue," as if NT data could be ignored. This is precisely the view which Barcellos denies in his footnote; he obviously holds that the New Testament helps to define New Covenant law for us, which is why he takes the time to exegete various NT passages. Sadly, Adams seems to just make up a position and attribute it to Barcellos. He has gone in a circle, from Jer 31 to Eph 6 and back again, and has missed the crucial and distinctive observation Barcellos actually made from Eph 6:2, about it being the first commandment with a promise. What is Adams’ exegesis of this aspect of Eph 6:2? Why should it matter to NT believers whether or not the moral obligation Paul is laying upon them was ‘the first commandment with a promise’? Who cares whether or not this command was previously written on ‘now obsolete tablets of stone,’ unless, perhaps, such tablets aren’t really obsolete? This simple observation, derived exegetically from Eph 6:2, is ignored by Adams because he appears to confuse his fictitious presuppositions with Barcellos’ exegesis.

What about Barcellos’ third point?:

"Third, Paul views the Decalogue as a whole unit and in a positive light. If the fifth commandment is applicable in a positive way and if Paul is assuming it as it occurred in a series of commandments in which it was the first with a promise, then the commands which precede and follow it still function as commands in a series."

Adams says that Barcellos’ "third point is only half true." Why? Well, Adams doesn’t like the fact that Barcellos says Paul views the Decalogue ‘in a positive light.’ For, says Adams, "we have already shown that Paul does not view the Decalogue in a positive light." Adams is most likely referring here to the condemning ministry of the law highlighted in 2Co 3. And, no doubt, Paul does believe the law has this ministry of condemnation. But this only precludes Paul also seeing the Decalogue in a positive light, if we assume that condemnation is the only ministry of the law. And I have given ample evidence in the previous section to the effect that such reductionism has no place in the Scriptural view of law, for that view reveals the manifold ministry of law, in the life of the believer. Yes, the law reveals to us our sin. But it is also a rule for our life, a light, a guide, a source of delight, rejoicing, and meditation. None of these aspects of the law is ‘negative’ or is a ministry of condemnation.

The fact of the matter is the Scripture views the law in a variety of ways, both positive and negative, in terms of its many functions. Thus, when Adams says that Paul does not view the Decalogue in a positive light, we must respond that this is true but irrelevant to the point he wishes to make, for Scripture does not reduce the ministry of the law to just one. Far from it being the case that "Barcellos’ statement crumbles under its own weight," we see that Adams’ criticism crumbles under the weight of his own focus on the killing aspect of the law. Once again, NCT reductionism reveals itself: if the law condemns, then it cannot do anything else.

What about Barcellos’ fourth point?

"Fourth, the promise stated is applied to children in Asia Minor in the first century. If the command applies, then certainly its promise does as well. This shows us that there may be elements within the Decalogue as originally given which applied specifically to Israel as God’s Old Covenant nation which now apply to the Church under the New Covenant. This promise originally referred to the promised land of the Abrahamic Covenant. In one sense, it was originally restricted to that same promised land. However, the utility of the Decalogue transcends the promised land under the New Covenant. This shows us that the Decalogue is still binding as a unit under the New Covenant, though not in the same manner in which it was under the Old. The law is the same; its application, though, is modified to fit the conditions brought in by the death of Christ and the inauguration of the New Covenant."

One would think that Adams would approve of Barcellos’ sensitivity here to the progression from Old to New. For Barcellos’ position on the Decalogue isn’t absolutistic: if the New Testament clearly modifies a promissory aspect of a commandment in light of greater New Covenant realities, then we must accept this modification. There is a freedom on the part of the inspired NT writers to reapply the Decalogue in the new historical-redemptive situation.

Nevertheless, this does not satisfy Adams. He objects to the assertion that "the utility of the Decalogue transcends the promised land under the New Covenant." According to Adams, "at best, this is poor reasoning and a very bad handling of Scripture as a whole." Why? Because

"Barcellos is telling us that the Decalogue is responsible for taking the promise associated with the fifth commandment beyond the physical limits of Old Covenant Israel and out to the world."

Once again, I am at a loss to even understand Adams’ claims. Where did Barcellos say that the Decalogue (the tablets of stone?) is a responsible agent, able to ‘take promises beyond physical limits’? This is news to me.[16]

The reader searches in vain for a clear explanation of what Adams means by the above. We are instead greeted by a series of six dubious statements, which I now examine in turn.

Adams says, "All of the promised blessings stated in the Old Covenant were limited to Israel in the Promised Land." But this is not true, since the NT applies many Old Covenant blessings and promises to the church. How can Adams miss this, since it is allegedly a cornerstone of NCT doctrine? After all, didn’t Adams argue in an earlier section that the promise to the Israelites of physical rest from their enemies under Joshua (Jos 21:43-45) was a rest which symbolised the spiritual rest promised to every believer in Christ (Heb 4:8-9)? Indeed, does not Paul in Ro 10:8 take Dt 30:14 to be a promise of the very gospel he preaches in the NT era? Does not Paul in Ro 10:19 take Dt 32:21 to be fulfilled in the church? Does not Paul in Ro 15:10 take Dt 32:43 to be a promise that Gentiles will rejoice with God’s people in the church? How can Adams cite Ro 9:1-5 to the effect that ‘the promises’ are only for Israel, given this clear testimony of the rest of the book of Romans? Perhaps Adams is reducing ‘Old Covenant’ promises to ‘Decalogue’ promises. But this would be to just beg the question, since in Eph 6:2-3 Paul obviously takes the fundamental promised blessing of the Fifth Commandment and applies it to the church! So however we interpret Adams’ point, it doesn’t make any sense.

Adams says that Barcellos’ argument breaks down "in his claim that it is the ‘Decalogue that transcends the Promised Land under the New Covenant’." Perhaps Adams should simply reread Barcellos, for the latter’s precise claim is that the utility of the Decalogue transcends the promised land.

Adams says that

"to move the promise associated with the fifth commandment beyond the Promised Land and out to the entire earth requires not some sort of transformed Decalogue, but an entirely different law."

But again, this is false. In Eph 6:2-3, Paul applies the same law (the Fifth Commandment) with a modified promise. Eph 6:2-3 is perhaps the most concise refutation of Adams’ claim that "to change the promise, the entire Law must be changed," for here is a case where the promise was changed but the law was not.

Adams says that "the promise of long life associated with the fifth commandment" was "limited to physical Israel." Another false claim, since (once again) Eph 6:2-3 directly refutes it. Adams says that "the promise of long life associated with the fifth commandment… did not originate with the Decalogue." How is this supposed to follow from the two OT texts which Adams cites (Ex 21:17; Lev 20:9), since these came after the Decalogue?

Adams says that "Barcellos’ assertion that the utility of the Decalogue transcends the Promised Land under the New Covenant flies in the face of what Paul has said elsewhere in the New Testament," namely, Eph 2:11-16. But the latter passage is perhaps the best refutation of Adams’ interpretation to be had! What Paul says here (and what Adams ironically emphasises) is that Christ has made Jew and Gentile one "by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations," and that Christ has reconciled both Jew and Gentile to God through the cross "by which he put to death their hostility." But how is doing away with the Decalogue supposed to reconcile Jew and Gentile, especially since (on any NCT view) at least 90% of the Decalogue continues to be normative for the Jewish-and-Gentile-church? For instance, how would the prohibition against murder or adultery keep Jews and Gentiles apart? Is it not obvious that the reference here is to the ceremonial law, which at every point excluded the uncircumcised, ceremonially unclean Gentile from the divine ordinances of worship? It is the abolition of these laws which brings peace between Jew and Gentile; this is precisely why Paul raises the issue of birth and circumcision in v. 11, and citizenship in Israel in v. 12. To think otherwise is to inexplicably make the Decalogue the source of Jew-Gentile division, and in addition to make the Paul of Eph 2 contradict the Paul of Eph 6: "The entire Decalogue gets abolished (ch. 2), but hey you kids should nevertheless be obeying the Fifth Commandment, and take note of the fact that it is the first commandment with a promise."

Adams brings a false dilemma to the discussion: "it is not the Decalogue that transcends redemptive history; it is the cross." But why can’t it be both? Adams here seems to have a basic misunderstanding either of ‘transcends’ or ‘utility.’ What transcends the Old Covenant in Eph 6:2-3 is the utility of the Decalogue; in particular, the promissory aspect of the Fifth Commandment. Under the Old Covenant, obedience to the Decalogue brought blessing; that was part of its utility, or usefulness, to the people of God. In particular, obedience to the Fifth Commandment brought the blessing promised in the text of that commandment: "that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (Ex 20:12). The Decalogue enshrines commands, obedience to which brings blessing. And what is obvious from Eph 6:2-3 is that Paul sees this utility of the Decalogue as transcending the Old Covenant, for it is precisely this promised blessing attached to the Fifth Commandment which Paul applies to his Christian readers. The blessing is modified to fit the New Covenant context (that you may live long on the earth, i.e. wherever you are as the world-wide New Covenant people of God, rather than simply in Israel), but it is obedience to that same, unchanging command which brings the blessing.

It is important to note at this point that Adams’ interpretation of Eph 2:11-16 and Col 2:13-14 comes very close to trivialising the entire work of Christ, and making it of none effect. Adams rightly says: "The work of Christ on the cross, which by definition is the New Covenant, canceled that written code, with its regulations." True enough. But how are we to interpret this ‘cancelling’? What, exactly, gets abolished, and what does it mean that it gets abolished? There are at least two views here which are compatible with the text, views which are common among Reformed interpreters:

  1. The authority of the moral law to condemn us is what gets abolished (although this is compatible with its continuing authority to regulate our lives).[17]
  2. The authority of the ceremonial law is abolished (and this includes abolishing its authority to regulate our lives).[18]

On the first view, the condemning power but not the regulatory authority of the moral law gets abolished, while on the second view, the regulatory authority of the ceremonial law gets abolished. Notice that on each view, the glorious value of the work of Christ is preserved in the lives of his people. On the first view, the work of Christ is defined as saving us from the condemning power of the moral law, while on the second view, the work of Christ is defined as saving us from the regulating authority of the burdensome ceremonial law. In each case, believers continue to enjoy the effects of Christ’s work throughout the New Covenant era; Christ has actually done something permanent on their behalf: the moral law can never condemn us, and the ceremonial law can never obligate us. But consider now a third view of the statement: "The work of Christ on the cross, which by definition is the New Covenant, canceled that written code, with its regulations." This view (which seems to be Adams’ view) is that:

  1. Christ abolished the regulatory authority of the entire Mosaic law. Christ didn’t just save us from the condemning power of the moral law (view 1), he didn’t just nullify the regulatory authority of the ceremonial law (view 2), but he actually nullified the regulatory authority of the entire Mosaic law!

The alarming consequence is this. Views [1] and [2] preserve the regulatory authority of the Decalogue, which makes sense, since the NT writers seem to assume without argument the continuing regulatory authority of the Decalogue, in Eph 6:2-3, Jas 2:8-11 and Ro 13:8-10. But view [3] commits one to the view that the work of Christ in abolishing the regulatory authority of the Decalogue amounts to virtually nothing, since the apostles subsequently ‘resurrect’ the authority of 90% of the Decalogue in their writings! By reimposing 9 out of the 10 commandments, the apostles are actually reversing that great work of Christ described for us in Eph 2:11-16 and Col 2:13-14! This is remarkable. Views [1] and [2] avoid this trivialisation of the work of Christ, since nowhere do the apostles put believers back under the condemning power of the moral law, or back under the regulatory authority of the ceremonial law, and thus reverse what is described in Eph 2:11-16 and Col 2:13-14.

To summarise: by going beyond views [1] and [2], and making Christ’s work upon the cross to be one that abolishes the regulatory authority of the entire Mosaic law (including the Decalogue) over our lives, the apostles are then left to nullify and reverse that great work, by reimposing 9 of the 10 commandments. They reimpose what Christ cancelled by his work on the cross. The only way out of this absurdity is to interpret the work of Christ in a way that is consistent with both the permanent value of the work of Christ for the believer, and with the apostles’ own assumption in a variety of places that the continuing authority of the Decalogue can be taken for granted by NT Christians. Given Adams’ interpretation of what takes place in Eph 2:11-16 and Col 2:13-14, his statement that "the New Testament brings individual commands into the New Covenant era, but not as the Decalogue" amounts to an assertion that the New Testament writers reverse the work of Christ.[19]

Adams response to Barcellos’ exegesis of Eph 6:2-3 fails to be cogent, again and again. He agrees with Barcellos’ first point, even though such agreement undermines the entire NCT thesis about the Decalogue. His disagreement with Barcellos’ second point amounts to imputing to Barcellos a position he does not hold. His disagreement with Barcellos’ third point depends upon an extreme reductionism about the ministry of the law. And his disagreement with Barcellos’ fourth point is a sequence of claims that are either bizarre or obviously false, and which threaten to transform the apostles into those who actually nullify the work of Christ on behalf of the believer.


What Jesus Purchased on the Cross: The Forgiveness of Sin and a New Heart

Adams says that "under the Old Covenant most of the nation of Israel were unbelievers, with only a remnant of believers." But this is a hasty generalisation, unsupported by the actual evidence. Let’s look at Adams’ evidence for this statement:

The fact of the matter is that there were only three generations of Israelites which God totally rejected (apart from a believing remnant): the generation of Moses (the wilderness), the generation of Jeremiah (the exile) and the generation of Jesus (the pruning of the olive tree). Adams generalises from these three individual Israelite generations to say that Israel was always an unbelieving people, for her entire history! This is false. For starters, if Adams were correct about the fundamental character of Israel, then the Exile would have happened a lot earlier! But as a matter of fact, God only exiled Israel when she became apostate. The wilderness generation all perished in the desert; the exile generation were scattered among the nations; Jesus’ generation came under the judgement of pagan Rome. How does it follow from this, from these three distinct historical judgements, that Israel was always an unbelieving people, or that the majority of Israelites in every generation were unbelievers?

Based on this entirely dubious conclusion, all the classic dispensational dichotomies now reveal themselves:

There’s not a single cogent argument given for any of this. And yet on this basis of these extreme characterisations we are told that only the New Covenant community is the "real people of God."[21] Indeed, we are told that "the New Covenant believer is internally motivated (the new heart) to want to obey the God of Scripture," leaving us wondering what the Old Covenant writers of Ps 119:32, 35, 47 and Ps 116:12 were talking about.[22]

Adams exclaims again and again, "Law is not the believer’s motivator!" Well, I for one believe it! But on the basis of this truth Adams now tosses out quite a zinger:

"This is what the phrase law written on the heart means. It means that I am motivated internally by the Holy Spirit to love Jesus Christ. The law written on the heart motivates the believer to want to obey the God of Scripture. Contrary to what Barcellos thinks, it has nothing to do with the Decalogue being somehow etched on my heart."

This is exceedingly puzzling, because I thought we were doing exegesis. I thought Adams agreed with Barcellos that the reference of Jer 31 in its historical context was to the Decalogue, that is, to the Decalogue being written upon the heart by the Spirit of God. But now, based upon the (exclusively NT?) truth that ‘law is not the believer’s motivator,’ we are supposed to believe that the phrase ‘law written on the heart’ "has nothing to do with the Decalogue being somehow etched on my heart." Rather, it "means that I am motivated internally by the Holy Spirit to love Jesus Christ." And the reason for this radical revision in our interpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy is supposed to be NT texts that have nothing to do with Jeremiah’s prophecy. I’ll leave it to the reader to sort this one out. I can’t find any cogency in it. This move goes against all conceivable rules of exegesis. It is of course true that we are "motivated internally by the Holy Spirit to love Jesus Christ." But why think that the fundamental meaning of "law written on the heart" is reduced to or even affected by this truth?

The fact of the matter is that the ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant era, prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel and explained by Jesus and the apostles, is a manifold ministry: not only writing the law upon the heart, but also moving his people internally to walk in accordance with that law. There is no exegetical reason to equate these two things, although there is abundant exegetical evidence to affirm both their distinct existence and their intrinsic compatibility. Adams’ ‘prooftexts’ only do the latter; they certainly don’t ‘redefine’ for us an entire phrase of Scripture![23]

Adams immediately tosses out another zinger:

"By bringing the Decalogue into the New Covenant and imposing it on the New Covenant believer, Barcellos is in essence nullifying the New Covenant concept of the new heart and making our motivation the Law, which is not based on faith."

I can only ask the reader to go back and reread this portion of Adams. I can’t find any argument for this gross distortion of Barcellos’ position. Why would one think that belief in the continuing regulatory authority of the Decalogue over the life of the believer is incompatible with "the New Covenant concept of the new heart"? How does this square with NCT’s belief that at least 90% of the Decalogue continues on in its regulatory authority over the life of the believer, who has a new heart? And why would one think that the continuing authority of the Decalogue implies that "our motivation" is "the Law"? Wasn’t it the both case that King David was under the authority of the Decalogue and that his motivation for obedience to that law was the justifying grace of God in his life? In short, I haven’t the foggiest notion why Adams would think that "nullifying the New Covenant concept of the new heart" and "making our motivation the Law" is a consequence of "imposing the Decalogue on the New Covenant believer." If these horrible, nasty things don’t follow from imposing 90% of the Decalogue upon the New Covenant believer, then why would they follow from imposing all of it?

Adams gets himself into more difficulties with this kind of argument. Adams quite rightly describes the internal motivation of David:

"That is why David, a true believer in a nation of unbelievers, could say, ‘Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.’ Psalm 119:97. It is not that he was seeking to be justified by the Law, but that as a believer he was internally motivated to want to obey the Law that he was under. He loved the God of the Law because the God of the Law had given to him a new heart and the forgiveness of sin. David was motivated internally be the Spirit’s application of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for his sins (even though historically, Jesus’ death on the cross had not occurred yet) and because of the new heart he was a true God-lover and internally motivated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 2:11) to want to obey the Law he was under (the Mosaic Law)."

Adams doesn’t seem to realise that all this was the case, even though the Decalogue was imposed upon David. So how can imposing the Decalogue upon the believer amount to ‘nullifying the concept of the new heart’ and ‘making our motivation the law’? Adams can’t have it both ways: his biblical view of David and his gross distortion of the consequences of Barcellos’ position.

Finally, Adams cites 1Co 9:19-21 to the effect that Paul did not view himself under "even the Decalogue." But surely that does not follow. All Paul says is that "I myself am not under the law" (v. 20).[24] What is the reference of ‘the law’ here? We can take it broadly, or more narrowly.

  1. Should we take it in its broadest possible interpretation, the entire Mosaic law? If so, then there are two readings of the broad interpretation:

    1. "I am not under the entire Mosaic law." This first reading is entirely compatible with being under the Decalogue, since one can be under the Decalogue and yet not be under the entire Mosaic law (the Mosaic law embraces more than the Decalogue).

    2. "I am not under any of the Mosaic law." This second reading is obviously false, since Paul did see himself as under at least some of the Mosaic law.

  2. Or we could take the reference of ‘the law’ in a narrower interpretation. Since in the very same verse Paul is talking about ‘becoming like a Jew to the Jews, to win the Jews,’ the narrower reference (if any) is most likely to the ceremonial law which Paul is not under but at times defers to for the sake of Jewish evangelism (cf. Paul’s voluntary deference to various ceremonial laws, for the sake of Jewish evangelism, in Ac 16:3, 18:18, 21:20-26). On this interpretation, not being under the ceremonial law is obviously compatible with being under the Decalogue.

Thus, on no reasonable interpretation of 1Co 9:20, whether broad or narrow, is Paul’s subjection to the regulatory authority of the Decalogue excluded.[25]


Is the Law Written on the Heart Literal Content?

Adams says that according to Barcellos, "the Decalogue is included ‘in the terms of the New Covenant’ and as a result, is written in a literal way on the believer’s heart." So far so good. But then Adams says that

"Barcellos can make this claim because he has confused the phrase ‘law written on the heart’ of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 7-10 with the law of the conscience of Romans chapter 2."

No, Barcellos can make this claim because the prophecy of Jer 31, which Adams himself agrees has reference to the Decalogue, is a prophecy of the New Covenant. Why obscure the basic point which Barcellos makes so plain in the opening sections of his book? Why ignore this and claim that Barcellos ‘real’ argument is actually found in the last quarter of his book?

Now, Barcellos does believe that the reference to "law written on their hearts" in Ro 2:12-15 is a reference to the Decalogue. But he doesn’t believe that the phenomena referenced in Ro 2 is a fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy! Barcellos is clear that the Gentiles get this law via general revelation, not via the New Covenant. There is no ‘confusion’ here.

Adams cites Ro 2:12-15 to the effect that

"Barcellos has confused the imperfect law of the conscience that every unbeliever (and in this context, every Gentile unbeliever) possesses with the literal writing of the Decalogue on the heart."

How do we know this? Apparently because Douglas Moo "identifies this law of the conscience as a generic law." And why is it ‘generic’? Because saying that non-Christian Gentiles are "without the law" and saying they are "without law" are two different things. It’s not quite clear why this entails that the Gentiles only have some generic, imperfect law written on their hearts, especially since the crucial assertion of v. 15 is that the Gentiles have "the work of the law written in their hearts." The definite article is in the text, right before nomos; it’s puzzling why Adams ignores this. Paul talks about the requirements of the law which are ‘written on their hearts’. ‘The law’? Which law is that? What is ‘the law’ in the Jew/Gentile contrast throughout Ro 2:12-15? This is precisely the question which Barcellos raises and then answers, but Adams apparently mistranslates the passage, and ignores Barcellos’ argument.

Again, Adams’ reference to an ‘imperfect’ law is also puzzling; where is this in the text? On the contrary, the law is written so clearly upon the Gentiles’ hearts, that they not only have ‘the requirements of the law’ written on their hearts (i.e. their stipulations), but in addition they know apart from Scriptural revelation the sanctions of the law, that "that those who practice such things are deserving of death" (Ro 1:32). So if anything, Paul’s stress throughout Ro 1-2 is that this knowledge of God’s law is clear, not ‘generic’ or ‘imperfect.’ This makes sense, since Paul is trying to lay an objective foundation that is sufficient for the righteous judgement of God, against those who suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness.

Adams says that "this law of the conscience is an imperfect law" because Ro 2:15 says, "their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them, Romans 2:15), but condemning nonetheless." Here he just misinterprets the verse. Paul is not setting forth a picture of imperfection here, and saying that sometimes the thoughts of their conscience do the right thing and accuse them, and sometimes they don’t work correctly, and do the wrong thing and defend them instead." He is simply saying that their thoughts accuse or defend them. If they do what is wrong, their consciences accuse them. If they do what is right, their consciences defend them. It is indeed by this proper functioning of the conscience that "they show the work of the law written in their hearts." So there is no need to impose here some idea of an ‘imperfect law’. Imperfection may indeed arise because men suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but this suppression presupposes the existence of a truth to suppress!

Adams says that

"Barcellos has taken something away from the newness of the New Covenant by his view that the Decalogue is written on the heart of every unbeliever in some way."

But why think this? Barcellos is not reducing the manifold ministry of the Spirit in the life of the believer to merely writing the law of God upon his heart. As we saw earlier, to restrict the scope of 2Co 3:8 to that one aspect would be incorrect, for the glorious ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant era is a manifold ministry: regenerating, awakening faith and repentance, sealing, comforting, convicting, sanctifying, interceding, assuring, and so on. But – and this is the important point – neither is Barcellos saying that the ministry of the Spirit is anything less than this writing of the law of God upon the heart in a new way.


A New Priest Brings a New Law

Adams claims that "since Barcellos never leaves the Book of Jeremiah to consider any newer revelation in the New Testament, his exegesis is biblically flawed." This is straightforwardly false, as Barcellos’ extended examination of 2Co 3, Eph 6:2-3, 1Ti 1:8-11, and many other NT texts make clear.

Adams makes heavy weather over Heb 7:12, "For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law." In context, this verse is obviously referring to the ceremonial law which tied the priesthood to descent from Levi, and thus imposed a particular ancestry upon Old Covenant priests. The argument is that since there has been a change of priesthood, from Levitical to Melchizedekian, the law requiring Levitical ancestry of all priests must have been repealed. And a good thing too because, as the author points out, Jesus did not descend from Levi. But rather than actually focus upon the writer’s argument in context, Adams chooses to generalise: "the law" which must be changed with the change of priesthood must be "a change in the entire system of law."[26] But he doesn’t come close to giving an argument for this conclusion. He says some true things about the priests deciding disputes, and about the Old Covenant picturing the gospel. How this obviates the obvious ceremonial context of Heb 7:12, and its focus upon the specific law concerning priestly descent which is at the heart of the writer’s argument concerning the Levitical/Melchizedekian transition, is left unsaid.


There Was Something Wrong with the Old Covenant

Adams cites Heb 8:7 "For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another," and then tells us that what was "wrong with the Old Covenant" was that "the Law of that [Old] Covenant was powerless to produce a believing community." In other words, in contrasting the Old and New Covenants, Adams lays primary emphasis upon the impotence of the law associated with the Old covenant to effect spiritual salvation. There are two things wrong with this.

First, Adams fails to cite the very next verse: "Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah’" (Heb 8:8, my emphasis). In other words, what was "wrong with that first covenant" (v. 7) is that God found fault with the people (v. 8). This perfectly accords with the text of Jeremiah which the author of Hebrews is quoting, for God makes plain through the prophet that it was the people who broke his covenant (Jer 31:32).[27]

Second, while it is true that the law of the Old Covenant was powerless to produce a believing community, why think it is any different with the law of the New Covenant, the law of Christ? For instance, is it the case that the various commands that Christ lays down for his people in the Gospels, and which his apostles lay down in their epistles, are able to produce a believing community? Of course not. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.[28]

The fact of the matter is that the covenantal contrast in the book of Hebrews is explicitly in terms of promise, not law. Such is said to be the case in the verse immediately preceding the one Adams cites: "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises" (Heb 8:6, emphasis mine). Consider the various promises laid out in Jer 31:33-34, which are then cited in Heb 8:10-12. God never promised to fulfil his law, grant knowledge of himself, and forgive the sins of every covenant member in the Old Covenant, but that is precisely the promise of the New: every single one of the conditions for fellowship with God, laid down in the Old, is fulfilled in the New. Thus, the New Covenant is better because it is founded on better promises, not because it is founded on a better law. There is no evidence for the latter in the text of Heb 8. What Adams has done here is inexplicable: quote Heb 8:7, and then ignore the verses immediately preceding and succeeding, even though these verses answer the precise question Adams raises from v. 7! God never promised to unconditionally and graciously fulfil the covenant law in the life of every Old Covenant member (v. 6), and as a result they became covenant-breakers and God found fault with them (v. 8). This is what was distinctively wrong with that first covenant (v. 7), its promises, not its law.[29]

In sum, to be sure, there was something wrong with the Old Covenant. But it had nothing to do with the Decalogue, as such! If it did, then why does at least 90% of the Decalogue get reimposed in the New Covenant?

Adams takes us back again to 2Co 3:7-11, and once again reduces the ministry of the Old Covenant and its law to that of a killing, condemning ministry. Here I only reaffirm my earlier criticisms of this reductionism.

Adams cites Heb 7:18 to the effect that the entire law was not only weak but useless, apparently not seeing that ‘the former regulation’ here is not the entire law, but merely the ceremonial law having to do with the Levitical ancestry of priests.

Adams cites Ga 3:10-12, apparently not seeing that according to the very next verse, "the curse of the law" (v. 13) in the Book of the Covenant is being applied to Gentiles who were redeemed by Christ in the New Covenant, thus giving a significance to that law which transcends the Old Covenant. Even pagan Gentiles are under the curse of that law, a point Paul proves by actually quoting the curses section of the book of Deuteronomy. The fundamental moral authority of the Book of the Covenant is simply assumed by Paul to be relevant to his Gentile Galatian readers, for they are to consider that the curses of that law fell upon Christ instead of themselves, and that in so doing Christ became a curse for them.

Indeed, the significance of Ga 3:10-14 against the NCT view of Mosaic moral law is simply staggering. How could Christ’s obedience to the demands of the old covenant, and the earning of the righteousness which that covenant demanded, be the earning of the righteousness which we Gentiles needed? Unless the basic old covenant demands in the Ten Commandments were those of the unchanging moral law that applies to all of mankind in every age. This is why the NCT view is so confused. If all Christ did was fulfil something that is characterised as Israel’s unique and temporary old covenant, he’s a pretty irrelevant Redeemer to most of the world. Why should Paul’s Gentile readers care that Jesus fulfilled obsolete Israelite tablets of stone? Why do modern day pagans need the righteousness of someone who fulfilled the moral demands of the old covenant? It can only be because the very presupposition of the gospel is that of the continuing, abiding authority of God’s moral law over all mankind.

I can't put it any better than a friend of mine (Phil Marshall) put it in an exegesis paper he wrote while an M.Div. student at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.[30] Here’s how Marshall sets up the exegetical problem:

"In Gal 3:13, Paul writes that ‘Christ redeemed US from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.’ However, Paul is writing this epistle to a predominantly Gentile church in the Galatian region. How is it that Gentile converts can be said to have been under the ‘curse of the law’ when that law was given originally to the nation of Israel as a special covenant with them?…"

After setting up the problem, Marshall continues:

"Interestingly, as Paul universalizes the concept of the sons of Abraham, he at the same time universalizes the scope of those who are considered to be ‘under the curse of the law.’ What do I mean by this? According to the OT Scriptures, when God brought Israel to Mt. Sinai, He entered into covenant with them as His peculiar people and gave them a law to keep as His covenant people. Part of their covenantal responsibility when they entered the land was to station certain tribes on Mt. Gerizim and on Mt. Ebal to pronounce the cursings on Israel’s disobedience and the blessings on their obedience (Dt 27,28). The last of the curses, a summary curse, is quoted by Paul in Gal 3:10: ‘For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM."’ This ‘book of the law" is clearly the Sinaitic legislation, not some vague notion of universal moral law written on the hearts of men. The fact that this law code is Israel’s peculiar institution is further corroborated by the fact that Paul quotes from the Pentateuch two more times, in 3:12 from Lev 18:5 and in 3:13 from Dt 21:23, when establishing who is under the curse of the law.
"Now, given the fact that the curse of the law (of Moses) belongs particularly to those who are under the law-works of Moses, how is it that Paul can write to a predominantly Gentile church that ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.’ How can it be that the Galatians, most of whom have never been subject to the Mosaic legislation, can be said to be under the curse of that Mosaic legislation along with the Jews? How is it that Paul can universalize the curse of the law so as to include the non-Jews?…"

Marshall's ultimate answer will of course not be satisfactory to the NCT advocate:

"I believe that a satisfactory resolution to this question can be sought in a proper understanding of the relationship between the Adamic covenant of works arrangement in the garden and the Mosaic covenantal arrangement in the land of Canaan. What precisely is that relationship? The Mosaic covenant is a typological works covenant which recapitulates the Adamic works covenant while pointing forward to the consummation kingdom of Messiah."

Now, even if the NCT advocate cannot bring himself to accept this specific explanation for Paul’s conclusion in Gal 3, Paul’s conclusion itself (whatever the explanation) cannot be disputed: the Mosaic moral law is the unchanging moral law of God for all mankind. Indeed, the usual NCT identification of the ‘old covenant’ and ‘the law’ with the Ten Commandments only strengthens the point, as we examine Paul’s language about ‘the curse of the law’. The undeniable fact of the matter is that, according to Gal 3:10-14, Christ redeemed us Gentiles from the curse of the Israelite law, something that would be unthinkable on any NCT construction.

In sum, Adams’ cites Gal 3 in order to bring out the Old Covenant’s ministry of condemnation and death, without seeing that this passage strikingly reinforces Barcellos’ main thesis about the assumed continuity of Israelite moral law in the NT church. Adams thought this passage was at least indirectly relevant to refuting Barcellos’ thesis, when actually it is directly relevant to confirming that thesis.


There Was Something Wrong with the People of the Old Covenant

I have already dealt with Adams’ dubious claim that "as a whole, the Old Covenant nation of Israel consisted of a God-hating community." Adams invalidly generalises from a statement about a single Israelite generation (Heb 8:8-10) to all Israelite generations.[31]

Adams curiously states: "If Israel were the true people of God He would never reject them, but this is not the case. Israel, as a covenant nation, rejected God and was rejected by God." Adams overlooks what seems obvious: if Israel was "a covenant nation," and therefore in covenant with God, then in virtue of that very fact they were the true people of God (as opposed to, say, the people of Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon). How does Adams want to define ‘true people of God’? The elect? But the OT repeatedly calls Israel ‘the people of God,’ even though Adams thinks they were for the most part unbelievers!

Perhaps all Adams means is that the Israelites in Canaan were a physical picture of an ‘ideal’ people of God, namely, of those who persevere to the end and live eternally in heaven. This may be true, but why should typological significance exclude literal status? The whole point of typology is that it is literal historical realities which symbolise other realities.

Consider the following plain statements that Israel was the people of God:

Dt 26:18 "Also today the LORD has proclaimed you to be ***His special people***, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments,"

(Here Israel is constituted and declared by God to be his treasured possession.)

Dt 7:6 "For you are ***a holy people to the LORD your God***; the LORD your God has chosen you to be ***a people for Himself***, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.

(Israel was clearly a holy nation, and his ‘special treasure’ or possession.)

Dt 14:2 "For you are ***a holy people to the LORD your God***, and the LORD has chosen you to be ***a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth***."

(Again, Israel was a holy people, and God’s own possession, his ‘special treasure.’)

Ps 135:4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for ***His special treasure***.

(Israel was God’s special treasure.)

According to these and a multitude of other similar OT statements, Israel is clearly said to be the people of God. Why then Adams’ strange insistence that Israel was not the ‘real’ or ‘true’ people of God? Adams seems to forget that typology (Ex 19:5-6; 1Pe 2:9) is rooted in historical reality, not fantasy. Real lambs were sacrificed in Israel, but Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah typified by those real lambs. Israel was God’s treasured possession, a holy nation, and a kingdom of priests. But the church is all of these things par excellence, typified by the OT people of God. Why erect a dichotomy between the ‘unreality’ of the type, and the ‘reality’ of the antitype, when the Scriptures are so clear that both type and antitype are real? It only confuses matters.


Law and Its Intended Audience

Barcellos’ main argument from 1Ti 1:8-11 is that, since a good case can be made that Paul was summarising commandments 5-9 in one or two words each, the burden of argument is upon the person who thinks Paul doesn’t continue to do this for the rest of the commandments. But when we examine the words which are used in the earlier portions of the passage, they seem to be LXX and NT words which are best suited to summarise commandments 1-4, in order. Thus, the strong impression is that Paul is summarising the Decalogue in this passage. Of course, this is what is known as a ‘cumulative case’ argument, or an inference to the best explanation, rather than a tight deductive argument. But that’s the nature of most exegesis of Scriptural texts. We must decide which is the best reading among plausible alternatives.

Here is how Barcellos sees the passage breaking down:

Introduction: "the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate,"

First Commandment: "for the ungodly"

Second: "and for sinners,"

Third: "for the unholy"

Fourth: "and profane,"

Fifth: "for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers,"

Sixth: "for manslayers,"

Seventh: "for fornicators, for sodomites,"

Eighth: "for kidnappers,"

Ninth: "for liars, for perjurers,"

Summary: "and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust."

Is Barcellos claiming that the Greek words used to summarise each of the commandments are uniquely identified in the LXX with those proscribed sins or prescribed duties? Of course not. Many of these words, especially those which are here alleged to summarise commandments 1-4, have a broader usage in Scripture. But the point is that, on the hypothesis that Paul was intending to summarise each of the commandments in just one or two words, he couldn’t have made a better choice of words than the choice he made. This strongly confirms the thesis that summarising the Decalogue is precisely what Paul was doing. It is a simple, straightforward explanation of the list which Paul gives.

All that remains is to consider the significance of this list. Paul says that such sins are "contrary to sound doctrine," implying that the duties to avoid such sins (i.e. the prescriptions of the Decalogue) are according to sound doctrine. And pointing out such sins, by means of the law, is "according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God" (v. 11). The Decalogue continues as authoritative in the New Covenant era.

Now, what is Adams’ response to all of this?

First, for some reason Adams focuses on pedantic lexical questions on how to define ‘righteous’ in "the law is not made for a righteous person" (v. 9). I agree that the quotes Barcellos gives from Knight and Fairbairn are not as clear and helpful as one would like. But what is undeniable is the basic usage of this word from the biblical passages Barcellos cites: Php 3:6, Jas 5:16. These passages establish Barcellos’ conclusion that "the word ‘righteous’ is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to non-Christians and Christians." Both non-Christians and Christians can fail to conform to the standards of God’s law, and thus, as Barcellos puts it, the law is "applicable to believers and unbelievers alike. The law is the standard for proper conduct as defined by God for all mankind, Christian or non-Christian." Thus when Adams says that Barcellos "has done a poor job convincing his reader that the ‘righteous’ of 1 Timothy 1:9 are a combination of both Christian and non-Christian in external conformity to the Law," we should remember that Adams says this while apparently ignoring the specific biblical texts which establish just this meaning of the word!

Second, Adams makes a distinction between those who are righteous by grace, and those who are righteous by works. Only a Christian is the former, but the non-Christian attempts to be the latter. Doesn’t this speak to two completely different meanings of the word ‘righteous’? Not really, for Christians are righteous because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them. And the righteousness of Christ is Christ’s own perfect conformity to the law of God when he walked on earth, so even the righteousness of the Christian who is saved by grace is ultimately defined by perfect conformity to the law of God, even if the Christian himself falls short of that conformity (such is the glory of the doctrine of imputation). In addition, Paul is clear in Ro 8:4 that God sent his Son and condemned sin in the flesh, in order "that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Even the blood-bought, divinely-intended, Spirit-empowered day-to-day walk or practice of the Christian believer is defined in terms of "the righteous requirement of the law." The conclusion is inescapable: righteousness is defined in terms of conformity to the law of God, and this definition of righteousness is applicable to Christian and non-Christian alike. The doctrine of imputation by grace does not void this valid application of the word, but only complements and even strengthens it.

Third, Adams comes up with a rigid dichotomy between vices and people:

"In 1 Timothy chapter 1, Paul is not exposing evil vices; he is exposing evil people. He is not enumerating a list of wicked practices; he is enumerating a list of wicked sinners."

He makes heavy weather over this point:

"The context of 1 Timothy 1 shows that Paul is not giving us a list of sins as Barcellos asserts; he is giving us a list of sinners. He is not enumerating a list of bad habits; he is supplying Timothy with a list of bad people."

But why is this a problem, exactly? For in other contexts, the biblical writers exhort Christians not to be like evil people (Eph 4:17-19; Eph 5:5-7; 1Th 4:5, 4:13; 1Ti 6:9-11; Heb 12:16-17; 1Pe 4:15; 1Jn 3:12). Adams seems to think that because Christians are saved by grace and are therefore not ‘evil people’ (in the sense of hell-bound pagans), that therefore the obligation to avoid the example and lifestyle of ‘evil people’ is not relevant to the Christian. I can’t think of a more dangerous assumption for a Christian to make. Why would Paul and other biblical writers spend so much time exhorting Christians not to be like evil people, unless there was a danger that Christians could fall into at least the vices of these people? According to the preceding verses, Christians are exhorted not to be like pagan Gentiles, fornicators, unclean persons, covetous men, the Gentiles who do not know God, those who have no hope, those who love money to their own destruction, Esau, murderers, thieves, evildoers, and Cain.

This proves that the law, which according to 1Ti 1:8-11 identifies these evil people for us, is entirely relevant to Christians. Christians are as much exhorted to avoid being like evil people, as they are exhorted to avoid the vices of those people; indeed, such exhortations amount to the same thing. Adams’ distinction is valid, and may even contribute to a more accurate exegesis of the passage, but is nevertheless useless against Barcellos’ overall interpretation of the passage. If the Decalogue identifies who evil people are in the NT era, then the Decalogue continues in its authority in the NT era: it is what identifies both sin and sinful people, and that identification is eminently useful for Christians. Indeed, if the law indeed is that which identifies evil people, and if Christians are exhorted again and again not to be like these evil people, then the law is eminently useful for the Christian. To be sure, "law’s condemning ministry in exposing those sinful persons not in conformity to it" is "opposed to the merciful ministry of grace in unconditionally redeeming some of those same guilty persons." But why think that this condemning ministry of the law is not relevant to the Christian? The discussion of these last two paragraphs refutes such a notion. Fundamentally, Adams seems to imply that the law has no relevance for the justified sinner, even though this same law identifies precisely those evil people whose example Christians are exhorted to flee from again and again. No matter how you slice it, whether ‘bad habits’ or ‘bad people,’ the law of God is for the Christian too.[32]

Fourth, Adams concludes that because 1Ti 1:8-11 is concerned with evil people rather than vices, that therefore the Decalogue is not in view, since the Decalogue proscribes vices. I can only leave it to the reader to decide whether a list of evil people who happen to exemplify, in order, the precise vices prohibited in the Decalogue, is a list only contingently or accidentally related to the Decalogue, if not wholly unrelated to the Decalogue. I find this claim highly unlikely. It cannot simply be an accident that Paul here summarises the Decalogue in the correct order (in terms of evil people who fail to conform to the Decalogue). Surely the continuing authority of the Decalogue is in view.

Fifth, Adams says that since "the audience of the Old Covenant Law of Moses was an unbelieving people and therefore condemned," that therefore

"the audience of the law in 1 Timothy 1:8-17 is also an unbelieving people (those not in conformity to the law) who, apart from mercy (vv. 12-17) are also condemned sinners."

I’ve already dealt with this dubious characterisation of the Old Covenant people of God. I’ve also already dealt with this unjustified reduction of the ministry of the law to its condemning ministry. In addition, to cite just one example, surely the author of Ps 119 – who rejoiced in, delighted in, meditated upon, and found great guidance in the law of God – believed that the law of God was made for him, as a believer. But because Adams reduces the ministry of the law to a condemning ministry, he can’t fathom that the law mentioned in 1Ti 1:8-11 has any other ministry, especially to a believer. I don’t fault Adams for allowing his assumptions, in general, to restrict his exegetical options with respect to 1Ti 1:8-11; this is an inescapable consequence of attempting to make Scripture to interpret Scripture. Rather, I simply fault Adams for his specific assumptions in this case, for they are not Scriptural.[33]

Sixth, Adams interprets Ro 8:3-8 to the effect that Christians can be defined as "those in conformity to the law" and in whom "the righteous requirements of the law are fully met." But imputation as such, much less perfectionism, is far from the teaching of this text. Ro 8:4 is not speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ, but rather of the walking according to the Spirit which is intended for us by God. That is, God sent Jesus so that we would be practically sanctified (conforming to the law of God in our daily lives) as well as forensically justified (freed from the condemnation of the law of God in our legal status before God). Since at times Christians do not practically conform to the law of God, the law of God is therefore useful to Christians to point this condition out to them. Of course, the law of God is not the means but rather the measure of our sanctification. According to Ro 8:4, "the righteous requirements of the law" is the measure of our sanctification, while "walking according to the Spirit" is the means of our sanctification. We are not sanctified by law, but law nevertheless reveals to us the depth of our sanctification by the Spirit. There is indeed a definitive, once-for-all sanctification, a setting apart unto God, of all Christians at their conversion. But there is also a progressive, over-time sanctification to which believers are called; this is the import of 2Co 7:1, 1Th 4:3, 1Jn 3:3, and many other texts of Scripture.[34]

Seventh, in footnote 37 of this section, Adams states:

"As has been previously stated, there is no issue with individual laws of the Old Covenant coming into the New. 9 of the 10 commands contained in the Decalogue are re-stated in the New Covenant, but not as a unit called the Decalogue. We have already demonstrated that the Decalogue is the representative of the Old Covenant only."

The immediate problem here is the last sentence. As I said earlier, it is one thing to say that the Decalogue is the representative of the Old Covenant; it is quite another to say that the Decalogue’s authority as a unit is restricted to the Old Covenant. To infer the latter from the former is a non sequitur;[35] so where has Adams actually argued the latter?

Eighth, Adams rejects Barcellos’ contention that ‘profane’ is a reference to Sabbath-keeping, on the grounds that the word is also used to refer to profaning the temple. But Adams hasn’t met the burden of the argument. Barcellos point isn’t that the Greek words used to summarise each of the commandments are uniquely identified in the LXX with those proscribed sins or prescribed duties. Rather, on the hypothesis that Paul was intending to summarise each of the commandments in just one or two words, he couldn’t have made a better choice of words then the choice he made. Is there another word which is better suited to do the job? Thus, since a good argument can be given that Paul is indeed summarising the Decalogue, the overall argument is clinched. The most simple, straightforward explanation of the text is Barcellos’ interpretation.

Ninth, Adams closes this section by saying that

"Barcellos attempts to make each of these terms which refer to differing characteristics of an unregenerate sinner, refer instead to the Ten Commandments as a unit as found in the Decalogue."

But what is wrong with that? Why can’t it be both? I simply don’t see the antithesis which Adams is arguing here, nor do I see an argument for such an antithesis. Indeed, on Adams’ own assumptions, wouldn’t the opposite be the case? Since Adams believes that the Decalogue was intended for an unbelieving people, then we would expect a summary of that Decalogue to "refer to differing characteristics of an unregenerate sinner."

Once again, Adams response to Barcellos’ exegesis fails to be cogent, again and again. All nine objections to that exegesis are failures, as I have argued above.



In his conclusion, Adams chooses to focus again and again on his claim that we must "understand that the ‘law written on the heart’ is motivation to love Jesus more." But as noted earlier, the reader searches Adams’ paper in vain for an actual exegetical argument for such a claim. No doubt the Spirit of God does work in the heart of believers to incline them to love Jesus. And no doubt the grace of God does form an essential part of our motivation to love Jesus more. But why these truths, taught via texts which have nothing to do with Jeremiah’s prophecy, should cause us to reformulate entire phrases of Scripture, is left unsaid.

I’ll leave it to the reader to evaluate both Barcellos and Adams, in light of the arguments of the preceding pages, and decide who it is that actually "does severe damage to a Biblical understanding of the new heart, the Christian life, and how Scripture as a whole fits together."[36]



What is New Covenant Theology?

Adams says that "the primary premise of NCT is that the New Covenant as mediated by Christ is a brand NEW covenant, which totally replaces the Old Covenant." But of course, classic covenant theology believes this as well, that the Old and New Covenants are historically distinct covenants, and that the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant. The fundamental mistake here is to think that the administration of a covenant cannot be a covenant. But the claim of CCT is that the New and Old Covenants are historically distinct covenants which are also administrations of one covenant, the covenant of grace.

At this point I’d like to take a lengthy but essential detour, before I return to my critical evaluation of Adams’ summary of NCT. Perhaps the following "Five Points of Classic Covenant Theology" will help to dispel several misunderstandings of CCT. We can ask the following five questions about the historical redemptive covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, New):[37]

[a] Is the gospel a covenant? Does it involve parties, promises, and requirements? CCT answers ‘yes’.

[b] Is the gospel essentially the same from redemptive historical covenant to redemptive historical covenant? CCT answers ‘yes’.

[c] Is the same gospel revealed and applied to the people in the specific provisions of each redemptive historical covenant? CCT answers ‘yes’.

[d] Is the gospel central to each redemptive historical covenant? CCT answers ‘yes’.

[e] Do the differences which exist between each redemptive historical covenant serve the purpose of, and establish, the gospel? CCT answers ‘yes’.

These questions get beyond the terminology of CCT, to the underlying concepts, which are more important.

If someone can answer ‘yes’ to each of the above questions, then I’d be willing to extend to him or her the honorary status of ‘Classical Covenant Theologian’ :-) For such a person would be affirming that each redemptive historical covenant is an administration of the gospel (the covenant of grace), suitable for that stage in God’s redemptive plan.[38]

NCT advocates might dispute [a], on the grounds that the gospel doesn’t have parties, promises, and requirements. But surely this is false: the parties are God and sinners, the promises are eternal life (indeed, every spiritual blessing in Christ), and the requirements are to repent and believe. Any Reformed, not to mention evangelical, Christian will believe this.

NCT advocates might also dispute [a], on the grounds that the phenomenon of parties related by promises and requirements is not sufficient to have a covenant. Rather, the word ‘covenant’ must be explicitly used in Scripture to describe the phenomenon in question, or else it isn’t a covenant. In other words, since the Bible only uses the term ‘covenant’ with respect to the historic covenants (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, New), we therefore can’t apply ‘covenant’ to anything else. But this is absurd. The Bible never uses the term ‘person’ in application to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Trinitarians are justified in this application, because they make a good and necessary inference from such things as usage of personal pronouns, the ascription of purposive and intelligent activities to the Holy Spirit, etc. Ditto for CCTians, who observe [1] that in the Bible, parties, stipulations, and sanctions are common to all of the explicitly identified historical covenants in the Bible (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David); and that therefore [2] in the Bible, when parties, stipulations, and sanctions are present, then a covenant is present, even if the term ‘covenant’ itself is not used. For instance, all these elements are present in the covenant that God made with David, even though the term ‘covenant’ is never used when God makes the covenant with him! Later writers characterise it as a covenant (2Sa 22:5; 2Ch 13:5; 2Ch 21:7; Ps 89:3; Jer 33:21), even though that term never appears in the original account (2Sa 7). Are they ‘adding’ to the original account? Of course not. They’re simply recognising what has always been there. (Indeed, the inference David makes in 2Sa 22:5, describing what took place earlier as a ‘covenant’ even though God never called it a covenant, is the precise inference covenant theologians make in other contexts! If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck...)

Likewise, in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, there were parties, stipulations and sanctions. In the gospel believed in every age there are parties, stipulations and sanctions. From eternity between the Father and the Son there are parties, stipulations and sanctions. This is where covenant theologians get the covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption. They recognise, on the basis of the Bible itself, that you don’t need the word ‘covenant’ if the essential elements of a covenant are present. In the same way that you don’t need the word ‘person’ if the essential elements of a person are present when you consult texts which speak of the Holy Spirit. Eschew this basic principle, and NCT advocates can never construct a systematic theology. They can never say that there are three Persons of the Trinity, or that we believe in substitutionary atonement. They can just read verses to each other, and that’s all. Not a very useful movement, I say. Thankfully, NCTians are inconsistent with themselves here; a quick perusal through Adams’ response paper will reveal that he uses literally scores of words to interpret the significance of biblical passages, which words are not actually found in the passages themselves, or even in the Bible. All we CCTians ask is that NCTians continue this policy when they answer question [a] above.

I can’t imagine NCT advocates rejecting [b], since unlike classic hard-line dispensationalists, they have no doubt that God’s method of salvation is fundamentally the same from age to age.

NCT advocates will most likely have the most problems with [c]. For, they will ask, how can the gospel be revealed in the specific provisions of the Old Covenant, when it is obvious that the Old Covenant is a covenant of works? NCT advocates have a deep antipathy to the notion that the Old Covenant could possibly be an administration of the covenant of grace. They may say, as Adams says, that "the Levitical priests were an inseparable part of the gospel pictured in the Old Covenant." But that is a far cry from claiming that the Old Covenant administered the gospel to sinners.

There are obvious reasons why NCT advocates think this. Originally at least, as evidenced in John Reisinger’s Tablets of Stone (particularly ch. 3), NCT advocates identified the Old Covenant with the Decalogue. They do this by appealing to a few proof-texts in isolation from the teaching of the rest of Scripture as to the identity of the Old Covenant. I have examined this mistake at length in an earlier section of this response. But because NCT advocates identify the Old Covenant with the Decalogue, it is a short step from this to seeing the Old Covenant as strictly a covenant of works. And if that is the case, then isn’t it obvious that the Old Covenant cannot also be an administration of the covenant of grace?

Our response is simple: exegesis, exegesis, exegesis. NCT advocates engage in special pleading, quoting passages here and there, but refusing to draw upon all of the passages which are relevant to the point in dispute. Thus, they are victims of a first glance theology. For their consideration, I present seven arguments for the essentially gracious character of the Old Covenant:[39]

[1] The argument from the ceremonial law.

[2] The argument from the wilderness generation.

[3] The argument from God’s choice of his Old Covenant people.

[4] The argument from the exile.

[5] The argument from the Decalogue itself.

[6] A reductio ad absurdum from NT excommunication.

[7] A reductio ad absurdum from NT connections of obedience with blessing.

[1] The argument from the ceremonial law.

Unlike John Reisinger and other NCT advocates, CCTians do not reduce the OC to the Decalogue. Jer 34:13-14 teaches us that God considered his civil laws to be part of the OC, so that violation of the former was violation of the latter. Ez 44:6-8 teaches us that God considered his ceremonial laws to be part of the OC, so that violation of the former was violation of the latter. Since neither the civil nor ceremonial laws are found in the Decalogue, and yet violation of such laws is considered by God himself to be violation of the OC, then the OC cannot be reduced to the Decalogue. This argument is simple and decisive.

Thus, since CCTians consider all of the Mosaic legislation as constituting ‘the old covenant,’ including the ceremonial laws, it is clear that part and parcel of the Mosaic covenant were its gracious provisions: the sacrifices, the offerings, the priests, the temple. These communicated forgiveness to the people as they appropriated them by faith. Their intent was not to ‘kill’. And this relates not only to the ‘purpose’ of the covenant, but to ‘the covenant’ itself, in its substance, its content. Provision for forgiveness of sins was woven into the warp and woof of OC legislation. That’s what the priestly and sacrificial system was all about. It is precisely this provision that shows the Mosaic covenant was fundamentally gracious. When the moral and civil laws condemned the people, the people could rely upon the ceremonial laws to reveal and apply in their own experience the redeeming grace of God. CCTians do not claim that the blood of bulls and goats could actually take away sins (Heb 10:4); they do claim that the redeeming grace of God "was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying 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" (WCF VII.5; cf. 2LBCF VIII.6, VII.3).

If the covenant was just something simply ‘based on works,’ then the ceremonial law wouldn’t have been an essential part of the OC. But it was. Indeed, God devoted an entire book of the Pentateuch (Leviticus) to make sure that the religious life of the Israelites was saturated with understanding and application of God’s gracious provisions for their sin, provisions woven into the very heart of the Mosaic covenant.

Thus, we can conclude that men and women were redeemed and forgiven their sins under the terms of the Old Covenant; that’s what the sacrificial and priestly system were all about – mediating the saving grace of God to needy sinners. The gospel was revealed in the very provisions of that covenant (where else would it be revealed to them?).

[2] The argument from the wilderness generation.

Concerning the wilderness generation who were in the Mosaic covenant, the writer to the Hebrews says:

4:2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, ***just as they also***; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
4:6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and ***those who formerly had good news preached to them*** failed to enter because of disobedience,

In other words, not only was the gospel pre-preached to Abraham (Gal 3:8), but the gospel was preached to those in the Mosaic covenant (Heb 4:2, 6). The obvious context of Heb 3-4 is the wandering in the wilderness in the book of Numbers. And the key thing to remember is that Moses didn’t preach anything to the people in the wilderness, except the promises and responsibilities of the Mosaic covenant! And yet in that preaching they had the ‘good news preached to them.’

So what was this ‘gospel’ which Moses preached to the wilderness generation? Was it anything other than the promise of rest (entrance into Canaan) and the double requirement of faith and repentance, that is, the requirement to trust God (for daily provision) and to turn away from sin?

It appears that the writer of Hebrews is interpreting the Mosaic covenant in a way similar to how Paul interpreted the Abrahamic covenant (Gal 3:8): the gospel in typological form.

[3] The argument from God’s choice of his Old Covenant people.

When God establishes a covenant, it is sovereignly imposed, upon a people he has chosen. And why did God establish the old covenant? Why did he choose his covenant people and impose the covenant terms upon them? Because:

Dt 7:7 "The LORD did not ***set His love*** on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the LORD ***loved*** you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 "Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and ***His lovingkindness*** to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;

If that’s not a gracious covenant, a covenant relationship based on grace, I don’t know what is.

Or again, consider Dt 9:4-6:

4 "Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you. 5 "It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 "Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people."

To be sure, works were required for the maintaining of Israel in the land.[40] But that is a far cry from showing that the entry into the land was based on works, or that the Old Covenant relationship itself is based on works. How could it be, when the ceremonial law is part and parcel of the Old Covenant legislation which defined and governed that relationship?

One becomes a Christian by grace, gains his inheritance by grace, but must nevertheless pursue good works to persevere to the end, and avoid divine chastisement. One became an Israelite by grace, gained the inheritance of the land by grace, but must nevertheless pursue good works to persevere to the end, and avoid divine chastisement. Thus, there is no principled distinction between OC and NC, either in terms of the demands of law, or of the gracious relationship enjoyed.[41]

[4] The argument from the exile.

With respect to the Israelite exile, central to the promises made in the old covenant was that God would have compassion and forgive even his exiled people, and bring them back to the land, if they repented of their sins and turned to him in faith.

Deuteronomy 30 sets this forth at some length, as well as many other passages in the Pentateuch (ironically, some NCT advocates cite Dt 28-29, but decide not to dwell upon the implications of Dt 30). The prophets dwell upon this gracious character of the old covenant again and again in their prophecies, as a means of encouraging the people. And when the people did come back to the land, they were still under the old covenant. God himself raised up prophets to specifically encourage them in the rebuilding of the temple.

NCT advocates should read Daniel 9 in detail. A faithful Israelite in exile is praying on behalf of his people. And what does he pray? "Oh God, we violated your strict covenant of works. Oh well… guess we’re stuck now. It’s all curses from here on out. After all, the old covenant is a killing covenant in its very nature. No grace to be found in it… It’s based on works, after all…'

By no means! In the course of this remarkable prayer, this man pleads, among other things:

9:4 And I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,


9:9 "To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him;

Compassion and forgiveness?

9:11 "Indeed all Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside, not obeying Thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him."

Here Daniel acknowledges that the old covenant curses have justly fallen upon the people. And yet…

9:13 "As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Thy truth."

What’s this talk about seeking God’s favour through repentance and faith?

9:16 "O Lord, in accordance with all Thy righteous acts, let now Thine anger and Thy wrath turn away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people have become a reproach to all those around us."

And what’s this talk about God turning away his wrath?

9:18 "O my God, incline Thine ear and hear! Open Thine eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Thy name; for we are not presenting our supplications before Thee on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Thy great compassion."

Amazing! A man under the old covenant, calling for restoration to the land (a specific OC blessing) on the basis of God’s ‘great compassion’?! Completely repudiating ‘any merits of our own’?

Obviously, Daniel is calling upon the very promises of compassion and restoration which God issued to his people in the old covenant (Dt 30:3). These gracious promises were part and parcel of the old covenant, part of its substance. CCTians don’t deny the typological and corporate re-enactment of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant, but this does not exclude its fundamentally gracious character to each and every covenant member.

NCT advocates want us to believe that the OC was an exclusively ‘killing covenant,’ a covenant ‘based on’ works, but the prophet Daniel wants nothing to do with this kind of interpretation. When he reflects upon the OC, his thoughts are drawn to divine lovingkindness, compassion, forgiveness, seeking God’s favour through repentance and faith, and God turning away his wrath. And in doing so he is drawing upon promises made within the very OC itself. Is this any different from what a NC believer would pray, in principle, when faced with severe chastisement for his sins? There is no fundamental difference between OC and NC, on the matter of what is the ‘basis’ of the covenant relationship. It is a relationship that is created (Dt 7:7-9) and sustained (Dt 9:4-6; Da 9:4-18) by God’s grace.

[5] The argument from the Decalogue itself.

As I’ve already argued, once the NCTian equates the OC with the Decalogue, he can’t see the fundamentally gracious character of the OC. He can’t see the gracious character of the sacrificial system, as part of the old covenant. He can’t see the gracious character of the gospel preached in the wilderness through Moses (Heb 4:2, 6). He can’t see the gracious character of the restoration promises, as part of the old covenant. He can’t see Daniel pleading that these gracious promises would be honoured by God, as part of the old covenant.

But alas, even if the OC could somehow be reduced to the Decalogue, NCT advocates shouldn’t have been led astray this far. For the Decalogue was given in the context of God’s gracious act of redemption for his people (Ex 20:1-2), and contains as essential to its commandments the lovingkindness of the Lord towards his people (v. 6), and his gifts to them (v. 12). That is, woven into the Decalogue, as its presupposition and content, are the twin truths of the lovingkindness of God and his gracious gifts to his people.[42]

Consider as well the place in which the Decalogue was put, the Ark of the Covenant. Yes, this was a continual reminder to the people of the demands of the law. But was not the ‘mercy seat’ or ‘atonement cover’ over the ark a perpetual reminder of the grace of God provided under that covenant? Was not the manna within the ark a reminder of God’s gracious provision for his people in the past? Should we argue that the Decalogue symbolised fundamental realities of the Old Covenant, but that the mercy seat and the manna did not?

In addition, provision for forgiveness is explicitly set up by God immediately after the revelation of the Decalogue, but for some reason NCT advocates miss this, and artificially separate the revelation of the moral law from the revelation of the sacrificial law that provided the gracious environment within which the Israelites lived out that moral law. Yes, they were to obey the Ten Commandments. But in the very next breath, they are told to build an altar for burnt offerings and peace offerings. Isn’t that amazing? The prologue to the Decalogue (Ex 20:1-2) shows that the covenant relationship was created by grace. The verses immediately following the Decalogue (Ex 20:24) show that the covenant relationship will be sustained by grace. But NCT advocates seem to put blinders on and insist that the covenant relationship is nevertheless ‘based on’ works!

[6] A reductio ad absurdum from NT excommunication.

Since the church is called to excommunicate professing believers based upon a failure to conform to an external standard of behaviour, should we then conclude that the church (the New Covenant community) is NOT an essentially gracious institution?! To drive this point home further, notice that Paul actually quotes the OC excommunication laws as a means of proving to the church that she has a responsibility to exercise similar excommunication:

1Co 5:12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

[quoting the repeated refrain from Dt 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21,24; and 24:7]

No one would conclude from the NT practice of excommunication, that the church under the NC is not an essentially gracious institution. So why do NCT advocates conclude from the OT threats of exile, curse, etc., that Israel under the OC was not an essentially gracious institution? By forcing NCT advocates to be consistent with their hermeneutical principles (read: gratuitous assumptions), we show how absurd the system really is.

[7] A reductio ad absurdum from NT connections of obedience with blessing.

Many times under the OC, God says that if his people obey him in various specified ways, then God will bless them in various specified ways. This is taken as evidence by NCT advocates that the OC was ‘based’ on works. But this doesn’t follow at all. The fact that obedience to God’s law brings blessing is entirely compatible with a covenantal relationship based upon grace. The NT is full of such connections between obedience to God’s commands and blessings from God. Is there any other way to explain the stated blessings of the Beatitudes (esp. Mt 5:12)? To explain the reward of the Fifth Commandment (Eph 6:1-3)? Will not love of enemies bring great reward (Lk 6:35)? Will not hearty work six days (which is precisely what the Fourth Commandment commands) bring great reward from the Lord (Col 3:23-24)? And yet none of these things is evidence that the NC is ‘based’ on works. So why are similar considerations brought forth by NCT writers to show that the OC was ‘based’ on works?

In the end, what NCT advocates have done in citing Ex 19:3-9 and Dt 28-29 in their defence, is to restrict their understanding of the nature of the OC to a couple of texts that speak of a connection between obedience and blessing, while at the same time ignoring those scores of texts which reveal the OC to be fundamentally gracious. This is called special pleading.

Indeed, NCT advocates often do not even properly exegete the few texts they bother to cite on this point. Ex 19:3-9 obviously sets forth blessings for covenant-keepers, even as Jesus sets forth blessings for obedience in the Beatitudes. But notice that in Ex 19:4, God instructs the people of Israel that "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself." In other words, it is God’s gracious redemptive act on their behalf that even brings them into the context where they can receive God’s law. Apparently, according to NCT advocates, God was gracious to them for the sole purpose of ‘killing’ them through a purely legal covenant. Away with such nonsense!

NCT advocates often cite Dt 28-29, but this is (again) simply a list of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. How is this incompatible with a covenant relationship ‘based on’ grace? Indeed, a similar list could be constructed from the NT.[43] In addition, those who cite Dt 28-29 in this connection overlook the gracious promises of divine compassion upon repentance that are in Dt 30. Indeed, Paul quotes Dt 30:11-14 as a revelation of the gospel, the righteousness of faith (Ro 10:5-8)! Once again we see that NCT is shot through with special pleading and first-glance theology.

In sum, because NCT advocates think that the OC is ‘based on’ works, they misunderstand the entire nature of the OC, as my seven arguments show. They should give an affirmative answer to the question posed by [c]; the same gospel is revealed and applied to the people in the specific provisions of each redemptive historical covenant, including the Old Covenant.

Having defended [a]-[c], I assume that NCT advocates should have little problem with points [d]-[e]. The gospel is central to each redemptive historical covenant, since it is only by means of these covenants that the redeeming grace of God was revealed and applied to the people of God over the course of redemptive history. And, as such passages as Ga 3-4 show, the differences which exist between each redemptive historical covenant only serve the purpose of, and establish, the gospel.

NCT advocates may nevertheless demur on [e], for don’t the great differences between the OC and NC – while ultimately promoting the gospel – prove that these two covenants are essentially different? The answer is no.

The classic NCT passage – 2Co 3 – is supposed to show that the Old Covenant was a purely legal covenant that furthered the purpose of grace. Thus, say NCT advocates, while the OC was gracious, in that the condemning power of its law furthered God’s gracious purpose, it couldn’t have been essentially gracious, an administration of the covenant of grace.

CCTians respond here by pointing out the reductive nature of the chosen OC/NC contrasts which NCTians choose to emphasise. No one will deny that the legal element was uniquely prominent in the Mosaic covenant (compared to the other historic covenants), and that this very prominence furthered the purpose of grace (functionally, not dispensationally) by revealing sin and the need of the Saviour. However, NCT advocates seem to imply that therefore the only function of the Mosaic covenant was to ‘kill,’ and this CCTians vehemently deny. For, as has been demonstrated, part and parcel of the Mosaic covenant were its gracious provisions: the sacrifices, the offerings, the priests, the temple. These communicated forgiveness to the people as they appropriated them by faith. Their intent was not to ‘kill.’ Indeed, any essential contrast here between the covenants must fail. For in the New Covenant era, the law is preached in order to ‘kill,’ and the gospel is proclaimed (by the Word and by the ordinances). The same was true under the Mosaic covenant.

In the end, NCT advocates are guilty of special pleading; they see a contrast drawn in the word of God, and immediately conclude that this is the only way in which the covenants are compared. This conclusion is easily challenged.

First, in the New Covenant era the gospel (and not merely the law) is referred to in negative terms. Paul’s gospel preaching is a savour unto death (2Co 2:15-16). The very message is a stumbling block and foolishness (1Co 1:18, 23). It is a stumbling stone and rock of offence (Ro 9:32). Should we therefore conclude from all these ‘negative terms’ that the gospel only has a killing ministry? To be sure, Paul calls the Decalogue "the ministry of death" (2Co 3:7), but according to the above verses the gospel also has a ministry of death! Thus, any NCT argument from negative aspects of the OC to the essential negativity of the OC would (given the above prooftexts) licence a parallel argument from the negative aspects of the gospel to the essential negativity of the gospel.[44]

Second, other NT authors contrast the OC and NC, not in terms of law and grace, but in terms of grace and greater grace! In other words, a contrast in terms of law is indeed a helpful one, and NCT advocates are correct to point it out, for the NT authors use it. However, it is not a global contrast, the only kind of contrast which can be made. Indeed, there’s a completely different contrast in the book of Hebrews! Consider ch. 8. I take it that there, the contrast between the OC and NC is entirely in the sphere of grace, and not between grace and law. The OC promises were weak and inferior in terms of their efficacy.

Notice that the writer's supporting argument for what he means by ‘better promises’ in Heb 8:6 is found in vv. 7-12 (cf. the linking ‘gar’ [in the Greek] at the beginning of v. 7):

[a] Men knew the Lord by the provisions of the OC (that’s why the priests were to teach), but not every covenant member knew the Lord, as they will in the NC.

[b] Men had their sins forgiven by the provisions of the OC (that’s what the sacrificial system was for), but not every covenant member was forgiven, as they are in the NC.

[c] Men knew the law of God in the OC (its public proclamation in various ways is explicitly commanded), but not every covenant member had this law written on their heart, as is the case in the NC.

In every case, the contrast in the promises, or the ‘better promises,’ are due to the greater efficacy of the provisions of grace in the NC. It’s not an absolute contrast between the covenants. And it’s certainly not a contrast in terms of law and grace, or in terms of content of moral law.[45]

To illustrate the above point, consider the ‘fullness of the Spirit’ poured out in the NC. It’s not that the Holy Spirit was absent in the OT, as if there is an essential difference in his ministry, and as if no one was regenerated in the OT. Rather, there is a greater degree, efficacy, and fullness of His ministry in the NT. Same here, with respect to the efficacy of the promises between covenants.

All that to say, NCT advocates are flat wrong to infer from the prominent legal element in the OC, that the OC was essentially different from the NC, and to simply say that the OC was a ‘legal covenant’ that ‘killed’ and that was all. For the author of Hebrews portrays it as a gracious covenant that couldn’t make good on its gracious provisions, and this very weakness pointed the way to a superior covenant. The fundamental problem, then, is that when NCT advocates see a purpose or an effect of the OC in Scripture, they immediately conclude that that is the purpose or the effect of the OC. This is just more special pleading, hasty generalisation, etc.

If NCT advocates, having carefully considered the weight of the preceding arguments, were to revise their answers to [a]-[e] from negative to positive, I would be happy to grant them the status of honorary ‘classical covenant theologians.’ But, by the same token, they would have abandoned the essence of NCT.

Let’s return now to Adams’ summary of NCT.

Adams says, "The Old Covenant was a covenant that God established with the ancient Nation of Israel only. The terms of this covenant were the Ten Commandments or Tables of Stone." Notice that here, Adams’ reduces the terms of the OC to the Decalogue, which is the very thesis he denied in his rebuttal of Barcellos (going so far as to say that Barcellos misrepresented NCT on this point!), and which is clearly refuted by Jer 34:13-14 and Eze 44:6-8.

Adams says, "Thus, the Ten Commandments were the essence of the Old (or first) Covenant only and Not the essence of all of God’s law in every era." But the force of the ‘thus’ here is one of complete invalidity. Even if it were true that the terms of the OC were simply the Decalogue, how does it follow from this that the Decalogue is "not the essence of all of God’s law in every era"? Why can’t it be both?

Adams says that, "in addition, the Old Covenant was a legal, conditional covenant with Israel that demanded perfect obedience in order to receive the promised blessings." The typical prooftexts of Ex 19 and 2Co 3 are cited. Two things need to be said here.

First, what will Adams make of these NT texts which teach that the gospel is something to be ‘obeyed’ (2Th 1:8; 1Pe 4:17), and that in it God commands all men everywhere to repent (Ac 17:30)? Since commands are laws which men are responsible to obey, how is the ‘legality’ of the OC at a personal level any different from this? In the gospel, the condition is laid forth: if you repent and believe, you will be saved; if you do not, the wrath of God abides on you. How is this any less ‘conditional’ than the OC? As said earlier, the preaching of the gospel is a savour unto death to those who are perishing (2Co 2:14-16), and reveals our sin (Ac 2:36-37), and in the NC era the law gives us the knowledge of sin. How is this any different from being a covenant which "was intended to show the Israelites their sin"? NCT advocates are going to have to work a lot harder if they wish to credibly maintain the contrasts they claim.

Second, how could it be the case that God demanded perfect obedience in order to received the promised blessings, when Israel obtained the land under Joshua, and retained it under David and Solomon, despite the fact that her obedience was far from perfect? Indeed, why would God have instituted the ceremonial law at all, with its provisions of forgiveness and atonement, except as a means of maintaining a faithful relationship to God by means of repentance and faith? To be sure, God did demand perfect obedience under the OC (just as Jesus does under the NC; Mt 5:48). But why think no blessings were to be had apart from perfect obedience?

Adams says that "all Christians are under the authority of the New Covenant which is governed by the New Testament Scriptures," and cites Eph 2:19-20 on his behalf. His interpretation here is that the reference to ‘prophets’ must be a reference to NT prophets, not OT prophets or writers. No argument is given for this interpretation. The irony is that it is this same chapter in Ephesians (ch. 2:12,19) that teaches that Gentile Christians are no longer excluded from ‘the commonwealth of Israel’ or strangers from ‘the covenants of promise,’ and that they are ‘fellow citizens with the [obviously Jewish] saints.’ But despite the immediate OT context, apparently Adams wants to hold that the foundation must be the NT prophets, not the OT ones. I find this implausible. ‘You’re in the commonwealth of Israel now, but don’t think for a minute that your life is based or founded on their Scriptures.’[46]

Adams’ assumption seems to be that the Mosaic era laws which continue to apply today, are only those laws which get repeated in the NT. To be sure, many Mosaic laws are thus repeated. But where do we get this hermeneutical presupposition that only such laws are the continuing ones? For instance, here is a portion of the Mosaic law (revealed to God’s people as normative under the Mosaic covenant) which is not repeated in the NT:

Pro 13:24 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

Parental responsibility to physically discipline one’s children is not repeated in the NT. Has it therefore been abolished?

More broadly, have all those Proverbs been abolished which have failed to be repeated in the NT? Isn’t this position just absurd on the face of it?

In fact, do not the NT writers seem to propose the opposite position? Namely, that we must have good exegetical grounds for believing that a command has not continued? After all, why would Paul say that all Scripture (in context, the Old Testament Scripture) "is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2Ti 3:16), if in reality the only Scripture which is applicable to the moral life of the congregation (for reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness) is the New Testament? These are normative terms. They speak of the authority of the OT over the life of a Christian. While Paul says all the Old Testament Scriptures are profitable for reproof and correction of one’s life, NCT advocates say that all OT laws are totally done away as far as authority over one’s life. Paul says that "all Scripture" is inspired, and is profitable for Christian moral instruction. NCT says that all Scripture is inspired, but only the NT is profitable for Christian moral instruction. Again, this cannot be right.[47]

Since Paul speaks about the moral applicability of the OT in such sweeping, general terms, the burden of proof is on the one who would say that an OT command is not binding today. Reformed authors have traditionally taken up this burden of proof, with respect to the ceremonial law, for they see those laws as explicitly done away with in the NT. Where have NCT writers sustained this burden of proof with respect to the OT moral law?[48]

Adams says that

"The Old Covenant has been perfectly fulfilled in Christ and done away. God’s law is still binding on the believer in the New Covenant era, but God’s righteous standards are contained in the Law of Christ, not the Law of Moses."

But whence this antithesis between ‘the law of Christ’ and ‘the law of Moses’? Why cannot ‘the law of Moses’ (at least the Decalogue) be at least part of ‘the law of Christ’? What is the argument against this? Indeed, don’t the NT writers deny this fundamental antithesis, in Jas 2:8-11 and Ro 13:8-10? Aren’t the two greatest commandments, love of God and neighbour, which summarise the entirety of Christian obligation, simply quotations from OC law (Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18; cf. Mt 22:35-40)?[49]

Adams says that "in regards to Covenant Theology, the NCT view asserts that the ‘Covenant of Works’ and ‘Covenant of Grace’ cannot be found in Scripture." I simply direct the reader to the above treatment of the five points of classic covenant theology, as well as to the critique of reducing the categories of systematic theology to what phrases can be found in Scripture.

Adams repeats his views about how ‘the purpose’ of the Mosaic Law "was to bring deep conviction of sin to those under the Old Covenant," and about how the nation of Israel was "not the real people of God," but rather was "mainly the Unbelieving people of God who are rejected by God." I have already dealt with these claims sufficiently.[50]

Adams states that "the essence of all of God’s law is found in the 2 great commandments to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, not in the Ten Commandments." But where Adams finds an antithesis between the two great commandments and the Decalogue, the biblical writers find the deepest, most fundamental compatibility (Jas 2:8-11; Ro 13:8-10).

In conclusion, I can only agree with Barcellos’ original evaluation of NCT: "it produces a reductionistic, myopic and truncated view of Christian ethics… it ends up producing a diseased system of doctrine, which produces diseased Christian thinking and living" (pp. 41, 110). I hope the preceding pages go some way in spelling out the specific exegetical basis for this grievous and sobering conclusion.[51]


[1] My response is structured according to the headings which Adams himself has chosen, since I believe this facilitates the best way to assess this debate: read one of Adams’ sections in his paper, and then read my corresponding response under the same heading.

[2] Actually, the first volley was a debate in the summer of 1999 between several of us on the Reformed Baptist Discussion List and John Reisinger, on the definition and function of the Old Covenant.

[3] I regard the first few sections below as fairly trivial, and tangential to the main debate. I include them only for thoroughness. The real debate begins with the summary section: "The Issue Is Always Context."

[4] Unless Adams wants to appeal to Ro 2:14-15, in which case he must respond to Barcellos’ exegesis of that text to the effect that ‘the work of the law’ written in Gentile hearts is nothing other than ‘the law’ they do not have in written form, but which the Jews do have, i.e. the OT moral law.

[5] In June 1999 I debated John Reisinger on the Reformed Baptist Discussion List about precisely this issue. Again and again he asserted that the Old Covenant was to be identified with the Decalogue, and with nothing else. Finally, at the end, Reisinger conceded that he was wrong on this issue, and that he would accordingly change that part of his book (cf. his 01 July 1999 email to RBDL). Given the vehemence with which Reisinger defended the earlier thesis, and given its continued prominence in his book Tablets of Stone, surely Barcellos and others are not to blame for considering this to be a vital tenet of NCT.

[6] If NCT writers are now moving away from this position (the claims of Reisinger and Volker notwithstanding), more power to them. But as long as they promote at the same time NCT books and ‘official definitions’ that teach a different view, they will only promote confusion among both their followers and detractors.

[7] If it is, it is for the NCT advocate as much as for anyone else.

[8] To be precise, Barcellos’ point in citing Jer 34:13-14, Eze 44:6-8, Heb 9:1 and Heb 9:18 is not "to illustrate his point that the Decalogue only represents the Old Covenant," but rather, as Barcellos himself puts it, to "clearly and indisputably refute the Ten Commandments equal the Old Covenant equation of New Covenant Theology."

[9] Of course, Barcellos’ argument was originally my argument, as he points out in his footnote :-) The argument emerged in the previously mentioned Internet debate with John Reisinger.

[10] Ironically, NCT advocate John Reisinger’s view of the inauguration of the Old Covenant is consistent with that of Barcellos, and at odds with that of Mike Adams: "Some texts clearly equate the Ten Commandments with the specific covenant terms of ‘the covenant,’ Ex. 34:27,28; Deut. 9:9-11, however, it is also obvious that other texts show that others things, especially the Book of the Covenant, Ex. 24:8, must also be considered as part of the Old Covenant. It seems impossible to interpret Gal. 3:10-12 in any other way. Likewise, passages like Jer. 34:13,14 show that ceremonial laws were definitely part of the Book of the Covenant that was sprinkled with blood to establish Israel’s special covenantal relationship with God. Until very recently I have maintained a total dichotomy between the Tablets of the Covenant and the Book of the Covenant, I can no longer do that. It may be true as far as their being two separate documents, but it now seems to me that both the OTS and NTS treat them both as parts of the Old Covenant and with equal covenant authority. Gal 3:10-12 clearly uses the Book of the Covenant as the grounds for cursing covenant breakers. That text cannot be made to mean ‘Tables’ of the Covenant." The preceding is from Reisinger’s 01 July 1999 email to RBDL (cited with permission), conceding that his earlier views must be abandoned in light of the kinds of biblical considerations that Adams appears to reject.

[11] I expound these and other gracious aspects of the ministry of the Old Covenant, in my seven arguments for the essentially gracious character of the Old Covenant. See the Appendix below.

[12] NCT advocates are fond of contrasting law (condemnation only) and spirit (life only), to the exclusion of other, biblically acceptable formulations. Thus what will they do with Paul’s statement that "the law is spiritual" (Ro 7:14)?

[13] I mean, do NCT advocates really imagine that Paul’s readers could rightly respond, "Whaddya mean, Paul, about ‘the first commandment with a promise’ and all that? Why should we Gentiles care about that? I mean, that was Israel’s covenantal legislation! Don't bore me with outdated laws. Papyrus is too precious to waste on superfluities. Just give it to me straight, man, on your own authority..."

[14] In an earlier section Adams cites Jas 2:8-11 as a witness to the unity of Mosaic law, and to the falsity of the traditionally Reformed distinction between moral/ceremonial/civil law. Adams apparently overlooks the fact that James simply assumes that this very same law continues to be binding upon NT believers! Why else would James be concerned that his Christian readers are convicted by ‘the law’ as transgressors (v. 9) and may have become a transgressor of ‘the law’ (v. 11)? Adams doesn’t notice that it is this very unity of ‘the whole law’ which enables James to infer that the Sixth and Seventh Commandments stand and fall together in their authority over the NT believer. The fact of the matter is that no NCT writer would dare to make the moral inferences which James makes here: their theology makes it impossible.

[15] I take the civil laws to continue today only in their general equity, applicable as principles to a broad range of life situations, as did the apostle Paul (1Co 9:8-10). Cf. WCF XIX.4 and 2LBCF XIX.4. "Though the judicial law has expired, yet as an inspired application of the moral law to the civil circumstances of Israel it reveals many timeless principles of general equity, justice, goodness and righteousness. As such it remains relevant not only to modern states, but also to modern churches and Christians (1 Cor. 5:1; 9:8-10)" (Sam Waldron, A modern exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith [Durham: Evangelical Press, 1989], p. 239).

[16] Cf. Adams’ earlier bizarre statements about the tablets of stone themselves being what kills people, or that Scripture has ‘obligations’. I don’t understand why Adams persists in this crude anthropomorphising of stone tablets.

[17] This interpretation of Eph 2:11-16 and Col 2:13-14 appears to be the one adopted by Patrick Fairbairn in The Revelation of Law in Scripture (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1996 [1869]). Cf. his exposition of Eph 2:15, wherein the law is "done away as the ground of justification before God, or as the means of obtaining a solid reconciliation and peace with Him… Its relation to men’s responsibilities as the revelation of God’s righteousness, in the sphere of human life and duty, remains thereby untouched" (p. 461). And commenting upon Col 3:14, he says, "there was the removing of what stood in the way of their acquittal from guilt – the condemning power and authority of the law… This, there can be no doubt, was the law, not in part but in whole – the law in the full compass of its requirements… but suffering, as He did, to bear the curse of the law for sin, and actually enduring the penalty, it was as if the law itself in its condemnatory aspect toward men was brought to an end – its power in that respect was exhausted" (pp. 466-467).

[18] This interpretation of Eph 2:11-16 and Col 2:13-14 is the one commonly adopted in the Reformed confessional tradition. Cf. the prooftexts given in WCF XIX.3 and 2LBCF XIX.3. This view is, of course, entirely compatible with the first view also being the case.

[19] It would be a mistake to challenge the very distinction between the condemning power of the law and the regulatory authority of the law. For even NCT writers (and indeed all Christians) recognise that at least some laws have regulatory authority over our lives, even if no law has the power to finally condemn a believer who is under the justifying power of the grace of God. Indeed, this is usually how traditionally Reformed interpreters understand Paul’s statements that ‘we are not under law, but under grace’: we are not under the condemning power of the law, but rather under the justifying power of grace.

[20] The contrast here hinges upon Adams’ stacking the deck, for his rosy view of the ‘physical church’ comes from "the assumption that the local church is structured properly." Thankfully, Paul did not make this naïve assumption with respect to either the Corinthian church or the Ephesian church. Cf. 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Nor did Jesus. See his letters to the seven churches of Asia, in Rev 2-3.

[21] ‘Real’ is left undefined. One gets the impression that the Israelites not only failed to be in a ‘real’ covenant with a ‘real’ God, but were shadowy, phantom, ethereal beings to boot! Indeed, if the Israelites were not the ‘real’ people of God, then perhaps Yahweh was not the ‘real’ God of the Israelites? One doesn’t know what to think, since key terms are left undefined.

[22] Adams undermines this alleged contrast when he later writes that, "grace, not law, is the motivator for every believer to obey the law they are under, be it an Old Covenant believer or a New Covenant believer."

[23] Ironically, there is a reading of "motivated internally by the Holy Spirit to love Jesus Christ," which actually entails Barcellos’ position, for ‘love to Jesus Christ’ is defined by keeping his commandments (Jn 14:15, 21). Since Barcellos’ takes the Decalogue to be part of Christ’s commandments, Adams’ allegedly ‘contrary’ definition of ‘law written upon the heart’ is entirely compatible with Barcellos’ position!

[24] This phrase isn’t found in the textual tradition underlying the Textus Receptus, which is why it doesn’t appear in the KJV and NKJV translations of this verse. However, I believe we have good reason to agree with its inclusion in the ‘eclectic text,’ and therefore in the NASB and NIV, and thus I adopt that reading here.

[25] Unless Adams wants to simply assume that ‘the law’ is a precise reference to ‘the Decalogue.’ Besides being arbitrary, this seems implausible. Paul placed himself under the Decalogue for the sake of winning Jews? Most unlikely, for what is particularly ‘Jewish’ about the Decalogue, except for the seventh-day Sabbath? The ceremonial reading seems much more preferable here, if a narrow interpretation is being adopted. As for Ga 6:1-2, which Adams cites, since Paul does not in that passage define the content of Christ’s law, it is simply begging the question to assume that Christ’s law does not include the Decalogue. If it does, then Barcellos’ position stands.

[26] All laws? Most laws? Some laws? We’re left to guess here. Given the reimposition of at least 90% of the Decalogue in the NT, the first option is unavailable as an interpretation of "entire system of law."

[27] Consider Ro 7:14 "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin." The problem is not with the law, (which is not only ‘spiritual,’ but also ‘holy and just and good,’ v. 12), but with Paul. To be fair, Adams does cite Heb 8:8 in his next section, "There Was Something Wrong with the People of the Old Covenant." But why he does not cite it here, as the obvious context of Heb 8:7, is a mystery.

[28] Adams basically concedes that he cannot maintain this contrast between the Old and New Covenants, when he says that "anyone relying on the Old Covenant Law (or any law for that matter) to save them is under its curse." So the problem is with any law, not just with Old Covenant Law. So why does Adams construe the covenantal contrast in terms of law?

[29] How strange then that Adams, instead of actually exegeting Heb 8:7 by consulting the surrounding context, instead leads us on a series of rabbit trails through Ro 7:12-13, 2Co 3:7-11, Heb 7:18, Ro 8:3, Ga 3:10-12, Ga 3:21-22, Lev 18:5, Ga 5:2-3, Jas 2:11, Ex 19:5-6, and Dt 28:1, 2, 15, none of which have anything to do with a contrast between Old and New Covenants in terms of law! By focusing on these rabbit trails, Adams ignores the surrounding context of Heb 8:7, and arrives at his eisegetically-forced conclusion at the end of the section: "From that point of view, it [the law] is weak and useless. It is in that sense that the writer of Hebrews says there was something wrong with the Old Covenant."

[30] Phil is now a doctoral candidate in Old Testament studies at Southern Seminary, Louisville, KY. I quote his paper with permission.

[31] He then does the same thing with Dt 9:7-8 and 1Co 10:1-5.

[32] Also, isn’t it just obvious from Jas 2:8-10 that the inspired writer uses the law of God (in this case, the Mosaic law) as a standard which is relevant for evaluating the behaviour of Christians? Thus, the fact that Christians are justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ, does not mean that the law of God is irrelevant to evaluating the conduct of their lives.

[33] Confusingly, Adams later states that in 1Ti 1:8-11 Paul "is simply bringing individual commands into the New Covenant era as New Covenant Law (the Law of Christ)." Doesn’t that contradict his whole point here, that "in the same way that we have already shown that the audience of the Old Covenant Law of Moses was an unbelieving people and therefore condemned, the audience of the law in 1 Timothy 1:8-17 is also an unbelieving people (those not in conformity to the law)"? Which is it? Is 1Ti 1:8-11 "New Covenant Law (the Law of Christ)" for believers, or is its audience "an unbelieving people (those not in conformity to the law)"? Adams can scarcely have it both ways, unless he wants to maintain that the law here is for both Christians and non-Christians. But that is the precise point Adams is disputing!

[34] On both these points see "Definitive Sanctification," "The Agency in Definitive Sanctification," "Progressive Sanctification," and "The Pattern of Sanctification," all in Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), vol. 2.

[35] E.g., circumcision ‘represented’ the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:10-11), and yet that practice as a whole carries on into the Old Covenant, which is a distinct historical covenant. It was not restricted to the Abrahamic covenant, though it represented the Abrahamic covenant.

[36] I note here that large sections of Barcellos’ book have been ignored by Adams: his treatment of Mt 5:17-20, of Mt 5:27-28, and of the relationship between NCT and hermeneutical presuppositions, canonics, and historical theology.

[37] The Noachic Covenant is not a redemptive covenant, but a common-grace covenant that ensures the continuance of a populated world, within which the historical redemptive covenants can be the means by which the redeeming grace of God is administered to sinners.

[38] These five points are meant to establish the unity and meaning of ‘the covenant of grace.’ Much could also be said concerning CCT’s commitment to the covenant of works (in the Garden of Eden) and the covenant of redemption (within the Trinity, on behalf of the elect). But those commitments (which I fully endorse) will have to await a fuller defence elsewhere, although I make some comments on the covenant of works below.

[39] I will then return to points [d] and [e] above, of my ‘Five Points of Classic Covenant Theology’. I seek here only to defend my answer to [c], that the gospel is both revealed and applied to the people in the specific provisions of the Old Covenant.

[40] Thus the interesting point by Meredith Kline, compatible with CCT, that the Old Covenant was a typological re-enactment of the covenant of works in the Garden. The outward righteousness of the people as a whole had to be ‘typologically legible’ if the people were to remain in the land. But this typological works principle writ large over the community as a whole is not in conflict with the gospel promises and privileges set forth to the people on an individual level, through the specific provisions of the Old Covenant. Daniel and other faithful Israelites were exiled because of the typological works principle operative in the Old Covenant community, not because they themselves were apostate. They weren’t. Rather, even in exile, they relied upon the redeeming grace of God revealed and applied to them in the gracious provisions of the Old Covenant.

[41] Thus I reject Daniel Fuller’s ‘law-grace continuum,’ since I make a sharp distinction between the demands of law, and the grace of God by which those demands are satisfied. Nevertheless, the saving grace of God is compatible with the demands of law, and indeed presupposes it.

[42] Patrick Fairbairn brings this out quite well in his fourth lecture in his The Revelation of Law in Scripture, op. cit.

[43] E.g. what are we to make of the warnings to the churches of Rev 2-3? Historically speaking, in some cases these warnings were carried out, because they were not heeded.

[44] Paul's real point, especially in the book of Romans, is that it is the very negativity of the law (its killing ministry) that ensures its continuing applicability in the NC. For through the law comes the knowledge of sin. The law is the very presupposition of the gospel.

[45] Thanks to Dr. Robert Strimple, my Professor (now retired) of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, for making these points in his unpublished class syllabus, The Doctrine of Christ.

[46] On these grounds I register my disagreement with the interpretation of this passage set forth by John R.W. Stott, "God’s New Society," The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), p. 107. Of course, even if Stott were correct in his interpretation of Eph 2:19-20, I don’t see anything in this which contradicts the CCT position on the law, in the slightest. For the New Testament Scriptures are in turn built upon the foundation of the Old Testament Scriptures. ‘Gegraptai’ [‘it is written’] isn’t used 67 times in the New Testament Scriptures for nothing.

[47] Cf. Ro 15:4 as well.

[48] NCT advocates will doubtless answer: because the whole Mosaic law gets abolished. But how does this square with the apostolic assumption of the continuing relevance of Mosaic moral law, in Jas 2:8-11, Ro 13:8-10, and Eph 6:1-3 (cf. my comments on these texts earlier in this paper). Indeed, how does this square with Paul pointing NT believers back to the entire OT for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, in 2Ti 3:16-17? Isn’t it just woefully inconsistent to say (according to NCT) that the whole Mosaic law gets abolished and at the same time to say (according to 2Ti 3:16-17) that the whole Old Testament is your source for moral instruction?

[49] I have commented upon the significance of Adams’ citations here of 1Co 9:20-21 and Ga 6:2, earlier in this paper.

[50] In a new twist, Adams now cites Mt 8:5-12 in support of the final point. But again, this text is speaking about the unbelief of Israel in the generation of Jesus. Jesus simply says that "the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Is Adams really proposing that all Jews who ever lived under the Old Covenant are going to hell?

[51] Many thanks to Tim Etherington and Francisco Orozco for helpful comments on the first draft of this response.

© 2002 Greg Welty

Last Revised: 8 May 2002