A Question I Was Asked:

Can We Really Be Living Under the Same Covenant as Moses and the Israelites?

The Question:

I visited a different church while on holiday and I heard a minister say that Moses and Israel in the wilderness were already the 'Body of Christ' - back in their day. He used the 'congregation in the wilderness' Scripture to "prove" that today's Spirit-led Christian is no different to those rebellious Israelites. But surely this is to stand several Scriptures on their heads!

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us tackle this.

I presume that, on this particular occasion, you visited a reformed (Calvinist) congregation! Unfortunately, the reformed movement supports what is called 'covenant theology.' I respect reformed believers but covenant theology is just plain wrong in certain areas (as is dispensationalist theology). This form of theology not only imposes covenants upon the Bible which are simply not there but - just as seriously - they refuse to clearly make a line of demarcation between the Old and New Covenants! They see one 'covenant of grace' which is simply administered differently. This, of course, places them in conflict with Paul the Apostle in several parts of his writings, as well as with other sections of Scripture.

The approach also makes the reformed movement legalistic, since they insist that the Ten Commandments remain the standard for all believers (rather than 'the law of Christ' which is a spiritual amplification of those laws - Matthew 5-7). So Sunday, for instance, becomes a 'new Sabbath' (absolutely no scriptural authority for making such a claim, of course), whereas perhaps most Christian believers look carefully at Scriptures such as Matthew 11:28-30 and Hebrews 4 and believe that Christ Himself fulfilled the Sabbath and that today we keep 'The Lord's Day,' the day of the resurrection.

Okay, let us look at Acts 7:

'He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.' (Acts 7:38, NIV).

The fact that Old Testament Israel is called the 'assembly in the wilderness' ('church in the wilderness' - KJV), in no way means that you and I now stand under the same covenant as the Israelites, with just a slight difference of emphasis/administration as 'covenant theology' so erroneously believes. In complete contrast to such an idea, Paul is often 'red-hot' to show how the New Covenant alone is now applicable to Christians and that the Old Covenant has had its day. Indeed, not only Paul but Peter in his Pentecost sermon, and the writer of the Book of Hebrews also hammer away at this point.

Here are just some of the Scriptures clearly revealing the New Covenant; please take the time to go through them, for they are essential to our Christian understanding:

"The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.(Matthew 26:27-28).

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20).

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:6-18).

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

"The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:7-13).

"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10:16-18).

"For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:19-21).

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because "the righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, "The person who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:7-14).

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:23-29).

Be especially careful to go through the next Scripture:

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:

"Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-31, NIV throughout).

I think it might also be helpful to include here a very true quote from John G. Reisinger:

When Paul says the tablets of stone were a "ministration of death" designed by God to convict lost sinners of their guilt (Romans 5:20; 7:7-13; 2 Corinthians 3:6-9; Galatians 3:19), we must accept his words as a fact beyond dispute. Once Paul's inspired interpretation of God's intention in putting the nation of Israel under a true covenant of law is accepted, we will forever quit talking about the law covenant being a "gracious covenant given to a redeemed people for their sanctification." [as covenant theology claims], John Reisinger, Abraham's Four Seeds, 1998 paperback, p 72.

An honest step-by-step appraisal of the Scriptures quoted above reveals, without a shadow of doubt, that the Old Covenant has now been completed, fulfilled, set aside and, indeed, is now obsolete (Hebrews 8:13) and that the Christian now stands under the New Covenant. There is simply no space here to claim that we live under the same covenant as Moses! Scripture could hardly be more clear on this point!

In short, the Christian in our age does not stand under the same covenant as the Israelite in the days of Moses.
Robin A. Brace. August 15th, 2011.