Did the Law nullify the promise?

Hopefully I can better explain my position on the dispensation of the two covenants by addressing the comments that you have laid out. 

To begin with, I think Christianity as a whole, not every believer, looks at the Law with the wrong pair of glasses on.  When most consider the Law they think of the ordinances given at Mt. Sinai.  When I think of the Law, I see two divisions of the Law.  Not two divisions of what was given at Mt. Sinai.  But two divisions of what is written in the books of Moses.  I think this is where a lot of confusion comes from for those who wrestle to understand my position. 

I assume, when believers consider the Law as only those things spoken of at Mt. Sinai, they make incomplete connections of the doctrinal significance that our New Testament emphasizes concerning the covenant God gave Abraham.  Meaning they know that to Abraham was the promise given of the sacrifice, and that through him all nations would be blessed.  Furthermore most would consider circumcision as a mark of Jewishness, meaning it was a symbol to them they were to be separated out from among the nations.  And this is where the consideration of the Abrahamic covenant stops.  They see it mostly as narrative with prophet overtones of what is to come in Christ.

For those who take such a view of the Abrahamic covenant, are they in error to believe such things?  No, not at all!  Christianity recognizes that Christ was the lamb that God promised to provide on Mt. Mariah.  Through Abraham’s seed (Christ) all the nations of the earth are blessed.  And yes circumcision speaks of the Jewish nature of the people and how they are to be separated from the peoples of the earth, but there is much more our New Testament speaks of concerning the Abrahamic covenant.  So it is not just a simple narrative with prophetic overtones.

Therefore, I believe it is more appropriate to look at the Law (the books if Moses) in two pieces.  The first is what was promised to Abraham and then secondly the ordinances given at Mt. Sinai or what we generally think of when we speak of the “Law”.  This is the glasses I look through when I read our New Testament.  This perspective is what I have come to conclude is the proper perspective because of the testimony of the New Testament.  Otherwise I would still have the same perspective I used to have, which is no different than most of Christianity as explained above.

I believe that in the two covenants both old and new, there is one hope, one promise and one gospel of salvation.  I say this not because I look at the Law given at Mt. Sinai found in the books of Moses.  Rather I say this according to the promise given to Abraham 430 years before Sinai.  Sinai only testifies to the promise given to Abraham.  It shows through the means of sacrifice the work of the promise to come.  Hence Paul can say, the Law which can not make a man righteous, testifies to the righteousness of God. 

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;[1]

So I consider it good biblical doctrine to state, that the Law is a sufficient testimony of Christ.  After all Paul does state in the verse following the ones just quoted, that the Law even testifies to God’s righteousness in Christ.

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:[2]

Because of the testimony of Jesus Christ found in the Law of Moses and the Prophets the disciples could say they found the one Moses wrote about.  Jesus could say, “If they believed Moses they would believe in Him for Moses wrote about Him.”  Acts can record in the last chapter how Paul taught of the Kingdom of God and of Christ out of the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  This is why Christ in the grave did not preach to those after the Law but before the Law or more specifically before the promise, before Abraham.  This is why Hebrews says those at Mt. Sinai had the same gospel preached to them as we did to us.  This is but a taste of why I believe they of the Old Testament had sufficient testimony of Christ.

But the point that you make Henry, states Israel could not have possibly been imputed righteousness in the Old Testament.  If I understand you correctly, this is because Israel was kept under the Law, shut up from the faith.  I assume you meant it to say they could not have faith in the promise (Christ) of imputed righteousness since Christ was not yet revealed to them.  You asked how something that is shut up be available to them under the Law.  Especially if faith was not yet given through Christ.

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.[3]

I contend that the Law given at Mt. Sinai is not the hope of salvation through which the Jews were imputed righteousness.  But rather they had a way made for them to benefit from this credited righteousness through the promise of Abraham.  The Law at Mt. Sinai did not make void the promise given to Abraham 430 years earlier though which they could obtain this hope of righteousness. 

And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.[4]

I know you have never stated I have, but I want to make clear to any reader, I have never contended the people of the Old Covenant received God’s grace or imputed righteousness through any other means than through a promise given to Abraham, which was not disannulled by the coming of the Law.  Now when Paul says they were kept under the Law, shut off unto faith which should be revealed, I don’t read it as a statement of fact concerning the Old Testament saints not having the gospel of Christ because He was not yet revealed to them.  For Paul states the promise 430 years before the Law was in Christ.  Rather what Paul is saying, is that they were obligated to obey the Law (kept under the Law) but now under the faith that has been revealed in Christ they are free from the Law.  Isn’t this what the whole book of Galatians is trying to tell its readers?

Henry, you interpret that one verse to mean they could not have been imputed righteousness because Jesus was not yet revealed, which is not the message of the book of Galatians.  I see that same verse as a statement they were bound to obey the whole Law until Christ was revealed, which is the theme of Galatians.

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.[5]

The faith which should afterwards be revealed speaks of the true dispensational differences of the two covenants.  But not of the promise given to Abraham, nor how it was disannulled by the Law.  Nor is it a statement of how their gospel of imputed righteousness was insufficient to save the Old Testament saints because of some lacking revelation, which we say we are grafted into.  It speaks of something higher which I have been holding back on and have not yet mentioned. 

Paul goes through much effort to prove the Law of Sinai is dead in the faith revealed in Christ, but he never makes the case the promise given to Abraham is now dead in the faith.  This is why Paul says we are no longer under the school master of the Law.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.[6]

But speaking of the promise given to Abraham, Paul teaches the gentiles and not the Jews are now included in the promise of Abraham.  Why is it only the gentiles are now included in the promise of Abraham and not the Jew?  I contend it is because the Jews are already included in the promise given to Abraham.  Jesus set the Jews free from the Law but He has included us in the blessing, the promise of Abraham, along with them and frees us also from obeying the Law right out of the gate.

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.[7]

Paul so wishes to stress to the Galatian church that they are freed from the Law and not the promise that he uses the two sons of Abraham to prove the point.  Isaac was of the free woman, representing the promise of the covenant, while Ishmael was of a slave woman representing the Law. 

Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?  For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.  But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.  Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.  For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.  But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.[8]

In no way was Paul trying to prove the Jews did not benefit from the promise given to Abraham until the coming of Christ.  Rather through Christ, their bondage to the old school master was annulled through the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham.

So in summary, I think it is biblical to conclude that there is one gospel of scripture through and through.  The Law (the books of Moses) has both a promise and a requirement.  The requirement testifies to the righteousness of God, but can never bring about the righteousness of God.  On the other hand the promise was the righteousness of God imputed to Abraham and his descendents through the seal of circumcision.  This promise was not annulled when the ordinances from Mt. Sinai came 430 years later.  But rather now through Christ we gentiles are included in this same blessing by which we receive the Holy Spirit.

So the question for us to explore is, what is that higher thing that I have been hinting at that explains the dispensational differences of the two covenants?  But before this is answered, I would like to know if I have a point of clarification to make or a question or response from you to answer.

I have kept my scriptural reference from the book of Galatians since the verse in question came from there.  If you would like more scriptural references on any particular view I have, I can give a more rounded response from scripture, if need be.

[1]Romans 3:20-21

[2] Romans 3:22

[3] Galatians 3:23

[4] Galatians 3:17

[5] Galatians 3:23

[6] Galatians 3:24-25

[7] Galatians 3:13-14

[8] Galatians 4:21

4 thoughts on “Did the Law nullify the promise?

  1. Hi Dave,

    Let me state something categorically. I totally agree with the position that it was always the Lord’s intention to save people by Grace through faith according to the promise to Abraham and that goes with both the Old Testament and the New.

    You have made your “clarifications” but in truth those clarification aren’t in direct response to my specific points but rather you are seeking to clarify what your position is based on the “inconsistencies” you see within the church today.

    Anyway, if it was God’s intention to save people by Grace through faith can you please explain to me what was happening then under the Law? Paul seems to say that those who were under the Law were shut up from faith because “faith had not yet come” but since faith has come they are no more under the Law. So the question is were people being saved through faith under the Law? We know that the Law itself cannot save anybody so did all Israel possess faith and were they being saved by it?

  2. Hi Dave,
    I take it that you must be rather busy why I don’t see you posting regularly anymore especially on this particular topic which incidentally you drew me out on. I have also noticed that some of your regulars are lying low. I just wonder why that is?

    Anyway looking back on the subject topic in the post, I would have to say that the Law of course did not nullify the promise made to Abraham. But the promise made to Abraham could NOT have been made complete in the Law or during the time period in which the Law existed. Of course scripture tells us that before Christ those outside of the commonwealth of Israel were strangers, cut off without a hope of Salvation. So during the time period of the Law Abraham was a father of only one nation, that being Israel (although the promise was that he would be a father of MANY nations). So therefore the promise was made complete in Christ – THE SEED in which all nations are blessed.

    What I can see here though from pervious discourse with you is that if you say that Christ death was performed from the foundations of the world then I suppose you are saying that the promise was already complete from the time when it was made. But from our understanding of scripture though the promise was not fulfilled (in entirety) until the manifestation at Calvary. So I think I can clearly see where you are coming from but I hope you will also see where I am coming from and why I suggested that the promise made to Abraham was fullfiled namely in two parts, the period of the Law and then the generation of the church age since Christ’s death.


    • Henry,
      Sorry for not being able to respond in a more timely manner. It is not a reflection of my earnestness to speak of our gospel and to explore its mysteries together. I simply do not have unlimited internet access at this point. Added to the business of life, I have restrictions warring against my desires to spend time studying and blogging.
      Now concerning the faith we share:
      You have laid out some excellent questions that I wish to address as we explore God’s word together.
      You ask, “Anyway, if it was God’s intention to save people by Grace through faith can you please explain to me what was happening then under the Law?”
      I assume you interpret scripture to say living by a faith that can save was not possible before Christ. It looks like you are taking Paul’s comment concerning being “shut up from the faith” to mean there was no way one living under the old covenant was able to live out a saving faith. That is due to the fact that “faith had not yet come.”
      When I read Galatians, I see a teaching that says the old covenant has passed (the Law) and a new covenant has come (faith in the promise that was given 430 years earlier and now manifest in Christ). This does not negate the understanding we find in scripture concerning the Law, which is the Law is a testimony of Christ Himself. So the Law testifying to the gospel but was not the gospel. This is why Paul says a righteousness apart from the Law is testified to by the Law. The gospel is the hope that was promised 430 years earlier.
      To my understanding, when Paul says they were shut up from the faith because faith had not been revealed, he is saying they were under the ordinances of the Law and not the freedom of Christ which was promised 430 years earlier, but now manifest in Christ. Being under the Law they were obligated to obey the whole Law, unlike today where we have no compulsion to live under the Law. But when Christ came, there was now the dissolving of a life lived under the Law to a life lived in the Spirit by faith. This is what happened when faith came.
      This does not mean that they under the Law could not live by faith unto salvation. What it means is they could not live by the Spirit apart from the Law. Whereas the church says the Jews had the Law and Christians have grace, I believe scripture teaches they had grace and we are grafted into the promise of the grace. The real difference is they could not live by the Spirit, they had to live by the Law. But when Christ came they now became under the new covenant of the Spirit of Christ.
      But the faith they lived was a real saving faith, even though it was lived under the Law. You ask me, “Were people being saved through faith under the Law? We know that the Law itself cannot save anybody so did all Israel possess faith and were they being saved by it?” Yes people were being saved by faith while they lived under the Law. Not being saved by observing the Law for no man is justified by the Law, but being saved rather through faith in the promise given to Abraham 430 years before the Law. Understanding that the Law they obeyed testified to the promise in which they hoped in. Observing the Law was not the gospel, but the hope it speaks of is.
      Did all Israel live by faith and receive salvation because they observed the Law? The answer is no. Many observed the Law yet had hard hearts. Others observed the Law and worked to be reconciled by their own righteousness. Sacrifice did nothing for them, because it was not done by faith in the promise testified to by the Law and promised to Abraham. This is why Paul can say they rejected the righteousness of God. The righteousness was found in believing God to fulfill the promise given to Abraham, revealed in the message of the Law and now manifest in Christ.
      This is why Abraham is given by Paul as our example of faith. He was a man that hoped against all hope and yet he waivered not at the promise of God and this was credited to him as righteousness. So to us is this blessing given to all those who live in faith of this promise. This promise is a covenant made by God concerning His imputed righteousness in Abraham’s life and sealed with the mark of circumcision. So now we who hope in the way of salvation, a righteousness not our own, we too share in this promise. This is why Paul teaches we are now circumcised not by hands but by Christ. Now because of this we are His people and He is our God.
      I believe the true differences between the two covenants is not found in the Law verses grace like the church makes it out to be. Rather is found in the difference of a life of faith lived unto the Law and the life of faith lived unto the Spirit. Both lives of faith lead to God’s imputed righteousness and true circumcision of the heart. The life of faith simply can not live by the Spirit.
      Through the promise that was given 430 years before the Law, now being manifest in Christ according to the witness that was given by the Law, a promise is fulfilled. The day has come when God no longer writes His Law on stones but on our hearts by His Spirit. This is why Paul says that we gentiles are now included in “the” promise of Abraham by which we receive the Holy Spirit.
      Does the life lived in the Spirit destroy sin and doubt in men’s lives so that we will not make the same errors as those who lived under the Law. It can, but we grieve the Spirit and can become guilty of trampling the Son of God underfoot. It is possible for us to taste the heavenlies and have the fellowship of the Spirit then to fall away and not be restored again. Just like those under the Law we have to live by faith in order to please God. Faith lived out is demonstrated in obeying God. Under the old covenant it was obeying the Law. Under the new covenant is through obeying the Spirit.
      I have avoided laying out a whole bunch of scripture to try to make my thoughts flow better and make them easier to understand. I am happy to give you scriptures on any area that you need more clarification on.
      I hope this will help you understand why I write like I do. If we agree that there is one life lived by faith in the same promise (even gospel) unto salvation in both testaments, if we can agree there is one way of receiving imputed righteousness by faith in the promise given before the Law and testified to by the Law (now manifest in Christ for us NT believers), if we can agree there is only one seal of imputed righteousness in both testaments, this being circumcision, one of the flesh and the other of the heart, if we both can agree there is one expressions of true faith by obedience’s to God’s word, one being unto the Law the other unto the Spirit then maybe it is time to discover what scripture really teaches about the two different dispensations.

  3. Glasseyedave,
    I would also agree that faith existed under the Old Covenant by which people were being saved. We could think of Job and David to name a few individuals who possessed a saving faith. However, under the Old Covenant Israel lived in a Theocracy and all Israel were bound by the Law to do and to observe those things in it. It was a blessing if they observed and a curse if they didn’t (Deu 11:26-27). All Israel were to obey these Laws as they reflected the rigtheousness of Christ and failure to obey even a single one would make them guilty and therefore put them under the curse. Israel therefore foreshadowed the New Jerusalem which will come down from heaven at the consumation of the world, a City in which there can be no sin. Anyway we shall pick these things up further.

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