James Hamilton on Lev 18:5 and Gal 3:12

Not open for further replies.


Puritan Board Freshman
Interesting interpretation of Lev 18:5 & Gal 3:12 by Dr. James Hamilton (SBTS). Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? And why? Can someone please compare this view to "The Law Is Not of Faith?" Thanks :)

Read the whole article here: http://jimhamilton.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/gw-aug05-p10-12.pdf
Or the conclusion here:

In its Old Testament context Leviticus 18:5 is a statement that the one who keeps the requirements of the Mosaic covenant by faith will not be slain by the holiness of Yahweh in the midst of the people. Observing the covenant by faith guarantees acceptance before Yahweh, now and in the age to come. To be sure, Leviticus 18:5 does not explicitly say that the covenant is to be kept by faith, but the statement that The one who does the law will live must be believed if it is to have its intended motivational force. Similarly, the promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience in Leviticus 26 must be believed if they are to have any meaning.

The words of Galatians 3:12, “Now the law is not from faith, but The one who does them shall live by them,” are not setting up a dichotomy between an Old Testament system based on works and a New Testament system based on faith. “Faith” in the first half of Galatians 3:12 points to the new period in salvation history that has begun “now that faith has come” (3:25). The reference to the “faith” that has come appears to be a shorthand way of referring to the fuller statement in 2:16, “We have believed in Messiah Jesus, in order that we might be justified by faith in Messiah Jesus and not by works of law.” Some of Paul’s contemporaries misunderstood the Mosaic Covenant and thought that it was a legalistic system, but I do not think that Paul affirms their reading of the Old Testament by quoting Leviticus 18:5 in the second half of Galatians 3:12.

“Before faith came” Leviticus 18:5 meant that the one who by faith kept the Mosaic Covenant would live. Now that “faith has come,” the Mosaic covenant is no longer in force, it has served its salvation-historical purpose, with the result that anyone who seeks to live by it must keep all of its regulations flawlessly since its sacrifices are now abolished. Thus, the statement in Leviticus 18:5 as it is used in Galatians 3:12 is equivalent to Galatians 5:3—the one who submits to the Mosaic covenant in this new period of salvation history “is obligated to do the whole law.” Paul does not impute legalism to Moses.



Puritan Board Junior
“Before faith came” Leviticus 18:5 meant that the one
by faith
kept the Mosaic Covenant would live. Now
that “faith has come,”

So how do the imperfect action of a sinful man save him?

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

How can following the law save someone? Especially, when you consider that God judges word, thought and deed.

Where does the law every claim that it can save the soul of a sinner?

4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

So, basically it used to, but now it just doesn't work anymore.

And this just leaves another question, "How were people saved prior to Sinai?"

To be sure, Leviticus 18:5 does not explicitly say
that the covenant is to be kept
by faith
, but the statementthat
The one who does the law will live
must be believed if it is to
have its intended motivational force.

It says they will live. They will not be kicked out of the land and be destroyed if they followed the law. I don't see how he is missing this. It doesn't say that their soul is saved because they followed the law. They were save by faith in the promised seed to come and not in their faith in their keeping the law. As though my belief that my faith in my imperfect keeping of the law would save my soul. God promised the salvation back in Genesis 3 and it wasn't by following the Sianatic covenant.


Puritan Board Doctor
In it's immediate context Leviticus 18:5 is referring to laws about incest, having relations with animals, etc. It is true that these laws are " life-giving" if followed by even the unconverted, in that they promote life, health, and well-being in this life. In this case mere observation of the law without faith was "life-giving" in that it did promote life, but not eternal life.

In addition to this the Judaisers may have abused this text and others like it to promote their works religion.

Thus Paul could well use this text to illustrate the Judaisers' approach to Moses and the law.

Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I think Hamilton makes a plausible exegetical case. What he writes is certainly theologically compatible with the Westminster position that fundamentally Sinai is an administration of the Covenant of Grace, suitable to its particular time in Redemptive History.

If you are asking how his view compares to the book, "The Law Is Not of Faith," I cannot say whose view he might come close to (I don't have the book). That book/essay-collection does not present a perfectly monolithic view (a review quotes the Intro to that effect on p19), although there is some common adherence to republication-in-some-form, i.e. the view that the Mosaic covenant contained a re-expression of the Covenant of Works.

In Hamilton, you appear to have a Baptist arguing most clearly for certain essential continuity between OT and NT (a by-faith confidence in God for salvation, not in works); over against Presbyterians/Reformed (in debt to Kline) who are laying new emphasis on discontinuity between the Testaments. Everyone is seeking to do justice to the text of Scripture, for which we may all be thankful.

For my part, though I have the highest regard for the P&R men engaged, I'm not always satisfied they have made enough of the Covenant of Grace in Moses, in their effort to play up the law-vs.-faith motif and Cov.of.Wks representation within the Mosaic context. I seem to have more affinity with Hamilton here.



Puritan Board Junior
Pscyhe, some quick summary observtations:

This piece does not appear to comport with the "The Law is Not of Faith" revisionist scheme which turns the Mosaic into a "works covenant" vis a vis a "covenant of grace."

Yet, the piece seems to allow for the idea that the "law" has served its purpose and is concluded under the new covenant. However, he does not make clear if he only means the sacrificial system, or the "law" more broadly in terms of the Decalogue and the general equity of the ceremonial and judicial law.

Shows again the much more satisfactory formulation of the Reformed confessions: the Mosaic is an administration of the covenant of grace opposed to a covenant of works. There is the 3 fold distinction of the law of moral, civil, and ceremonial, the latter 2 having concluded yet their "truth and substance (or general equity) still remain with us in Jesus Christ".
Last edited:
Not open for further replies.