I was motivated to read this book because Mark Jones implied in a Ref21 blog post that Weeks has refuted Kline’s use of the ANE treaties to illuminate biblical covenants. Jones wrote that “published scholars of ANE history, such as Noel Weeks, have done such a good job of exposing the deficiencies of trying to understand biblical covenants as reflective of Suzerain treaties.”
So I got a Scribd subscription and the read the book by Weeks as a PDF. Short story, I think it is misleading for Jones to speak of this book as a “devastating critique” of Kline. It is not even a particularly polemical work. It is a patient exploration of a complex historical issue. Weeks weighs and sifts and speaks in probabilities like a true historian. He quotes Kline a few times (pp. 135, 140-41, 155, 167, 169), not to refute him, but to interact with him, because Kline was one of the researchers who also published on this topic. In fact, Weeks agrees with Kline 90% of the time and displays no particular animus against Kline.
Here are some money quotes by Weeks that directly contradict what Jones claimed:
“It is my conviction that there is enough similarity between treaty/covenant forms from different cultures that one is justified in asking historical questions about that similarity ... I have argued that the use [in the biblical covenants] of history, the combination of elements such as historical prologue, stipulations and blessings and curses, the provision for depositing of the treaty text and so on are analogous to what we find in Hittite treaties ... I would insist that the similarity between the extra-biblical data, particularly as shown with the Hittites, and the biblical is too great to deny” (pp. 3, 164-65).
Contrary to Jones’s representation, Weeks fundamentally agrees with Kline on the main point, namely, the recognition of the significant parallels between the various expressions and renewals of the Mosaic covenant (e.g., the Decalogue, Deuteronomy, Joshua 24) and the ANE treaties, especially the Hittite treaties.
Again, Weeks writes: “The point which I shall defend below is that the similarities between some biblical covenants and treaties are real and that often there is more similarity with Hittite treaties than Assyrian ones” (p. 134, and more similar quotes on pp. 151-56).
Weeks displays particular appreciation for Kline’s argument that the treaty format is given as a documentary whole, with explicit curses against additions or changes, thus refuting the JEDP theory that the Pentateuch is a composite document that grew gradually over centuries (p. 169). Weeks also agrees with Kline that Gen 15 is a divine self-maledictory oath (p. 150).
Of course, Weeks does have his points of difference with Kline, but after the substantial agreements, the differences hardly amount to a refutation of the covenant theology of Meredith G. Kline. The only significant disagreement I can discern is that Weeks takes issue with Kline’s use of Mendenhall’s form-critical argument about the supposed differences between the 1st and 2nd millennium ANE treaties to support the conservative date of Deuteronomy. (This was one of Kline’s apologetic aims in his first book, Treaty of the Great King.) But this is a minor point and does not undermine Kline’s use of the ANE treaties in his positive construction of biblical-covenantal theology.
It is true that Weeks makes some comments that would give aid and comfort to those (such as Jones) who want to see law covenants and promise covenants on a continuum rather than a contrast (pp. 9, 144, 155, 166). But as far as I can tell, Weeks’s predilections on this score are determined by his own reading of biblical theology and not by his scholarly analysis of the ANE treaties.
This is a multi-author volume devoted to the controversial topic of the nature of the Mosaic covenant, specifically the so-called “republication” thesis that the Mosaic covenant or economy contains a republication of the works principle originally present in the Adamic covenant of works. Even though the authors are not all in agreement with each other in terms of their particular version or formulation of the republication thesis, the book adds credibility to the thesis and helps generate discussion. But because the authors hold a spectrum of views, each essay needs to be evaluated independently.
The Introduction, co-authored by the three editors (Bryan Estelle, John Fesko, and David VanDrunen) is very good. It states the basic thesis in the words of a hypothetical candidate for ordination addressing a presbytery:
“The works principle under Moses – the connection of their obedience and disobedience with blessing and curse in the land – was typological, showing the people their sinfulness while pointing them to Christ who would fulfil the law. I hope that you didn’t understand me to say that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of works; I believe that it is an administration of the covenant of grace, but that there is this principle of works operative at a typological level as part of this administration. I believe that even the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant is meant ultimately to lead to Christ” (p. 3).
The editors also clear away three common misunderstandings of the republication thesis (p. 14):
First, the notion that the works principle was republished in the Mosaic economy does not mean that the way of salvation under the old covenant was different than the way of salvation under the new covenant.
Second, affirming the republication thesis does not mean that one is totally separating or disconnecting the Mosaic covenant from the covenant of grace.
Third, affirming republication in no way entails antinomianism or a denial of the third use of the law.
The editors’ primary burden is to show that the doctrine of republication is “integrally connected” (p. 19) with the doctrine of justification by faith alone. “The Mosaic law was necessary to make manifest a works principle that Christ the Messiah would have to fulfill” (p. 19), not only in terms of his passive obedience (taking on himself the curse of the law), but also in terms of his active obedience (fulfilling the positive righteousness demanded by the law).
The book is divided into three sections:
Part 1: Historical studies (essays by Fesko, Hart, and Ferry)
Part 2: Biblical Studies (essays by Estelle, Belcher, Curtis, Waters, Gordon, and Baugh)
Part 3: Theological Studies (essays by VanDrunen and Horton)
In my view the best essays are Chapter 4 on Lev 18:5 and Deut 30:1-14 (by Bryan Estelle), Chapter 8 on Paul’s contrast between Abraham and Sinai in Galatians (by T. David Gordon), and Chapter 10 on the works principle under Adam and Moses (by David VanDrunen). These three essays are the closest to representing Kline’s view of the Mosaic Covenant, although all three are also creatively going beyond Kline in various ways.
I feel obliged to comment on Chapter 3, which is a taxonomy of Reformed opinion on the Mosaic covenant by Brenton Ferry. This is a very helpful chapter. If anything, it shows that the Reformed tradition has had a lively debate on this subject, with Reformed theologians adopting a variety of different formulations as they sought to wrestle with the nature of the Mosaic economy. My concern with this essay is very narrow, and it has to do with Ferry’s analysis of Kline’s position (pp. 79-80 n11; 80 n14; 97 n85). I think Ferry makes the mistake of resting his analysis of Kline primarily on his early writings, Treaty of the Great King (1963) and By Oath Consigned (1968). In the 1990s and early 2000s, prior to his death in 2007, Kline specifically stated that he had modified his views of covenant theology as expressed in the first two chapters of By Oath Consigned, and he strongly urged people to read Kingdom Prologue in order to ascertain his mature formulations with respect to covenant theology.
Note that Brian Lee wrote an excellent review published in Ordained Servant. He goes into many of the essays in more detail.