By Lee Irons
It is very important to understand that Kline [Meredith] viewed the Mosaic economy as a two-layer cake. The underlying layer (what he called “the substratum”) is an administration of grace having to do with the eternal salvation of the individual elect Israelites. The overlying layer is what he called “the typal kingdom.” The typal kingdom is the land of Israel, a territory completely set apart as holy unto God, functioning as a theocracy, focused on the central temple where God dwells and reigns as King over his people. It is a picture or type of the eschatological kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth. Just as the new heavens and new earth will be free from all evil, a new creation “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13), so the typal kingdom of Israel was to be rid of Canaanites and idolaters. Just as the eschatological kingdom will be ushered in by purifying judgment, so the typal kingdom was ushered in by Joshua’s conquest and the devoting of the idolatrous inhabitants of the land to destruction.
You might be wondering where Kline got this two-layer metaphor. At first it looks like a neat visual metaphor that Kline just made up. He was a very visual and poetic thinker, so it is a plausible theory. However, there is a biblical basis for it – an exegetical one and a biblical-theological one.
First, the exegetical basis
Kline got the metaphor from Paul in Gal 3:15-19, where he teaches that the Abrahamic covenant was not annulled by the coming of the Mosaic law, nor did the Mosaic law change the terms of the Abrahamic covenant by making the promise dependent on law-keeping. Rather, the law was “added” or “superimposed” (v 19) until the coming of the Seed promised in the Abrahamic covenant. Here is the paragraph:
15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it (ἐπιδιατάσσεται) once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added (προσετέθη) because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made. (ESV)
Verse 18 is critical: “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” This verse makes clear that for Paul “the law” and “the promise” are opposed to one another. In the one, the inheritance is by works; in the other, it is by grace. And yet somehow the two principles, though coexisting in the Mosaic era, are not ultimately in conflict. How can this be?
The key is to note that there are two different Greek verbs translated similarly in English as “add to” and “add.” The first verb, ἐπιδιατάσσομαι (v 15), rendered by the ESV as “add to,” is a technical term for adding a later codicil to a covenant (or will) that changes the terms of the covenant (or will). The NASB’s rendering, “adds conditions to it,” is more precise.
The second verb, προστίθημι (v 19), rendered by the ESV as “add,” has a different nuance. In this context it has the sense of a temporary, removable overlay, since it is clear that the law was “added” in such a way that it did not annul or modify the underlying Abrahamic covenant. It was given with a terminus in view, “until the Seed should come.” Or, as Paul will explain a few verses later, the law was a guardian or pedagogue for Israel in her minority “until the date set by the father” (Gal 3:24; 4:2). In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that the Abrahamic promise, which was there all along, might be brought to fulfillment and the people of God might take up the inheritance no longer as slaves but as sons (Gal 4:1-7).
So the principle of inheritance by law and the principle of inheritance by grace coexisted in the Mosaic era, without the law canceling or annulling the promise, because the law was “added” as a temporary overlay but not as a codicil that modified the terms of the Abrahamic covenant. Kline appeals to this key passage (Gal 3:15-19) again and again in his writings. For example:
“On the classic covenantal understanding, the law that came 430 years later did not disannul the promise (Gal 3:17) – not because the old covenant did not really introduce an operative works principle, but because works and faith were operating on two different levels in the Mosaic economy” (“Gospel until the Law,” 436).
Second, the biblical-theological basis
Not only did Kline derive the two-layer cake metaphor from Paul in Gal 3:15-19, but he further developed the metaphor by his biblical-theological analysis of the Abrahamic covenant itself. The Abrahamic covenant was God’s promise concerning the seed and the land. Everyone knows that. However, what most miss (especially dispensationalists) is that God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled in two stages. The first-level fulfillment was unfolded historically in the formation of the nation (the seed) and the bringing of the nation into the promised land. This first-level fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise is actually a long process that begins with the exodus, continues in the conquest of Canaan, takes many generations to drive out the Canaanites from God’s holy realm, and culminates under Solomon when the temple is finished. The kingdom of God finally arrived when God was dwelling in the midst of his people, in his holy temple, in the holy land, and exercising his authority through his appointed vassal king, the anointed son of David.
But this first-level fulfillment was not the true fulfillment. It was only a “typal kingdom” pointing ahead to the eschatological fulfillment in Christ. Christ is really “the Seed” that the promise referred to (Gal 3:16), and all who belong to Christ are Abraham’s offspring in the collective sense (Gal 3:29). And the land that God promised Abraham, with God dwelling in it as a holy kingdom, was not some earthly real estate but the new heavens and the new earth (as Hebrews 11 makes clear).
And yet, all during the time of the first-level fulfillment, generations of godly individual Israelites were able to see in and through the types and shadows, especially in the sacrificial system, the coming Seed and his atoning sacrifice, so that they were saved, forgiven, and justified by faith in the Messiah to come.
“The Mosaic economy [was] an administration of grace on its fundamental level of concern with the eternal salvation of the individual” (KP 109).
“Paul, perceiving the works principle in the Mosaic law economy, was able to insist that this did not entail an abrogation of the promises of grace given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries earlier (Gal 3:17), precisely because the works principle applied only to the typological kingdom in Canaan and not to the inheritance of the eternal kingdom-city promised to Abraham as a gift of grace and at last to be received by Abraham and all his seed, Jew and Gentile, through faith in Christ Jesus” (KP 237).
God did not give the Mosaic law with its works principle to be the means by which the individual elect Israelite would be saved. Personal salvation was always administered, in every epoch of redemptive history, including the Mosaic epoch, through the promise, that is, through the Abrahamic covenant of grace, founded as it was on the paradigm of Abraham’s own soteriological experience, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).
Kline’s analysis of the Abrahamic promise as finding fulfillment in two stages (the first-level typological fulfillment in the land, and the second-level antitypical fulfillment in Christ and the eschaton), combined with a recognition that individual Old Testament believers were saved by faith as they looked ahead to the antitype through the type, provides further support for the concept of the two-layer cake.
In the next post, I’ll answer the question: If God did not give the Mosaic law and its works principle to Israel to be a means for individuals to be saved and attain eternal life, why did God give the Mosaic law and establish this second typological layer?