Review of Jim Puterbaugh’s “One Covenant”

By Jim McDonald

Jim Puterbaugh, preacher and teacher in the Philippine Islands, presents a series of lessons on a subject he calls “The Covenant.” He argues that there is only one covenant, reaffirmed from time to time, but actually only one. He explains that just as Israel observed the “feast of the New Moon” once each month, it really wasn’t a “new moon” at all  just the same old moon going through a new cycle! In the same way (according to him), God made a covenant with Abraham and while there are different “renewals” of that covenant (such as at Sinai, return from Babylonian captivity, and Christ’s death on the cross), there is only one covenant.

If brother Puterbaugh’s purpose in his elaborate argumentation at first seems without direction, his aim becomes crystal clear as his teaching develops and unfolds. He boldly states that when Jesus died on the cross, he “did not die to do away with the law and institute a new law as the last will and testament” (1-C); that when Jesus said, “This is the blood of the covenant which was poured out for many unto remission of sins” (1-C), he was not acting as a testator in giving a new will or law but simply became the curse for an existing covenant broken by sin (Matt. 26:28)! Brother Puterbaugh does not stutter when he claims that Christ nailed no law to the cross, he only nailed sin to the cross (Mailout). According to him, Jesus “did not nail the Ten Commandments to the cross, he taught the ten commandments,” even the Sabbath because Christ is our rest (Matt. 11:27-30). (MDR)

The aim of brother Puterbaugh’s “Covenant” teaching is to prove that God has never had but one universal moral law from creation until now. According to brother Puterbaugh, Jesus did not die to give a new law for he taught exactly the same thing in the realm of morals that Moses taught. The thrust of such teaching is to promote his doctrine on “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage.” He explains that whatever Moses taught on marriage, divorce and remarriage, Jesus also taught. Here is the way brother Puterbaugh makes the application under Moses and then under Christ (MDR). When (according to brother Puterbaugh) those under Moses’ law divorced their wives and both remarried new mates, although the divorce wassin, God recognized the second marriage of each and if they repented of their sin, they would be forgiven and could remain in covenant relationship with God while at the same time keeping the second mate. So it is today under Christ. In fact, to divorce the second mate and return to the first would be sin, according to brother Puterbaugh.(MDR)

It is my purpose to show that (1) God has given more than one covenant, which covenants are diverse from each other; (2) When Jesus died on the cross, he died to remove the law of Moses and to initiate a new will and testament; (3) Jesus did nail the law, i.e., the Ten Commandments, to the cross; and, (4) God’s moral law has not always remained the same. Jesus did not always teach the same thing Moses taught, particularly about MDR.

It is not my purpose to malign brother Puterbaugh’s character or assign ulterior motives to his actions. I have no animosity toward him. I review his material because (1) I do not believe it, and (2) like him, I have a personal interest in the brethren in the Philippine Islands and believe his material is detrimental to their faith. I believe that the con-sequences of his doctrine will result in many grievous ills being spawned, not only in the Philippines but wherever his theory is taught and believed.

The “Abrahamic Covenant”

God made a covenant with Abraham. He promised to make of him “a great nation,” to give unto that nation certain land and ultimately to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:12; 15:18-21; 22:16-18).

God fulfilled that covenant. As he promised, he multi-plied Abraham’s seed as the stars of the heaven, molded them into a nation, gave them Canaan, and sent his own Son as the promised seed to Abraham, to become a blessing for all nations.

With the multiplied seed of Abraham God also made a covenant. The covenant made with Israel at Horeb was not the Abrahamic Covenant nor was it a renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant. True, it was a consequence of that covenant, but it was not that covenant. “And Moses called all Israel and said unto them, Hear, 0 Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that they may learn them and keep and do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us alive here this day” (Deut. 5:1-3). The covenant to which Moses referred was the “old covenant.” It contained commandments and statutes for Israel to keep. Moses wrote: “And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments, and he wrote them upon two tables of stone” (Deut. 4:13).

God also promised Abraham, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). Christ was that promised seed and Christians are the heirs of that promise (Gal. 3:16; Acts 3:25-26). The blessing promised is “the turning away everyone of you from your iniquities.”

The New Covenant of Jesus, Neither

“Abrahamic” or “Mosaic”

God’s promise (covenant) with Abraham was that he would make a great nation of Abraham’s seed and give them the land of Canaan. He fulfilled that promise and fleshly Israel is the consequence of it. God made a covenant with Israel through the hand of Moses which was not the Abrahamic Covenant or the Abrahamic Covenant renewed. God has no special obligation to Abraham’s literal descendants today which he would have if that covenant were still intact. Hebrews 2:16 reads: “Verily not unto angels doth he give help, but he giveth help to the seed of Abraham.” If, when Israel was in bondage in Egypt and cried because of their sufferings, God helped them because he remembered his covenant with their fathers (Exod. 2:24), then if that covenant with Abraham still stands, and faithfulness to that covenant demanded God deliver them from Egyptian bondage, faithfulness to that same covenant demands his special protection of the Jew today. If not, why not?

God promised to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham. He fulfilled that promise when he sent Jesus. With those who are Christ’s, God has made a covenant. The New Covenant of Jesus was made with a new Israel (Abraham’s spiritual seed, whether Jew or Gentile). While it was also the consequence of God’s covenant with Abraham, it was neither the Abrahamic Covenant nor the Mosaic one but different from both (Heb. 8:9; 10:90,

Hebrews 8 contains a lengthy quotation from Jeremiah 31:31. The writer says that Christ has become the media-tor of a “better covenant.” A “better covenant” necessarily implies another covenant, inferior to the better (v. 6). The writer mentions that if the first covenant had been fault-less, then would no place have been sought for a second, thus two covenants are being discussed (v. 7). The writer continues, “Behold the days come when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel … not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers.” Having thereby spoken of two different covenants he concludes: “In that he saith a new covenant, he hath made the first old and that which is becoming old and waxed aged is nigh unto vanishing away” (Heb. 8:8, 13). This passage teaches that God made two covenants with Israel, an “old” one and a “new” one. This passage also teaches that the first covenant was to end and the second covenant would continue (Heb. 8:13).

Brother Puterbaugh’s explanation of Jeremiah 31:31 is that it was first fulfilled when Judah returned from Babylonian captivity, then fulfilled again in Christ. He argues that under the first covenant God’s law was to be in the heart of Israel; Israel was God’s people and God was their God; all Israel was to know him and there was forgiveness of sins under the first covenant. He adds that the covenant made with Judah and Israel (Jer. 31:31) was “new” because it dated from deliverance from Babylonian exile rather than deliverance from Egyptian bondage.

Such an explanation of Jeremiah 31:31 is faulty. First, the Holy Spirit speaks of the covenant of Jesus as the second covenant (Heb. 8:7). If brother Puterbaugh’s exegesis of Jeremiah 31 is correct and the prophecy was fulfilled in the return from Babylonian exile, the covenant regarding their return to Canaan would have been the second covenant and the covenant given by Jesus would have been the third! But the Holy Spirit said the covenant of Jesus was the second! The first covenant given at Sinai is the first covenant of Jeremiah 31:31. The covenant given by Jesus when he died on the cross is the second. The return of the Jew from Babylonian exile was not the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31. The reference in Jeremiah 31 to a second covenant has exclusive reference to the covenant which began when Jesus died on the cross.

The covenant mentioned by Jeremiah was to be different from the covenant given by Moses at Sinai. What was different about the “covenant” God made with Judah at the return from Babylonian exile and the covenant God made with her at Sinai? Nothing. Is there a difference between the covenant of Moses and the covenant of Christ? Yes, indeed. Consider at least two. The “Israel” God made the second covenant with is different from the “Israel” God made the first covenant with. Second, in the first covenant there was a remembrance of sins year by year whereas in the covenant of Christ there is the promise, “And their sins … will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:3; 8:12).

Contrast, Not Unity

The book of Hebrews is a contrast between the system of Moses and the gospel of Christ, but brother Puterbaugh does not see the real contrast. He professes to see “unity” from Abraham’s covenant to the Mosaic Covenant and then to the one given by Jesus. He argues that the “blood of an eternal covenant” in Hebrews 13:20 has reference to the Abrahamic Covenant but ignores the context of the pas-sage. Reference to “the blood of an eternal covenant” is a contrast between the blood offered under the first covenant with the blood of Christ offered under the second. In He-brews 13 the writer contrasts the altar of the Jew with that of the Christian and the fleeting city (Jerusalem) of the Jew with the abiding one of the Christian (Heb. 13:10, 14). Then, he speaks of the blood of an eternal covenant.

The word “eternal” is found often in Hebrews. The writer speaks of “eternal salvation,” “eternal redemption,” the “eternal Spirit,” “eternal inheritance,” and an “eternal covenant” (Heb. 5:9; 9:12, 13, 15; 13:20). There was the “temporal” salvation from Egyptian bondage vs. “eternal redemption” for the obedient (Heb. 5:9). There was the “temporary” redemption of sins vs. the “eternal redemption of sins in Christ Jesus” (Heb. 10:4, 14). There is the “temporary” priesthood of Aaron vs. the “eternal” priest-hood of Christ through the Eternal Spirit (Heb. 7:12-14). There is the “temporary” inheritance of Canaan vs. the “eternal” inheritance of heaven (Heb. 13:14). And there is the “temporary” covenant of Moses vs. the “eternal” covenant of Christ (Heb. 8:13; 13:20). The “Abrahamic Covenant” is not in the Hebrew 13:20 text at all. The book of Hebrews does not emphasize one covenant reaffirmed again and again; it contrasts two covenants showing that the old Covenant was removed and replaced by the second (new) Covenant.

In Hebrews 10:9-10 the writer says: “. . . then bath he said, Lo I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first that he may establish the second. By which will we havebeen sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This text teaches that (1) Christ came to do the will of God, and (2) He took away the first (will, covenant, testament, law) that he might establish the second. It was God’s will that the first law be taken away. The text teaches that we are sanctified by the second will, not the first. In the text, two wills are mentioned. The first of these wills (Mosaic law) is taken away that the second (Covenant of Christ) may be established. Men today are sanctified by the will of Christ, not by the law of Moses. This passage does not present unity between the Covenants of Abraham, Moses, and Christ; it presents a sharp contrast between the law of Moses and the law of Christ, eloquently showing that the covenant given by Moses has been done away.

The contrast between the Old and New Covenant is found in many other places as well  Romans 7:1-4; Galatians 4:21-31; 2 Corinthians 3:1-9 to name just a few.

Christ Nailed the Ten Commandments

To the Cross

Brother Puterbaugh teaches that Christ nailed no law to the cross. He only nailed sin to the cross (Mailout). Brother Puterbaugh says that the four things of Colossians 2:12-16 (meats, new moon, Sabbath, feast days) are things we are no longer to be judged in because they were fulfilled in Christ, but is unwilling to say these four things were “nailed to the cross” (1-C).

Colossians 2:14 reads “… having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us; and he bath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.” Something was nailed to Christ’s cross. What was it? That which was nailed to the cross was “the bond written in ordinances.” The parallel account reads: “He is our peace who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances.” (Eph. 2:14-15). Colossians. 2:14 refers to “the bond writ-ten in ordinances”; the Ephesian letter refers to “the law of commandments contained in ordinances.” The bond in ordinances was nailed to the cross; the law, commandments, ordinances were abolished through the cross (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15, 16). The parallel between these two draws an irrefutable conclusion: It was the law which was written in ordinances. It was the law which was nailed to the cross.

Consider further. That which Christ nailed to the cross was a partition wall and enmity between Gentile and Jew. Was “sin” that partition wall, that enmity? Jews and Gen-tile had sin in common so “sin” was not the partition wall nor enmity between Jew and Gentile. The partition wall between Jew and Gentile was the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:14-16). Christ did nail law to the cross. Did Christ only nail the law to the cross. Did Christ only nail the ceremonial law to the cross, as the Sabbatarian sects claims?

In Romans 7:1-4 Paul addresses Jewish believers among Roman Christians. In these verses he refers to law in three senses: (1) law in a general sense, (2) the law of the husband, and (3) the law of Moses. He made a general statement about the nature of all law when he wrote: “the law hath dominion over a man so long as he liveth” (Rom. 7:1). He illustrates that principle by referring to the “law of the husband.” The wife is bound by law to the husband so long as he lives and can only be married to another when the husband is dead. His application is this: Jewish Christians could not be alive to two husbands at the same time; they must be dead to the first husband (the law of Moses) before they could be married to the second (the will of Christ). An attempt to live under both the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ would be spiritual adultery. And so he says, “Wherefore my brethren ye are made dead to the law through the body of Christ that ye should be joined to another, even to him that hath been raised from the dead” (Rom. 7:4). When did these Jews become dead to the law? Through the body (cross) of Christ. What law had they become dead to? “I had not known coveting except the law said, `Thou shalt not covet”‘ (Rom. 7:7). The law that the Jews became dead to by the body (cross) of Christ was the law which said, “Thou shalt not covet.” What law said “Thou shalt not covet”? The Ten Commandments! The Scriptures teach not only that Christ nailed the law to the cross, but also clearly identify that law as the Ten Commandments. Brother Puterbaugh is altogether wrong when he says, “Christ nailed no law to the cross,” and “Christ did not nail the Ten Commandments to the cross, he taught the ten commandments,” even the Sabbath because Christ is our rest (Matt. 11:27-30) (Mailout, MDR). Christ nailed the whole system of Moses, both Ten Commandments and ceremonial law, to the cross.

(This article will be concluded in the next issue of Guardian of Truth.)


(1-C), a series of taped lessons Jim Puterbaugh gave on “One Covenant” in 1995

(MDR), a series of taped lessons of brother Puterbaugh’s teaching on “Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage” given in Lutz, Florida, about 1993.

(Mailout), A circulated letter sent out by Wallace Little to more than 100 brethren in the States, January 1996.

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 20, p. 18-21
October 17, 1996