Was the Physical Circumcision of Christ Part of Christ’s Righteousness?
The Fatal Flaw, by Jeffrey Johnson, Free Grace Press, 2010
I very much recommend this new book. It is an excellent study of various covenant theologies and also an argument against infant baptism. But I still want to quibble . I quote Johnson:
“The covenant of works that Christ was obligated to fulfill could not have been the covenant of creation. Why ?Because this covenant had already been broken and its death penalty issued upon Adam’s fallen race. Thus Christ had to be born outside the broken covenant of creation…He could not be born under the federal headship of Adam. As Wisius explains, ‘That the surety was not from Adam’s covenant, not born under the law of nature, and consequently not born under the imputation of Adam’s sin.’
Johnson continues: “The law justifies but before the law men could not merit salvation by works, because there was no covenant….If all this is true, then the Mosaic covenant had to be a covenant of works; our salvation depended upon it. If not, there would be no covenant to reward the man Christ Jesus for His obedience.”
I have of course not quoted the entire argument. I encourage you to buy the book and read the discussion beginning on p 146 an ending on p162. What do I disagree with in the above argument? I agree that Christ was not born under the federal headship of Adam. I agree that the Mosaic covenant was a legal conditional covenant.
I even agree with Johnson’s larger point, which is that the Mosaic covenant cannot be seen as an “administration of the covenant of grace”. But I go further and question even the idea of any “the covenant of grace.” Which covenant is “the covenant of grace”? Is it the Abrahamic covenant? Is it the new covenant? Are both those covenants one and the same? Are both those covenants administrations of “the covenant of grace”?
Johnson is very good in showing that the Abrahamic covenant had both its unconditional and conditional aspects. At one point (p215), he even refers to Bunyan’s idea that Christ kept the conditional aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, that had NOT been kept by anybody else. When Gal 3:16 explains that the promise was made to Abraham and his seed, and then explains that Christ is that one seed, why not see Christ alone as obeying the Abrahamic requirement for blood?
Why does Johnson think he needs to see the Mosaic covenant (instead of the Abrahamic legal aspect) as the covenant of works Christ kept? Isn’t circumcision a requirement of not only the Mosaic but also of the Abrahamic covenant? Does not physical circumcision point to the need for the blood not of animals but of Christ?
Make no mistake. I believe and rejoice in the federal headship of Christ. My objection is to the idea that the Mosaic covenant is the condition of the agreement of God the Father, Son and Spirit to redeem the elect. Why must the “covenant with Christ” be conflated with either the covenant with Adam or the covenant with Moses?
I am not disagreeing that there is legal covenantal arrangement with Adam. Even though as a supralapsarian, I do question language about what Adam “could have earned if he had passed probation”, I do not at all question the federal imputation of Adam’s sins to the human race, including to the elect. And I also agree that the Mosaic covenant is conditional.
I am only questioning why Johnson must locate the legal conditions of Christ the covenantal surety in the terms of the Mosaic covenant. His answer is that Christ was not under Adam. But why not say that Christ was under the Abrahamic conditions? Why not agree with Bunyan in saying that Christ kept the Abrahamic requirements so that the promise would be unconditional to all those promised salvation by the Abrahamic covenant?
Johnson does not really answer this question, and I would love to have a talk with him about it. Were the Gentiles (for example, those addressed by some of the prophets) ever under the curse of the Mosaic law? I am only asking a question here. Please don’t call me a dispensationalist for asking the question! My hope in the gospel has everything to do with Christ legally paying off (satisfying) the curses of God’s law against the elect. But my hope in the gospel does not depend on me identifying God’s law with the Mosaic law.
On page 163, Johnson seems to give away his case for the Mosaic covenant being the “covenant of works”. In a footnote, he acknowledges that Gentiles were not under the Mosaic covenant, but then says “nevertheless they were still under the covenant of works” and then quotes Romans 2:14 (a law unto themselves). But doesn’t this show that you can be under a covenant of works and not be under Moses? And if so, doesn’t this show that Christ could have been under a “covenant of works” for His elect without that being the Mosaic covenant?
To say that Christ died “for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant” in Hebrews 9:15 does mean some of the elect were under the Mosaic covenant. But it does not prove that the gentile elect were under the Mosaic covenant.
As James Haldane suggests in his commentary on Hebrews (p245, Newport Commentary Series, Particular Baptist Press), the solution to the problem of the first covenant is not to find a better mediator for that first covenant. If a former covenant is infringed by one of the parties, satisfaction is given by making a second covenant.
If we are going to make distinctions within the Mosaic law-economy, why not be consistent in thinking about these distinctions when we think of Christ legally satisfying the Mosaic law? Was Christ keeping the ceremonial laws of Moses when He shed His blood? Were we Gentiles under the curse of the Mosaic law for our failure to keep the ceremonial law?
I am not denying that Christ was cursed by God’s law for the sins of the elect. I am only questioning the idea of pointing to the Mosaic covenant as that law or as that “covenant of works” for Christ. If you want to use the language of a covenant of works for Christ our federal Head, why not go to the Abrahamic covenant for that? Or even better, why not refer to a “covenant of redemption” which is neither the Mosaic nor the Abrahamic (especially in its conditional aspects, like the duty of the physical children of Abraham to be physically circumcised)?
Hebrews 13:20—“the God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.”
I am not denying that Christ was physically circumcised, but I am questioning if that circumcision was a vicarious law-keeping for the elect. Since we Gentile elect were never commanded to be physically circumcised, how then we can be blessed because Christ was physically circumcised?