Posted tagged ‘circumcision of Christ’

Was the Physical Circumcision of Christ Part of Christ’s Righteousness?

June 17, 2012

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?

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Imputation Without Hands, Into the Death which is the Death of Death

September 11, 2011

Colossians 2:11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses….

Even though it was ordained by God, the death of Christ was done by human hands. In my view, the “circumcision of Christ” is not a reference to Christ’s literal circumcision as a child. Nor is the “circumcision of Christ” a metaphor for regeneration and the work of the Spirit in the elect. It’s one circumcision, both for Christ, and for the elect. Colossians 2 is about the elect’s legal identification with Christ’s one death. Our death is His death, NOT some other death done IN us.

Even though God used human hands in the state murder of Christ, imputation by God into Christ’s death is made without hands. Human sinners do not make the imputation.

The imputation is something you can’t see. But that legal “you also were circumcised” is the basis for God’s forgiveness of the sins of the elect.

Some “Calvinists” stress God’s sovereignty but not God’s justice, and so for them, God can and does forgive without any legal identification of the elect with Christ’s death. Many Calvinists are against “easy believism”, and so their response is to not deny that what I have said is theologically true, but to still assume that the three Bible texts are talking about “something more” than merely justification and the forgiveness of sins.

When these Calvinists say Romans 6 must also be about regeneration and not only about not being under the law and the guilt of sin, in just what way are they affirming that legal identification (without hands) with the death of Christ is the death of death for the elect?

Isn’t the result of legal union with Christ glorious good news? Isn’t the result of “circumcised with Christ” an immunity from death for sin?

Romans 1 shows the irony of sin as a punishment for sin. God sovereignly “hands over” sinners to more sin. Sinners are not only punished by being sinned against by other sinners, but also punished by God by being “given over” to more sinning. But there is irony in the good news as well. God’s solution for death is death. The death of another (the last Adam) is the death of death for the elect. There is nothing more gracious (and yet just) than the legal transfer of the death of Christ to the elect, so that there is legal solidarity of the justified elect with Christ’s death.

Sin has no power over the justified elect to kill them, because in Christ’s death they already died. This is grand. This is hope. This clears the way for a future. While most folks want something else, or something more that they can see, let us rejoice in what God does without hands: God counts the death of Christ as also the death of the justified elect.

Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the One who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.”

Hebrews 10 has been often used to teach that the new covenant is bigger than election, and that grace is for more than the elect. The idea of “common grace” is that God has some grace for everybody, more grace for those in the covenant, and even more grace for the elect. This idea of common grace is not biblical.

The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate was in the new covenant. I do not think it is even saying that the apostate appeared to be in the new covenant, although this is a possible interpretation if you want to work out a visible and invisible church contrast.

The “Son of God” is the closest antecedent of the pronoun “he” in the phrase “the covenant by which he was sanctified”. Of course we need to remember that “sanctify” does not mean to get better and to go in the right direction, as most common theology would have it.

“Sanctify” is to set apart before God, both in the Old Testament context of Hebrews 10, (blood of the covenant, Zechariah 9:11, Ex 24:8) and in John 17. “And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they shall also be sanctified.”

Those who profane the death of Christ teach that Christ sanctified Himself for some sinners in “the covenant” who will nevertheless perish. They teach that, elect or not, some are set apart in “the covenant” who will not be justified by Christ’s blood.

Those who profane the death of Christ tell us that the glory of Christ involves dying for many sinners who will never be glorified. They dishonor Christ by telling us that Christ died also for those who are not and who will never be children of God.

When we baptize with water, we baptize with hands and we cannot know for sure if the subjects know the Lord. But this does not eliminate our duty to judge by the gospel. Baptism with hands is NOT about putting folks into a conditional covenant.

Submission to the righteousness brought in by Christ’s death means that we confess our personal bankruptcy, and this rules out past and future covenant keeping as a basis for blessing. Our only hope that we will be raised to immortality is that we died when Christ died. And if that legal identification with Christ’s death has happened, it was an imputation made without hands that nobody could see.

Circumcision in Colossians 2 is not a reference to “regeneration” or to “vital union” but to the bloody death of Christ. Don’t assume that Colossians 2 is saying the same thing as Romans 2, Colossians 2 is talking the justified elect being legally identified with Christ’s death, and thus cut off from Adam’s body, from Adam’s guilt. Water is done by hands, so water can’t be the antitype. Water does not replace physical circumcision in Colossians 2. That’s an assumption read into the text. Many commentaries (Bruce, Dunn, Garland, O’Brien) takes the “body of flesh” as Christ’s flesh and the “stripping off of the body of flesh” as the same as the “circumcision of Christ” as metaphor for Christ’s crucifixion. Two different circumcisions doesn’t work in the context of Colossians. It’s the same circumcision, both for Christ and for the elect, Christ’s one death. Our death is His death, not some other death done in us. It’s not Christ died and then we died. It’s we died when Christ died.