Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fesko's "Last Things First" 5

Having established that God and Adam associated with one another within the bounds of a covenant, Fesko proceeds to explain the nature of this covenant before considering several scholarly criticisms of it. Much of the content has already been anticipated at this point: the bilaterality of the covenant, the priestly work of Adam in the priestly context of Eden, the Christological parallels, &c., so at this point, Fesko is primarily concerned with explaining the way in which these elements cohere.

The stipulations of the Adamic covenant, expressed most cogently in Genesis 1:28, were for Adam and his helpmate to multiply, subdue the earth, and exercise dominion over it and its inhabitants. Those who recognize the biblicality of an Adamic covenant are in general agreement as to Adam’s actual duties. The goal of these labors, however, is disputed. Some believe that the purpose was merely an occupation. Others had argued that the tilling of the land and reproduction were commanded as an imitation of God’s own creation. These and other interpretations, however, seem to consider Adam’s work as a teleological end in itself. If one recalls that Adam was a priest within Eden, the holy of holies within God's cosmic temple, it is hard to imagine that in this design there is no more meaningful – if underlying – objective than farming for farming’s sake.

Before he clarifies exactly how the dominion mandate identifies with Adam’s priestly typification, Fesko notes the contrast between the Edenic paradise in which Adam was placed and the surrounding chaos which he was to cultivate (2:5-6, 15). Though the land vegetated and it rained both inside and outside the garden (cf. Job 36:27, Psalm 135:7), order only existed inside the garden. There is, then, certainly something to the idea Adam was to rule as vicegerent over creation analogously to God’s rule over the universe (cf. Psalm 8) by organizing disorder, but Fesko presses this point to further include the idea that the dominion mandate was an extension of the garden-temple itself. Fruit-bearing trees, rivers which proceeded from Eden to the four corners of the earth, and precious materials (Genesis 2:9-14) which would have been available to them as they subdued the rest of the earth would have ensured that Adam, Eve, and their offspring could spread “God’s glory to the ends of the earth” without having to leave the confines of their Paradise, after which they would have – as God did – rested (entered into a real Sabbath), their covenantal activity fulfilled.

This function of the covenant of works is also substantiated by the republications of this [old] covenant to other Old Testament foreshadows of Christ, not to mention the archetypes of the new covenant, and Fesko expounds on this in his next few chapters. In the remainder of his third chapter, however, Fesko addresses various criticisms of the covenant of works, using John Murray as the opposing interlocutor.

There are three fundamental arguments against the [Adamic] covenant of works, viz. nowhere in Scripture is the word “covenant” found in conjunction with Adam, covenants are always redemptive and unilateral, and “works” would be an improper adjectival denotation for whatever else one might wish to label God’s relationship with Adam. While the first two arguments are question-begging, as Fesko has already demonstrated that a covenant need not be explicitly identified as such within the immediate context of a given passage (Jeremiah 33:19-20, Malachi 2:14) and Murray offers no other possible interpretation of Hosea 6:7, the third argument is worth special consideration. The argument is essentially as follows:

“From the promise of the Adamic administration we must disassociate all notions of meritorious award. The promise of confirmed integrity and blessedness was one annexed to an obedience that Adam owed and, therefore, was a promise of grace. All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility. Adam could claim the fulfillment of the promise if he stood the probation, but only on the basis of God’s faithfulness, not on the basis of justice.” (Collected Writings of John Murray)

The first problem with this assessment is that if Adam’s obedience was the condition for life as Murray does admit, then grace cannot have been the basis of God’s reward (Romans 11:6). The second problem is that Murray assumes, without further ado, that a reward of eternal life would not have constituted an equitable reward for obedience to the stipulations of the covenant on the basis justice alone, which is why he is led to believe that Adam’s status was actually grounded on grace. But by this argument, it would seem Murray should consider that the fact Adam disobeyed should neither have merited eternal condemnation. What Murray misunderstands is that God is not treating Adam as an equal; rather, He treated Adam within the bounds of the very covenant which He established as Suzerain. A final problem is that Murray fails to parallel the work of the first Adam with the work of the last Adam. If the first could not merit eternal life, how can the last? And if the last cannot, then there is obviously no justificatory foundation for believers. Interestingly, Calvin believed Christ’s merit depends on God’s good pleasure and grace alone, which, if true, would mean that the means of redemption is arbitrary (not to mention Romans 11:6 is here too ignored). In fact, Christ’s obedience is the reason believers are made righteous (Romans 5:19), as He was able to and did procure that which was necessary in order to fulfill the covenant of works, thus establishing a new covenant of grace for those who believe in Him.

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