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This post continues a series on Covenant Theology. The criticism offered below falls within the context of the previous posts (beginning here). Please feel free to offer criticism, comments, and observations but failure to read the other posts could enfeeble one’s own remarks.

As mentioned earlier, CT teaches that the first sin of Adam was imputed (according to the stipulations of the covenant of works) to all of his progeny. When it comes to the discussion of the imputation of Adam’s sin there are two views, “immediate” and “mediate” imputation. Immediate imputation may also be called the “federal theory.” “This view holds that Adam is both the natural and the federal head of the human race. The federal or representative headship is the specific ground of the imputation of Adam’s sin. When Adam sinned….God imputed the guilt of the first sin to….the entire human race.”[1] Mediate imputation holds that a corrupt nature is inherited through natural generation from Adam and that this is what then becomes the ground for God imputing the guilt of Adam to his posterity. The imputation is mediated through inherited corruption which is the consequence, not punishment, of Adam’s sin.[2]

Whichever view is taken of imputation, the idea expressed is that the guilt of Adam’s sin is justly put upon all who are descendants of him in the ordinary way (Jesus was a descendant in an extraordinary way and so is excepted). The only reason usually given for the ground of this imputation of guilt is the stipulations of some supposed covenant God made with Adam. There is, of course, discussion about natural and federal headship, but these are but aspects of the covenant of works. Every reason given devolves into some requirement of the covenant of works.[3] Even when the covenant of works is nominally denied what ends up being expressed looks an awful lot like arguing that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to his progeny according to covenantal stipulations.[4]

CT’s artificial framework is where the notion comes from that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to his progeny. Realism is more properly the error of Augustine. Proof-texts like Romans 5:12–21 are brought in to prop this thesis up. However, even proponents of CT will admit of Romans 5:12–21, “To be sure, Paul does not here use the word impute…What he tells us here is that all human beings are under condemnation because of Adam’s sin, but he does not say exactly how this condemnation is transmitted to us.”[5] Hoekema claims that, even so, it is still legitimate to, “if we wish, interpret these verses as teaching direct imputation of guilt and condemnation from Adam to us.”[6] He then adds, “But we must remember that when we do so, the concept of imputation is an inference from the Scriptural data.”[7] Murray confesses, “When we speak of the sin of Adam as imputed to posterity, it is admitted that nowhere in Scripture is our relation to the trespass of Adam expressly defined in terms of imputation.”[8] The theory of the imputation (mediate or immediate) of the guilt of Adam’s sin to his posterity is an error of CT and it is inconsistent, or at least unnecessary, for those who reject CT to ascribe to it.

This series concludes here.

[1] Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, revised by Vernon D. Doerksen (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 188–89.

[2] Ibid., 187–88.

[3] Cf. Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 613–29.

[4] Ralph Allan Smith, “Interpreting the Covenant of Works,” Berith.org, http://www.berith.org/essays/cov_works/ (accessed February 15, 2011). N.B., pp. 5–6. Smith includes a discussion of what this looks like in John Murray’s and other’s thinking,

John Murray, one of the most distinguished proponents of Reformed doctrine in the 20th century and a recognized defender of the Reformed view of justification by faith, quite clearly denied the Covenant of Works. He was not alone. Not only among those influenced by Murray, but also among the Dutch Reformed in Europe, there are more than a few theologians and pastors who no longer hold to the Covenant of Works….In Murray’s view, it is essential to the argument of the apostle Paul that Adam and Christ be conceived of as two representative heads of two different humanities. The old human race in Adam is condemned in their head. The new human race in Christ is justified and accepted because of His righteousness. Jesus obeyed the covenant and fulfilled its terms perfectly. His righteousness is imputed to those who believe in Him. In this simple exposition, all of the essential elements of the Reformed view are included, but it is stated in terms that avoid the notion of a Covenant of Works. However, it seems that what Murray does, in fact, is to verbally deny a covenant relationship with Adam — since for Murray the word “covenant” implies redemptive arrangement — and then imported all the elements of a covenant into his “Adamic Administration.” Although Murray would, like most Reformed writers, emphasize the graciousness of the original arrangement, in substance he affirms a Covenant of Works or something very close to one.

[5] Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 164–65.

[6] Ibid., 65.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1959), 71.