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John Murray was born in Scotland. He undertook undergraduate studies at the University of Glasgow. As a theological student of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, he studied at Princeton Seminary under J. Gresham Machen and Geerhardus Vos, and at the University of Edinburgh. He taught at Princeton from 1929-30, then lectured in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1930-66.
Murray reframed the traditional doctrine of the Covenant of Works as what he termed the Adamic Administration. While he basically agreed with the content of the doctrine, he disliked terming it a “covenant of works”. This was because: (1) the “covenant of works” is itself an act of grace; contrasting it with the “covenant of grace” makes it sound unnecessarily legalistic; (2) it’s not termed a “covenant” in scripture.
Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow.Murray sees God’s relationship with Adam as truly good, but not ultimate. It falls short of the higher relationship that God intended in eschatological glory. This is because sin was possible. God’s relationship with Adam and Eve was real, and good, but contingent: there was always the possibility that this relationship would be severed, through sin – a possibility which, sadly for us all, eventuated. From the human perspective, that means our first parents lived under the shadow of the possible fall. From the divine perspective, this means God hadn’t yet given Adam and Eve the complete, full knowledge of him that by its very nature is permanent – the kind of knowledge of God that is connected with eternal life.
Murray does not try to justify his position only from Gen ch 2-3. It is patently obvious that God warned Adam that if Adam disobeyed him by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God would punish Adam with death. That is simply what the text says: Gen 2:17. But as I noted in a previous post, it is not at all clear from Gen 2-3 that God gave Adam a parallel promise of life for obedience. At best, we could infer that God promised Adam continuance of life as he had it then. Is there any promise of higher, glorified, eschatological, eternal life? Murray admits that such a promise is an “analogy”, an “inference” which is “natural, if not [strictly] necessary” from the Genesis itself. But it is a necessary retrospective inference from the way Paul draws parallels between Adam and Christ in Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor ch 15. It’s the only way we can make sense of how Paul understood Adam: like Christ, he was a representative head, whose actions impacted all those he stood for. The gracious challenge God laid down for Adam was for Adam to be devoted to God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength – a challenge which Adam failed, but Christ fulfils. The glory of redemption is that Christ not only fulfils it for himself, but on behalf of those chosen from Adam’s race – constituted sinners in Adam, but justified in Christ.
Murray summarises the practical, pastoral benefits of understanding the Adamic Administration as follows:
We are sinners and we come into the world as such. This situation demands explanation. It cannot stand as an empirical fact. It requires the question: Why or how? It is the Adamic administration with all its implications for racial solidarity that alone provides the answer. This is the biblical answer to the universality of sin and death.Murray does not explain where he got the term “administration”. I wonder if he’s getting it from the Greek oikonomia, which is variously translated “stewardship”, “administration” or “dispensation” (Luke 16:2-4; 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25; 1 Tim. 1:4). It’s the word from which we get the modern word “economics”. If so, Murray’s demonstrating the essential unity of God’s dealings with humanity. Christ came not to abolish the necessity of a whole-person response to God, but to fulfill it.
We need salvation. How does salvation come to bear upon our need? Racial solidarity in Adam is the pattern according to which salvation is wrought and applied. By Adam sin-condemnation-death, by Christ righteousness-justification-life. A way of thinking that makes us aloof to solidarity with Adam makes us inhabile to the solidarity by which salvation comes. Thus the relevance of the Adamic administration to what is most basic, on the one hand, and most necessary, on the other, in our human situation.